The Norman-French Conquest

Norman-French 1
Bayeux Tapestry
White Tower of London
Domesday book
Domesday Book
Durham Cathedral
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An account of the effect of the Norman Conquest on the Anglo-Saxon and Danish people of Britain.

When William the Conqueror defeated King Harold of England and his army, England and its British neighbours faced a future dominated by one of the most powerful aristocracies produced by Medieval Europe.  William (born illegitimate and known as the Bastard in Normandy) and his powerful force of warlords had no intention of running back home with the country’s portable wealth as their early Viking predecessors had done.  The Normans came with the intention of conquering an older civilisation; William sought a crown and absolute power over a wealthy nation and his supporters wanted their share of the spoils in the form of titles, territory with which to enrich themselves and a subservient people to carry out their bidding without question.

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Once William was crowned at Westminster on Christmas day by the Archbishop of York, he set about the reformation of England with single-minded ruthlessness.  The south was quickly pacified, but earls appointed by William to administer the north were quickly killed off.  The northerners, perhaps believing they were beyond William’s reach, rose in rebellion in favour of Edgar Aetheling, the last Anglo–Saxon claimant to the crown, with Danish and Scots support.

William’s reprisal was brutal - beyond anything suffered in England’s long history.  He burnt, pillaged and destroyed a huge swathe of country from the Scottish border down to the Tees leaving no means of subsistence for the survivors.  This is still remembered as the Harrying of the North.  His brutal action served notice not only on his English subjects but also to his neighbour over the border that William would stop at nothing to destroy any opposition.  Nevertheless, resistance to Norman rule flickered on in the north for some years and the Scottish king Malcolm continued to raid south of the border at opportune moments.

One further rebellion for a time caused real difficulties for William.  A Lincolnshire thegn called Hereward held out in the watery fastnesses of the Cambridgeshire Fens.  Norman battle tactics would not work in that treacherous landscape but the rebels were eventually betrayed by monks.  Hereward escaped and disappeared to remain a mythic figure of Anglo-Saxon resistance forever known as the Wake.

William quickly took precautions to ensure his new subjects were kept under close surveillance and control.  The Curfew Law, an old measure to prevent the outbreak of fire in close-knit communities, was reintroduced with the intention of discouraging conspiracies among the Anglo-Saxon population.

Masons from all over France were drafted into England to supervise a major programme for building royal castles at strategic points throughout the country.  The most imposing was the White Tower in London, which was the English commercial centre and the most populous town in the country.  William’s fortress remains at the heart of the present day Tower of London.  These strongholds served as safe places for the king’s person and valuables, homes for a local garrison, prisons and administrative HQs.

His tenants in chief, known as barons, were also swift to build fortifications to ensure their own safety.  At first they built motte and bailey castles, comprised of a central earth mound surmounted by a wooden tower and surrounded by a timber palisade and very often a moat.  Many of those temporary forts were usually soon replaced by full-blown stone castles.  The Church, supported and encouraged by the Conqueror, was also soon busy erecting new cathedrals, churches and monasteries.  The typical Romanesque arches, massive round pillars and zig zag moulded decoration can still be found in church buildings all over England.

Never since the days of the Roman Empire had so much masonry stone been required in England.    Stone was brought in by ship from Normandy but many old Romano-British quarries were also brought back into use.  Norman craftsmen were probably drafted in to teach their trades to English labourers who were forced to work on those grand and dangerous schemes.  Amidst the noise of hammering and chiselling and cursing, Norman men at arms would loiter to ensure the English peasants obeyed their foreign taskmasters, whose bawled commands were given in a pidgin mixture of French and Old English.

These mighty structures were the dominating symbols of the new order in England.  They overshadowed the native people who were completely powerless and without leaders.  The surviving remnants of the old ruling class mostly went away to seek a new life in foreign lands, some going as far as Byzantium where they served in the elite Varangian Guard.  Their property was divided up according to a master plan by William.  He kept three sevenths for his own uses, a further three sevenths was entrusted by feudal contract to one hundred and seventy of his chief military supporters called tenants in chief or barons.  The last seventh went to the bishops and abbots of the Church.  William quickly dispensed with the services of most of the leading English churchmen and replaced them with Normans and other continentals.

The barons were each awarded a fiefdom consisting of a large number of estates or manors confiscated from their previous English holders.  The manors were known as fiefs and were widely spread across several shires.  They were intermingled with the properties of other lords so that no baron, except those on the troublesome Welsh and Scottish Marches (border areas), had control of a single area large enough to become a threat to the king.  Each baronial fiefdom was known as an Honour and took its name from the baron’s chief residence.  For instance, Alain le Roux, Count of Brittany, was awarded about sixty fiefs of the Honour of Richmond, which was named after his chief castle at Richmond in North Yorkshire.  It should be remembered that many barons also possessed extensive properties in France.

In return for their fiefdoms, the barons kissed the king’s hands and swore allegiance.  They were to attend the king’s court whenever they were summoned, as were the bishops and mitred abbots.  Each Honour was also committed to supply a set number of knights, men at arms and their equipment when required for the king’s military service.  The baron himself would ride at the head of his company of knights.

The knight was usually a man of Norman or French blood.  He was a warrior who had fought with his superior lord at Hastings, or had been brought over soon afterwards to help with the subjugation of England.  He was paid by being awarded one or more of the manors belonging to the Honour in return for knight service, which entailed a certain number of days duty as a castle guard or going off with his lord on campaign in the king’s service.

This was early in the age of chivalry of which knighthood was a foundation stone.  A young boy would be placed in the home of a great lord as a page, where he waited on the lord and lady, perhaps received some education from the chaplain and learned how to behave genteelly.  Having become genteel, he moved up to the office of squire when he was taught how to ride and use the weapons of a knight and behave courteously to well-born ladies.  When his lord was satisfied the young man was capable of performing his soldierly duties competently and with honour, he spent a night of vigil praying before the altar in his lord’s chapel.  The following day the lord dubbed him knight by tapping him on the shoulder with a sword and he was attired with the armour and weapons of a knight.

By such means chivalry helped maintain a code which kept the French-speaking ruling class aloof from the English lower orders.  Once the various English attempts at resistance were stamped out, the barons and knights dispersed to their new homes in the manors allotted to them by their superior lord.  The barons, with their retinue of attendant knights, chaplains and various household assistants, would have no personal contact with the English scullions and field hands who served them, but the knightly class and their household found themselves, as lords of a manor, in closer contact with their English neighbours, the inhabitants of the vill or village who were called villeins.

Some 6,000 manors were distributed among the new Norman masters.  A manor was a rural estate which usually consisted of three open fields of arable land, some pasture and a large area of so-called wasteland.  All those resources served the needs of the lord and his tenants in the vill where nearly all of them lived.  The land and everything it produced, including quarry and woodland materials, was administered on behalf of the lord of the manor through the manorial court.  The court dealt with matters of estate management and was managed by the lord’s steward who collected the fines, heriots, rents and other charges.  He was often a Norman who was also enlisted for the purpose of enforcing obedience and good order in the vill.  The steward would rely heavily on an English bailiff who was appointed to supervise the seasonal agricultural operations and enforce the rules which applied to the fields and waste.

A substantial part of the manor’s arable area was reserved for the lord’s use.  This was called the demesne.  A small part of the demesne, called glebe land, might be allocated to support the priest who was brought in to administer the church and provide services to the local community.  The church was also supported by the tythe, a levy of one tenth on the agricultural produce of the vill, which was collected and stored in the tythe barn.  The rest of the arable land was let out to the inhabitants of the vill.

The open fields were divided into strips.  Usually each householder was granted a number of strips scattered throughout the three arable fields so that each tenant was supposed to share in the good, bad and indifferent land throughout the fields.   Each household was obliged to supply the lord with specified labour services or a part of the output from their holding (or cash in lieu thereof), according to the customs attached to their holding.  The rights, obligations and duties of each household was recorded in the manorial customal and were passed on to the next generation by copying the details of the change of tenancy into the manorial records.  This was known as copyhold tenancy.

The waste was common land which might be moorland, bog, heath or woodland, depending on the geography of the area.  It was subject to the rule of the manor court, which usually enforced strict regulation of the villeins’ rights to graze their animals and take wood and fuel, such as fallen wood, furze, turf or peat from the wasteland.

A small number of freemen existed in many manors and they were particularly numerous in the Danelaw areas.   We know the manorial system in the old Danelaw areas probably differed substantially from the more conservative practises of Anglo-Saxon England but, apart from the greater number of freemen, we have no real understanding of how they differed.  Freemen usually held the freehold or paid an agreed rent for their holdings and observed all the customs of the manor regarding land and waste management, but were exempt from the oppressive regulations imposed on the villeins, particularly the law whereby no villein was allowed to depart from the manor without the lord’s permission.  Other onerous rules which did not apply to freemen included a requirement to seek the lord’s permission and pay a fine when their daughter married someone outside the manor.  Another imposition was a heriot whereby, on the death of a tenant, his best beast was seized by the lord.  Many of those manorial customs preceded the Conquest but became more irksome when they were imposed by a stranger speaking a foreign language, who showed no sense of brotherhood with the people in his charge.

The serf remained at the bottom of the social order.   He was little more than a slave and many historians believe most villeins sank to this level during the Norman era.  However, this ignores the two-way contractual nature of the villein’s relationship with the manor which gave him some protection against egregious mistreatment by the manorial authority.  It is likely that the serf or one of his forefathers had forsworn almost all his contractual rights in return for the lord’s care and protection; they were fed and perhaps even clothed by the lord and performed all the menial tasks in the demesne and household, such as shepherd and swineherd, latrine emptying, etc..  In times of severe hardship or danger their lot might be preferable to that of the ordinary villein as they had a superior claim (not always recognised) to the lord’s charity and mercy.  It seems slavery as such still existed, but a Church Council held in London in 1102 condemned the trade in slaves and outright slavery apparently faded away in England during the Norman era.

Much of what we know about the social life of Norman England has been gleaned from the great survey, known as the Domesday Book, which the Conqueror conducted in 1086.  Its purpose was to assess the taxable wealth of his new kingdom.  More than anything it illustrates the wholesale redistribution of property after the Conquest and gave the king and his tax gatherers certain knowledge of the payments due to the crown from every fee or manor.  It was the beginning of the centralised, competent administration for which England became famed in the Middle Ages.

Extensive areas of Norman England were reserved for the king’s hunting pursuits and were subject to Forest Law.  Forest could be open country and was certainly not the densely covered tree-scape we now call forest.  The most famous hunting reserve was the New Forest where William II, the Conqueror’s successor, was killed by an arrow in 1100.  The purpose of a Royal Forest was to protect the creatures of the hunt - deer, wild boar, hare, etc. - and their natural surroundings.  Anyone living in these forest areas was subject to the Forest Laws.  They were not allowed to kill animals or cut down trees or shrubs; the burning and clearance of land for cultivation was forbidden, as were dogs whose claws had not been removed and hunting weapons.  Punishment for transgressions became progressively more severe in later times and included blinding, castration and hanging.

Because they had no regular contact with Normans, most English continued to speak their own language which was now also fully adopted by their fellow countrymen with Danish origins.  Those living in towns, however, would find themselves dealing with lower class Normans.  In the years following the Conquest, thousands of people of lesser degree, such as masons, armourers, cooks, tailors and dressmakers and many other craftsmen and artisans, came from the continent to perform services for their higher-born countrymen.  They had to adopt the English language to get by.  Conversation in the markets and workplace led to words and idiomatic speech being transferred from one national group to the other.  The transition from the mixed Old English/Norse speech of Anglo-Saxon/Danish England to the Middle English of the High Middle Ages was beginning.

It is generally believed that life for the average Englishman became a little easier when Henry I, the youngest son of the Conqueror, seized the crown in 1100.  Henry could be as harsh and ruthless as his father and William Rufus, the brother who preceded him on the throne, but, unlike them, he was well-educated with a sound knowledge of English law.  His English subjects warmed to him when he married one of their own, Edith, princess of Scotland who was later named Matilda; her mother was a member of the royal house of Wessex.  The marriage also secured a more peaceful period on the northern border with Scotland.

When Henry became king he was distrusted by the barons and the Church who had both been wronged by the tyrannical actions of his brother William Rufus.  In an effort to gain favour with both those important factions Henry issued a Coronation Charter of Liberties, promising he would rule justly and would restore the law of King Edward.  The Charter reaffirmed the Anglo-Saxon laws of pre-Conquest England, adjusted for new circumstances, and righted many of the injuries suffered by barons and Church in the previous reign.  It was an important precedent for the Magna Carta issued 115 years later.

However, Henry kept a firm grip on the barons and would not hesitate to dispossess those who spurned his authority.   His justices regularly toured the country and ensured the law was observed and that everyone carried out their sworn duty to the king.  This was an advantage to the English country dweller who could till his fields and harvest his crops with much less fear that they were going to be plundered or damaged during raids brought on by quarrels between neighbouring lords.

Henry was frequent absent from England attending to the disturbed state of affairs across the Channel.  This led to the development of a bureaucracy which could operate effectively in his absence.  His reign marked a significant change from a personal monarchy towards the efficient, centralised state of the future.  New men replaced high-born nobles in some of the offices of state; the Exchequer was created to manage the royal revenues and was managed by Roger Bishop of Salisbury, a relatively uneducated Norman priest.  Henry’s treasury amassed a large surplus which aroused the displeasure of the nobles, who found it difficult to evade his tax-collecting grasp.

In the early years Henry’s authority was frequently challenged.  His oldest brother, Robert Duke of Normandy, returned from Crusade to discover Henry had seized what he considered was his birthright.  The dispute ended with war; Robert was captured and Henry kept him imprisoned for the rest of his life whilst he ruled Normandy in addition to England.

This brought him into conflict with the King of France, who was overlord of Normandy and was unwilling to accept Henry‘s claim to the duchy.  However, in 1109 Henry’s precarious standing among his own people and in the rest of Europe was strengthened when the prospective Holy Roman Emperor, asked for the hand of his eight year old daughter Matilda in marriage.  Matilda was sent off to Germany the following year and married the Emperor in 1114.  Henry was now related to one of the most powerful men in Europe.

The marriage however did not solve Henry’s problems in Normandy where, in addition to rebel barons like Aumory de Montfort, the French king and other powerful neighbours continued to challenge Henry.  Fulk Count of Anjou wanted to take control of Maine on the disputed southern border of Normandy, whilst the Count of Flanders to the north sup-ported the French king’s designs on Normandy.  By a mixture of military power and diplomatic guile Henry struggled to resolve his problems in France.  Finally, after winning a victory at Brémule in 1119, Henry seemed to find a solution to his problems.  His son and heir William Adelin was betrothed to Fulk’s daughter and the King of France joined Fulk in recognising Henry as Duke of Normandy.

However everything was thrown into confusion when William Adelin was drowned on his way out of Barfleur aboard The White Ship in 1120.  Eventually Henry forced the barons to accept his daughter, the newly-widowed Empress Matilda, as his heir to the throne.  It is not clear whether Matilda had a legitimate claim to the title Empress but that was how she was widely known, even after the death of her husband from cancer in 1125.  Henry finally persuaded her to take Geoffrey Plantagenet, who had succeeded his father Fulk as the new Count of Anjou as her second husband, even though he was only aged fourteen.  The Empress was not pleased, but eventually she and Geoffrey co-habited and had children which strengthened her case for becoming founder of a new ruling dynasty in Normandy and England.

However, when Henry died in 1135, the barons immediately reneged on their oaths of support for the Empress.  Instead they turned to her cousin, Stephen of Blois grandson of the Conqueror by his daughter Adela.  Stephen was a likable and sociable man and the barons calculated he would be a more malleable ruler than the arrogant Empress.

Stephen was also supported by many senior Churchmen, including the most powerful of all, his brother Henry of Blois.  In exchange for the promise of royal favours to the Church, Henry de Blois persuaded the Papal Legate and the Archbishop of Canterbury to support Stephen’s claim to the throne.  The citizens of London, now almost equal in corporate power to the grandest of the earls, also chose to support him, expecting new privileges in return.  Roger, the Bishop of Salisbury and Lord Chancellor, handed the royal treasury over to Stephen, who spent lavishly whilst he established himself as the new monarch.

The barons of Normandy also accepted him as their new duke.  However, Stephen failed to hold onto Normandy which was eventually taken from him by the Empress’s young husband Geoffrey Plantagenet.

Stephen bought peace in the North by assigning Northumbria, Cumberland and Carlisle to Henry, Earl of Huntingdon and son of David I of Scotland.  Wales had resisted Norman intrusions during the previous reigns and soon rose again in rebellion.  Not wishing to stir up a hornet’s nest, Stephen decided to leave the various Welsh princes to their own devices.

However, support for the Empress remained steadfast in the south west of England which Robert of Gloucester, the Empress’s half-brother, defended on her behalf.  Soon, the Earl of Chester, aggrieved that his interests in the north had been sold off to the Scots, also gave support to the Angevin cause.  Roger of Salisbury, at the head of a family of powerful bishops - his nephews Alexander of Lincoln and Nigel of Ely and his son the Lord Chancellor Roger le Poer - was also suspected of supporting the Empress.  Stephen imprisoned the bishops and took over the new castles they had built.  Even Stephen’s own brother, the Bishop of Winchester, was disturbed by these flagrant attacks on churchmen and their property, which brought Stephen into conflict with the Pope.  Meanwhile Stephen built up his own defences by heaping honours and lands onto the powerful Beaumont family who were given a string of earldoms from Leicester to Pembroke.

For the next eighteen years England groaned as Stephen and the Empress fought for power in what came to be known as the Great Anarchy.  New castles were built and much of the conflict developed into siege warfare rather than set-piece battles.  Both sides had to raise funds by all means possible to build castles and employ mercenaries who were more skilled in the arts of siege warfare than the amateur feudal militia.  Many mercenaries came from overseas and were careless of the ill-feeling aroused by their buccaneering habits.  It is undoubtedly true that, in all areas touched by the conflict, crops were damaged or destroyed, animals were killed or stolen, villages were frequently torched and all too often the womenfolk were violated by soldiers encamped in their neighbourhood.  People often starved to death in areas of intense conflict.  An initial flurry of battles and campaigns was followed by several years of military stalemate.  Neither side could establish an overwhelming advantage; support from the nobles and important churchmen ebbed and flowed according to the inducements forthcoming from one side or the other.

The Church played an important part in the parleys and negotiations which took place between the two sides.  Bishops were often the chief advisors in these discussions and they were awarded honours and land as rewards for their services.  The most powerful among them became extremely rich.  For instance Stephen’s brother, Hugh of Blois was Abbot of Glastonbury, the most valuable abbey in England; he was then also made Bishop of Winchester which was the richest see in the country.  His brother failed to support his ambition to become Archbishop of Canterbury, but for some years he held the more powerful office of Papal Legate, the Pope’s representative and ambassador in England.  The Church was also showered with valuable gifts by other members of the nobility.  It was a religious age and, living in fear of eternal damnation, they attempted to gain remission for their many serious sins by endowing religious orders with some of their property.  Over time the Church in its various forms became the richest landowner in England.  Because the Church is an institution, not a person, it never dies and cannot be attainted.  Therefore it never paid the customary fines and taxes of a human lord and the king was never compensated for the loss of income from church-held property.  The situation was called Mortmain, a Norman-French word meaning ‘dead hand’ and it remained a running sore between king and Church for many years.

Kings constantly sought to control or regulate the increasing power and riches of the Church.  However, successive Popes fiercely defended the temporal as well as spiritual independence of the Church and its ministers.  Monarchs in England and elsewhere resisted papal instructions that they had no authority to install their own bishops.  Their claim to ultimate sovereignty over churchmen’s property and authority to have them answerable for crimes before the royal courts was also challenged.  Members of the church responded by claiming to be answerable to a higher tribunal than the king’s justice.   Stephen and Theobald Archbishop of Canterbury were in dispute about these matters.  During the next reign the quarrel between church and state would lead to the crime of the century, when Theobald’s successor as archbishop was killed before the altar of his cathedral.

Meanwhile the Great Anarchy moved to an exhausted conclusion which brought an end to the Norman dynasty started by William the Conqueror.  Stephen eventually accepted Matilda’s son as the heir to the crown of England.  His own son died, allegedly of a broken heart at being betrayed by his father.  Stephen died soon after and a fiery new character and his glamorous queen arrived to start a new, long-lived dynasty.



1066 Harold II returns south, unaccompanied by Morcar of Northumbria, and is killed at the Battle of Hastings, which witnessed the death of the last Anglo-Saxon king and the over-throw of the English ruling class by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy (c1028-1087).

~ William I is crowned on Christmas Day in Westminster Abbey where every succeeding English and British coronation has taken place.

~ The Witan elects Edgar Aetheling (c1051-c1126) grandson of Edmund Ironside and last prince of the House of Wessex to be king, but he is never crowned.


1067 Edgar Aetheling flees to Scotland.

1068 Morcar, deprived of the earldom of Northumbria, and his brother Edwin of Mercia (died 1071) lead a failed rebellion in the north.

~ An old curfew law is reintroduced stating that a bell must ring at 8.00pm as a signal for open fires to be covered.

~ A programme is instituted to build royal castles at strategic points including Chepstow, Colchester, Dover, Exeter, Lincoln, Newcastle, Norwich, Windsor and York.

1069 Danes and Scots join with a Northumbrian army led by Edgar Aetheling, kill the Norman Earl of Northumbria and overwhelm the garrison at York.

~ Marcher lords repel Welsh incursions and begin to overpower Gwent.

1070 The Harrying of the North.  William I flushes out the northern rebels and destroys any means for them to exist in the scorched landscape left after the Norman campaign.

~ Hereward the Wake (dates unknown) leads a prolonged Anglo-Saxon rebellion against William the Conqueror in the Fenland Isle of Ely but ultimately he is unsuccessful.

~ Lanfranc (c1008-1089), Abbot of Caen in Normandy is appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

~ Malcolm III (1031-1093) of Scotland marries Edgar Aetheling’s sister (c1045-1093), later canonised as St Margaret of Scotland.

1072 Treaty of Abernethy.  Malcolm III of Scotland swears allegiance to William I and expels Edgar Aetheling, the Saxon claimant to the English crown, from his court.

1075 Revolt of the Three Earls, Hereford, East Angles and Northumbria.  It is put down by the warrior bishops Odo (died 1097) of Bayeux, King William’s half-brother, and Geoffrey de Coutance (died 1093).

~ Death of Edith, Edward the Confessor’s queen and sister of King Harold II.

1078 The White Tower is built to dominate the city of London.  It remains a royal palace to this day.

1079 William I is wounded in battle by his son Robert who has rebelled and allied himself with the King of France.

~ The New Forest hunting reserve is completed.

1081 Marcher barons begin a sustained invasion of Wales.

1082 Bayeux Tapestry an English needlework tapestry illustrating the events of the Norman Conquest is completed.

1086 The Domesday Book. A taxation survey of all the assets and people of England.  The earliest surviving Norman-English national public record.

1087 William the Conqueror dies.  His eldest son Robert (c1051-1134) becomes Duke of Normandy and his brother William II (c1056-1100) becomes King of England.

1088 Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William I, leads English barons in a failed revolt against William II in favour of his brother Robert of Normandy.

1092 William II (nicknamed Rufus) invades and takes Cumberland including Carlisle into English ownership, thus establishing the western Anglo-Scottish border.

1093 Malcolm III King of Scots, returning from a raid which devastates Northumberland, is killed at the battle of Alnwick.

~ The Prince of Deheubarth is killed in battle near Brecon and Norman barons of the March take over much of South Wales and Pembroke.

1095 Widespread revolt flares up against the Normans in Wales.

1096 Robert Duke of Normandy leaves for the Holy Land on the First Crusade, having mortgaged the duchy to William II who raises the money with a very unpopular tax in England.

1097 Westminster Hall is built as an expression of royal power and authority.  Gradually many of the institutions of the English state (parliament, law courts, the exchequer etc.) evolve here.

~ Anselm (1034-1109), Archbishop of Canterbury and a leading theologian goes into exile.  He opposes the king’s claim to authority on ecclesiastical matters and his right to invest prelates into ecclesiastical office.

1099 Gruffydd ap Cynan (1055-1137) regains Gwynedd with Norwegian and Irish help and begins to drive the Normans from most of Wales.

1100 King William Rufus dies leaving no children, being shot by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest.

~ Henry I (c1068-1135), third son of William the Conqueror, seizes the royal treasury at Winchester and is crowned at Westminster whilst his eldest brother Robert is returning from crusade.

~ The Coronation Charter of Henry I declares the traditional laws of Edward the Confessor will be observed.

~ King Henry marries Matilda (c1080-1118), daughter of the English-born St Margaret of Scotland and sister of Edgar (c1074- 1107) King of Scots.

1101 Robert Duke of Normandy invades but retires to Normandy and recognises Henry as King of England at the Treaty of Alton.

1103 The curfew law is repealed.

1106 Henry I defeats his brother Robert at the battle of Tinchebrai, imprisons him for the rest of his life and takes control of Normandy.

~ Archbishop Anselm returns from a second period of exile.  He and King Henry agree a compromise whereby clerics pay homage to the king for property they hold in England but the king has no power to invest bishops into office.

~ See of Armagh in Ireland becomes an Archbishopric.

1107 First record of a merchant guild regulating trade in Burford, Oxfordshire.

1108 The king campaigns in South Wales and people from Flanders begin to colonise Pembroke.

1110 The Exchequer, founded by Roger Bishop of Salisbury, supervises the Royal revenues.

1113 Louis VI of France recognises Henry I as overlord of Brittany and Maine.

1114 King Henry’s daughter Matilda (1102-1167) marries Emperor Henry V (1086-1125) of Germany.

~ Mounting hostility in Wales is overcome by a powerful show of force.  The Welsh princes are subdued and Henry I reinforces the Welsh Marches with his own appointees.

1119 Battle of Brémule. Henry I defeats Louis VI and rebel Norman barons supporting William Clito (1102-1128), son of Robert Curthose Henry’s imprisoned brother.

~ Louis invests Henry’s son William Adelin (1103-1120) as Duke of Normandy.

~ William Adelin marries the daughter of Fulk of Anjou (c1089/92-1143).

1120 William Adelin, Henry I’s only legitimate son, drowns when his vessel, The White Ship, sinks off the Normandy coast, leaving no male heir to the throne.

1121 Henry I, recently widowed and desirous of a legitimate male heir marries Adeliza of Louvain (1103-1151) but the marriage is childless.

1123 St Bartholomew the Great Priory, London’s first hospital, is founded in Smithfield by the Court Jester.

1125 The Empress Matilda returns to her father’s court when her husband dies of cancer and she becomes a childless widow.

1128 The Empress Matilda, now identified as her father’s successor on his death, is married to Geoffrey of Anjou (1113-1151), son of Fulk, who shortly after becomes King of Jerusalem and is succeeded as the Angevin Count by Geoffrey.

1129-30 The first Pipe Roll, partial financial records for the Exchequer or Treasury, survives for this year and the series continues almost unbroken up to 1833.

1134 The king’s brother Robert Curthose dies in prison at Cardiff castle.

1135 Geoffrey and the Empress Matilda take castles in Normandy and support rebels against her father.

~ Henry I dies leaving the Empress Matilda, Countess of Anjou, as successor, but the English nobles and Church leaders support Stephen of Blois (c1094-1154), son of Adela daughter of William the Conqueror.

~ Roger Bishop of Salisbury (died 1139), keeper of the Exchequer, defects with the royal treasury to King Stephen.

1136 Heavy defeat for the Normans at the battle of Crug Mawr, Ceredigion halts Norman expansion in West Wales.

~ King David I (1084-1153) of Scotland, uncle to the Empress, seizes Carlisle and Newcastle.

1137 King Stephen’s attempt to drive The Empress out of Normandy fails when his Norman and Flemish allies quarrel.

1138 David I of Scotland is defeated by Stephen’s army at the battle of the Standard near Northallerton, but Cumbria and much of Northumbria remain under David’s control.

~ Robert Earl of Gloucester (c1090-1147), illegitimate son of King Henry, declares support for his half-sister Matilda.  A rebellion breaks out in SW England.

~ Theobald of Bec (died 1161) is appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in preference to Hugh de Blois Bishop of Winchester, the king’s brother who becomes the Papal Legate.

1139 King Stephen arrests Roger Bishop of Salisbury and his nephews, the bishops of Ely and Lincoln, suspecting they plan to defect to the Empress, and confiscates all their castles.

~ The Empress, previously inconvenienced by the pregnancy and birth of her third son, invades England with Robert of Gloucester.

~ Stephen invests Henry son of King David I of Scotland with the earldoms of Northumbria, Cumberland and Huntingdon.

~ Attributed date for History of the Kings of Britain, a mythical history of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (dates unknown) which contains the first historical reference to King Arthur.

1140 William of Malmesbury, author of The History of the Kings of England and the best-known English historian of the 12th century, commences a chronicle of Stephen’s reign.

1141 King Stephen is captured at the battle of Lincoln.

~ William of Ypres, a Flemish mercenary, takes command of royal forces.

~ However, Matilda fails to win the crown because the London citizenry reject her.

1142 Robert Earl of Gloucester is captured at the Rout of Winchester. An exchange of prisoners results in freedom for him and King Stephen.

~ The Empress, closely besieged in Oxford castle, makes a wintry escape across the frozen river Isis.  The war enters a period of stalemate, followed by anarchy.

~ Orderic Vitalis (1075-1142?), an English-born son of a French priest, puts finishing touch to Historia Ecclesiastica, part of which is an important social and political history of the Norman period.

1144 Geoffrey of Anjou takes Rouen and is recognised as Duke of Normandy by the King of France.

1146 Some barons prepare to depart on the 2nd Crusade.

1147 Death of Robert of Gloucester, the Empress’s military commander.

1148 Theobald Archbishop of Canterbury is briefly banished and the Pope puts England under an Interdict which forbids the public celebration of sacred rites.

~ The Empress returns to Normandy.

1149 Henry Plantagenet (1133-1189), son of the Empress, is declared Duke of Normandy by his father.

1151 Geoffrey of Anjou dies.  His son Henry Plantagenet inherits Anjou.

~ Archbishop Theobald convenes a Church Synod which passes statutes forbidding the taxation or seizure of church property and the prosecution of clergy in the royal courts.

1152 Henry Plantagenet marries Eleanor (c1124-1204), Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right and the ex-wife of Louis VII of France.

~ Stephen attempts to have his son Eustace Count of Boulogne (c1131-1153) crowned as the young king but Theobald the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops, on instructions from Rome, refuse to perform the act.  Theobald briefly goes into exile again.

~ Synod of Kells.  The Irish church is reorganised to reduce monastic powers with three Irish archbishops under the primate of Armagh.

1153 Death of Stephen’s son Eustace the end of Stephen’s dynastic ambitions.

~ Henry Plantagenet gathers influential support from the Church in England.  At the Treaty of Winchester, King Stephen recognises him as the heir to the throne.

1154 Death of King Stephen and the end of the Great Anarchy, a period of immense hardship for much of the population of England caused by nineteen years of civil war and lawlessness.

~ Henry of Huntingdon, a prolific poet and writer on other matters, including a medical treatise on herbs, spices and gems, finishes the eighth book of his History of the English.


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