A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
The Normans: peace by power

FEUDAL FOUNDATIONS

THE Norman Conquest of 1066 opened new and significant phases of constitutional development. William the Conqueror (1066- 1087), that grandchild of the Northland fiord, systematically established strong royal powers and found able servants to make that strength effective.

Led by William, the vigorous and capable Normans succeeded in bringing about a new order, a revolution in the social structure. The conquerors had the power to make radical changes. They had rather precise conceptions of what they wanted. Because they were mature and practical men, trained in the skills of the Continent, they lost no time in moving towards their goals. The chief servants of the royal household were Normans. No Anglo-Saxon was appointed to any high office in the church. When William died there were only two English bishops and two English abbots. Only a few sheriffs were Englishmen. The sullen north was cowed. Great Norman castles were built at strategic points in England and along the Welsh border. The result of all this was an immense profit in lives and time.

Now the hour was at hand for the introduction of customs and institutions prevalent in the duchy of Normandy and common to Western Europe. From their homeland the Normans brought the ideas of full-grown feudalism and all the peculiar implications contained in the flexible concept of the feudal contract. In Anglo-Saxon England there had indeed been approaches to feudal arrangements, as in the practice of "commendation." But there had been no genuine feudalism, no national tenurial and social organization in which duties and rights were precisely defined. Society in England was now to be

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