Feudal Britain: The Completion of the Medieval Kingdoms, 1066-1314

By G. W. S. Barrow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE CONQUEST OF ENGLAND

FROM 1016 to 1035, England had been ruled in right of conquest by a Danish king. Between 1035 and 1066, the country was threatened seriously and frequently by other Scandinavians intent on conquest. Against this background, the invasion of the Normans seems neither sudden nor unprecedented. And, when all has been said regarding its good and bad effects, it must be borne in mind that England, once conquered by the Normans, was at least never conquered by anyone else. When Duke William had the crown placed on his head on Christmas Day, 1066, he -- and his dynasty -- had come to stay.

Historians are generally agreed that until shortly before his death the childless Edward the Confessor, who was educated in Normandy and had personal leanings towards French men and manners, wished his successor to be William the Bastard,1 Duke of the Normans since 1035. Nominally, the Duke of Normandy, ruler of a rich and compact region from the Côtentin peninsula to the mouth of the River Somme, was the subject of the King of France. But ever since the early tenth century, when the Scandinavian pirates had become permanent settlers and had founded the duchy, Normandy had maintained a much greater degree of independence towards the French kingdom than normal feudal custom would have permitted, and no Duke of Normandy would have regarded the possible acquisition of the English throne as dependent on his nominal overlord's consent.

King Edward's intention and the duke's acceptance were probably signalised as early as 1051, when William paid a personal visit to the English court. But between that date and Edward's death English politics had become dominated by the family of the earls of Wessex, who stood for a powerful and growing anti-foreign reaction among the English governing class. Their head until his death in 1053 was Earl Godwine, and he was succeeded by his son Harold, a man of

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1
He was the son of Duke Robert I of Normandy by his mistress Arlette, daughter of Fulbert, a tanner of Falaise.

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