What did the Normans ever do for us? By us, I mean the Anglo-Saxons that had been gradually subdued and beaten into submission by the Norman Conquest of the 11th Century. Let us reflect on the conquering achievements of the bastard Duke of Normandy in his role as King of England. In his twenty-one years of rule, what exactly did he achieve?
The first achievement that leaps to mind is castles. The Normans knew how to throw up a mud hill, stick giant wooden stakes around it and shelter behind this relatively secure construction. With the local area secure, they then progressed to upgrade the Motte and Bailey to a stone construction using stone from Norman quarries. These castles would then keep the local population under control and discourage any further insurrection.
So apart from castles, what did the Normans ever do for us?
King Edward the Confessor had spent many years in exile in Normandy before his accession to the English throne in 1042. With his life experience and with the Anglo-Saxon nobility, he created the Witan (Council) to advise and carry out his instruction. When William of Normandy became king he did not change the format of this Council, but only its leaders from Anglo-Saxon to Norman. William realised that for the invasion to succeed, he needed to keep as much continuity to Anglo-Saxon life as possible. The administrative frameworks of England and Normandy were run in very similar fashions, so there was little change required to a country that was rich in agriculture, coin and population. England had become the envy of most of Medieval Europe and was seen as a very rich prize.
In December 1085, William commissioned an account of all the lands, manors, crops and livestock that belonged to the Lords of England. These Lords had sworn their fealty to William and paid him an annual tithe or tax. William needed to know the extent of their property so he could tax them accordingly. This account became known as the Domesday Book and was completed in August 1086. It had taken seven months to gather the required information from 13,148 settlements in England. It was published shortly before William’s death. The fact that seven teams of scribes could travel England and ascertain this quality of information was a testament to the organisation and administration that was already in place before the Norman Conquest. The Norman collation of this data into two volumes, The Great and Little Domesday book, is a legacy for us all to share 1,000 years later.
So apart from castles and the Domesday Book, what did the Normans ever do for us?
Apart from the scorched earth policy and famine meted out to the Northern counties in the ‘Harrying of the North’ in 1070 as punishment for the rebellion in York, there is not much else to add to William’s glowing list of achievements.
What is perceived as a Norman conquest of the Anglo-Saxon people in power and mind can only be attributed to the fact that the framework of a very successful race was already in place.
For another article on the Normans’ legacy, see 1066: The Impact and Legacy of the Norman Invasion of England.
See also The Harrying of the North: a Great Medieval Massacre, 1069 and 1066: One Crown, Two Kings, Three Battles.
For more about 1066 and the Norman Invasion, see 1066 In An Hour.