- William fitz Osbern, as a boy William I “loved him above other members of his household”. William I and William fitz Osbern were related, as fitz Osbern’s father was the grandson of Duke Richard of Normandy’s half-brother, Rodulf. Later on Roger Earl of Hereford had to forfeit his land and loose his title as Earl of Hereford. This though not brutal is not favoring conciliation by William I or Lanfranc (on William’s behalf).
- The “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” was for the years before and during the conquest of England the main source of evidence and information. There exist three versions: C, D and E, derived from a common source but with some differences. The chronicle supplies a uniquely English account of political events and allows us to make comparisons with the rather obvious Norman propaganda.
- “The Harrying of the North” was in response, by William I, to the revolts occurring in the North (Yorkshire) during the years 1069-70. William had marched north with seasoned troops, devastating the countryside as they went, and slaughtering all the adult males. What his troops conflicted on the people was so terrible that chroniclers remembered it over fifty years later. In the Domesday book, made in 1086, it simply records Yorkshire as “waste” due to the brutality of William the land was depopulated, villages left deserted, farms empty, and this was fifteen years later.
b) To what extent did the Revolts in the years 1069-75 aid William I to assist his Royal Authority in England?
The revolts between the years 1069-75, to a great extent, aided William I to assert his royal authority across England. They provided William with the chance and excuse to use and show his military power. William was able to remove key Anglo-Saxon lords who posed a threat to him; build castles to maintain his control of the country; and it allowed him to firmly set, in the minds of the Saxons, that the Normans weren’t just invaders, like the Vikings, but conquerors of England. However, the revolts were not the only reason for William’s successful affirmation of royal authority on the country. William adopted methods of conciliation. He kept the Anglo-Saxon traditions such as sheriffs, shires, coronation rights and writs and added Norman culture and society on top to create an Anglo-Norman England.
Before the revolts William was in a very exposed position. He had five thousand men to the two million Saxons, and he had no control of the North, West or East of England. Due to this vulnerability William was systematically peaceful in dealing with the Anglo-Saxons; using conciliation rather than consolidation. The revolts were essential to the change in William’s attitude towards the situation. He began to use brutal, ruthless methods to obtain his authority.
The importance of the revolts depended on who was involved and the consequences of the revolt. Though there were minor revolts, when comparing them to revolts such as the Northern revolt (1069-70), they are taken into account to supply us, the historian, with a realistic overview of how dire William’s need was to obtain and retain royal authority.
Rebellions began to inflame the country, in 1067 the Welsh border, lead by Eric “the Wild”, revolted in Herefordshire. Subsequently the south-west revolted in 1068, with the city of Exeter refusing to accept William as their King, and Harold Godwinson’s sons attempted a counter invasion in the summer of 1068. Between the years 1069 and 1070 the North revolted. Rebels in the North burned to death a Norman Earl, Robert of Commines, in Durham. A Viking army of 240 ships, led by the sons of Swegn Estrithsson, landed at Humber and marched on York. They gained support from the local Saxons, and they seized York. Their success produced a domino affect sparking revolts in Dorset, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Somerset. William faced the possibility of a Scandinavian Kingdom in the north of England, or a separate Kingdom for Edgar, the last prince of the Royal House of Wessex.
William reacted to these revolts with characteristic vigour, skill and utter brutality. He “became the barbarous murderer of many thousands, both young and old, of that fine race of people”1. The Welsh failed to take control of the border, and retired to Wales with much booty. Exeter, in the south-west revolt of 1068, was laid under siege for 18 days, by William’s troops, by which time they accepted William as their King. Harold’s sons were repelled by William’s forces in the summer of 1068. William to counter-act this made a series of lighting raids through Warwick, Nottingham, York, Lincoln, Huntingdon and Cambridge to show his presence as the new King. In reaction to the revolts in the North, William marched North with troops from York and Nottingham, devastating the countryside, slaughtering all adult males and pillaging as he went, killing animals and burning crops. This was called the “Harrying of the North” and the destruction of the land was so terrible that when mentioned in the Domesday Book, 20 years later, it was classed as a “waste” land. From Yorkshire William pushed his men across the Tees in the winter and took Chester, and Stafford, and was back in Winchester before Easter 1070.
Due to the revolts and the resulting victories for William, who had either killed or utterly suppressed the resistance, he had to enforce his power, and show that the Normans were the new rulers and would not leave. William accomplished this by first building motte-and-bailey castles across England. William began to erect them right at the start of his campaign, even before the battle of Hastings, and they were virtually unheard of in England. William built hundreds across England, to show the Norman’s strength and power over the population. This geopolitical process meant that they exerted control over the surrounding countryside. The Normans would demolish houses in the centre of towns to erect a castle. This happened in towns such as Cambridge, Lincoln and Dorchester2. These castles were, and still are, “looming features over the landscape”3. They were built in the centre of towns for economic reasons; the material or foundations of earlier fortifications (Roman/Saxon) were there already, and also it was cheaper to build on existing forts rather than building on top of a hill, having to transport supplies and food up it. Another affect of castles was their psychological affect on the Saxon population. Castles were a “conspicuous emblem of Royal authority”4, and were “clearly statements of power to the indigenous people”5. By the end of the revolts, 1075, William felt secure enough with his authority over England that he went back to Normandy and left his trusted advisor and Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc in charge of the kingdom.
Another factor which was opened up due to the revolts, and the success for William I, was the replacement of all the Anglo-Saxon earls. The earls were either dead from the revolts or just forced off their land. William strategically placed relatives or close friends to tenet the earldoms. For example Odo of Bayeaux, was earl of Kent and half-brother to William I. Also the new earl of Hereford, William fitz Osbern, was William’s cousin. This formed a tight, trustful network of family and friends which William could rely on.
Another advantage to William of the revolts was it allowed him to fully assert royal authority on Anglo-Saxon church. William had to as, 30% of land in England was permanently owned by the church, bishops and abbots were literate, powerful men who advised the old Kings of Saxon England. If William could control the church he would be successful in his total control of England. William achieved this by removing 99% of all Saxon bishops, abbots and clergy, with Norman-French ones by 1087. William built new stone cathedrals, as a sign of domination, on top of old wooden Saxon churches. This had the same affect as the castles, showing the Norman supremacy over the Saxons. In 1070 the most powerful churchman in England, Stigand Archbishop of Canterbury, was deposed and replaced by Lanfranc, an Italian monk who was William’s greatest advisor. Three other important Saxon bishops were also removed, and also many abbots. Finally in 1072 Lanfranc gained superiority over the Archbishop of York, thus making Canterbury the chief church post in England. As Lanfranc had control over the North, this aided William with his control. In the 11th century, people were very suspicious and believed solely in the existence of God. These men of God, the bishops and abbots were trusted by the Saxon people no matter what race they were, even Norman, because of the risk it could cause them in the afterlife if they offended them.
The extent of royal authority being asserted on England does not solely come from the revolts but also from William’s conciliation of the country, mainly before the revolts. Although the landscape of England had changed with the formation of castles, looming over the country and the mounted cavalry, trotting through the towns and villages, William I always governed through legal and rightful inheritance from Edward the Confessor with the use of Anglo-Saxon tools of government and traditions of kingship.
When William came to the throne, December 25th 1066, he was crowned in the traditional Anglo-Saxon manner, like Edward the Confessor before. This showed his belief in tradition and proved his rightful claim to the throne. By using the ancient traditions of Anglo-Saxon kingship ceremonies alongside the unique circumstances that brought him the crown, William and his successors were able to appeal both to English customs and to the Norman sense of righteous conquest. William in the lead up to the revolts kept the country as it was, making no major changes and if any were made they would consist of a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Norman customs.
The main household after 1066 was not fundamentally changed. The only big difference in the household was that after 1066, and especially around 1087 (William I’s death) the nobles were increasingly Norman. At first William kept some Anglo-Saxons in his household, one example was Regenbald, and he was the chancellor and was in command of the Royal seal under Edward the Confessor and William I. This shows William’s desire for continuity within the government, and only adding extras on top mixing the two cultures of the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons.
The earldoms at the beginning of William’s reign did not change. They remained as the four large Earldoms of East Anglia, Mercia, Wessex and Northumbria. However, around the time of the rebellions against William I (1070’s), William I granted the land to new nobles and tenants. As a result he and his two half-brothers owned 50% of England, the Church remained with around 30%, and roughly 12 barons (great lords) shared the remaining 20%. These 12 barons, basically like his half-brothers, were often related through hereditary or marriage to William.
Kingship was very much affected by the character of the King on the throne at the time. So this was destined to change with the accession of William I. William I had to be physically strong, spending most of his time on the move (itinerant kingship). Also mentally strong to dominate the churchmen and the barons who all had their own ambitions and interests. With this change in kingship, William introduced a fairly new system of crown-wearing sessions. William I wore his crown and regalia where the people could see him. Three major times for this crown-wearing was Easter at Winchester, Christmas at Gloucester, and on Whitsun in Westminster. This new method and change in kingship could have been a sign of William I’s security as King. However, William I could of used crown-wearing sessions for another reason, to state his claim and right to the throne, indefinitely, upon landholders, and the barons. This would agree with his use of the coinage system set up in England before 1066. William on his coins and seals had a picture of him sitting on the throne with all his regalia, on one side, and on the other him on a horse with a sword; William is declaring his claim to the throne, by right, and if that is not enough by force and bloodshed. William changed the iconography of kingship to add strength to his kingship.
The chancery of pre-1066 was only slightly revolutionised. After 1066 the clerks, who wrote up the laws and grants began to progressively, under William, write the laws in Latin. Latin was the language of authority, the Norman nobles and the officials wrote in Latin. This language of power was fully founded around 1070. The use of clerks was not new to England. William I only adapted them to his cultural needs and desires. Also Latin was not known throughout the greater population. This causes supremacy over the plebs on the land, and dominates their lives.
Sheriffs were the King’s official in a shire. These officials had been around before William. William I did not have sheriffs back in Normandy, and found them to be very useful. After the rebellions around the 1070’s, sheriffs were increasingly Norman (as were the earls and bishops). The powers of the sheriffs increased hugely, and they were often in charge of royal castles (castellans) as well. Most Norman sheriffs were aristocrats who had much more wealth and power than the previous Anglo-Saxon sheriffs.
A final instrument used by William I to completely assert his authority on the country was the production of the Domesday Book6. This book allowed the King to find out who had what and who owed what, twenty years after his seizure of the kingdom. The Domesday Book also shows us how sophisticated the Anglo-Saxon government was before the Normans. Without the shires, hundreds and sheriffs this type of “census” would have been near impossible to make. The Domesday Book is a record of a conquered kingdom, but it is a testament to the survival of the Anglo-Saxon government in many aspects.
William I was aided by the revolts (1069-75) to a great extent. The revolts changed the King from conciliation to consolidation. However, the revolts, the castle building, the revolutionary change of the earldoms and the church, came, all, after the revolts. A new set of values had been introduced into England; these were based upon loyalty and military service. The government of the new king was based upon the traditional procedures and customs of Edward the Confessor but was enforced with a savage energy inspired by, mainly, the revolts between the years 1069-75.
- William the Conqueror’s deathbed confession, from Orderic Vitalis “The Ecclesiastical History” written 1123-41.
- Cambridge (27 houses were demolished),
Gloucester (16 houses demolished),
Lincoln (166 houses demolished), and in Dorchester (an area of 150,000 square metres was taken up).
- Article in History Today, Volume 53, Issue 4.
- Article in History Today, Volume 53, Issue 4.
- Article in History Today, Volume 53, Issue 4.
- The Domesday Book was written in 1086, and was so-called due to its verdicts being just as unanswerable as the Book of the Day of Judgment. It was written in Latin, on parchment and includes 13,400 place names on 888 pages. No other country in the world produced such a detailed historical record at such an early date.