a) Who are the principal historians of the Conquest ? How have historical opinions developed since the Seventeenth century ? What are the principal concerns of the current generation of Conquest historians ? How are their opinions divided ?
b) What are the main contemporary sources for the Conquest ? How reliable are they ?
Jason Bruce Kevin Squires
The way I have chosen to do this is to list the different sources separately and then underneath this place the pros and cons for each one.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

  • Reliable because: Contemporary source.
  • Gives a detailed understanding from the Anglo Saxon viewpoint, and later from a Norman perspective.
  • Some details are highly accurate.
Unreliable because:
  • The Chronicles were not written by one person but were passed from one monastery to another.
  • Seven different versions each with a slightly different
  • Point of view.
  • Very little continuity in style so harder to understand.
  • Monasteries were closed communities so the monks
  • Would not have travelled so information comes from
  • other peoples so it is less reliable.
  • The information becomes full of gossip.
Ordericus Vitalis.

Reliable because:

  • It was an ecclesiastical record making it one of the more
  • reliable ones as the church was still the major record keeper at this time.
  • Monasteries were the hotels of the period so information could be gathered there from all over the country.
  • Principle source for the invasion from the Norman view point
Unreliable because:
  • As stated earlier monasteries were closed communities so the monks information would be second hand
  • The information would be biased and quite often embelished.
William of Poitiers.

Reliable because:

  • principle source for the Norman view.
  • Fairly accurate in most parts.
Unreliable because:
  • View prone to being obscured by superstition.
  • Narrative source so often embellished causing
  • Inaccuracies.
  • Norman view so biased in view point.
William of Jumieges

. Reliable because:

Much the same as the above.

Unreliable because: Again much the same as the above.

The Battle of Hastings and the events which surrounded it are unusually well documented for the medieval period. There are eight principle contemporary sources, all with their own merits and demerits. Four of these come from Normans who were alive during the period. The others are from either an Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norman backround.

About five years after the events of 1066, two accounts were being composed by Normans. The first of these was GESTA NORMANNORUM DUCUM [Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans]. It was composed by William of Jumieges and was started c. 1070. It consisted of a series of eight books, however only three short chapters were dedicated to the invasion, and it may be incorrect in several places, most notably when he writes "Harold himself fell mortally wounded in the very first coming together of the two armies" (VII.36). As he himself was a Norman , his account may be somewhat biased, and his writings show obvious pride in the Norman achievements.

The second account was William of Poitiers' GESTA WILLELMI DUCIS NORMANNORUM ET REGIS ANGLORUM [Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of England]. This is the longest and arguably the most important written evidence for this period. It was begun c.1071 and thus his account of the 1066 campaign may be considered generally reliable. It is a very detailed piece, especially when reporting about military affairs (William was a former soldier), but as with the GESTA NORMANNORUM DUCUM, his account is obviously biased and provides little information about the Anglo-Saxons.

Another account is available from a Latin poem called CARMEN DE HASTINGAE PROELIO [Song of the Battle of Hastings]. This poem describes events from August 1066 at Dives up until 25th December of the same year at William's coronation as king. There are two scholls of thought with regard to this poem. The first is that is was the work of Guy, Bishop of Amiens, before May 1068, thus making it the earliest Norman source. The other view is that it was written much later and is therefore useless as a contemporay source. The poem provides a detailed description o Harold's death, and gives more of a continental rather than a Norman perspective of events.

Finally there is the Bayeux Tapestry (which is not in fact a tapestry), which is probably the most important source for these events. It is believed to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo in 1077. It is in six to eight sections and describes events from 1063 up until the end of the Battle of Hastings. As it is in pictorial form, it gives not only an insight into the events which took place, but also how people dressed, what weapons they had etc. Again as a predominantly Norman composition (although some Anlo-Saxons are believed to have worked on it) it also gives a somewhat biased account of events. Interpration of it is, however, not straightforward and as Stephen Morillo says "While the value of the source is lear, it's meaning and point of view are often not so obvious."

The next generation of chroniclers were of Anglo-Norman stock, the two most important being William of Malmesbury (b. 1095) and Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon (b. 1080). William's GESTA REGUM ANGLORUM [Deeds of the Kings of England] was finished c. 1125. it is a supposedly impartial account of events, and Harold's death is dealth with in some detail in Book III - "But when Harold fell dead with his brain pierced by a blow from an arrow, the English fled headlong through the night." - This is the first mention of Harold and the infamous arrow incident. He also states that "This was a fateful day for England for now it is passed into the hands of new masters". In his account he also lays blame upon the drinking habits of the English for their defeat.

Henry of Huntingdom's HISTORIA ANGLORUM [Hisory of the English] includes another account from an Anglo-Norman viewpoint. It was begun in the late 1120's. This is also a very biased account which portrays Harold as a perjurer who went back on an oath. William the Conquerer's pre-battle speech (which was kept short in the GESTA WILLELMI) is greatly extended. His account includes many "fanciful details" and in places is very inaccurate. It borrows greatly from other sources and he seems to get confused in some places.

The only actual eleventh century source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It contains six Manuscripts (Ms. A - Ms. F), but only three are relevant to the invasion. None make mention of Harold's visit to Normandy in 1063. Ms. C's account stops before 1066, Ms. D gives a short account of the battle, while Ms. E account is simply this - "Harold marched from the north and met with William in battle before all his army had arrived. He was killed there, and his brothers with him."

There then remains the twelfth century CHRONICON EX CHRONICIS [Chronicle of other Chronicles]. It covers the period 750 to 1117 and is believed to have been the work of Florence of Worcester. For the eleventh century accounts it is a compilation of other sources, possibly including a lost version of the Anglo-Saxon Chroonicle. Aside from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it is the only other contemporary piece which is written from an English perspective. It praises Harold as a great king, but there is little information on his death.

Major problems with accuracy: Exageration, borrowing from other sources, accuracy of numbers, writer's opinions, no-one was actually in the battle etc.

Bibliography ??


c) Who were the claimants to the English throne in 1066 ? How did they derive their claims, and how did they pursue them ?
Zoe Adams Tracy Kortright
Edward the Confessor ruled from 1042 to 1066 and he had a lengthy and secure reign. His marriage to Edith failed to produce any children and as a result, the fate of the English kingdom was open to question in the 1060's. Several claims were made for the English throne and it is highly likely that Edward offered the throne to a number of people. -Edward the Exile was the most likely contender for the title, being Edward the Confessor's closest relative. Edward the Exile arrived in England in 1057 to visit the king, most likely to secure his position in the succession. However, he died before he could meet the king. -Ralph, the Earl of Hereford was the nephew of Edward the Confessor. He also died in 1057. There were some people who felt that his son, Edgar the Aetheling, should become the king. Edgar was not in a position to fight for the title, being only 15 in 1066 and having no earldom or estates of great value.

 -Harold Godwinson was the kings brother-in-law and it was generally accepted that he would become the king. He was Edward's premier earl and was present at the kings deathbed and was seen as the man to carry out the Confessor's final wishes. Before he was actually crowned, it would appear that he actually supported Edward the Exile's claim to the throne. His main desire was to secure his family's position. In 1064 Harold was sent to Normandy, probably to act as ambassador for his brother and nephew who were being held hostage there. He met with Duke William of Normandy who made him swear n oath. It is not definite what exactly was promised by Harold, whether he was to help William become king, whether he just swore allegiance or if he was to give British strongholds to Normandy. What is known, though, is that he broke this oath by accepting the crown in 1066.

-Harold Hardrada, the king of Norway and Sweyn Estrithsson, the king of Denmark also felt that they had a claim to the throne. This was because Cnut, the king of both these countries had also ruled over England. Hardrada beat Sweyn after a quarrel. He became determined to invade Britain. He set sail in September 1066, picking up support in the Orkneys, including Harold's brother, Tostig. He landed in Riccall after raiding and trading along the east coast. He defeated the northern earls and marched to York. Harold got together an army and marched north. Hardrada was killed at and his army defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. -The last claimant was Duke William of Normandy. He was Edward the Confessor's first cousin. Edward had been born in Normandy and under his rule had always maintained his connections with the court in Normandy. After Harold broke his oath to William , he gathered together an army and ships and waited for the wind to be right. On 27th September, he set sail, 2 days after Harold had defeated the Norwegians.

------------ Z.K.Adams 

The two best known claimants for the English throne were Harold Godwine and William, Duke of Normandy, both were powerful men. William was promised the throne in 1051 by Edward the Confessor. Edward had been in exile in Normandy until 1042 so it was not surprising that he should look for companions, advisors, even a successor from Normandy. It was also in 1051 that Edward had temporally thrown of the constraining influence of the Godwine family. Edward's nomination of William in 1051 was meet with approval by many of the leading English magnates. 

For a long time there was little William could do but wait until Edward died, though he was given hostages to keep in Norway as insurance to the promise, including Harold Godwine nephew, Hakon. 

Under Edward's instructions, Harold went to Normandy to bargain with William, but landed in Ponthiou, as a result William had to save him from prison there. While Harold was in Normandy he fought with William in Breton and accepted from him arms and armour. But most importantly, before Harold left he made a promise to William to be his advocate at the court of there Confessor, and to do all he could through his council and fortune to help William obtain the English throne. This oath was made over hidden relics. Romantics would ay Harold was tricked, but it is more commonly thought that he would not have been such a fool as not to suspect their presence. 

When Harold took the throne, William invaded England and won the battle at Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed that the Norman victory was God punishing the English for their sins. Though the Norman said that it was "An appeal to the ordeal of battle through which the judgement of God might be established" 

The Godwine family was extremely powerful, and owned land and manors equal to the crown. Harold expanded family power by creating Earldoms in East Anglia and around London. He also created an alliance with Mercia, when he married the Earls sister. Edward also married Harold's sister Edith. Near the end of Edward's reign Harold was acting as a sub-regulus (in all but name) It is also believed that Edward, on his death bed set aside his promise to William and named Harold his successor. 

Harold claimed the crown twenty four hours after the death of the King, it is thought that Harold moved so quickly because he thought that if he did not he would lose the opportunity. It also shows that a nomination from the king is not sufficient to guarantee succession.

These were not the only people to have a claim to the throne. In 1057 Edmund Ironside's son Edward was invited back into England with his wife and three children, Edgar, Margaret and Christina, after forty years in exile, but he died a few weeks after returning home. It was assumed that he could have been Edward's heir, though no promises had been made. But his son, Edgar was still alive, and Edward's closest blood relative, but at the time of Edward's death Edgar was too young to rule. After the conquest he was treated well and given land, this was later taken away from him when he rebelled against the King. 

The other major claimant to the British throne was Magnus of Norway. In 1038 Harthacnut (second son of Cnut) and Magnus, King of Norway came to terms, and made an agreement that if either should die without issue, the other would inherit, and in 1040 Harthacnut became King of England, but died in 1042 and was succeeded by Edward the Confessor. Magnus considered England to be his under the terms of the agreement made between himself and Harthacnut. The result was regular attacks against England . When Edward died he saw his chance at the English throne, and his son Harold Hardraada along with Tostig, (who had been driven out of Northumbria and exiled by his brother Harold Godwine) organized a campaign against England. They attacked York, but were defeated by Harold Godwine at Stamford Bridge.

  • The Norman's in Britain - David Walker
  • The English and the Norman Conquest - William
  • The Anglo-Saxons - Ed. James Campbell
  • The Norman Conquest - Matthew.
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d) What is meant by the term feudalism ? What is the significance of the following: (a) the fief (b) the tenant in chief (c) the servitium debitum (d) commendation (e) knight service (f) scutage ?
Abby Bryant Sarah Hunter
 When William I took his place on the throne of England he was faced with the 'swollen demesne' that was the land that he had conquered. This land was fertile and productive and most importantly inhabited by natives that he must now rule. The land was his most valuable and productive resource and it would take careful management to control it successfully and capitalize fully on its potential.

The theory of William's feudal system was simple and provided an immediately effective way of dividing up land and controlling his new country. It became understood by all that the King owned all the land in the kingdom. As king he divided up this land into areas called 'fiefs'. These 'fiefs' varied in size and importance and were distributed primarily among the men who had crossed the channel with him as a reward for their service in the conquest. They were given this land to govern but they did not own it and in return for this generous gift each man, or tennant-in-chief owed services to the King. The most important service that they owed in the early years of settlement was of a military nature. Each tenant-in-chief of baron was allocated with a quota of knights that he had to provide for the king. These knights were required to serve in the royal castle and army. Where these knights came from and how the individual barons secured their service is not clear and does not seem to have been a concern for the new King. However, it is the link in the feudal chain which would have most resembled the familiar 'Lord-Retainer' social system that had existed in England before the Norman invasion and is therefore an part of the movement towards the eventual total acception of this as the way in which the country was run. On this level the knights served their lords and all had allegiance to the king. How the barons went about securing and subfeudalizing their own fiefs was not of any real concern to the king himself. The day to day functioning of the kingdom was being taken care of by these individual men who in their own right did not own the land they governed, therefore they could never reach a state of independence that could threaten William as king, he was a strong king with complete control, and within this system he had the guaranteed resources for an army to defend his emerging kingdom.

" Not only was William I the ultimate lord of all land in England, but all who held land owed an immediate duty directly to the king himself "(The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216)

The conquest did not immediately and suddenly impact upon the people of Britain. The realization and acceptance of it spread slowly across the country, helped by this amicable and perhaps not totally unfamiliar system of rule. William created a strong system which relied on mutual obligation and served him well. Therefore for the first time the country as a whole was inextricably united under the rule of a central controlling force.


e) Are we justified in speaking of a Feudal Settlement of England between 1066 and 1086 ?
John Kelly Jacquie Littler
  The Norman conquest of England in 1066 marked a period of change for England and Normandy as William the Conqueror sought to rule both and bring them closer together. This political union entailed radical changes in the higher rank of social order in both countries. For Normandy this meant that the newly formed aristocratic group was to be vastly enriched whilst the English weren't to be so lucky. The same process involved nothing less than the destruction of an ancient nobility, and in its place came a new aristocracy from overseas. This was, in fact, the greatest social change which occurred in England during the reign of William. The fate of the English aristocracy was catastrophic during these years. William, at the beginning, was content to have English officials and magnates in his court, however these men began to drift away from the political scene. Discontent flared into violence as war took control over the English aristocracy. These battles destroyed the lives and property of the Old Order, and brought to an end William's age of compromise. Many of the English fled, many of them died, their downfall was almost complete. The Doomsday Book show that only eight percent of the land of England was retained by the English, the rest by the king, church and William's supporters. Two urgent tasks became William's priority; he must ensure that anarchy wouldn't ensue within the ranks of the competitive aristocracy, it was also imperative that the enrichment of the Norman magnates should be made to enhance not diminish the power and authority of the King. These problems were formidable but upon their solution the Anglo-Norman state would in large depend. 

The redistribution of lands was his first priority and thus it became usual for the Norman lord to receive all of the lands which were formerly belonged to one or more pre conquest landowners. This is thought to be attributed to the king's political design but it was also not uncommon during the reign of Edward the Confessor. Of even greater importance, was the fact that everywhere in England the Norman Aristocracy was made to receive land on conditions which increased William's power as King; he made these man his tenants-in-chief in England, not in absolute ownership as spoils of conquest but in return for providing a specified number of knights for the royal service. William, himself, specified the number of knights needed and this involved the institution of military feudalism in England, this was part of a royal plan, enforced by William in the early years of his reign.

The successful imposition of tenure by service upon his tenants must be regarded as on of the most notable of William's achievements. Not only did this establish his followers as a dominant aristocracy in England, but it made their endowment meet the the defensive needs of his realm. The king was supplied by troops to defend England, because at no time was the Anglo-Norman state free from attack. The feudal policy of the Conqueror was thus a response to immediate military needs. The establishment of a new aristocracy on a basis of military tenure brought a great social change to England and no topic has inspired more controversy than the question whether the basic institutions of military feudalism which it involved were themselves introduced to England for the first time. Some historians say the here there was a break in continuity, and that a new phase of social development had begun, others feel that Anglo-Norman feudalism owed much to the institutions to Anglo-Saxon England. Central to the debate in regard to military feudalism is that in the reign of Edward the Confessor the typical warrior was the Thegn by the time of William's death he was a knight, the difference between these two is the cardinal feature of the debate. 

The feudal policies of William during the years 1070-1087 not only entailed permanent consequences for this country, but linked England and Normandy together in a single feudal polity. This similarity was due in large measure to the problems which faced William during his English reign, and to the manner in which he tried to solve them. In England he was concerned to establish a complete feudal organisation by means of administrative acts, in Normandy he inherited a feudal system which had slowly developed.

The central institution of William's reign was his court and this, from one point of view, could be regarded as the greatest feudal honour in the land. The feudal duty of every vassal included the attendance at the court of his lord, and this duty was shared by the kings tenants. The sessions of this feudal court under William are of a peculiar interest in illustrating his policy of making fundamental constitutional change. Despite an influx on new men and feudal ideas William's court, even at the end of his reign, might still in one sense be found comparable with the court of Edward the Confessor.

The feudal organisation of William's reign served to link England and Normandy, particularly after the Oath of Salisbury which introduced the continental system of feudalism to England, and to join together in a common purpose the Anglo-Norman King and theAnglo-Norman aristocracy. The reign of the Conqueror can be seen as a feudal settlement of a recently conquered country by an able group of men with their King at their head. Their ideas about government were fundamentally the same, all alike inhabited a feudal world, and they believed that it was to the advantage of everyone in the feudal world, including the King, to hold fast to his proper rights.

Jacqueline Litttler

f) What changes did William make in the government of England ? What is the significance of the writ, the scriptorium, the royal household, the Curia Regis, the sheriff, the justiciar ?
Katie Moonie Georgina Taylor
When William, duke of Normandy, conquered England he was left with the problem of how to control his newly conquested country. It seems that William did use the government to try and over come this problem, but no real drastic changes are actually apparent, and it appears that William was able to use the basis of the Anglo-Saxon government that already existed. S. B Chrimes opinion of William's changes to government seem to be agreeable when he claimed that the early norman government was "elaboration rather than innovation". The basic form of the Norman government was already there when William took the throne he was just able to use it to it's full advantage to help gain control of England.

 To discuss this one must look at the different areas of government and how William used them. At this time the central government was the king's household, consisting of all the people around the king, from his closest advisors to the lowest servant. This never changed its basic form in William's time, just its members became an increasing number of people from Norman origin. This seems quite sensible because William would have wanted to keep the ones he trusted close to him and reward those who had helped him in the conquest. This itself was not a complete turn around because there had already been a strong influence of Norman culture in the royal household of Edward the confessor, who himself had been born in Normandy. 

The household of this time contain the entire king's government, the central governing body of which was called the Curia Regis. The Curia Regis really was not a new idea in England and it's roots can be found in the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot, the old national assembly. It seems that William's Curia regis emerged from the Witenagemot and showed no real administrative difference, and like the household generally, the personnel became more Norman as William rewarded those who had helped him, placing people he knew within the major roles around him. 

Another part of the king's household was the Scriptorium, the king's writing office which later developed into the chancery. The Scriptorium originated in the Anglo-Saxon period, though it is difficult to see if there was a structured writing office and not clerks who wrote documents as and when the king needed them. What can be seen is that the royal seal used to authenticate documents did exist in the Anglo-Saxon period, which does indicate there must have been some type of organized writing office to the king. It appears that there was no real change in the structure of the scriptorium, but it did become a more organized institution through Williams reign as it came into more use due to the documents needed to ensure the conquest was successful. 

One reason that the Scriptorium came into more use at this time was William's increased use of Writs. Writs were legal documents that originated in the Anglo-Saxon period as official notifications of land grants. William was able to use writs to their full extent, using them not only for land grant but also as notifications of his wishes and proclamations. Slowly they were converted form English to latin, but essentially kept the same form they had followed in the pre conquest years. William's extended use of writs could be counted as a change, but it appears that they still were basically the same document that had existed before, just William needed to extend their use to gain complete control over his new government. 

Also noticeable at this time in the scriptorium the rise of the chancellor. Basically the chancellor's role was to protect the King's seal used to authenticate all his official documents, but, by Henry I's reign, the role had increased in importance to be one of the most important members of the king's household. This rise is mostly credited to the fact that the early Norman King's increased the amount of documents created, therefore the chancellor would be more needed to authenticate the king's documents, increasing his workload and importance to the king. Again the chancellors role wasn't a innovation of the early Norman kings as it's basic form had existed in Edward's reign, the foundations had already been there for the Normans to build upon. 

One new idea that did appear in William's central government was the role of the justiciar. The Justiciar was the king's representative while he was in Normandy, essentially ruling England on the king's behalf. This was a person who the king could rely upon and trust, usually Lanfranc of Pavia in William's reign, to ensure the country still ran while the king was away. This was a new idea for the English government because England had never really needed such a role. This un-permanent role, only used when the king was in Normandy, really did nothing new and still had to work down the traditional channel as the king did, and appeared only to be to advise the king while keeping an eye on the country when he was abroad. 

Lastly one must look at the local government that existed in William reign. In the Anglo-saxon period the government had relied upon the local government to run the country as the royal household had been a moving one. Therefore when William conquered England there was already quite a strong network of local government which they made little changes to. The only area of change appears to be in the role of the sheriff. The sheriff had originated from the Shire reeve in the early eleventh century, and his role was to preside over the the courts of his shire. This role was the central government's major contact with the localities and was relied upon to keep the peace there. The Norman's adapted the role, so the sheriff became able to collect the taxes within their areas, this helped the Normans to be able to effectively collect taxes when they were building up their control of the country. Also a significance change was, much like in the central government, the sheriff role came to be more Norman oriented, and by 1071 all the sheriff had Norman origins. Whether this was a deliberate attempt to place the country under complete Norman control or just rewards to the lower landowners who had fought in 1066, is difficult to tell, but it does show that the Normans were able to spread out their influence out into the localities. This again appears to be the Norman kings utilizing the already existing Anglo-Saxon governmental structure, and adapting it to their own reign making very few major changes to the basic role of the local government. 

It seems that William did make some changes to the government of England, but what is more apparent is it appears he only built on the basic structure of the Anglo-Saxons and organized them into a structured formal government. There was no real drastic change to a completely new government just one built upon the foundation of the one that had existed in Edward the confessors reign.


William the Conqueror inherited a well ordered, wealthy and sophisticated government. The quality of the changes made by William showed great innovation and adaptation, however, it was the desire for stability that underlies the government of the early norman kings - stability could only be achieved by a high degree of continuity in administrative practice. It was of great personal achievement that William managed to uphold the administrative framework of the kingdom of England, never once disrupting it.

The greatest social change which occurred in England during William's reign was the destruction of the ancient nobility who were substituted with a new aristocracy imported from overseas. This radical policy can be seen in all areas of William's government: For example, the Curia Regis (King's court) after 1070 had become norman in personnel with very few important english names remaining. Another example of the change in the composition of governmental bodies can be shown in the Royal Household - to begin with William had retained a number of laymen who had been officials at Edward the Confessor's court, but not long after he had established complete rule, did he begin to replace men of native english ancestry with members of the norman aristocracy. By 1087 the royal household was overwhelmingly norman in personnel. With regard to the shreivalty, the whole process of placing a new aristocracy in the positions of sheriff enabled the Conqueror to create greater stability in his new kingdom without disrupting the existing institutions of local government.

During the reign of Edward the Confessor the writ was used as a title deed - a simple letter written in the vernacular and authenticated with the royal seal. It was a statement intended for public notification of royal grants of land or privileges. The writ did survive the conquest and retained much of the diplomatic/formal style of the earlier vernacular version. It continued to be authenticated by the royal seal during William's reign. The most significant change of the writ was linguistic; after 1070 almost all were written in latin. William also made changes to the roles of the writ:

  • 1. There was an increase in the "executive" order.
  • 2. They were used to enforce judicial decisions.
  • 3. Sometimes they were used against royal officials.
This expansion of the roles of the writ was developed under William to his expertise in using old forms to new ends.

The development of the royal household under William is of considerable importance as it contributed substantially to the efficiency of his rule. As discussed earlier, William transformed the racial makeup of the royal household which eventually led to it becoming exclusively norman. The new composition meant a high degree of loyalty and therefore William was tightening his grip on the government of England. Other than its change in composition, very little alterations were made to the royal household, and its basic form remained throughout William's reign.

The scriptorium (the King's writing office) originated from the Anglo-Saxons. William made no real change in the structure of the scriptorium but throughout his reign this political unit became a much more organised body. The scriptorium was used more widely and more often partly due to the increase in the number of writs. During this period where there saw an increase in the number of documents, there grew a greater necessity for the king to use a chancellor to authenticate his documents. This position of chancellor was not a norman innovation as it had been used during the reign of Edward. However, what should be recognised is William's ability to adapt and develop already established polity's. William built upon Edward's foundations and produced a more powerful chancellor with great importance.

The biggest change to the curia regis was the change in its composition - substitution of new aristocracy for old. The curia regis of William could be viewed as composed of men who were "linked to the king by the conditions under which the norman aristocracy held lands in the duchy and in the kingdom."

The justiciar was a new idea innovated by William himself, a role which was developed in his central government throughout his reign. The role of the justiciar was to rule England on behalf of the king when he was in Normandy - He was the king's representative. However, this position was semi-permenant as it was only used when William was abroad.

The general transformation of aristocratic power in England had substantial effects on local government. The norman conquest meant a reduction in the importance of the earl within the english system of local government, as William did not want his kingdom to be divided into semi-independent princedoms. With the decline of the role of earls, the role of the sheriff changed dramatically; sheriffs under Edward the Confessor had been second rank landowners whose position had been dependent upon his being the agent of the king. However, by 1087 the position of sheriff was held by the most powerful members of the aristocracy - William had transformed the political structure within local administration. It was not until 1070 that William initiated his policy of placing prominent men from the new aristocracy into the new roles of sheriff. This successful policy of William's provided a powerful means of giving effect to the royal will. This process of placing a new aristocracy in the positions of sheriff enabled the Conqueror to create grater stability in his kingdom with little disruption.

The responsibilities of pre conquest sheriffs were as follows:

  • a) Supervision of the collection of taxes and fines.
  • b) They controlled the local courts of the shire and the hundred, and they were executants of royal justice.
  • c) Administration of the royal estates.
  • d) The raising and occasional leading of military forces.
It must be remembered that sheriffs of the pre conquest era did have a large degree of power, however, they were subordinate to the more powerful earls. Between 1066 and 1100 the power of the sheriff was immense. Their new duties included the keeping of castles, but more importantly, many sheriffs became associated with the royal court. This connection with the royal court made the position of sheriff a prestigious one and therefore this added to the royal authority they represented. William had given new vitality to the old english office, and by 1087 the sheriff had become a great feudal magnate.

It was inevitable that William, as a norman king, would produce administrative changes in England, but it is more important to realise that William both adapted Anglo-Saxon politics and also innovated many new ideas into the english system of government. His real success was in keeping the administrative system of government stable throughout his reign - none of his changes were radical enough to disrupt the political framework. Continuity was the key to William's success. The traditional interpretation that the english ship of state sailed on, but after 1066 under a new, more vigorous crew remains valid.


  • Barlow., THE FEUDAL KINGDOM OF ENGLAND 1042-1216., (Longman,1999).
  • Douglas.,WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR., (Eyre and Spottiswoode,1964).
  • Le Patourel.,THE NORMAN EMPIRE., (Oxford,1976).
  • Golding,B.,CONQUEST AND COLONISATION., (Macmillan press,1994).
g) What information was recorded in Domesday Book, and what was its purpose ? What can historians learn from the Domesday Inquest ?
Caryl Dane Simon Pickering
 What information was recorded in Domesday Book?

 Generally, a record of ownership of the estates or manors of each county of England and their taxable value. One of the related regional versions, from Ely Abbey survives to record what the commissioners were expected to ask. They recorded basic facts such as the name of the manor, who held it in 1086 and who held it in the past and its dimensions and arable capacity.

 There was also listed the number of ploughs on the lord's land and also among the men.

 Details of the nature of the peasant population were taken, such as how many villagers, cottagers and slaves, and how many freemen and peasant freemen called sokemen and what they owned in livestock. Ancillary sources of wealth such as the amount of woodland and meadow pasture, mills and fishponds were also noted.

 Information was also required about the estate during King Edward's time to ascertain how much had been added or taken away since. What the total revenue of an estate was before 1066, in the year of the survey, and, its potential revenue were also considered.

 What can Historians learn from the Domesday Inquest?

The Domesday Inquest indicates the state of the Nation soon after the Invasion; the wealth and land-holding position in 1086. It provides a political geography of England with its feudal regulation of the territory of the king and his tenents-in-chief, consisting of new Norman lords and a small percentage of surviving Anglo-Saxons. More Anglo-Saxons landlords survived as low-status tenants or lower down the social scale.

 It also shows the military obligations that the king could expect and demonstrates the administrative efficiency of the King's clerks. From comparison of the methodical valuations of each village, before, through the Invasion and after, the progression of William's army can be traced during the Invasion; some places fell drastically in value after destruction by the marauding army.

 Historians can also estimate the population size of England in 1086. 

h) What reforms did William and Lanfranc make in the English church ? What was the significance of their policy on the separation of Church and State courts ?
Jonathan Eastwood Ben White
I) Did the Norman Conquest cause a break in the continuity of English history ? Analyse the arguments for and against. .
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Using the relevant volume of ENGLISH HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS find, read and annotate the following documents:


School of History and Welsh History - University of Wales Bangor