Wikijunior:Kings and Queens of England/The Normans

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Wikijunior:Kings and Queens of England
More Anglo-Saxons The Normans The Plantagenets

In this chapter we take a look at the Normans. The Normans came to power after invading England in 1066, and they continued in power until 1154 when the throne passed through the female line to the Plantagenets. There were four Norman kings – William I, William II, Henry I and Stephen and, briefly, one female ruler – Matilda. We look at these in turn below.

William I (1066-1087)[edit | edit source]

William I, also known as William the Conqueror and William the Bastard was born around the year 1028 in Falaise in Normandy, in what is now Northern France. He was the only son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, and his mistress Herleva. William was also the grandnephew of Queen Emma, the wife of King Ethelred the Unready and later wife of King Canute of England. William became Duke of Normandy aged seven, when his father died in 1035. With responsibility thrust on him so young, William had his fair share of guardians as well as would-be assassins. William had to learn to deal with physical threats from an early age, and three of his guardians died trying to protect him. When William was 15, King Henry I of France made him a knight, and by the time he turned 19 he was himself successfully dealing with threats of rebellion and invasion. With the assistance of King Henry, William finally secured control of Normandy by defeating the rebel Norman barons at Caen in the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes in 1047.

The Norman Conquest of England[edit | edit source]

In 1066 the Anglo-Saxon king, King Edward the Confessor, died. William, who was Edward's cousin, claimed that Edward, who had no children himself, had named him heir during a visit to France and that the other claimant to the throne, Harold Godwinson, had pledged to support William when he was shipwrecked in Normandy; though William's tale may well not be true. After a meeting of England's leading nobles approved it, Harold was crowned on 5 January. William, however, obtained the Pope's support for his cause. He built an invasion fleet of around 600 ships and an army of 7000 men. He landed at Pevensey in Sussex on 28 September 1066 and assembled a prefabricated wooden castle near Hastings as a base. This prompted Harold to respond immediately and in haste rather than await reinforcements in London.

King Harold Godwinson was in the north of England and had just defeated another rival, King Harald Hardrada of Norway, who was supported by Harold Godwinson's own brother Tostig. Harold marched an army of similar size to William's 250 miles in 9 days to challenge him in battle at Senlac, which later became known as the Battle of Hastings. This took place on 14 October 1066. According to some accounts, perhaps based on an interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry which commemorates the Norman victory, Harold was killed by an arrow through the eye, and the English forces fled giving William victory. It is more likely that Harold was cut down by swords. Unable to enter London immediately, William travelled to Wallingford, and this is where the first set of Anglo-Saxon noblemen surrendered to William's will. The remaining Anglo-Saxon noblemen surrendered to William at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire and he was acclaimed King of England there. William was then crowned on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

Overcoming Resistance[edit | edit source]

Although the south of England submitted quickly to Norman rule, resistance continued, especially in the North for six more years until 1072. Harold's illegitimate sons attempted an invasion of the south-west peninsula. Uprisings occurred in the Welsh Marches and at Stafford, and there were separate attempts at invasion by the Danes and the Scots. The last serious resistance to Norman rule came with the Revolt of the Earls in 1075. It is estimated that one fifth of the people of England were killed during these years by war, massacre or starvation. During William's reign, ownership of nearly all land, and titles to religious and public offices in England were given to Normans. Many surviving Anglo-Saxon nobles emigrated to other European kingdoms. He also ordered many castles, keeps and moats, among them the Tower of London, to be built across England to ensure that the rebellions by the English people or his own followers would not succeed. His conquest also led to Norman French replacing English as the language of the ruling classes, for nearly 300 years.

Domesday Book[edit | edit source]

In December 1085, in order to find out the true extent of his new dominions and to maximise taxation, William commissioned the Domesday Book (pronounced "doomsday book"), which was a survey of England's productive capacity similar to a modern census. It was completed in August 1086. The name "Domesday", which is the Middle English spelling of "Doomsday", only came about in the 12th century to emphasise the book's definitiveness and authority (the analogy refers to the Christian notion of a Last Judgement). The Domesday Book is really two independent works. One, known as Little Domesday covers the English counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. The other, Great Domesday, covers the rest of England, except for lands in the north that would later become Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland and County Durham (partly because some of these lands were under Scottish control at the time). There are also no surveys of London, Winchester and some other towns. In each county the list opened with the holding of the king himself (which had possibly formed the subject of separate inquiry); then came those of the churchmen and religious houses; next were entered those of the lay tenants-in-chief (barons); and last of all those of women, of the king's serjeants (servientes), of the few English thegns who retained land, and so forth. Apart from the wholly rural portions, which constitute its bulk, Domesday contains entries of interest concerning most of the towns, which were probably made because of their bearing on the tax-raising rights of the Crown therein.

Children[edit | edit source]

In 1053 William married his cousin Matilda of Flanders, against the wishes of the pope, Leo IX. He was 26, she was 22. William and Matilda had four male children. The first-born was Robert Curthose and the second was William. The third was called Richard, who died in 1085 whilst William I was alive, and the last was Henry. William I and Matilda also had a number of daughters, but it is not known exactly how many there were.

Death and Legacy[edit | edit source]

William died at the age of 60, at the Convent of St Gervais, near Rouen, France, on 9 September, 1087. He died from injuries to his abdomen after he fell off a horse at the Siege of Mantes and was buried in St. Peter's Church in Caen, Normandy, but only after his fat body exploded as a number of bishops tried to prod it into the stone tomb that had been prepared for him. This created a foul smell and made the mourners leave. When King William I died he divided his lands and riches among his three remaining sons. The eldest, Robert, became Duke of Normandy; the second, William, became King of England; the youngest, Henry, received silver, but he was to become king later, after William II died.

William II (1087-1100)[edit | edit source]

According to William of Malmesbury, William Rufus was "thickset and muscular with a protruding belly; a dandy dressed in the height of fashion, however outrageous, he wore his blond hair long, parted in the centre and off the face so that his forehead was bare; and in his red, choleric face were eyes of changeable colour, speckled with flecks of light".

William II was born in Normandy sometime between the years 1056 and 1060. He was nicknamed "Rufus", which is Latin for "red", perhaps because of his red-faced appearance. He was the second son of William the Conqueror and was King of England from 1087 until 1100, with powers also over Normandy, and influence in Scotland. He was less successful in extending his control in Wales.

Power struggles[edit | edit source]

The division of William the Conqueror's lands into three parts presented a dilemma for those nobles who held land on both sides of the Channel. Since William Rufus and Robert were natural rivals, these nobles worried that they could not hope to please both of them, and thus ran the risk of losing the favour of one ruler or the other (or both of them). The only solution, as they saw it, was to unite England and Normandy once more under one ruler. They therefore revolted against William in favour of Robert in the Rebellion of 1088, under the leadership of the powerful Bishop Odo of Bayeux, who was a half-brother of William the Conqueror. Robert failed to appear in England to rally his supporters, and William won the support of the English with silver and promises of better government, and defeated the rebellion, thus securing his authority. In 1090 he invaded Normandy, crushing Robert's forces and forcing him to give up a portion of his lands. In 1091, Henry, William's younger brother, attempted to depose William. After this Robert and William made up their differences and William agreed to help Robert recover lands lost to France. Later Robert appointed William to rule Normandy on his behalf when Robert went away on the First Crusade in 1096.

Much of William's reign was spent feuding with the church; after the death in 1086 of Lanfranc, who was the Italian-Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, William delayed appointing a new archbishop while keeping some of the church's money for himself, and it was only whilst William was seriously ill in 1093 that he appointed another Norman-Italian, Anselm of Bec, as the next Archbishop. All this led to a long period of animosity between church and state. William and Anselm disagreed about many things, and the English clergy, who relied on the king for their living, were unable to support Anselm publicly. William called a council at Rockingham in 1095 to bring Anselm to heel but the churchman appealed to Rome. In October 1097, Anselm went into exile, taking his case to the Pope. The new pope was Pope Urban II who was not in a position to make further royal enemies. The Emperor of Germany supported an antipope, and Urban came to an agreement with William. William recognised Urban as pope and Urban accepted William's position in his disputes with Anselm. William kept the income from archbishopric of Canterbury as long as Anselm remained in exile, and Anselm remained in exile until the reign of William's successor, Henry I.

William argued with the Scottish king, Malcolm III, forcing him to pay homage in 1091 and seizing the north-western county of Cumbria in 1092. At the Battle of Alnwick on 13 November 1093 Malcolm and his son were slain. William gained effective control of the Scottish throne after Malcolm's death, when he backed a man called Edgar to become king, a position he filled from 1097 to 1107. On the home front William had a number of disputes with the Norman nobles. In 1095, William had to lead an army against the earl of Northumbria. Another noble, William of Eu, was also accused of treachery and blinded and castrated. In the same year William II also led an unsuccessful campaign into Wales. He tried again in 1097 with an equal lack of success. He went to Normandy in 1097 and from then until 1099 campaigned in France, enjoying some limited success. At the time of his death he was planning to occupy Aquitaine in south-western France.

Death and Legacy[edit | edit source]

William II was killed whilst hunting in the New Forest on 2 August 1100. The circumstances remain unclear. During the hunt, the party spread out as they chased their prey, and William, in the company of Walter Tirel (or Tyrell), Lord of Poix, became separated from the others. It was the last time that William was seen alive. William was found the next day by a group of local peasants, lying dead in the woods with an arrow piercing his lungs. William's body was abandoned by the nobles at the place where he fell, because the law and order of the kingdom died with the king, and they had to flee to their English or Norman estates to secure their interests. Legend has it that it was left to a local charcoal-burner named Purkis to take the king's body to Winchester Cathedral on his cart. A stone known as the Rufus Stone marks the spot where some believe he fell.

According to the writers in the years after the event, William's death was not murder. Walter and William had been hunting together when Walter let loose a wild shot that, instead of hitting the stag he aimed for, struck William in the chest. Walter tried to help him, but there was nothing he could do. Fearing that he would be charged with murder, Walter panicked, leapt onto his horse, and fled, ending up in France. As William II never married, and so had no legitimate heir, the next king was his brother, Henry.

Henry I (1100-1135)[edit | edit source]

Henry I of England was born sometime between May 1068 and May 1069, probably in Selby, Yorkshire. He was the fourth son of William the Conqueror, and he was King of England from 1100 to 1135. He became known as Henry Beauclerc because of his scholarly interests, and by the nickname "Lion of Justice" because of the legal reforms he made. Henry I became king after the death of his brother, William II, which happened when his older brother, Robert Curthose, who was meant to succeed William II, was away on the First Crusade. It was Robert's absence, along with his poor reputation among the Norman nobles, that allowed Henry to take the throne. After being accepted as king by the leading barons, Henry was crowned three days later. He was able to keep the support of the barons by issuing the Charter of Liberties, which promised the barons certain rights. His reign is noted for Henry I's political skills, improvements in the machinery of government, the integration of the divided Anglo-Saxon and Normans within his kingdom, and his reuniting of the dominions of his father. Henry I was probably the first Norman ruler to be fluent in the English language.

Henry's reign[edit | edit source]

Henry I depicted in Cassell's History of England (1902)

In 1101, a year after Henry became king, his older brother, Robert, invaded England in an attempt to become king. They agreed a peace in the Treaty of Alton, in which Robert accepted Henry as King of England and returned peacefully to Normandy. In return Henry agreed to pay Robert 2000 marks each year. Four years later, though, Henry took an army across the English Channel. In 1106, he defeated his brother's Norman army decisively at Battle of Tinchebray. He imprisoned his brother Robert, and claimed the Duchy of Normandy as a possession of England, as a result reuniting his father's lands.

Henry tried to reduce his problems in Normandy by marrying his eldest son, William Adelin, to the daughter of Fulk V, Count of Anjou, who at the time was an enemy of Henry's. Eight years later, after William's death, Henry married his daughter Matilda to Fulk's son, Geoffrey Plantagenet. This later led to the two countries uniting under the Plantagenet kings.

Henry needed money to strengthen his position, and this led to more central government. Henry also made a number of legal reforms, including the Charter of Liberties, and restoring many of the laws of King Edward the Confessor.

Henry was also known for some brutal acts, most notably in 1119, after King Henry's son-in-law, Eustace de Pacy, and Ralph Harnec, the constable of Ivry, who had taken each other's children prisoner, agreed to release them. Eustace blinded Harnec's son, after which Harnec demanded vengeance. King Henry therefore allowed Harnec to blind and mutilate Eustace's two daughters, who were also Henry's own grandchildren. Eustace and his wife, Juliane, were outraged and threatened to rebel. Henry arranged to meet his daughter, only for Juliane to draw a crossbow and attempt to kill her father. She was captured and confined to the castle, but escaped by leaping from a window into the moat below. Some years later Henry made it up with his daughter and son-in-law.

Marriages and Children[edit | edit source]

In 1100 Henry married Edith, daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. Since Edith was also the niece of Edgar Atheling, whose son was the King Edgar that William II installed on the throne of Scotland, the marriage united the Norman line with old Anglo-Saxon line of kings. The marriage greatly displeased the Norman barons and to try to please them Edith changed her name to Matilda upon becoming queen. Henry I had two children by Edith-Matilda, who died in 1118 - Matilda, who was born in February 1102, and William Adelin, who was born in November 1103. William died when the White Ship was wrecked off the coast of Normandy in 1120. In 1121, Henry I married for a second time. His new wife was Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey I of Leuven, Duke of Lower Lotharingia and Landgrave of Brabant, but there were no children from this marriage. Although King Henry I had only two legitimate children, is famed for holding the record for the largest number of acknowledged illegitimate children born to any English king, with the number being around 20 or 25.

Death and Legacy[edit | edit source]

Henry visited Normandy in 1135 to see his young grandsons. He took great delight in his grandchildren, but soon argued with his daughter and son-in-law and these disputes led him to stay in Normandy far longer than he originally planned. It was here that he died of food poisoning from eating foul lampreys in December 1135 at St. Denis le Fermont in Normandy. His body was returned to England and buried at Reading Abbey, which Henry had founded 14 years before.

Left without legitimate male heirs after his son William died, Henry made his barons swear to accept his daughter Empress Matilda, who was also the widow of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir. However her sex and her remarriage into the House of Anjou, an enemy of the Normans, allowed Henry's nephew, Stephen of Blois, to come to England and claim the throne with popular support.

Stephen (1135-1141, 1141-1154)[edit | edit source]

King Stephen.

Stephen was born around the year 1096 in Blois in France. He was the son of Stephen, Count of Blois, and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror. He was the last Norman King of England, and reigned from 1135 to 1154, when he was succeeded by his cousin, Henry II, the first of the Angevin or Plantagenet Kings. At around the age of 10, Stephen went to be brought up at the English court of his uncle, King Henry I. After marrying a daughter of the Count of Boulogne, who was called Matilda, he became joint ruler of Boulogne in 1128. After Henry I died in 1135, Stephen seized the throne before Empress Matilda, Henry I's daughter, could become queen.

The Anarchy[edit | edit source]

Once Stephen was crowned, he gained the support of most of the barons as well as Pope Innocent II. The first few years of his reign were peaceful, but by 1139 he was seen as weak and indecisive, setting the country up for a civil war against Matilda, commonly called The Anarchy. In February 1141 Stephen fought the Battle of Lincoln against Robert, the first Earl of Gloucester and Empress Matilda's half-brother, and Ranulph de Gernon, the second Earl of Chester. Stephen was defeated, captured and imprisoned at Bristol by Empress Matilda, who became England's ruler under the title "Lady of the English". See below for more on Empress Matilda. Empress Matilda did not keep control for long though. She soon was forced out of London, and after her ablest lieutenant, the Earl of Gloucester, was captured, Matilda was forced to release Stephen. Stephen regained his throne in November 1141, and by December 1142, he was besieging Matilda at Oxford, but she managed to escape.

In 1147, Empress Matilda's son, Henry, decided to help his mother by raising a small army and invading England. Rumours of this army's size terrified Stephen's supporters, although in truth the force was very small. However, Henry was defeated twice in battle, and with no money to pay his soldiers, Henry asked his uncle Robert, the first Earl of Gloucester for help but was turned away. Maud was finally forced to return to France, following the death of Robert of Gloucester.

Children[edit | edit source]

Besides Eustace, Stephen and his queen, Matilda, had two other sons, Baldwin, who died sometime before 1135, and William, who became Count of Mortain and Boulogne and Earl of Surrey or Warenne. They also had two daughters, Matilda and Marie of Boulogne. In addition to these children, Stephen had at least three illegitimate children.

Death and Legacy[edit | edit source]

Stephen kept an uneasy hold on the throne for the rest of his life. In 1150 Stephen stepped down as ruler of Boulogne, and in 1151, his son and heir Eustace took over. However, Eustace died in 1153, and it was after this that he agreed a compromise with Empress Matilda so that her son Henry would be the next king of England. On 25 October 1154 Stephen died in Dover. He was buried in Faversham Abbey, which he had founded in 1147. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle said this about Stephen's reign:

"In the days of this King there was nothing but strife, evil, and robbery, for quickly the great men who were traitors rose against him. When the traitors saw that Stephen was a good-humoured, kindly, and easy-going man who inflicted no punishment, then they committed all manner of horrible crimes . . . And so it lasted for nineteen years while Stephen was King, till the land was all undone and darkened with such deeds, and men said openly that Christ and his angels slept".

The Chronicle said of The Anarchy, "this and more we suffered nineteen winters for our sins".

Matilda (or Maud) (1141)[edit | edit source]

Empress Matilda (or Maud)

Empress Maud is the title by which Matilda, the only daughter and second child of King Henry I of England, is known. This is because Matilda was a very common name at the time, and this way we can tell her apart. Matilda is the Latin form of the name "Maud". She was the first ever female ruler of England.

Life[edit | edit source]

Matilda (also later known as the 'Empress Maud'), daughter of Henry I, was the only remaining legitimate heir to the throne after her brother William Atheling drowned in the White Ship disaster of 1120. At the age of eight, she was sent to Germany as the future bride of Henry V, the Holy Roman emperor. They married when she was 12. Matilda was involved in government from a young age – for example, left in charge of affairs in Italy in her husband's absence. When Henry died in 1125, Matilda returned to England, keeping the title 'empress' – an indication of her innate arrogance.

In 1127, the English nobles swore to accept her as Henry I's successor, but her marriage the following year to Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou, didn't help her cause: the Angevins and Normans were long-time enemies. Her failure to win over many leading nobles forced them into the arms of her cousin Stephen, who was proclaimed king on Henry's death. She did have one key supporter, her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, and at his suggestion, she crossed the Channel in 1139 in pursuit of her claim. The ensuing civil war tore England apart for the next 14 years.

Matilda's main chance to seize the crown came after Stephen was captured at Lincoln in 1141 – she declared herself 'Lady of the English' and was elected queen at Winchester on 8 April. But she alienated potential support in London by her arrogance and by her refusal to consider a demand for tax cuts. In less than three months, she was chased out of town. After Stephen was restored to the throne, Matilda evaded capture twice: at Winchester by riding away astride a horse; and at Oxford Castle by crossing ice and snow in white clothing. In 1148, finally realising that she would never truly be queen, she retreated to Normandy. When her son – hitherto known as 'Henry FitzEmpress' – became king as Henry II, in 1154, she ruled the duchy in his absence. She died 13 years later, in Rouen.

Death and Legacy[edit | edit source]

She retired to Rouen, in Normandy. She intervened in the arguments between her eldest son Henry and her second son Geoffrey, but peace between the brothers was brief. Geoffrey rebelled against Henry twice before his sudden death in 1158. Maud died at Rouen on 10 September 1167, and was buried in the cathedral there. Her epitaph reads, "Here lies the daughter, wife and mother of Henry".

References[edit | edit source]

This text is based on information in the Wikibook UK Constitution and Government and in Wikipedia.