How profoundly changed was England through the Norman Conquest?

Essay, 2005

9 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Oliver Christl (Author)


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Language and Society

III. Government

IV. Landholding

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction

In the centuries before 1066 England had experienced a number of invasions from oversee. But none was as lasting as the Norman Conquest after the battle of Hastings. Although William the Conqueror claimed to be the legitimate heir on the throne of England and was interested in retaining English institutions and customs, the difference in culture and political practice was obvious. Thus, it is likely to assume that the installation of a foreign hierarchy in England could only be achieved with a great effort and was accompanied by certain changes.

This essay investigates how profoundly changed England was through the Norman Conquest. Therefore, in examining the influence on major features of the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy, the investigation first focuses on changes in the English language and society, then on the Norman government in England and, finally, on the structure of landholding in Anglo-Norman England.

II. Language and Society

It often is assumed that the Norman Conquest in 1066 brought an immense change in the society of England. And indeed, there is some evidence for a foreign influence on people's cultural habits and everyday life. Thus, the status of the English language seems to be profoundly affected, as it was superseded by the Latin language in the years after the conquest.[1] Latin, which had already been very influential before 1066, replaced English as the universal and official centralizing language in England.[2] However, this is only true for the written language of the government records and literature. With an estimated number of at the most 10,000 Normans that settled in England as a result of the conquest and a native English population of at least 1,000,000 people[3], it is unlikely that the use of language changed profoundly for the majority of the native speakers after the conquest. Gradually, the new language was assimilated by the English language. It can, therefore, be argued, that the Norman influence gave "new life" to the English language by "releasing it from official constraints and then by enriching its vocabulary with numerous words derived from French and Latin"[4] ; but it did not cause a radical change in the language's use or structure. This argument is confirmed by the fact, that, with the mass of people having problems to understand the new leading churchmen from the Normandy, a rapid production of collections of homilies and other religious writings in English was necessary during the years after the Norman Conquest.[5]

Similar to the assimilation of the Norman language, the Norman Conquest led to an intermixture between the incoming Norman and the native English families. The scholar Ann Williams points out, that, although there is only little evidence, intermarriage was a common characteristic of the post-conquest years, affecting all levels of society. Here, it was, according to Williams, very likely that a Norman took an English wife, mostly a widow, to gain the land that was in her possession. But the contrary scenario, the marriage between an English man and a foreign woman must have occurred as well in the years after the Norman Conquest.[6] Thus, intermarriage, but also attendance at the royal court and service in the royal household produced an assimilation of the Normans within two or three generations of the conquest and the settlement of England.[7] The society that arose as a consequence of this assimilation can be, at first sight, described as being "neither English nor Norman".[8] But this is an oversimplification: the Norman invaders replaced the old English aristocracy, which was largely extinguished at the battle of Hastings, and soon nearly all bishops and abbots were foreigners,[9] but they did not influence the consistence of the peasantry, which formed the majority of the English society. The situation in the English towns was similar: although a number of Norman merchants and traders settled in urban areas[10], the English survived both as the majority of the population and also as a significant element in the urban elite.[11]


[1] Clanchy, M.T.: England and its Rulers. 1066-1272 (Glasgow: Fontana, 1983), p. 46.

[2] Ibid., p. 58.

[3] Saywer, P.H.: From Roman Britain to Norman England (London: The Chaucer Press, 1978), p. 253.

[4] Clanchy, M.T.: England and its Rulers , p. 59.

[5] Saywer, P.H.: From Roman Britain to Norman England , p. 256.

[6] Cf. Williams, A.: The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1995), p. 199-202.

[7] Chibnall, M.: "England and Normandy, 1042-1137" New Cambridge Medieval History 4.2 (Cambridge: UP, 2004), p. 213.

[8] Ibid., p. 199.

[9] Clanchy, M.T.: England and its Rulers , p. 49.

[10] Golding, B.: Conquest and Colonisation. The Normans in Britain. 1066-1100 (London: MacMillan, 1994), p. 78.

[11] Saywer, P.H.: From Roman Britain to Norman England , p. 259.

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How profoundly changed was England through the Norman Conquest?
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England, Norman, Conquest
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Oliver Christl (Author), 2005, How profoundly changed was England through the Norman Conquest?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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