the norman conquest key events


The Death of Edward the Confessor

On the 5th of January 1066, Edward the Confessor passed away. He had no children, no apparent heirs to the throne, leaving it up to the Witan, his counselors, to decide. There is a lot of uncertainty about his dying words and who he left the throne to but there are 4 contenders:

1) Edgar Aethling- He was a Saxon prince and the great-nephew of King Edward, making him the closest blood relative. But he was only 14 meaning he lacked experience and support

2) Harald Hardrada- He was a Viking warrior and King of Norway. Edward the Confessor took the throne instead of Hardrada's father so he wanted to claim back what his father lost. He also was aware of the promise made to his father and the history of his ancestors ruling England.

3) Harold Godwinson- He was the Earl of Wessex and King Edward's brother-in-law. He was promised to be king and was also the richest Earl in the land. In 1064, he was sworn royalty to him on Holy Relics but this was probably forced.

4) William of Normandy- He was a distant cousin of King Edward and a Norman. He was known well by King Edward when he lived in Normandy. William also had support of the pope in Rome.

The Witan chose Harold Godwinson and he was crowned King on 6th January 1066

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The Battle of Fulford

Harold was aware that after he was crowned King, William Duke of Normandy had begun preparations to invade England. He married Edwin and Morcar's sister and asked them to defend the North from Vikings whilst he defended the South from William.

Meanwhile, in the North, Tostig Godwinson was forced into exile for his harsh rule as an Earl. He traveled to Norway to gain support for his return to power from Harald Hardrada. 10,000 Norwegians traveled to the North of England and were met with resistance by Edwin and Morcar. The two armies met in York on the 20th of September 1066.

The Battle of Fulford was a major disaster for King Harold II. He had expected his northern earls to defeat the Norwegians whilst he waited for Duke William’s invasion from the southThe outcome was a decisive victory for Harald Hardrada. He captured the city of York and camped his army 15 miles south at Stamford Bridge to wait for Edwin and Morcar to send money and hostages.

In this battle, the English had 5000 deployed soldiers, and no reserve soldiers, and suffered 1000 casualties. The Norwegians however had 6000 deployed soldiers, and 4000 reserve soldiers and suffered 600 deaths.

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The Battle of Stamford Bridge

King Harold II learned of the Norwegian victory at Fulford whilst he and his army were still waiting for the expected invasion of southern England by Duke William of Normandy. He realized the immediate danger that the Norweigian victory posed and within 2 days, Godwinson had assembled an army of 15,000 men, which included roughly 3,000 Housecarls ( elite soldiers ).

He led his army which were mostly on foot across 185 miles in just 4 days, day and night. Due to this speed, Hardrada's army only knew of the English army's location when they rushed towards their camp. Six days after The Battle of Fulford, the English led an astonishing victory against the Norweigian army who were caught off guard and killed.

Both Tostig and Harald Hardrada were killed during the battle and Harold Godwinson won a famous victory but lost a third of his forces. Only four days later led his army on another exhausting forced march to confront Duke William near the south coast of England.

The English army had 15000 deployed soldiers and suffered 5000 casualties whereas the Norwegian army had 9000 deployed soldiers and suffered 4000 casualties.

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The Battle of Hastings part 1

Several months after preparing an invasion force of 9,000 men and 700 transport ships, Duke William finally landed in England. The Normans came ashore at Pevensey bay in Sussex on 28 September and immediately built a motte and bailey castle. Duke William’s forces used the castle at Pevensey as a base from which to raid the south of England whilst they prepared.

Harold II marched back from Stamford Bridge with an exhausted army. A third of his men had died at Stamford Bridge and another third were left behind during the march south because they could not keep up. However, he did add to his army with the fyrd, although they weren't fully trained soldiers.

October 14th, 1066- day of the battle. Harold Godwinson had tried to catch William of Normandy off guard as he did with the Norwegians but, Norman scouts warned William of the Saxon's arrival. Harold and his army then decided to take up the best defensive position in the area, a small hill 

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The Battle of Hastings part 2

After being spotted by Duke William’s scouts Harold and his army took up a defensive position with a shield wall. William and his army rode out of their castle in Hastings to fight at 9 am. He first fired archers at the Saxons but they were unable to penetrate the shield wall, then he tried infantry but they too were unable to break the Saxons apart.

Some of William's cavalry tried to break through but they were forced backward. Some Normans heard rumors of William's death and started to retreat but to dispel fear and restore morale he rode out and took off his helmet and continued to attack the shield wall.

In the afternoon, William's army tried to "fake retreat" which caused some of the inexperienced English army to come running after the Normans. The Norman cavalry turned and cut the English army to pieces. As more of Harold’s army came down from the hill to join the battle, the Normans had the opportunity to break the shield wall.

At 5 pm an arrow hit Harold Godwinson in his eye whilst he was fighting on foot amongst his men. Upon hearing of his death, his army lost all hope and were quickly massacred by the Norman army. Godwinson's brothers were also killed alongside him and it was clear that Duke William had won.

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Why William won

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First Uprisings

The first uprisings against the Norman rule took place near Hereford in 1067, led by Edric the Wild, one of the most powerful English Thegns. Edric joined forces with Welsh princes to raid Norman-held land and destroy Hereford. His raids were never a serious threat but carried on for years.

William stayed in Normandy leaving England in the hands of FitzOsbern and Odo. By the end of 1067, his spies told him trouble was coming. William returned to London and treated the Lords and Bishops well to encourage loyalty. H then sent messages to Exeter where he knew there was trouble. Harold Godwinson's mother, Gytha, was behind the rebellion. She had fled to Exeter after the Battle of Hastings as her family had land there. 

Gytha sent Harold's sons to Ireland to gather an army and she contacted the Danish King in hopes he would invade from the East. William tried to Gytha and the citizens of Exeter over, asking them to swear an oath of loyalty to him but refused. They wouldn't let him in the city and refused to pay tax. William was not prepared to put up with such a blatant rebellion so he gathered an army and marched to Exeter. Some citizens allowed him in to the city, but others were furious and barred him out, and William besieged the city. After 18 days, Exeter surrendered and William pardoned them. He promised not to punish the people or raise taxes in return for their loyalty. He seized Gytha's land and built a large castle in Exeter.

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Reasons For English Rebellion Against The Normans

Disrespect: Many Norman Lords did not understand local customs

Pride:Some English hated having foreigners ruling over them

Distance: The more distant regions were harder to control

Loss of land and status: Many families lost land and titles after the Conquest, which caused resentment

Revenge: Some people had lost relatives at Hastings and wanted revenge

Taxation: William demanded high rates of tax which caused poverty

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Rebellions in the North

In the Summer of 1068, William got a letter from the people of the North of England, including Edgar Atheling and Earls Edwin and Morcar, saying that if he tried to enter their lands, they would fight him. William gathered an army and marched north, and built a castle in the middle of Edwin's land at Warwick and another in Nottingham. Edwin and Morcar surrendered but were not punished, although their power was depleted. When he got to York the rebels were gone, but he built a castle there and in Lincoln, Huntingdon, and Cambridge to show his power.

Rebellion spread throughout 1069 and William responded with increasing harshness. He sent experienced soldiers north and made a new Earl of Northumbria.He arrived and was attacked and his army looted and killed. He took shelter with his soldiers in a house which was burnt and they were all killed. This sparked another rebellion in York, where William rode forth, fought in a vicious battle, and retook York.

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Rebellions in the North part 2

In 1069, William sent his wife Matilda back to Normandy. Harold's sons sailed from Ireland with a large army. William's army fought off the rebels in Devon and bout 1700 men died. The Danes returned in 1069 and arrived in 250 ships. Gytha had persuaded the Danish King to join the rebels in the north of England. There were rebellions for the next 4 months.

The English and Danish rebels reached York. Citizens destroyed much of the city. William gathered another army and marched north to deal with the crisis. Whilst in the North, William learned the rebels in the West, Including Edric the Wild, had attacked the Welsh borders. They burnt Shrewsbury to the ground and then ran into hiding. At the same time, there were still rebellions in Exeter and Stafford.

The King needed to find a way to stop the uprisings in the north as they opened up the way for other rebellions elsewhere. He decided to pay the Danes huge sums of money to leave and send for his crown. He inflicted mass destruction so that ni enemies could live there. He ploughed salt into the land, plundered and burnt houses to the ground, and killed livestock.

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