The year 1066 is often remarked as being one of, if not the most important, dates in British history. When William the Conqueror and his army from the north of modern day France defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings the throne of England passed from the Anglo Saxons to the Normans. It was a moment that had substantial and lasting effects, shaping the country and its history for centuries to come.
Often referred to as the Norman yoke, the most wholesale changes to England under William came from the introduction of feudalism. It was this oppressive approach that saw English people coin the term retrospectively in the 17th century – it is reflective of the view that the Normans destroyed the golden age of the Saxons by changing the rights and roles of the nobility and gentry.
As the historian Robert Bartlett states, this was “the swiftest and most thorough replacement of one ruling class by another in English history”.
Not only did William replace English nobleman with his own trusted Norman advisors, but he also gave them large plots of land and in return the nobility would collect taxes in that region. This is evident in the Domesday Book, in which William surveyed the entire country to determine how much land people owned, what was on it and therefore how much tax they should pay.
Fundamentally, the fact that French men replaced English in positions of power and authority – both in society and in the church – was an important shift that would leave a legacy in the medieval period. It also saw a more centralised form of government being introduced, with strong administration delegating and communicating laws and policies outwards across the country.
One of the most easily identifiable legacies left behind by the Norman Conquest were the castles. As part of his consolidation of power William built a castle in most major towns, in which he would then install a trusted Norman nobleman.
While castles have become synonymous with medieval England, there were none in existence prior to 1066. By the time of his death 21 years later there had been more than 80 castles built – it started a trend that would last for hundreds of years in which kings and lords would build and rule from huge, impressive and easily defendable stone buildings.
It was not just castles in which Normans left their architectural mark; they also transformed the style of churches and cathedrals. The Normans erected cathedrals in Ely and Durham, some of the finest buildings in English history.
Like the Romans before them, the Normans brought new building methods and styles to Britain. They modernised and transformed architecture across the country that would last until the modern day.
Language and culture
The fact that the Normans assumed many positions of power in English society first and foremost saw the introduction of new language with the switch from Old English to Latin. It would not be until the 14th century that English (this time, Middle English) would regain a hold in the country. In fact, this new spoken and written dialect would be a hybrid of the two languages.
There would also be a political shift away from Scandinavia and the Viking conquerors toward the European Continent, particularly France, with whom the English would continue to battle for power throughout the coming years. Mead halls also were replaced by the continental fashion of wine drinking, something which became a sign of aristocracy following the Norman Invasion.
Many French names that are still popular today – such as William, Robert and Henry – came into to English culture after 1066, replacing the traditional Anglo Saxon names like Godwin and Harold.
"The Legacy of the Norman Conquest". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2014. Web.