The Norman Yoke

The Norman Yoke

The Norman Yoke is a term that appears throughout British history and it has its genesis in the events of 1066. In essence it refers to the oppression of England’s true nature by certain elements of feudalism that were introduced by William the Conqueror.

A yoke is a piece of wood used to connect a farm animal to the plough they are meant to pull. The concept of the Norman Yoke is based on the belief that before 1066 England was a free country with self-governing institutions. After the Norman Conquest – in which Harold was defeated by William at the Battle of Hastings, thereby dethroning the English monarchy – the country and its power structure was greatly altered and these lasting effects of William’s reign have become manifested in this term.

Norman saw on English oak.
On English neck a Norman yoke;
Norman spoon to English dish,
And England ruled as Normans wish.

Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, 1820.

As a concept the Norman Yoke first emerged in the 12th century while the specific term became well established during the English Revolution of the mid-17th century where it was used as a critique on the lack of liberty – something that was traced back to 1066.

Essentially, it was a term that was popularised by revisionists, an historical construct to establish exactly what it was to be ‘English’. It suggests a tyrannical imposition on the free Saxon and while there certainly were changes introduced by William and the Normans, the wide ranging context in which it is now used cannot realistically be directly linked to 1066 and its subsequent changes.


The Norman Yoke has been an argument used throughout history because it points to a better, freer time. From parliamentarians arguing against the tyrannical reign of Charles I during the English Civil War through anti-Catholics centuries later saying that papal influence over England can be traced back to the Norman invasion, it has become a term embodying what is wrong with the power balance in the country.

While its accuracy has long been a topic for historical debate, the fact that Norman Yoke is such a prominent term shows the huge significance of 1066 in England’s entire history and national identity.

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Norman Yoke". 2014. Web.

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