The laws introduced by William the Conqueror after his victory at Hastings in 1066, had an impact on everybody in England. These laws were introduced by William to control the English. William has gained a reputation of being nothing more than a tyrant in England. However, these laws, designed to control a conquered nation, could have been a lot worse. At the start of his reign, William wanted to appeal to the English. He tried to learn the English language, as an example.

Along with the building of castles and the Domesday Book, these laws were part of William’s way of controlling the English population. However, what William would have seen as conciliatory behaviour at the start of his reign, was not as well received as he would have wished for. After the rebellion in the north of England, Norman rule became far more harsh.

What did these laws state? Below is a modern translation of what they introduced.

  1. 1. Only one God will be worshipped throughout the whole of England and there will be only one faith. This will preserve peace between the English and the Normans.
  2. 2. All freemen will swear an oath that they will be loyal to the king. All freemen will swear to defend William against all of his enemies.
  3. 3. All those men who came to England with William in 1066 and after, shall be guaranteed their safety. If any of these men are killed, his murderer must be caught within five days if possible. His lord is responsible for this. If that lord fails to do this, that lord must pay me 46 marks of silver. If he cannot afford to pay this fine, those who live under his control must pay up to a total of 46 marks of silver.
  4. 4. All Frenchmen who shared in the customs of the English when Edward the Confessor was king shall pay what is called “scot and lot”.
  5. 5. No live cattle can be sold outside of cities. When cattle is sold in cities, there must be three witnesses to the sale. If this law is ignored, the person responsible shall be fined the same sum of money as was made in the sale.
  6. 6. If a Frenchman accuses an Englishman of murder, theft or perjury, that Englishman shall be allowed to defend himself either by ordeal through combat or by ordeal by hot iron. If that Englishman is too ill to do this, he will find another Englishman to do this in his place. If an Englishman accuses a Frenchman of a crime, and is unwilling to prove his case against the Frenchman by ordeal of combat or hot iron, the Frenchman will be acquitted if he swears an oath of innocence.
  7. 7. All the laws regarding land ownership introduced under Edward the Confessor, shall be kept alongside those land laws William has introduced.
  8. 8. Anybody who wants to considered a freeman must swear an oath of loyalty. This oath must be guaranteed by others. If this man who has sworn an oath, breaks the law, those who have guaranteed his oath must pay any fine that is set against this man. Any problems should be sorted out in a court of law. If anybody who is summoned to court refuses to attend, he shall receive one warning; if he refuses to attend a second time, he shall have one ox taken from him. If he fails to attend a third time, he shall have another ox taken from him. If he fails to attend a fourth time, he shall pay a fine to the king and shall have taken from him goods to the value of the original charge against the accused.
  9. 9. No man is allowed to sell another man. Anyone breaking this law will pay a fine to the king.
  10. 10. No one shall be executed for crimes they have committed; but if they are guilty of a crime, they will be blinded and castrated. This law is not to be challenged.

William’s brutal clampdown on any opponents only occurred after the failed rebellion in the north of England which centred on an attack on York Castle. It was only after the English had seemingly betrayed William and his ‘generosity’ that he embarked on the “Harrying of the North” and the rule imposed on England became more brutal.

See also: William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror and Consolidation of Power 1066-1087