Normans: AS Context

Normans: The Anglo-Saxon Context

Hlafdige Arastorm aka Tchipakkan mka Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor ©2015

Nottingham and guy

To understand Anglo-Saxons we need to understand the people with whom they interacted, what came before and after. This series of workshops looks at the surrounding cultures through the lens of their interaction with the Anglo-Saxons. The infamous problems that arose after the Norman Conquest went beyond the accommodations needed in the Danelaw or even under the rule of Cnut, We’ll look at the Norman/Saxon cultural conflict that only gradually resolved to create Medieval England.


The Normans developed from Norsemen who created the Duchy of Normandy on the coast of northern France, as a fief of the Salian Franks. In 911 ce. the Viking leader Rolf made a treaty with Charless II of Neustria. They agreed to guard the coast against Vikings, and Rolf became Duke Rollo. The mixed group of Scandinavians developed a land-hungry, martial culture that spread across Europe over the next few centuries. They adopted the Frankish language, embraced Christianity, and conquered Sicily, southern Italy, Antioch and the Crusader states and of course, England, followed by Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Some Norman activities not in England:

In 999 some of them returning from the Holy Land fought off a Saracen attack, and were asked by Prince Guiamar of Salemo (southern Italy) to stay in Italy, and keep on defending him. They sent other Normans in 1017, who helped expel the Byzantine rulers. They won land in Naples, Capua, and captured Sicily (1030) and Malta. Normans were eager participants in the First and subsequent Crusades. They participated in the Reconquista of Iberia in 1018.

Cyprus: In 1191 Richard the Lionheart was headed for the Holy Land when a storm dispersed his ships. The ship with his sister Joan and his fiancée Berengaria and his Treasure Ship ended up on Cyprus, taken by Isaac Kommenos. Richard recaptured them and took the Island. He married Berengaria, and left the island with Norman governors, continuing on to Acre. (This only took Richard from May 1st to June 5th including the wedding!) The Normans then sold it to the Templars.



1066 Edward had brought many Normans with him. He set up Ralph as Earl of Hereford to defend the Welsh Marches. We should not underestimate the number of Normans in the Confessor’s court. When Edsige of Canturbury died in 1050 the cathedral chapter voted Athelric his successor, but the King instead appointed his friend Robert as Archbishop in 1051. Robert went to Rome for his pallum, and returned was enthroned in June. He refused to consecrate the Saxon Spearhafoc as Bishop of London, wanting another Norman, William, instead. In September, he accused Godwin of plotting against the King and got him exiled, and his wife Edith (a Godwin) sent away. This may be when Robert took William the message about Edward wanting him to be his heir. ASC doesn’t mention it. Also, at this point Edward sent for the exiled Æthlings to return (presumably as heirs)*. But the Godwins came back (with armies), and Robert fled to Rome to complain to Pope Leo IX. Stigand, Bishop of Winchester, negotiated a reconciliation, and was appointed by Edward to Canturbury. The pope excommunicated Stigand for holding two sees, Winchester and Canturbury, at the same time. So Ealdred of York crowned Harold Godwinsson and Stigand only assisted.


With Harold dead, the English accepted William as another Norman King, only to discover that he was not the same as Edward. His armies had been raised from “extra sons” and had come for plunder. They started by setting fire to and looting London the day of the Coronation. They continued with William passing land of dead Saxons to his followers, and then stripping more lands from living Saxon lords to distribute. Hearing that there might be another attack by the Danes, he ordered “scorched earth” on Northumbria. Thousands starved. He raised taxes elsewhere in England to make up the difference. All bishops had to do homage to the King, and held their land at his pleasure. All but one bishop were Norman within a year. Bishops & Abbots were now tenants in chief. Every Saxon church was pulled down and rebuilt (in Romanesque style). Monestaries and nunneries were shut down.


Scotland came under the Norman sphere in 1072: Edgar Atheling married Margaret, Malcolm III of Scotland’s sister. William invaded Scotland 1072 and Malcom submitted. Later he went on Crusade, served in the Varangian Guard, and lived a long life. Ireland wasn’t added to Norman conquest until 1169, although Wales was conquered with England.


George Garnett argues that the story of Edward’s designation of William as his heir is a fabrication by Lanfranc, who sold it to the Pope, and spread the story as propaganda after to legitimize the conquest. Among his points are that it was Norman, not Saxon, tradition that a King chose his successor. Norman custom to have a ruler get his followers to swear to support his chosen heir (an unsubstantiated claim in the case of Edward and William). Saxons consider a King monarch from when he is accepted, William based his rule on his coronation, claiming that Stigand was a usurper, with no power to crown a king.

The first Norman Archbishop of Canturbury, a friend of Edwards, Robert of Jumièges had quarreled (over land) with Earl Godwin, was deposed and fled to France in 1052, where in theory, he told William that Edward had had his supporters swear to support William as the next king. Robert died shortly after that.)


Documents (except for the first few) edit out Harold, and date from “the day Edward was dead and alive” (TRI in the Domesday Boke). Certainly the Church benefited greatly from the acquisition. While repeatedly claiming continutity, William changed laws to benefit himself. Since England was an acquisition, Robert had no hereditary right to it, only to the Duchy of Normandy. In France, the eldest son was consecrated in his father’s lifetime, but not in Norman or English practice. In the Steven Matilda dispute, most people accepted that Stephen’s oath to Matilda was cancelled by his consecration as king.


*on international interaction- Edward and Edmund the Æthlings were sent to Sweden (Canute’s Half-brother), then on to Kiev (to Olaf’s daughter Ingigerd), or Poland (to Cnut’s uncle Boleslaw), and finally to Hungary with (Ingiger’s son in law). Edward had been with Henry III HRE, and returned in 1057, but died his second day in England. His son Edgar was born in Hungary, and after Hastings went to Scotland where he married Malcolm’s sister Margaret. When they tried to regain the throne, Malcolm submitted. Edgar fled to Flanders, went back to Scotland and finally gave up trying to oust William. He tried moving to Norman Italy, came back, and was an advisor to Robert Curthose (supporting him against William Rufus), is supposed to have participated in the first crusade, and served in the Verangian Guards, and lived into his seventies.

Norman Conquests by 1100s R



Barlow, Frank, William I And The Norman Conquest, Collier, 1967Garnett, George, Norman Conquest, a Very Short Introduction

Green, Judith A (1997), The Aristocracy of Norman England, Cambridge University Press.

Tomkeieff, olive, Life in Norman England, Perigee, 2000


Map from

Image from Robin of Sherwood 1984 TV show

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