After a short, bloody battle and a long campaign of ruthless oppression, the Normans wrested England from its Anglo-Saxon rulers and established a Norman monarchy and aristocracy. Of course, the Anglo-Saxon peasants continued to work the land and speak an early form of English to their own children and to the children of the Norman nobility. Consequently, somewhat against expectation, it was the English language that eventually won the day — but only after a significant influx of Norman French words. It is no coincidence that many of the English words for power, law and government are derived from Old French.
The Normans were to have a significant impact on the history of medieval Europe. Their name gives us a hint as to their identity: originally “Northmen” from Scandinavia, they settled in what is now France, where they were granted a duchy, married Frankish women, learned to speak medieval French and continued their quest for the acquisition of new land. They were warlike, feisty and ambitious people. Their duchy was called “Normandy”. This is also the part of France where the Allies landed on June 6, 1944, in order to liberate continental Europe from Nazi control.
The story of the Norman conquest of England illustrates just how common wars and battles were in the Middle Ages. One reason for this was that resolving a dispute through discussion and diplomacy was a foreign concept for the ruling classes. Since many of them belonged to an elite warrior class who had spent their childhood and their teenage years learning how to fight, they expected to go to war. After all, this was what they had been trained to do. Battles represented an opportunity for them to show their valour, further their reputation and, most importantly, gain land, the supreme symbol of medieval wealth.
In this period of history, land ownership was a sign of prestige and a proof of the king’s favour. Whoever possessed and dominated the land, often by building intimidating and impregnable castles, controlled the people. Kings gave out land to show their favour; lords and knights, in turn, doled out land to the peasants in return for their labour.
The presentation below will reveal many other aspects of the Norman Conquest and medieval life. You can also try some other activities that will allow you to learn and revise the details and discover more about how a ruthless conqueror operated in the Middle Ages.
Quick Knowledge Check (based on the text above)
Vocabulary Handout: Vocabulary Exercises based on Presentation
Other Online Activities
Quick flashcards –> Play the matching game. Then play BINGO.
- Quiz: Background and Vocabulary Relating to the Norman Conquest
Crossword on the Norman Conquest
- Primary Sources on the Norman Conquest
Kahoot on the Norman Conquest: Class Mode | Preview Mode
- BBC Bitesize on the Norman Conquest
- BBC Bitesize on the Domesday Book
- The Domesday Book Online
- Battle of Stamford Bridge
- History.com on the Battle of Hastings
- A Straightforward Summary
- Historyextra.com – 10 surprising facts about the Norman Conquest
- The whole tapestry with translations of the Latin
- Summary – Includes the Text of William’s Final Confession
- The Battle of Stamford Bridge
- BBC: The Battle of Hastings
- Simon Schama: The Battle of Hastings
- BazBattles: The Battle of Hastings
- An Animated Version of the Bayeux Tapestry
- The Norman Conquest of England in 3 Minutes
- How the Normans Changed the History of Europe
- The Feudal System and the Domesday Book