The Norman Conquest

Hello, Year 8!

This short unit will give you an insight into how people in eleventh-century Europe thought, dealt with disputes and fought for power. The class presentation can be downloaded HERE (high-quality version) or HERE (smaller version). You can also view it directly below.

Our topic is the victorious Normans who, after a short, bloody battle and a long campaign of ruthless oppression, 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.

Kind regards from Ms Green

Quick Knowledge Check (based on the text above)

Vocabulary Handout: Vocabulary Exercises based on Presentation

Other Online Activities

1 Quick flashcards –> Play the matching game. Then play BINGO

2 Primary Sources on the Norman Conquest

3 Crossword on the Norman Conquest 

4 Quick Quiz: The Battle of Hastings

5 Edupuzzle: The Animated Bayeux Tapestry

6 Kahoot on the Norman Conquest: Class Mode | Preview Mode

7 Recommended Links

8 Recommended Videos

A Vicious Conquest

Here’s the story of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, a bloody battle that Harold and his Saxons won decisively. Harold Godwinson was then obliged to rally his weary army and head south to meet William, Duke of Normandy, otherwise known as William the Bastard, at Hastings. In hindsight, perhaps he would have been better to take more time and let William and his men extend themselves…(You may have to watch this at home, sadly.)

Public domain image from

William the Conqueror from historymedren

Due to his defeat of the Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings, William was ultimately dubbed the Conqueror, but there was still work to be done in order to overcome the rest of the population. By all accounts William was ruthless in doing so. His main methods were:

Medieval face from http medievalBuilding castles at high points and in strategic parts of the country and giving his Norman nobles parts of the country to control, with these castles as their strongholds;

Medieval face from http medievalViciously killing any members of the native population who rebelled or tried to resist him;

Medieval face from http medievalEventually sending around investigators to write down who lived where, what they owned and what they should pay in tax. You see, William used the pen as well as the sword to subjugate the people he had conquered.

800px-Clough_castle_motte_and_bailey_County_Down  pd wikimedia commons

Kindly provided by a photographer who uploaded this picture to Wikimedia Commons, this is a ruin of a motte and bailey castle from Norman times, with a stone keep added later. “Motte” is a word from Old French meaning mound; originally a wooden keep was built on the mound while a bailey, a fenced area for animals, was built nearby. Other simple sheds and huts would also be built within the bailey. This kind of castle was quick to build but also much more easily breached than later stone castles and keeps.

Create a Word file titled: Castles and Crackdowns

1. Read the account of Norman castle building at the Britannia site below. You will need to scroll down to the heading: “The Norman Conquest and the First Castles”.

(a) Explain what each part of these early castles was, ie. the motte, the bailey, the wooden tower or keep, etc.

(b) What was the advantage of this type of castle?

2. Find a picture of a motte and bailey castle and place it in your document. Label the keep, the motte and the bailey, using autoshapes for arrows. Here are a couple to look at:

Stone castles were of course much harder to attack and sieges were more likely to fail than to succeed. These pictures will show you why.

Bunratty-castle pd Castle photo Photo courtesy PDPhoto.orgPhoto courtesy of

Bunratty Castle on the far left – photo in the public domain


3. What was the “Harrying of the North” and what does it show about the character of William the Conqueror?