Tag Archives: William the Conqueror

Pic of the Weekend: The Bayeaux Tapestry

William the Conqueror sails across the English Channel. William’s ancestors were Norse Vikings who had settled in the part of France which came to be called Normandy. Note the similarity of William’s ship to the clinker-built Viking ships.

Tomorrow, Sam Houston    Rita Bay

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Castle Constuction

     After the Norman Conquest in 1066, King William the Conqueror granted his supporters land to hold for him.  In return for the land, it was their responsibility to insure peace in the area granted to them and to answer the call to war when it came.  The new nobility built motte and bailey castles to defend their territory.  The early castles were constructed of wood usually on high ground or on river bends land using forced labour.

     The motte and bailey castles could be built quickly and provided protection against rebellion. Being constructed of wood, they were only temporary and susceptible to fire.  Construction began by digging a motte large mound of earth with a flat top.  Then, they built a keep (tower house) surrounded by a fence that would serve as the Norman lord’s home. Next, the bailey was constructed at the foot of the motte. This included the buildings where the workers and soldiers lived and worked. It was surrounded both by a fence and, where possible, a moat of water with a drawbridge.

Dover Castle Restoration

     After the Normans established themselves, they began to build in stone.  Although the stone structures took a long time to build, they were extremely well made, very strong and well protected making them difficult to destroy or capture. Some of these castles still stand almost 1,000 years later.  The castle was also a residence with different rooms for the Lord and his family.  The Tower keep was reached by a wooden bridge from the bailey. The tower keep generally had two or three stories. The kitchen and storeroom were on the ground floor.  The Great Hall was located on the first floor and the lord’s apartments on the top floor. 

White Castle

      Outside the keep was the ‘bailey’ which contained stables and outbuildings. Surrounding the bailey was a stone wall which itself had built into it many guard towers for extra protection.  A moat was then dug around the wall.  A spiral staircase would lead up to the battlements on the roof, which was guarded by soldiers.

     A good example of an early castle is the White Tower.  It is part of the Tower of London which is situated on north bank of theThames River.  William the Conqueror began work on the castle in 1078. It is the most famous Castle Keep in Great Britain.  The original structure on the site was a motte and bailey castle. The White Tower is 90 feet high. The thickness of the walls ranged from 15 feet at the base to almost 11 feet in the upper stories. Above the battlements four turrets were built.  The East and South sides of the White Tower were protected to the by the old Roman London City walls. The entrance to the Tower was on the first floor accessed via a removable staircase, designed to make invasion of the White Tower more difficult. 

Tomorrow, Oath of Fealty    Rita Bay

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Norman Invaders

King Alfred

In 1066 the English Anglo Saxons with the death of the childless King Alfred were in disarray. Alfred’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson took the throne. Harold’s brother Tostig, however, approached King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, to help him usurp the throne of England. The rapacious Harold, however, decided he had some claim to the throne himself. The two joined forces  however, to push their claim by force of arms (that means they were going to attack Harold and England.) At the same time, William, the son of the Duke of Normandy (located in France), a descendent of Norse invaders, decided to press his claim also. After a tumultuous childhood in which three of his guardians were murdered, William secured his dukedom and married into one of the most noble families of Europe. William showed a “magnificent appearance, possessing a fierce countenance” and stood about 5’10.”

The Bayeaux Tapestry portrays William invading England. While King Harold awaited William’s arrival in the south, Harald Hardrada with Earl Tostig invaded England from the north (near York). King Harold’s forces marched north and defeated the Norse at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Both Hardrada and Tostig died in battle. Harold then rushed south with his exhausted troops to meet his death at the hand of William and his Normans at Hastings on October 14, 1066.

William the Conqueror

William was crowned king of England on Christmas Day, 1066 in Westminster Abbey. William rewarded his allies well and punished his enemies viciously. In the “The Doomsday Book,” a survey of land ownership taken in 1085, only two Anglo-Saxon barons that held lands before 1066 retained those lands twenty years later. About 4,000 nobles were displaced. The Norman landowners built primitive castles to defend their new territories. William built and improved numerous castles. Though extremely obese, William enjoyed excellent health until old age when he was impaled on the saddle of his horse in 1087 after a battle. The coffin was too small for his bloated corpse and when the attendants attempted to force it inside, the body burst. What a mess!!

Tomorrow, Castle Construction Rita Bay

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