The duchy of Normandy came into existence in AD 911 as the result of settlement of the lower Seine Valley in northern France by Northmen or Vikings. With its energetic inhabitants and its well-structured system of government, Normandy became perhaps the most dynamic region of Europe.
Image: actors playing King Harold's elite soldiers at the Battle of Hastings, from Battlefield Britain, 2004 (BBC)
The basis of the duchy of Normandy was feudalism, a system whereby the Duke granted lands to his followers sufficient to enable them to maintain mounted knights to serve him in war.
Following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, became William I, King of England, and rapidly won control over his entire kingdom.
The early Norman attacks on Wales
The Wales of 1066 was enfeebled as the result of the fall of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn three years earlier. There was much feuding and blood-letting among those who claimed his power before any of the Welsh kingdoms gained widely acknowledged rulers. William established earldoms at Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford, all of which were held by men of strongly aggressive tendencies.
By 1086, the Earl of Hereford had brought about the extinction of the kingdom of Gwent, the Earl of Shrewsbury had built a castle at Montgomery and had taken much of the Welsh borderland into his possession, and the Earl of Chester had struck deeply into Gwynedd.
William, however, recognised the rule of Rhys ap Tewdwr in Deheubarth and accepted that of Iestyn ap Gwrgant in Morgannwg. After William died in 1087, invasion gathered pace. Morgannwg - or at least its lowlands - fell to Robert Fitzhammon. Rhys ap Tewdwr was killed. Brycheiniog was seized. The Earls of Shrewsbury drove through Powys and Ceredigion to southern Dyfed where they established a castle at Pembroke.
The Normans and the Church
Although the Normans were ferocious, they were godly in their way and faithful to the papacy which had blessed their attack upon England. They considered control over the Welsh church to be essential to their power in Wales.
They also sought to promote the interests of Rome and to make Wales a full member of the community of Latin Europe. Thus, they suppressed the clasau of the Celtic church and made many of them tributary churches of ecclesiastical centres in England or France. At places like Chepstow and Ewenny, they established monasteries of the Benedictine Order.
The Normans also introduced to Wales the newer orders founded in France: those of Cluny, Tiron, Savigny and Cîteaux. They reorganized the Welsh dioceses and determined their exact boundaries. The four Welsh bishops became subject to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and their cathedrals were built in the latest European fashion. The country was divided into parishes and was obliged to accept the discipline of Roman Canon Law.
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