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18 September 2014
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William the Conqueror: A Thorough Revolutionary

By Michael Wood
Brutal occupation

Image of Clifford Tower, York
Clifford Tower, York - built by the Normans in 1069 to suppress a local rebellion ©
The Normans were brutal, ruthless occupiers. The problem was that William had promised his allies and friends a cut of the cake, but first he had to hold on to England and consolidate his grip. This was done with a network of Norman castles right across the country, fighting platforms gouged into the landscape. From these the native population could be terrorised and intimidated, and any local risings snuffed out.

'Hereward ... an Anglo-Saxon land-owner from the fens, who led local resistance ...'

Not surprisingly there was a lot of local resistance in those opening years, and of course some of the resistance stories later became legends - legends such as the story of Hereward the Wake and the siege of Ely. Hereward has been immortalised in ballads and stories and Victorian novels, all of them based on a real person - an Anglo-Saxon land-owner from the fens, who led local resistance against the Norman oppressors.

His allies in that resistance were real people too - we can identify them and their native villages. And we can go to what was the edge of the Cambridge fens, around the villages of Willingham and Over, north of Cambridge, and still see traces of Duke William's siege causeways, which were driven through the fen to overwhelm the Anglo-Saxons on the old 'isle of eels', Ely. The duke was not a man to cross.



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