Primary History

Anglo-Saxons: The Normans

  • Battle of Hastings

    When Edward the Confessor died childless and the Witan (a national council of leading nobles and spiritual leaders) gave Harold Godwinson the throne William was so angry he invaded England. He believed Harold had promised him the throne.

    At the Battle of Hastings; 14th October 1066 King Harold lost. Harold was outnumbered, his troops were exhausted as they had just marched from the Battle of Stamford Bridge near York where they had defeated the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada and when the Normans pretended to run away Harold's army moved down from the safety of their hill.

    The Bayeux Tapestry, ordered for William by his brother, then shows King Harold being hit in the eye with an arrow and then being trampled on. Once Harold was dead, William won the battle

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  • Norman Castles

    William had to ensure that Saxons followed his orders. The first thing he did was put up castles to provide somewhere safe for the soldiers to live and to scare the Saxons as many had never seen a castle before. From Normandy William brought three prefabricated wooden Motte and Bailey castles that were quick to assemble. The Normans built 500 castles in the first year. Norman castles were increasingly made of stone so that they were very difficult to attack.

    William would not have won the Battle of Hastings without his well trained army. As a reward for their help William gave them land in England. In return they had to promise to fight for the King and pay taxes. It meant that William could quickly build up and pay for a large army if he was attacked. Most Normans who were given land built castles to show the local people who was in charge.

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  • The Domesday Survey

    In 1086 William needed money to equip his army so to find out if landowners were paying the correct amount of tax he introduced the Domesday Survey. This recorded types of land and animals owned and how much money the owner made and if that amount had changed between King Edward's reign and 1086. When all the information was written down it became known as the Domesday Book.

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  • Celebrations and Food

    The Normans would celebrate important events such as Christmas or May Day with lavish feasts. At Feasts, guests were not only seated and given food according to their position but they were also given different cutlery, bowls and glasses.

    For the Nobility roasted peacocks and wild boar with spicy sauces, Jellies and custards dyed bright colours, Sotiltees, (sugar sculptures), made to look like castles were all placed together on the dinner table. Peasants ate food that had been salted or pickled to preserve it including pickled herring and bacon and potage, a thick vegetable soup, with bread. Peasants drank ale rather than the wine favoured by nobles. Large thick slices of stale bread called trenchers were used by some people as plates.

    In large houses travelling acrobats, jesters or players (actors) were often hired. Minstrels would sing and play from a raised gallery above the great hall where the feast would take place.

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Fun Facts
  • Books were published to tell people how to behave at feasts and one warned diners not to pass wind, scratch flea bites, or pick their noses.

  • The Normans liked spicy food so much that the Royal court had a special department called the 'spicery' to look after spices such as caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper which were very expensive.

  • Nobles sometimes ate whales, seals and porpoises at feasts.

  • At many feasts men dressed in leaves of green and performed wild dances to show the wildness of nature.

  • Many priests complained about actors, at feasts, who made funny faces by pulling their faces about and sticking out their tongues.

  • William, Duke of Normandy was illegitimate and throughout his life many nobles in Normandy felt he should not be king. There were attempts to kill him and on one occasion a murderer was rumoured to have mistakenly stabbed the child sleeping next to William.

  • Harold's body was identified on the battlefield by his mistress Edith Swan-Neck.

  • Most castles had a small hidden gate called the postern which meant someone could escape and raise the alarm if the castle was under attack, or a group of soldiers could leave to launch a surprise attack.

  • Castle toilets were called the 'Privy' which came from the Latin word for private. Originally clothes were also stored in this room because people believed that the terrible smells would deter moths from eating parts of their clothes.

  • In sieges people living in the castles could drop things such as human excrement and chopped up dead bodies onto their attackers through the murder holes in gatehouses.

  • The Domesday Book states that in Chester if you killed a man on a holy day you paid a fine of £4 but on other days it was only 40s.

  • The surname Kidd was given originally as a nickname to someone not very sensible who behaved like a young goat.

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Jump to: A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z

A to D

ale
Drink made from barley.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildings that are buried under the ground.
barn
A farm building.
Bayeux Tapestry
An embroidery telling the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Bede
An English monk and historian. He lived from about 673 to 735.
Beowulf
A long poem about a hero, probably made up before AD 800, and written down later.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
capital
The main town or centre of government of a country.
Celts
People in Britain before the Romans invaded in AD43.
Charlemagne
King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
court
The place where a king meets his followers and gives commands.
cremate
To burn a dead body to ashes.

E to L

evidence
Objects and facts that give clues as to what happened long ago.
freeman
A person who was not a slave and owned land.
Hadrian's Wall
Wall marking the northern frontier of Roman Britain.
historian
A person who studies the past.
hearth
A fireplace, usually in the middle of a house, and with no chimney.
influence
The effect of a person or things on another.
invaders
People who attack and try to take over land from other people.
Latin
Language of the Romans.
longship
Viking ship with a sail and oars.
loom
Machine for weaving cloth.
lyre
A small harp played at Anglo-Saxon feasts.

M to R

mail shirt
Armour made from chain mail, worn on the upper body.
monastery
The building where monks live.
monk
A male member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
nun
A female member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
oxen
Strong cattle used to pull carts and ploughs.
pagan
A person who worships many gods.
Picts
People who lived in Scotland at the time of Roman Britain.
Pope
Head of the Roman Catholic Church.
potter
Person who makes pots, jars and bowls from clay.
raider
An enemy who attacks and then goes away.
rank
Status or position in society.
Reconstruct
To rebuild something as it was.
riddle
A puzzle based on playing with words.
Romans
People who ruled an empire 2,000 years ago
runes
The letters of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

S to Z

Scots
People in Scotland; they called themselves Gaels - 'Scots' was a name the Romans gave them.
settlement
A place where people make their homes.
slave
A person who is not free but is owned and made to work by another.
smith
A worker who makes things from metal, usually iron.
strip fields
Long narrow ploughed fields.
Sutton Hoo
Site in Suffolk, England, of a king's ship-burial.
thane
An Anglo-Saxon nobleman who owned land.
thatch
A roof covered in straw or reeds.
tribe
A group of people who share a common background and culture.
Vikings
People from Scandinavia who were fighters, sea-travellers, traders and farmers.
walled
Having a defensive wall or wooden barrier around it, such as a walled town.
warrior
A person trained to fight in battle.
weaving
Making cloth.
well
A hole dug to supply drinking water to a settlement or house.
Wergild
Money paid to a murdered Anglo-Saxon's family by the murderer.
will
A document setting out how a person wants their possessions shared out after death.