How did William the Conqueror secure control of England?
Home learning focus
Learn how William secured his control over England following the Battle of Hastings.
This lesson includes:
one video examining Anglo-Saxon resistance
two activities to build historical knowledge and understanding.
William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066. However, he still needed to secure his control over the whole country.
Watch the clip below to discover how William dealt with Anglo-Saxon resistance to his rule.
The Harrying of the North
The most significant rebellion William faced was in the North of England in 1069. It was led by Edgar the Atheling, who, as the only son of Edward the Exiled, had a blood-claim to the throne. Danish and Scottish armies joined him in his campaign to overthrow William.
William defeated the rebellion, but he still didn't trust the English people. In the north-east of England, from 1069 to 1070, he ordered villages to be destroyed and people to be killed. Herds of animals and crops were burnt. Most people who survived starved to death. Even people who hadn't rebelled were punished.
This punishment saw the population reduced by 75%, and the land was also salted (poisoned) to prevent people from growing crops in the future. This is called the Harrying of the North.
Even by the standards of the time, the Harrying was seen as excessively cruel. A Norman chronicler, Vitalis, said God would punish William for his brutal slaughter. However, William had achieved his main aim; he was in control of the North, and he had prevented any future rebellions.
How did William take long-term control of England?
William used the methods of control that he was most familiar with: castles and the feudal system. But he also adopted a new method in the form of the Domesday Book.
Castles: William had new, loyal nobles from Normandy build over 100 castles all over England. They were built exceptionally quickly, some in just eight days! The need for quick construction meant materials such as earth and wood were used. Although this sped up the building process, it meant the castles didn’t last very long. Over time, the more important ones were rebuilt from stone.
- The feudal system: William could not be everywhere at the same time. To solve this, he lent some of his lands to barons. In return, William demanded loyalty and taxes. The barons then loaned the land to knights who, in turn, loaned it to peasants who then did all of the hard farming work! If the barons betrayed William, they would lose their land and the wealth that came with it.
- The Domesday Book: the book was the result of a survey of all of England by William to assess the country's value, right down to how many animals were on each farm. Great time and care were taken to ensure the book's accuracy, and it took over a year to complete.
There's more to learn
Have a look at these other resources from around the BBC and the web.