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How did The Normans Conquer England? (Knowledgia)
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Across the English Channel lived the Normans. Up in the Northwest of France, above Paris, was a growing Viking settlement in Normandy. Back in 911, when the Vikings were wreaking havoc throughout Europe with their raids and terror, the contemporary ruler of the area, Charles the Simple, struck a deal with his invaders...

The formation of England had been a relatively long and exhausting process.

Through conquest after reconquest after the reconquest, the Kingdom of England was finally created, and the Anglo-Saxons were in control.

But, just because they had taken the land and created a nation, didn’t mean that they were safe from someone else trying to do the exact same thing in the exact same place…

Across the English Channel lived the Normans.

Up in the Northwest of France, above Paris, was a growing Viking settlement in Normandy.

Back in 911, when the Vikings were wreaking havoc throughout Europe with their raids and terror, the contemporary ruler of the area, Charles the Simple, struck a deal with his invaders.

To avoid further pillaging throughout France, Charles opted to hand over the land of Normandy to the Viking leader - Rollo.

This would not only appease the current invaders, but it would also prevent future Viking raids through that coast, serving as a win-win for Charles and Rollo.

And the Vikings quickly adapted to the surrounding French culture, even expanding their territory in the region, operating as a stronger and more loyal barrier between the French and Vikings from back home.

Back across the English Channel, by this time, the Anglo-Saxons were already clashing with their own Viking invaders as they inched closer and closer toward the establishment of what we know now as the nation of England.

Throughout this process though, due to the evolution of the Vikings over in Normandy, the Anglo-Saxons found themselves with a potential ally against their attackers.

In 991, the Anglo-Saxon king, Aethelred II, and the contemporary Duke of Normandy’s daughter, Emma, were wed in hopes of solidifying the budding friendship between the Anglo-Saxons and Northmen.

This alliance came in handy by 1013 when the Vikings back in England became so aggressive that the Anglo-Saxons were forced to flee.

They ended up in Normandy, where they stayed for 3 decades until they were finally able to return to England to face the Vikings once and for all.

At first, the relationship between the Anglo-Saxons and Northmen remained unchanged.

There wasn’t much of a reason for either to turn on the other, and it seemed that the alliance would hold strong.

That, of course, would prove to be false…

The turning point came when the Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, died in 1066 without an heir.

In response, the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot elected Harold Godwinson to become the next King of England, but this didn’t go over well with everyone.

In Norway, Harald III believed that he should be the rightful heir to the English throne.

As odd as this sounds, there was actually a reason for it.

The previous King of Norway, Magnus I, had negotiated a deal with Harthacanute - a former King of Denmark and England.

This arrangement meant that if either ruler died without an heir, the other would take their throne.

And Harald III, being the successor of Magnus, felt that he was as such the successor of the agreement.

On the other hand, the current Duke of Normandy, William, also believed that he was entitled to the throne due to the acts of his predecessor.

Given the blood connection that he had to former King of England Aethelred due to his marriage to Emma, William assumed that it was him who would take the heirless throne.

And here is where we see the friendship between England and Normandy collapse…

As tensions rose between England and their once allies, Harald of Norway was the first to make a move.

The Norwegian invasion of England was launched in the fall of 1066, catching the new King of England off guard and unprepared.

Nonetheless, the English were able to repel their invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, although the army was greatly rattled and weakened.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, since the enemy had been driven out.

But Harald was simply the first former friend of England to take action, not the only one…

While the Norwegians and Anglo-Saxons clashed, the Northmen were preparing for battle themselves.

Roughly 600 ships and 7,000 men were prepared from all throughout France and even Germany to fight under William of Normandy.

Although they had initially planned to arrive prior to the Norwegian invasion, the Normans were held up by poor weather for a few weeks before finally reaching English shores, which was actually a blessing in disguise for William.

Now, he was landing in England only a few days after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which meant that Harold’s beaten-down army would have no time to plan or even recuperate.

Upon arriving in Sussex on September 28, 1066, the Northmen began to set up their base and wreak some havoc across the land.

This region in particular was a direct possession of Harold, which severely angered the king.

While Harold could have potentially waited for William to march farther inland while he regathered his own troops, this aggressive, personal provocation caused Harold to react immediately and rather recklessly.

On October 14, the Battle of Hastings began…

Six miles from Hastings, at Senlac Hill, the forces of William of Normandy came face to face with those of Harold of England.

For William, there was a clear advantage.

His troops were fresh, organized, and prepared.

Yet, as soon as the battle began, they seemed to fall apart in theatrical fashion.

The plan was for an archery rank to first weaken the English, followed by an infantry attack and then cavalry.

Instead, the archers proved practically useless due to the English position atop the hill and their successful shield wall.

As the Norman infantry tried to take their turn, the English pelted them with rocks, taking out more than William had anticipated.

Agitated and at a loss for how to overcome these unexpected hiccups, William sent in the cavalry anyway, which, seemed quite menacing… until the horses couldn’t get up the hill to actually reach the English.

Those who did make it up were slashed down by Danish battle-axes, leaving William in disbelief.

And to make matters worse, in response, William’s left flank division simply quit the fight, causing the rest of his troops to begin an unplanned retreat.

As the Normans fell back, William’s horse was killed from underneath him, sending him tumbling to the ground and presumably dead.

But two key events were happening.

For one, the reason why his horse was taken down was that some of the English troops had left the safety of their hilltop shield wall and began to chase the Normans.

Next, William lept up from the ground and began to rally his men who had started to flee in fear after seeing him go down.

William and some of his knights now turned back to the attacking English and raised their weapons for battle…

The damage was done fast and furiously.

The Normans were thinning the crowd of English soldiers in front of them, and those who were still approaching failed to notice that the tide was turning, and they too were brought down.

After heavy casualties had been taken by the English, the survivors dropped back to regroup with those who hadn’t charged down the hill, while the Normans debated their updated strategy.

Suddenly, William had his advantage back, and he was ready to use it…

What followed was a beating by the Normans.

Not only did William’s new tactics work, but it was he and his knights who broke through the English ranks to slay Harold themselves.

With their king dead, the English were left in a panic and ultimately a complete defeat…

Following the Norman triumph at the Battle of Hastings, William continued to march through England until he gained the submission of local rulers, eventually amassing enough loyalty that on December 25, 1066, he was crowned the new King of England…

Despite this, William still faced heavy resistance throughout England and including by the sons of the defeated former King Harold.

He also was ambushed by invading Danes and Scots, although the Normans were, again and again, able to push back and suppress their enemies.

By many historians, the efforts and victory of William are seen as the final successful conquest of England and would go on to have a remarkable impact on the future of the nation.

And yet all of this happened because one man felt entitled to take a throne across the English Channel.

William believed that, despite Harold Godwinson being officially chosen to fill the open throne, it was William himself who had a rightful claim to it.

But beyond this, it was also the insistence of Harald of Norway that additionally helped the Normans by unintentionally weakening the English forces only days before William’s arrival.

Harold could have reinforced and better prepared his troops, nonetheless, given that William hadn’t even begun to march further inland toward London.

But, whether intentional or not, William’s landing in Sussex triggered an instant response from the king that gave the Normans the obvious advantage.

And despite the initial setbacks on the battlefield, William proved to be the most fit for warfare, even if not necessarily for the throne.

But he would be crowned King nevertheless and neither locals nor foreigners could strip him from the English throne for the rest of his reign and life…

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