Medieval Britain: Norman Invasion

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13283

Three men battled for the throne of England in 1066: an Anglo-Saxon, a Viking, and a Norman. Learn about their battles, the winner's beautiful castles, a special tapestry, and a book called Domesday!


World, World Cultures

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Would you like to meet two of the contenders for the throne of England?

Hear them each explain why he is the right man for the job and why he will win in What Was Life Like? | Episode 4: Normans - Meet William the Conqueror and King Harold from English Heritage:

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The Norman invasion of 1066 changed the course of British history, including its political system, language, and landscape!

  • Who were the Normans?

In the 9th century, some Vikings settled in northern France, intermarried with the people there, and converted to Christianity. The French king made a truce with them and gave them the land now called Normandy.

The French called them Normand, meaning Norsemen, or men from the north.

Then, in 1066, the Normans set their sights on England. For a brief overview of the period, watch A Brief History of the Normans | Animated History from English Heritage:

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The map below shows the progress that the Normans made in conquering England:

The Norman conquest of England in 1066

Image by Amitchell125 at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license.

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Before Harold faced William, he had to fight the other contender, Harald Hardrada (Hard Ruler), King of Norway.

Since King Canute and his sons had ruled England before the Anglo-Saxons regained control, Hardrada felt that Norway still had a claim to the throne. He invaded from the north and met William at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Image by Peter Nicolai Arbo, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

This was a terrible battle, with at least 5,000 deaths on each side! Harold Godwinson won, and Harald Hardrada was killed. Many historians believe this battle marked the end of the Viking Age in England.

Harold's tired and wounded army now had to march 200 miles to fight William, Duke of Normandy, who invaded from the south. Harold's mother advised him to wait and give his army time to rest and recover, but he ignored her advice.

  • Do you think that Harold might have won the Battle of Hastings if he waited a while, instead of marching immediately to meet William?

Battle of Hastings

  • What actually happened in 1066 during the famous Battle of Hastings when Harold met William?

The Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot (70-meter) embroidered cloth, tells the story of the Norman invasion and the details of the battle, as you can see in the video below.

The Battle of Hastings 1066 - The Normans - BBC Two from BBC:

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The Bayeux Tapestry tells us much about the history of the Normans before the battle, about the battle itself, and even about the boats, clothes, and armor of the Normans.

Here's a closer look at the Bayeux Tapestry. See if you can pick out any interesting details!

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After the Normans won the Battle of Hastings, they began to march toward London with the goal of having William crowned as king.

The English were not ready to accept this. They elected another king, named Edgar, and fought to keep William out of London. By Christmastime, however, they had to admit defeat and allow William to be crowned.

William the Conqueror

King William I

William replaced all the Anglo-Saxon leaders with Norman ones. Many of the Anglo-Saxon nobles escaped to Ireland or Scotland.

The Normans then changed the political and social system to what is called the feudal system.

LIFE IN MEDIEVAL BRITAIN, from PegEntLtd, explains this system:

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In the feudal system, all land belonged to the king. He gave gifts of land to his supporters, the lords, and they had to supply knights to fight for him in battle.

The lords' land was worked by serfs. These men had few rights and had to give the lord their labor for free in exchange for permission to live on the land and farm it for the lord!

  • It doesn't seem like a fair system, does it?

The serfs and their families did have good food to eat, though: bread, beer, and bacon! Watch 13 What did peasants eat in medieval times?, from Modern History TV, to learn more:

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The average homes looked very much like those of the Anglo-Saxons: thatched roofs and either stone or wattle and daub walls. Explore more about medieval life at Life in the Medieval British Village: The Definitive Guide, from Odyssey Traveller. 

The Normans helped to build many towns. In fact, they doubled the number of towns in England. They did this by establishing a monastery or abbey, and the town was built up around it.

These became market centers where a lot of trade occurred. They built closely packed homes and shops out of wood, as shown in the following picture:

Warwickshire, England

Image, via Pxhere, was released into the public domain.

Domesday Book

Since he thought that all the land really belonged to him, King William decided to find out who owned what land and how much it was worth. He wanted to collect taxes on the land to fund his government and army and to build his castles!

So he ordered a survey of all the land in England. The information was collected in a book called, at the time, the Winchester Roll, the King's Roll, or the Book of the Treasury.

It later came to be known as the Domesday Book. The word Domesday refers to the Day of Judgement (Doomsday in modern English) when God will judge everyone according to his or her deeds, and there will be no chance to have that judgment changed.

Just like Doomsday, King William's record was not changeable!

The image below shows a page of the Domesday Book with entries of the people who owned land in Devonshire:

Devonshire landholders in chief

Image of data collected by an English scribe circa 1086, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

The Domesday Book is now a very important piece of British history. It is a great help to historians and archaeologists because it tells who lived where in medieval England.

Watch The Feudal System and the Domesday Book, from ClickView, to review what you've learned:

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In 1154, the last of the Norman rulers died. The throne was taken over by the Plantagenet family, another royal line. You can learn about them in the Related Lesson found in the right-hand sidebar.

Now, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll learn more about Norman castles and create a virtual tour of one!

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