Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Monday 22nd January 2018 | Manchester, UK

The Legacy of the Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. The town 7 miles from the site of the battlefield and the year of the battle hold iconic status in British history, not simply because Norman forces led by William the Conqueror successfully invaded and took a stronghold of England, but also because the disposition from the throne and the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson led to a huge cultural transformation. A cultural transformation on this scale would not be seen again until the 19th century; the conquering of England by William of Normandy marked a moment of huge significance for British culture. The Norman invasion of England brought a new culture which mixed and intermingled with that developed by the Anglo-Saxons, to cultivate a society which has seen language, politics, architecture and governmental systems develop into the structures and aspects of society that we see even to this day.

As Harold Godwinson and his army fell defeated at the hands of William the Conqueror’s forces in October 1066, mere weeks after defeating the Norwegian forces led by Harold Hardrada at Stamford Bridge, not one castle could be found on English soil. It was the Normans who brought castles to English shores, commencing building within days of the conquest. These fortifications, of which 86 were said to be built in William the Conqueror’s 21 year reign, established themselves as symbols of Norman dominance. Among those included in the Norman’s rapid assembling of castles include Warwick Castle, Dover Castle and Carlisle Castle, all of which still stand strong today. Alongside the dominance they illustrated, these castles housed the rich and powerful, providing a base from which the aristocracy could establish control of their new conquest effectively. If there was any reminder for the impact the Norman Conquest exerted on medieval and modern British society and culture, look no further than the grand structural creations in the form of castles which are spread throughout Britain.

One of the other most potent legacies of the Norman Conquest came in the form of Anglo-Norman, introduced to England from across the channel as a northern dialect of ‘Old French’, a Gallo-Romance dialect spoken from the 9th century. This replaced the traditional old English and brought with it many French words still in practice to this day (‘coup’ and ‘debut’ to name a couple). The ‘Old English’ language suffered greatly as a result of the events of 1066, with French and Latin becoming the new languages of the government, the nobility and the Church. Ultimately, these languages became greatly associated with the higher classes and more sophisticated style of life that the Normans aimed to bring with them. In contrast, Old English struggled with the cultural shock, being brandished a language of the poor, the uncivilised or uneducated.

Alongside this switch to a more Norman style of communication, a further indication of the cultural shift brought by the invasion can be found by analysing the use of ‘Norman’ given names of new-borns in England after 1066, especially male names. So-called ‘Norman names’, such as Richard, William, Robert and Henry, became much more popular as England adjusted to the post-conquest style of life and society. The Norman influence unsurprisingly ties in with the migration of an estimated 8000 Normans to England. As the 11th century drew to a close and the 12th century emerged, more and more accounts of Norman men marrying English wife were becoming common, demonstrating an unhurried yet crucial cultural change as the medieval years continued.

This is not to say that Normans didn’t also provide inspiration on the governmental side of English culture. Before the Norman conquests, the more sophisticated government system was actually held by the Anglo-Saxons over their Norman counterparts. Hence, the Normans would retain the Anglo-Saxon framework, changing the government personnel instead. At the end of William’s reign, all high-profile members of government and the royal family were Normans. Without this reformation, major legacies of the era, such as the Doomsday book, which is crucial to our knowledge of English society in the aftermath of 1066, would not exist. This is therefore a perfect illustration of Norman influence. The invasion didn’t immediately change the face of English society and culture. Though, as England developed under their reign, their actions would change the face of English culture forever, with the impact still found in today’s modern society and culture, making the Battle of Hastings and the Northern invasion one of the important events, if not the most, in our history.

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