History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER V:England under the Norman Kings

1. Under the Norman kings there were many changes in England. Almost the whole generation of English noblemen and gentry had been swept away, and their places filled by a foreign king, his kinsmen, and soldiers, who, though they did not pretend to have greater right or power than those they had succeeded, yet naturally took advantage of their position to get the most they could out of their tenants and serfs. We hear of heavy exactions, forced labour under


colour of law, of villages laid waste to enlarge the king's hunting-grounds, and town parishes destroyed to make way for the nobles' castles. Torch compelled all who held land of the king as thegens (barons and knights they were now called) to find a man to serve forty days in the royal army, fully armed and horsed at their expense, for every knight's fee (piece of land worth £20 per year) they held. He also exacted reliefs (a year's rent) from incoming tenants and heirs, and gave the lord full power over his infant tenant's land till he came of age, and the right of marrying heiresses and widows to whom he would. If the lord made his son a knight, or gave his eldest daughter in marriage, or was captured in war, he looked to his tenants for aids or contributions to help him to defray his expenses or his ransom. The barons of course enforced the same services upon their military tenants as the king enforced upon them. [1] Other free-tenants, socmen or franklins, were obliged to pay some fixed rent in kind or money and to attend the lord's court, while the villeins or tenants at the lord's will were almost entirely at his mercy, and were obliged to labour on his land and buildings whenever he chose to call for their services. But in all these cases the change lay rather in the greater strictness and regularity of the new lords than the rise of new customs or the breach of old rights. There were few new laws made, except about the forests, any man who hunted in the king's woods without permission (and all the untilled folk-land was now become royal forest) might be tried and condemned to lose his hands or feet or eyes. even ordered that all dogs whose feet were too big to pass through a ring kept by the foresters should have two of the toes of its forefeet cut off, that it might not be able to run down deer, though still useful for droving. These laws were hated, and many Englishmen took to the woods, living as poachers, defying the king's keepers, and robbing the rich passengers, especially foreigners, who passed their haunts, so that people living near a forest were obliged to fortify their houses for fear of these brigands. , after the old English custom, put no man to death for law-breaking, but punished by outlawry, fine, or mutilation; however, his son found the need of sterner measures, and began hanging men for theft and other felonies (bad crimes) or treasons. We hear of two customs at this time which, whether brought in by the Normans or the Danes, became part of English law. One was wager of battle, the right of the accused to prove his innocence by single combat with his


accuser or his champion, instead of by compurgation or ordeal if he preferred it. The other was the inquest, a mode of getting knowledge of the facts of any disputed case by swearing a jury of twelve men of the neighbourhood to declare what they knew of the subject. It was from the verdict or report of such inquests that Domesday Book was put together.

2. [2] The crown was much stronger than before the Conquest, the officers of the royal household had more to do, and the central government became powerful and important. The justiciar had to see that justice was given to all who asked it; the chancellor issued royal grants, writs (orders to sheriffs to summon juries, arrest prisoners, execute justice, etc.), and warrants; the treasurer sat at the king's counting-house, or Exchequer as it was now called (because of the chessboard-like cloth on which they reckoned the money), where 's friend set up a regular system of keeping and paying accounts, and devised a plan of sending commissioners round to the counties to settle disputes about the revenue in full county court. To the Exchequer, too, every year the sheriffs came to pay the feorm or rent of the county and the fines into the treasury, receiving their quietus, or certificate of payment. Tallies, little slips of wood notched on the edges with different marks according to the value they represented, were split in two, and (each party keeping half) served as check and counterfoil when any money was paid out of the royal treasury. Beside these great offices often held by churchmen, the great nobles did not now disdain to hold places in the household as dispenser (steward), butler, chamberlain, or to serve the king as marshal or constable of his host; these places (all held by laymen) soon became hereditary. The king's household, Curia Regis, served him as a kind of Ministry, and followed him on his journeys. There were still Councils of the Wise Men, and often Great Moots, Magna Concilia, to which every one who held land of the king might come. Several new earldoms were made. Two in especial, Chester and Shrewsbury, with palatine rights (power to hold courts and to issue writs in the earl's name), to be the better able to defend the Welsh border, were created by , and others by his successors.

3. [3] In spite of the difficulties of the problem, 's policy had been successful: the Church of England was far stronger than before. The king found it his best friend as long as he ruled well, while the people looked to it alone for help against the


lawlessness of the barons or the heavy hands of the king's officers. made two new sees, and , and gave these bishops palatine rights for defence against Danes and Scots. Many abbeys were founded by the great barons, and when the strict Cistercian rule was brought to England by Stephen Harding and his fellows, the monasteries of its followers soon sprung up " in the desert places " of the Welsh hills and shire wolds. The reforming synods of Lanfranc and , and the new bishops' courts, did much to raise the character of the parish clergy; their decrees against the marriage of priests were, however, still evaded by the payment of a yearly tax to the king. The increasing wealth and zeal of the Church was marked by the stately cathedrals which were fast replacing the smaller and less splendid English minsters, just as the high stone wall (ballium) and huge square keep (central tower) were everywhere supplanting the paled foss of earth and stockaded mound of earlier days. The fashion for building great churches and stone castles had indeed begun before the Conquest, as the Confessor's Westminster bears witness; but the finest examples of the Roman round-arch style of building, sacred or secular-such as Durham Minster, begun by William of S. Calais and finished by Torch; the Gate Tower at Bury; Minster, built by Herbert Losinge; Carisbrooke Keep; Tintagel Hold, Gundulfs White Tower, and William of Corbeil's Keep at Rochester-date from the Norman kings' reign.

4. The English tongue was less changed by the Norman than the Danish Conquest. Charters and deeds were still in Old English or Latin. French was indeed spoken at court, and Latin in the cloister, and a few words found their way into the speech of the people, but the chief effect of the disuse of English by the upper classes was to hasten and deepen the changes already going on in our tongue (as noticed above), and to give rise to the well-marked dialects in which all Middle English was written and spoken.

[4] There were few writers in such hard and restless days; but we must notice the two nameless Peterborough monks who close t; William the elders chaplain, William of Poitiers, who wrote of the Norman Conquest; Orderic of S. Evroult, an English monk who lived in Normandy and wrote a most minute and pathetic account of his own life and times; William of Malmesbury, who wrote for Robert of Gloster the most scientific of our Latin histories; and Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, an outspoken critic who loved old ballads and stories.

But perhaps the most interesting historical work of this time is the Bayeux Tapestry, a strip of white linen (214 by 1 and 2/3 feet) on which are wrought in coloured worsteds a series of pictures of the various acts of the Norman Conquest. It was worked by English women for 's church, and recalls the tapestry on which, a century earlier, Byrhtnoth's widow had worked the great deeds of her husband's life as a gift to Ely. That precious relic is lost, but the Bayeux needle-pictures are still unfaded and sound.

Sæwulf the monk's account of his pilgrimage in Palestine is worth reading. There are also a few sermons and satires which show something of the life of the time. At court the favourite poems were the epics of Charlemagne and his peers, the most beautiful of which, was very likely composed in England by a Norman, Turold (perhaps the Turoldus who figures in the Tapestry), in William the elder's reign. The story of Luc de Barre, who was sentenced to be blinded by I. for the satires he had composed on him, show that the Provencal poetry was known and admired in the north. Although there were as yet no universities, we hear of lectures on Divinity and Roman Law being delivered in in and 's days.

5. [5] The Norman nobles brought in many new fashions of dress, and in 's time we hear of short tunics embroidered with gold and jewels, long curly-toed Angevin shoes, rich silk scarlet mantles, and much other extravagance of attire among men and women. The fashion for the upper classes at the Conquest in both nations was to clip the hair and shave the face, leaving only mustaches. Young men, however, wore long hair in England, and this custom was taken up by the Normans, and vehemently attacked by the clergy, who looked upon it as womanish and vain. Women's dress remained unaltered. The Normans brought from France many new ways of dressing food, and were careful cooks, despising the gross food and drunkenness of the English. English men and women began to take the favourite French names Matilda, Alice, William, Robert, Henry, Thomas, and the like, and drop their old English and Danish ones.

Many rich foreigners came and settled in the English towns, Jews, Germans, Easterlings (Hansetown folk), and Normans. Craft-gilds (trade-clubs among all those of a craft) began to be formed in many cities, as they recovered from the destruction of the first years of conquest. London grew larger and bought fresh rights of I. (the management


of Middlesex by a sheriff chosen by themselves, and the fixing of the city-rent), and got their old ones confirmed. The constant intercourse with Normandy and the foreign connections of the Norman kings led to men travelling more and trading more widely. Thus we hear of Paul, Earl of Orkney, sending beasts to 's menagerie at Woodstock, and of King Sigurd of Norway stopping a winter with him on his way to the Crusades, while the foreign marriages, the visits of the Scots king to England, the embassies from Pope and Emperor, and the constant connection with France in peace or war all show that England was now taking a regular part in European politics and life.

The population of England about was made up of 9500 military and church tenants; 35,000 yeomen holders (all north of Watling Street or in ); 90,000 cottars and bordars (the same class south of Watling Street sunk into the lords' power); 109,000 villeins (freedmen holding land at lord's will); 25,000 serfs (the absolute slaves of their owners) with their families. The remainder, unaccounted for in Domesday, was made up of burgesses (citizen householders) priests, monks, nuns, etc.: in all, about 300,000 families, or about two million souls. Wars, famines, and sickness prevented the population growing fast.


[] [1066-1154.

[1] Changes at the Conquest.

[2] The royal officers and Curia Regis.

[3] Power and reforms of the Church.

[4] Language and letters.

[5] Habits and customs.

[] [1100.

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
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