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Edward 'The Confessor' is thought to have promised William, Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror, c.1027-87) the English throne in 1051. William was the illegitimate son of Robert the Devil and had become Duke of Normandy in 1035. However, when Edward died, Harold, an Anglo-Saxon nobleman, took the throne. When Edward died childless, having nominated Harold II as his successor, William pursued his claim to the throne and began the Norman Conquest of England.

In 1064 Harold Godwinsson was shipwrecked in Normandy (this event is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry) and may have been tricked into swearing an oath to support William of Normandy's claim to England.

In 1066, after Edward the Confessor's death on 5 January, Harold Godwinsson claimed the throne and was crowned as King Harold II on 6 January. Harold's brother, Tostig, joined forces with Harald Hardrada of Norway to invade England in September. Harold's army defeated and killed them both at the battle of Stamford Bridge. While Harold and his army were in the north, William led invaders from Normandy, in France, on a march south to meet William's army at the battle of Hastings just 19 days after the battle of Stamford Bridge. The English fought on foot with axes and spears. Although they were protected behind a wall of shields, they could not match the Normans, who fought on horseback. William declared himself king of England and was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.

In Normandy, however, William was still only a duke and a vassal of the king of France. At first many people in the north and east of England protested against his rule. He put down these rebellions brutally, taking the land and giving it to his followers. This was known as the 'Harrying of the North'. In 1070 Hereward the Wake began a Saxon revolt in the Fens, East Anglia. In 1072 Malcolm III of Scotland became a vassal of William, but this did not stop Malcolm raiding England, where he was killed in 1093.

After overcoming resistance from Hereward the Wake and others, William ruled capably, creating a ruling class of Norman knights and reorganising the land-holding system to keep the peace. William believed that all the land in the country belonged to him. To help him raise money and have an army when he needed one, he allowed his barons to hold some of this land. In exchange for these estates, they paid him taxes and provided him with knights to help him fight his enemies.

In turn, the barons allowed their knights to hold some of their land. In exchange for these manors, each knight had to give the baron 40 days' military service each year. For this he had to be armed and on horseback and also have a certain number of soldiers with him.

Each knight allowed people known as villeins to hold land from him. They were the largest group in society at this time. They usually lived in villages near the manor house and farmed around 12 hectares of land each. They had to work two or three days each for the lord of the manor. They also had to give him some of their crops or an equal amount in money. There were also brodars who had about two hectares of land. A village was largely self-supporting and people rarely travelled beyond its boundaries.

William gave much land to the church and replaced most of the English bishops with French ones. He also encouraged traders and craftsmen from France to settle in England.

In William's reign, the landscape of England and Wales started to change. He and many of his followers built large castles and towns grew up around them. The old churches were replaced by bigger ones and the great cathedrals such as Winchester and Durham were begun. Monks and nuns from France set up large monasteries and convents in the countryside and attracted new followers from the local populations. French became the language of the nobility. The Normans enjoyed hunting and created many areas known as forests. These did not all have trees. Instead, they were places where animals were kept to be hunted by rich people. It was forbidden for anyone to enter a royal forest with bow and arrows or dogs, without a special warrant.

Although Norman rule was harsh, it brought advantages: castles provided refuges for local people when attacked; the civil service (the work of running the country) was started; and the first survey of English land was carried out.

In 1085 William commissioned the Domesday Book, a detailed economic survey of England. (At that time in northern Europe writing mainly survived in monasteries and even kings such as William could not read or write; in court and on their travels they always dictated their letters and records of events to a scribe.) The survey recorded the value, population, extent, state of cultivation, ownership, and tenancy of the land. The regions were divided up and commissioners appointed for each area. Citizens had to answer, under oath, questions about the state of their lands both at the time of the survey and in 1066. The results of the survey, completed in 1086, were written in the Domesday Book. The book was divided into two volumes, one covering the richest counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, and the other covering the remaining counties. Families that have had a connection with one place stretching back a very long time (over 1,000 years) may find reference to their family in the Domesday Book. No survey of the British Isles was conducted again until 1801.

In 1087 William I died, leaving Normandy to his oldest son, Robert, and England to his second son, William Rufus. To his third son, Henry, he left some money.

England was never conquered by foreign forces again.

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