Editor’s pick: 11 fascinating articles on the Normans you can read right now

The Norman conquest is a pivotal period in the history of Britain, and HistoryExtra hosts a wealth of articles from the subject's top historians – covering everything from the most significant battles to its far-reaching impact. With all subscriber areas of the site open to all readers, our content director David Musgrove selects 11 articles from our archive that you can read for free, right now…

Harold Godwinson is proclaimed king of England in the Bayeux Tapestry. It may have been commissioned by a Norman but this magnificent artwork repeatedly acknowledges the English leader’s piety and courage. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
1

Cnut’s invasion of England: setting the scene for the Norman conquest

The 1066 battle of Hastings is one of the most famous dates in medieval history. But it is often forgotten that the Norman conquest was preceded by another invasion of England some 50 years earlier – led by Danish warrior Cnut in 1015–16. This piece by medieval blogger Dr Eleanor Parker on Cnut’s invasion of England in 1013 sets the scene for the events later in the 11th century very nicely. You can read the full article here.

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A 15th-century stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral, depicting King Cnut.
A 15th-century stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral, depicting King Cnut. (CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images) (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 

2

The Normans: a timeline

Marc Morris considers the story of the Normans beyond the conquest, with an overview of every date you need to know in our Norman timeline. Read the full article here, which includes the turmoil that followed the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 and the bloody wars between Stephen and Matilda in the 1100s.

You can also listen to Marc answering reader questions on the Norman conquest on our podcast episode:


3

1066: eight days that rocked England

Edward the Confessor’s death in 1066 opened the doors to two major claimants vying for the English throne – Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, and William, Duke of Normandy. Alex Burghart tracks the key dates in the big year of invasions, and you can read the full article here.

 

4

Hastings, Stamford Bridge and Gate Fulford: three battles that lost England

The battle of Hastings may take centre-stage in this period, but Harold Godwinson’s first and only year as England’s king was derailed in three momentous battles. Frank McLynn tells the story of the two battles of 1066 that preceded William’s clash with Harold. Read more here

Tostig Godwinson, brother of King Harold II of England, and King Harald Hardrada of Norway (1015 - 1066) receive the submission of the city of York, 1066. Shortly afterwards, they were both killed at the nearby Battle of Stamford Bridge. Engraving by L. Gruner after D. Maclise RA. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Tostig Godwinson, brother of King Harold II of England, and King Harald Hardrada of Norway receive the submission of the city of York, 1066. Shortly afterwards, they were both killed at the nearby battle of Stamford Bridge. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

5

Where did the battle of Hastings actually take place? 8 facts about the 1066 battle

As for the battle of Hastings itself, in which the Anglo-Saxon king Harold II attempted to defend his realm from the invasion forces of William, duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror), Marc Morris lays out the essential facts here.

 

6

What the Normans did for us

We also have a lot of great material on the aftermath of the battle. Here, Marc Morris rounds up the impact of the Norman Conquest on the conquered nation, from the decline in slavery, the rise in chivalry, the replacement of the ruling class, and the change in language, to the imposition of castles and a new style of mighty churches. Read more here

 

7

The Anglo-Saxons’ last stand

The spirit of the Anglo-Saxons didn’t die at the battle of Hastings, and William I faced years of resistance from a populace resentful of the Norman takeover. In this article from the January 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine, Marc Morris explores how far the English resisted the Normans post-Hastings.

Section of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting a woman and child fleeing from a burning house. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
A section of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting a woman and child fleeing from a burning house. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

 

8

Did English leaders “deliberately acquiesce” to foreign rule in 1066?

In this article, George Garnett, a professor of medieval history at the University of Oxford, explores the English response to the imposition of Norman rule after 1066

9

Was William the Conqueror a war criminal? The brutal story of the Harrying of the North

We’ve got several great pieces considering the rights and wrongs of William Conqueror’s actions. Marc Morris takes a look with a focus on the Harrying of the North on this article, questioning whether it should be branded a genocide. Read the full article.

 

10

William the Conqueror: hero or villain?

Elsewhere, Nick Vincent takes a wider look at the Conqueror’s life and career, asking was the Norman invader a great leader who ushered in a new civilised era for England – or a greedy brute who terrorised the Anglo-Saxons?

 

11

Reassessing William the Conqueror

Finally, an article in which David Bates reassesses William I’s personality, and offers a ‘what-if’ about the scenario had Harold not lost at Hastings.

William the Conqueror
(Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Want to read more? Here are 6 articles on the Bayeux tapestry

The Bayeux tapestry is of course the most famous source for the Norman Conquest. Alexandra Lester-Makin explores how it was made. Michael Lewis considers why Harold seems to play such a heroic role in the Tapestry. Meanwhile Gale Owen-Crocker analyses some of the key scenes from the Tapestry.

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I also wrote a piece a few years back about the evidence for the Tapestry being an English work of art. Finally George Garnett takes a look at the priapic predilections of the Tapestry designers.

You can also find more on our pages about the Normans and the Bayeux Tapestry.