At the bitter Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, overcame the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, Harold Godwinson. He emerged as victor to claim the throne he had been promised by Edward the Confessor. After quashing those who supported his last viable rival – Edgar Ætheling, Edward’s great nephew – William made for London, to solidify his control of England.
He was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, although this wasn’t the joyous affair that coronations often are. The atmosphere was tense, with William’s Norman soldiers surrounded by Englishmen who were yet to warm to their new monarch. To symbolise William’s Norman heritage and promote unity, both Saxon and Norman rites were used during the ceremony, with the bishops speaking English as well as French.
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The crowd was inevitably asked if they accepted William as their new king. Cheers of affirmation rang out through the abbey, but William’s guards outside mistook the noise for an assassination attempt. They began setting fire to buildings around them and riots broke out. The terrified spectators rushed out of the church, leaving William and the clergy to complete the coronation alone.
To ensure he could defend himself against his enemies, William ordered a castle be built in London almost immediately. This structure, quickly erected and built of timber, was the beginnings of the Tower of London. In 1078, work began on a stone replacement, the modern-day White Tower. Castle building would be one of the legacies of William’s reign, with around 500 raised across England and Wales by his death in 1087.
This article was first published in the Christmas 2018 issue of BBC History Revealed