Tuesday, 16 February 2016


William used the introduction of the Norman feudal system to punish Saxon rebels, seize their land and property ... and give it out to loyal Normans (and Saxons who would pledge loyalty). Even the great rebel Hereward the Wake eventually became a loyal subject ... AFTER he regained land and property that had been seized from his family. The Domesday Book ensured William had a detailed record of who had wealth, land, property, livestock and so could tax it.

MrHistoryHelp's 3 min guide to the Domesday book

A Commisioner speaks out on behalf of his king...

The Domesday Book is a great land survey from 1086, commissioned by William the Conqueror to assess the extent of the land and resources being owned in England at the time, and the extent of the taxes he could raise. The information collected was recorded by hand in two huge books, in the space of around a year. William died before it was fully completed.

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Why is it called the 'Domesday' Book?
It was written by an observer of the survey that "there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out". The grand and comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place (see How it was compiled), and the irreversible nature of the information collected led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or 'Doomsday', described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgement. This name was not adopted until the late 12th Century.  (domesdaybook.co.uk)

It was an exercise unparalleled in contemporary Europe, and was not matched in its comprehensive coverage of the country until the population censuses of the 19th century - although Domesday itself is not a full population census, and the names that appear in it are mainly only those of people who owned land.
Providing definitive proof of rights to land and obligations to tax and military service, its 913 pages and two million Latin words describe more than 13,000 places in England and parts of Wales. Nicknamed the 'Domesday' Book by the native English, after God's final Day of Judgement, when every soul would be assessed and against which there could be no appeal ...

In 1066 William Duke of Normandy defeated the Anglo-Saxon King, Harold II, at the Battle of Hastings and became King of England. In 1085 England was again threatened with invasion, this time from Denmark. William had to pay for the mercenary army he hired to defend his kingdom. To do this he needed to know what financial and military resources were available to him. 
At Christmas 1085 he commissioned a survey to discover the resources and taxable values of all the boroughs and manors in England. He wanted to discover who owned what, how much it was worth and how much was owed to him as King in tax, rents, and military service. A reassessment of the tax known as the geld took place at about the same time as Domesday and still survives for the south west. But Domesday is much more than just a tax record. It also records which manors belonged to which estates and gives the identities of the King’s tenants-in-chief who owed him military service in the form of knights to fight in his army. The King was essentially interested in tracing, recording and recovering his royal rights and revenues which he wished to maximise. It was also in the interests of his chief barons to co-operate in the survey since it set on permanent record the tenurial gains they had made since 1066.  (nationalarchives)



I'm sure you'll watch this and get inspired...

Video guide:

A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Relatively easy to build with unskilled, often forced, labour, but still militarily formidable, these castles were built across northern Europe from the 10th century onwards, spreading from Normandy and Anjou in France, into the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century. The Normans introduced the design into England and Wales following their invasion in 1066. Motte-and-bailey castles were adopted in Scotland, Ireland, the Low Countries and Denmark in the 12th and 13th centuries. By the end of the 13th century, the design was largely superseded by alternative forms of fortification, but the earthworks remain a prominent feature in many countries.
Screenshot from http://www.ancientfortresses.org/motte-and-bailey-castles.htm

What were the first castles like?
The first proper castles built in England were the Motte and Bailey castles.
The term motte and bailey castle comes from Norman French words for mound and enclosed land.
Motte - mound or 'clod of earth'
Bailey - enclosure.
Who introduced the Motte and Bailey Castles to England?
The Normans from France, introduced the Motte and Bailey castle to England, when they invaded the country in 1066. It is believed that as many as 1000 Motte and Bailey Castles were built in England by the Normans.
How were Motte and Bailey Castles built?
The most important part of the Motte and Bailey castle was the Keep. It was built on a huge mound (the motte). Mottes ranged from 25 feet (8 metres) to over 80 feet (24 metres) in height
The sides of the motte were so steep that it would have been impossible to run up them in one go For added potection, a deep ditch was dug around the bottom of the motte.
At the bottom of the motte was the bailey. The bailey varied in size from one to three acres.
Inside the bailey, lived the followers of the Lord who ran the castle. There were many buildings inside the bailey including stables, storehouses, bakeries, kitchens, houses, and quarters for soldiers.
A strong wooden fence (palisade) surrounded the buildings.
The bailey was surrounded by a ditch, called a fosse.

What were the advantages of motte and bailey castles?
Motte and bailey castles were quick and cheap to erect - - some only took a couple of weeks!
The huge motte with its timber tower on top gave the defenders an advantage.
The bailey was designed so that any point on its circumference (outer edge) would be within bowshot of the tower.
What were the disadvantages of motte and bailey castles?
How and why did Norman castle building material change?
Wooden castles were not very strong.
The wooden structures caught fire easily.
Stone was much stronger
From around 1100 onwards, people began to build castles in stone.

The first record of a motte and bailey castle in France appeared at the start of the 11th Century. The first recorded motte in England was in 1051 when French castle builders were building one for the English king in Hereford. However, the French were unpopular with the local population and the French builders left without anything substantial being built.
After his victory at Hastings in 1066, William moved around the south coast to Dover. Here he built his third English castle after Pevensey and Hastings. The motte and bailey castle at Dover took just eight days to build – according to William of Poitiers who was William’s chaplain. Was such a feat possible?
Building castles then was very labour intensive. William and his men were invaders and his army would have had to be on a constant guard especially in the immediate days after Hastings. Research on one of William’s motte and bailey castles at Hampstead Marshall shows that the motte contains 22,000 tons of soil. This motte took fifty men eighty days to build. Using this as a guide, the motte at Dover would have needed 500 men to complete in eight days. It is possible that local towns people were coerced into working extremely hard to complete the task. However, building a motte was a skilled achievement. The mottes were built layer upon layer. There would be a layer of soil that was capped with a layer of stones that was capped with a layer of soil and so on. The stone layers were needed to strengthen the motte and to assist drainage.
William accepted the surrender of the Anglo-Saxon nobles at Berkhamsted Castle, north-west of London – arguably his finest motte and bailey castle. This meant that he did not have to fight for London – and the people of London were spared their city being torched.
William started his reign as king of England with uncharacteristic diplomacy. He allowed the Saxon nobles to keep their land and he tried to learn English. However, for two years up to 1068, he was faced with rebellions throughout his new kingdom. William responded by marching his feared army to a trouble spot and re-asserting his authority. He then had a castle built there – a very visible sign of the Norman’s power. Castles were built in Exeter, Warwick, Nottingham, Lincoln, Huntingdon, Cambridge and York. However, this series of castle building did not cause the problem to disappear. Those who rebelled against William’s power, gathered in the north of England. In 1069, they targeted the most obvious sign of William’s authority – the castle of York. This castle was not heavily defended and the Normans soldiers there were beaten and the castle was burnt to the ground.


BBC Bitesize:

Feudalism worked through an exchange of money, protection, land or food.
(sample quote from the video below)

You can find various full-length documentaries through this YouTube search.

Land was a great currency for the king to use as awards for faithful lords.

An American guide:

BBC Bitesize resources.
Google images results for 'feudal system explained'.


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR Hereward the Wake's rebellion


To imagine what life was like for the Saxons who refused to accept Norman rule following Norman conquest, this amateur video (17mins), The Last Saxon, recreates a sense of being hunted down by Norman forces.
Hereward was a Saxon rebel who eventually accepted the feudal system and Norman rule to reclaim the land he'd lost.


Hereward the Wake (also known as Hereward the Outlaw or Hereward the Exile, c. 1035 – c.1072) was an 11th-century leader of local resistance to the Norman conquest of England. Hereward's base, when leading the rebellion against the Norman rulers, was in the Isle of Ely, and according to legend he roamed The Fens, covering North Cambridgeshire, Southern Lincolnshire and West Norfolk, leading popular opposition to William the Conqueror. (Wiki)
Still revered nearly a 1,000 years later by some in England as a great symbol of Englishness - here's a song and video inspired by him! Here's a simple whiteboard video detailing his story.

A heroic figure who inspired the legend of Robin Hood
There's even a band named after him!
His story certainly influenced the legend of Robin Hood!
This video provides a lot of useful information, though the voiceover is done by computer voice translation!

Exiled as a young man (just 18) by Edward the Confessor, he became a mercenary, returning to England in 1069 to find his brother's head impaled where his land and property once was. Enraged to hear Normans boasting about this, he killed 14 of them at a feast ... their head's replaced his brother's above his old house!
The Domesday Book confirms that a man named Hereward held lands at Witham on the Hill and Barholm with Stow in the southwestern corner of Lincolnshire as a tenant of Peterborough Abbey. Before his exile, Hereward had lands as a tenant of Croyland Abbey at Crowland, eight miles to the east of Market Deeping in the neighbouring fenland. (source)
Note though that not all of the accounts agree on what Hereward did or was like....
There are many books on Hereward!
Along with the former Saxon earl of Northumbria, Morcai, he led a rebel force to Ely, which William struggled to defeat - many of his soldiers died when a wooden causeway across the treacherous marshes collapsed. Hereward and Morcai joined the Danish king there, and looted Peterborough Abbey for gold ... which the Danish king fled with ... and which also caused the Ely monks to betray him to the Saxons, showing them how to safely get across the marshes. Hereward escaped to the surrounding countryside, the Fens.
It is not known how long Hereward the Wake lived as outlaws in the forests of the Fens. But he apparently held out against the Normans until King William was persuaded to come to terms. Hereward the Wake was given his lands back and reference to his lands are made in the Doomsday Book. (Source)
Visit ely.org.uk to learn more!
The great rebel became part of the ruling class again, his sister marrying a prominent Norman and William returning his land. That's one version; there are conflicting accounts!
Several conflicting accounts exist as to Hereward's fate thereafter, the Gesta Herewardi states that while in attempt to negotiate with William he was provoked into a fight which led to his capture and imprisonment, however, he was later liberated by his friends while in the course of being transferred from one castle to another. Hereward's former gaoler persuaded the king to negotiate again, and he was eventually pardoned by William. The Estoire des Engleis, written by Geoffrey Gaimar claims Hereward lived for some time as an outlaw in the Fens, but that as he was on the verge of making peace with William, he was set upon and killed by a group of Norman knights. Even after his death, people still visited a wooden castle in the Fens that was known to the peasants as Hereward's Castle. (source)

William struggled to defeat the rebels at Ely, who had picked their defensive base well. He tried laying planks across the marsh, but this collapsed, killing many soldiers.

He brought in witches to curse the rebels ... shockingly, this failed!

Bribery won out ... monks who feared Hereward and the rebels would rob them as they had done the Peterborough monastery betrayed them, telling William's men how to safely cross the marshes.

William won the Battle of Hastings, but he faced a long fight to defeat his remaining opponents, determined to oppose and undermine Norman rule and the feudal system that transferred wealth and land from many of the previous, Saxon elites.

There are several books on Hereward - check with your parents
before accessing any of these, as some portray the brutal realities quite starkly.

James Wilde's novel is a recent example (Amazon UK), but there have also been comic books and kids books ... have a look for yourself online.

See also: sources above and:
BBC guide.
EnglishMonarchs guide.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada

Extract from her 'Tilbury speech'
...and it had to be good, as the Spanish had a vastly superior army and navy. There seemed little real hope that Elizabeth and the Protestant Church of England that helped fuel Phillip's rage, would survive...

Elizabeth pledged to be right there in the midst of battle (didn't work out so well for Harold Godwinson back in 1066...), and made strong, clear religious references to help boost her army's resolve and determination to fight to the death if need be (and it seemed like it would be!)

She also tackled head on any fears that a woman wouldn't match Phillip as a leader.

The famous Tilbury speech was given after the major, decisive Battle of Gravelines - there was still more to be done, and further invasion attempts were anticipated, so this was no lets all chill out, job done speech, but a further call to arms.

You can read the speech at the Wiki, or a shorter version here.

This battle is STILL seen as a key event in the history of Britain, and remains a source of national pride and self-identity for some, placing Britain as a powerful, independent island nation.

Just as with the Battle of Hastings, luck and the weather would play a major role!

Below, I use two video sources to list some key points on the background to the war, and why Spain lost. Here are some useful resources for your own wider reading, and to look deeper into this major moment in European and global history - setting the scene for an English/British empire that would cover more than half the globe, often replacing Spanish rule!