On September 28, 1066, Duke William of Normandy, a French-speaking Saxon king, crossed the English Channel in small open boats with a force of 5,000 men and 2,500 horses. William the Conqueror, as the Duke came to be known, defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and crowned himself, King William the First. This is what we know today as the Norman Conquest.
William, a ruthless man, ruled his French duchy of Normandy with a rod of iron, and he continued the same practice in England. William claimed ownership of everything. He took away the estates and lands of those he conquered and granted them to fiefs, his loyal Norman followers. In short, William brought feudalism to England in full force.
To further emphasize that everything belonged to him, William, in 1086, compiled his famous “Domesday Book,” a census of people and property, down to the last pig and cow. William, through this book, was able to collect every tax dollar and feudal fee owed to him.
The Norman Conquest changed England forever; especially language and culture. The Normans spoke French, and the lower classes spoke German. Over time, as the Normans and Saxons mingled, many French and German words were fitted together; as a result, a new language, English, came into being. This new English language led to the rise of English nationality and the English state.
The most immediate change, however, was political. During the Norman rule, English farmers lost their freedom and became serfs. William’s successors enhanced royal authority until finally, in 1215, after a long train of abuses, King John was forced to sign the Magna Charta. But that’s a story for another time.
It was on this day, September 28, 1066, the Norman Conquest of England began.