GCSE History Revision: Norman England: The Beginning of the Succession Crisis

9th May 2018

GCSE History Revision: Norman England: The Beginning of the Succession Crisis

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Everything you need to know about Norman England: The Beginning of the Succession Crisis!

Towards the end of Anglo-Saxon rule, Edward the confessor ruled with Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex as his close advisor and Harold’s sister, Edith Godwinson as Edward’s wife.  The Godwine house had amassed great wealth and military power whilst loyal to king Cnut and Harthacnut, and were second only to the king.  When Godwine, Earl of Wessex died, his son Harold became the new Earl of Wessex.  Harold was powerful and wealthy and commanded great influence. Harold’s younger brothers Tostig Godwinson became Earl of Northumbria, Gyrth Godwinson was given the earldom of East Anglia and Leoffwine Godwinson was now Earl of the Southwest Midlands.  The Godwine house now controlled most of England.  On Edwards death bed he promised the crown to Harold and the Witenagemot (a royal council) appointed him king on 6th January 1066.

The succession to Norman rule began turbulently, with the Anglo-Saxon King Harold of Wessex fighting to keep his crown almost from the moment it was placed on his head.  This is largely due to King Edward the confessor’s lack of an heir and his disputes and promises made with others before his death.

William, Duke of Normandy had allegedly been promised the crown during a visit to England in 1051 and Harold was said to have paid loyalty to William in 1064, even going on tour with him to claim Brittany (which failed!).

King Harald II of Norway (aka Harald Hardrada) claimed his predecessor Magnus I of Norway and the previous king Harthacnut made an agreement that if either one of them died without an heir, the other would inherit England and Norway.  He used this to lay claim to the throne.  King Harald was supported by Tostig Godwinson, Harold’s brother.

Harold first marched 210miles in 5 days to Stamford Bridge where he defeated Hardrada, Tostig and his 300 Viking long ships on Sept 25th 1066.  It is said only 24 long ships returned to Norway and Harald and Tostig were killed.  No sooner had he defeated Harald, he was turning around and on his way to battle the army of William the conqueror, who had landed at Pevensey. They met at Senlac Hill on 14th October,1066 near Hastings and there, William defeated Harold and his army.  It is not known how Harold died but the Bayeux Tapestry, completed in 1077 depicts a couple of figure in Anglo Saxon armour, one shot in the eye by an arrow and the other being trampled by a mounted Norman swordsman.  The words above read 'hic harold rex interfectus est’ translating ‘Harold he is slain’.

William I (1066-1087) was now king of England and Normandy, known as William the conqueror, the first Norman ruler. Crowned on December 25th 1066 he commissioned the Domesday Book (1086) and began the Norman succession of English rule. He built castles and monasteries and brought bishops and abbots from France to teach and govern. Both his sons, William II (1087 to 1100) and Henry I (1100 to 1135) rule England, followed by Stephen in 1135-1154 (briefly opposed in 1141 by Matilda, Henry I daughter, who had been promised the throne by her farther and the nobles at the time of Henrys death).  When King Stephen died, Matilda’s son, Henry II becomes king and so the Plantagenets began their succession.


Make sure to check out our music video on "Norman England: The Beginning of the Succession Crisis", try to remember every lyric, and then have a go at our test!


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