How far did the Norman kings change the organisation of the church and state after 1066?

An essay plan of the question 'How far did the Norman kings change the organisation of the church and state after 1066?'.

Paragraphs: Church personnel, church admin, state government and admin, feudal system.

Counter arguments highlighted in yellow.


Paragraph 1: Changes to Church Personnel

Most reform took place in William I reign as a result of Norman Conquest. A significant change was that of church personnel - William essentially replaced the entirety of the Anglo-Saxon church with Normans, starting in 1070. 

  • Bishops of Selsey & Lichfield removed, Walcher becomes bishop of Durham and Herfast becomes bishop of Elmham, Walkelin becomes bishop of Winchester.
  • Thomas of Bayeux becomes Archbishop of York
  • Stigand is removed as Archbishop of Canterbury and replaced by Lanfranc
  • The Abbots of St Augustines Canterbury and St Albans were deposed.
  • By 1086 there were only 3 A-S abbots, as opposed to the 13 that there were before.
  • By the end of William's reign 11 out of 15 bishops were Norman. 
  • HOWEVER: Leofric of Devon & Cornwall, Siward of Rochester and Wulfstan of Worcester remained Anglo-Saxon bishops
  • After this there was also a sense that William was happy to replace positions with Normans as they died.
  • William Rufus abused this oppurtunity by purposefully leaving bishoprics vacant and taking the profits for his own crown revenue.
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Paragraph 2: Church Administration

There were also many reforms to the administration and organisation of the Church during the Norman conquest that remained in place for decades after. It was particularly in William's interest to raise the moral standards of the church.

  • Latin became the language of admininstration. 
  • Archdeaconries and rural deaneries were established - Archdeacons policed their local area and interposed new levels of authority between bishops and priests - HOWEVER these were based on shire boundaries that existed before conquest. 
  • William began the regular holding of church councils - they took place in 1070, 72, 75, 76 and 3 more before 1086. Passed legislations like banning of clergy marriages and compulsory celibacy amongst clergymen. HOWEVER these councils did not continue into William Rufus' reign - he banned them.
  • The 1076 Church council passed legislation that clergy would be tried in ecclesiastical courts called synods instead of hundred courts. This would cause controversy later.
  • During these councils decided that York would be subordinate to Canterbury.
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Paragraph 3: State Government & Admin

The Norman conquest also brought about significant reforms to government.

  • The official named position of Chancellor and the Chancery were introduced. The first named was Herfast in 1069. HOWEVER no such position existed in Normandy pre-1066, and under Edward the Confessor ther had been developed body of clerks who carried out administrative practices. 
  • Shires, sherrif's and local government were one aspect that was relatively unchanged. Kept old shire divisions, actual job of sherrif stayed the same. HOWEVER after 1070 consistent policy of replacing existing sherrifs with people from Normandy duchy. 
  • The power of the sherrifs also grew considerably from 1066-1100, partially due to the "power vacuum" left by the collapse of the Anglo-Saxon earldoms. This would be investigated later by Henry II in the Inquest of Sherrifs in 1170. 
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Paragraph 4: the Feudal System

William's development of the Feudal system was one of his most memorable reforms to the state, as it became the backbone of Anglo-Norman society.

  • William introduced the social structure of feudalism - established the fundamental idea that 'all land belongs to the king' - infact the king directly owned 1/5 of the land recorded in the Domesday in 1086. 
  • All land was held from the king by tenants-in-chief, of which there were 180, and 11 main ones. Land was then held from them by knights, and so on down the chain of being. HOWEVER this idea of the chain of being itself did not change. That was set in stone.
  • The heart of the system was military service - each tenant-in-chief was obliged to provide a certain number of men to fight as part of their 'servitium debitum'. 
  • This very military centred ruling class was a unique feature brought about by the Normans.
  • HOWEVER there is much debate among historians about how much of the feudal system was actually brought about by the Normans, and how much it was just building upon the existing English customs, which did involve land being held from someone of a higher status. 
  • BUT William and Norman kings brought about the official act of becoming a vassal and swearing an oath to your feudal lord. 
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