Norman Conquest (1065-87) Summary and Exam Help (OCR History B Schools History Project)


Anglo-Saxon England c.1065

Society: the people and how they lived

Stories about King Edward and his nation were exaggerated. People wrote about England on the eve of the Conquest as a land of free people who enjoyed their fair share of considerable wealth and an early form of democracy.

Land was divided into shires containing 'burhs'. They were weak in the north-east. Burhs developed, markets grew, and trade prospered. This was supported by setting up royal mints producing coins by the king, whose purity and value were trusted. Taxation was efficient and the system worked well.

There were fines for sexual harassment of women and women ran double monasteries. They could also own land and property but this right was lost in 1066 .Five percent of all land in England was owned by women, though most of them were related to earls. Divorces were rare. Sermons from the time accused men of buying women as slaves, sexually assaulting them, and selling them. Lower status women did a lot of manual work. High status women were called ladies.

Thegns ran local courts, paid taxes, and fought for the king. A thegn had to own 250 hectares of land. The richest 100 thegns perhaps had direct contact with the king.

Earls were the king's chief advisors who formed the Witan, held shire courts twice a year, chose the king, and gathered fyrd. There were six earls in 1066, who came from just three families. The earls caused England to be unstable due to their rivalry, which nearly caused a civil war during Edward's reign. The most powerful earl was Harold Godwinson.

Ceorls who had special skills or worked on land and were tightly bound to serve their thegn (in 1065), rarely independent. In eastern shires, some ceorls had some land and a house of their own, but overall most ceorls had to pay rent and do work for the thegn. They had to serve in the fyrd and repair bridges and roads.

The king owned more land than anyone else, raised taxes for the nation's defence, burhs, roads, and bridges encouraging trade; issued new laws, and was responsible for the justice in law courts and for the Church's work.

England had slavery, even though slavery died out in most of Europe by 1000. Unlike ceorls, they were the property of their master and couldn't seek work on their own. They could be branded or castrated, like an animal. They made up 10% of the population and there were higher proportions of them in western shires. In times of famine, the parent might have to sell their child, and anyone born into slavery would always remain a thrall.

Every person had a cash value - 'wergild'. The king's wergild was 18,000 shillings, a prince's wergild was 9,000 shillings, an earl's was 4,800 shillings, a thegn's was 1,200 shillings, a ceorl's was 160 shillings, and a thrall had no value. This depended on social groups. A person responsible for a murder would not


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