Norman Conquest period
in English history following the defeat (1066) of King Harold of England
by William, duke of Normandy, who became William I of England. The conquest
was formerly thought to have brought about broad changes in all phases
of English life. More recently historians have stressed the continuity
of English law, institutions, and customs, but the subject remains one
of controversy. The initial military conquest of England was quick and
brutal. The members of the Anglo-Saxon upper class who were not killed
in the battle of Hastings were almost all involved in the rebellion from
1068 to 1070 and were either killed or deprived of their lands. Thus a
Norman aristocracy was superimposed on the English, and the new elite
brought with it Norman feudal customs (see feudalism), which were reinforced
by the need for cohesion and mutual military support among the fairly
small group of conquerors. Thus the rebellions among the Norman barons
were minor and short-lived, the interests of stability being paramount.
To consolidate his position William used the existing Anglo-Saxon administrative
system, which functioned as part of a centralized monarchical tradition.
It was this tradition, as adapted by the Normans, that gave English feudalism
its uniquely cohesive nature. There was little change in the administrative
and judicial systems during the Norman period (usually defined as ending
with the accession of the Plantagenet Henry II in 1154) and later developments
were not in the nature of Norman superimpositions. William I's archbishop
of Canterbury, Lanfranc, established a separate system of canon law courts,
effectively asserted the supremacy of his archdiocese, and brought the
English church into closer contact with developments in Europe, particularly
with the reforms of Pope Gregory VII. The Norman kings, however, successfully
resisted papal encroachment on their control over episcopal appointments.
The period saw many churches and castles built, the latter chiefly on
the south and east coasts and on the Welsh and Scottish borders (see Norman
architecture). Norman French became the language of the court and upper
classes, and of literature, and had great effect on the development of
the English language.