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The year 1066 was the first and the last time that the kingdom of England was comprehensively conquered. The battle of Hastings, in which most of the English ruling class and its fighting men were annihilated, is well-known enough not to need any explanation here. King Harold II was killed, and Duke Guillaume of Normandy (later Anglicised to ‘William’) claimed the English crown, despite having no serious claim to it.
If school history classes are anything like they were when I was a boy, the battle of Hastings will be taught in some detail and its aftermath will barely be mentioned. But Hastings was only the beginning of the Norman campaign to conquer England. For ten years, the natives fought back against the invader’s forces. There was a full-fledged guerrilla insurgency, reminiscent of the French resistance or the Viet Cong. Few people today know much about it and, until I began researching it three years ago for a novel set in the period, I didn’t either. But it has arguably shaped the England we still live in.
Witan Council versus automatic hereditary monarchy:-
After Hastings, Guillaume expected the remnants of the English elite to grant him the crown. Instead, the Witan, or high council, gathered in London and acclaimed a new king: not the Duke, but Edgar, Edmund II’s 14-year-old grandson. Until the Normans introduced the concept of automatic hereditary monarchy to England, kings were elected by the Witan. And this one, even after Hastings, refused to elect Guillaume.
The Duke dealt with this problem in characteristic style: with violence. He marched his army up through the south-east, burning, looting and raping. He circled London, burnt Southwark to the ground and then marched west, brutalising the populations of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Middlesex, and Hertfordshire. Soon enough, the Witan relented. They had no means of resisting what the Normans had brought. On Christmas Day, Guillaume le Bâtard — William the Bastard, as his own people knew him — was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey.

One of the first laws enacted by Guillaume, in January 1067, declared that all the land in England belonged to the crown. All who held land, from the highest lord to the lowest peasant, now held it on sufferance from him. This was a revolution from the top, and it allowed Guillaume to pay back the mercenaries who had made up much of his invading force by parceling out the nation’s acres to them. Then he increased taxes, several times (the Domesday Book was a tax-collector’s manual). He also appointed his friends, relatives and lieutenants to the highest offices in the land. Within a decade of the conquest, the number of English people in positions of high authority could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Something that is happening once again today in the UK. The indigenous people of this land are being written out of their own history.
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