English Resistance to the Normans 1067-1072
Or how the Normans conquered England

The Aftermath of Hastings

On the 14th October 1066 Harold II fought and died in an attempt to defend his crown at the battle of Hastings against an invasion force from Normandy.

By this means William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy removed the major obstacle between himself and the crown of England, but he was not yet king and he controlled only a small portion of the south coast. After the battle William remained at Hastings and "waited there to know whether the people would submit to him". As he waited the authorities in London pondered what to do. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle explains;

Archbishop Aldred and the garrison in London wanted to have Prince Edgar for king just as was his natural right and Edwin and Morcar promised him that they would fight for him

As no one turned up, William passed the time by ravaging Kent on his way to London. With William on the march everyone seems to have decided that further resistance was pointless and Aldred together with Edgar Aetheling and the earls Edwin and Morkar and "all the best men from London", travelled to Berkhampstead where they submitted to William.

Thus did London surrender and William was subsequently crowned king William I at Westminster on the 25th December and shortly afterwards returned to Normandy taking with him a number of hostages including the "Archbishop Stigand, and Abbot Aylnoth of Glastonbury, and Prince Edgar, and the Earls Edwin and Morkar, and Waltheof, and many other good men of England."

William might well have felt that with his coronation that the rest of England would now fall in line and accept him as king. But whilst he was away the abbot of Peterborough died and a successor was chosen. In a symbolic gesture of defiance the monastery asked Edgar Aetheling to confirm the appointment. William was understandably annoyed at this insult but was mollified by an apology and the payment of forty marks worth of gold.

The Year 1067

It might have seemed as if William was in charge of things but as Orderic Vitalis was to explain;

But in the marches of his kingdom, to the west and north, the inhabitants were still barbarous, and had only obeyed the English king in the time of King Edward and his predecessors when it suited their ends.

The first hint of real trouble began in 1067 firstly in the Welsh Marches where Eadric the Wild, a Shropshire landholder, acting in alliance with the joint rulers of Gwynedd, Bleddyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn, rose in rebellion, raided Herefordshire and sacked Hereford, before scurrying back to the safety of the Welsh hills.

Meanwhile in the West of England Harold's mother, Gytha remained in control of Exeter (at the time the fourth largest city in England). William;

travelled to Devonshire and besieged Exeter stronghold for 18 days - and there a great deal of his raiding-army perished

In the end Exeter surrendered "because the thegns had betrayed them"; which is to say that the expected support of the local nobility of Devon failed to materialise. Gytha managed to escape before Exeter surrendered and fled to the safety of the island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel.

According to Orderic Vitalis, William then travelled into Cornwall and;

After putting down every disturbance that came to his notice he disbanded his army, and returned to Winchester to celebrate the feast of Easter there.

The Year 1068

In the north of England opposition began to grow to William as

it was told the king, that the people in the North had gathered themselves together, and would stand against him if he came. Whereupon he went to Nottingham, and wrought there a castle; and so advanced to York, and there wrought two castles; and the same at Lincoln, and everywhere in that quarter.

This show of strength seems to have been sufficient to quell the rebellion and Gospatric, who was Earl of Northumbria (having bought the earldom from William the previous year) and had presumably organised the 'gathering together', subsequently fled with his supporters into Scotland.

In the West Country there was further trouble as the sons of king Harold II, who are named by Florence of Worcester as Godwin, Edmund and Magnus arrived with a fleet at the mouth of the river Avon. They had previously fled to Ireland but now, in the summer of 1068, returned with a force of Hiberno-Norse mercenaries.

Their first target was Bristol, but the inhabitants successfully resisted, so they resorted to raiding the surrounding area. The brothers then left for Somerset, where they once again indulged themselves in a spot of pillaging. Here they were opposed by a local levy led by one Eadnoth Staller together with the local Norman garrisons. In the resulting conflict Eadnoth Staller was killed and possibly Magnus Haroldson as well. Despite taking some losses, the brothers seem to have got the better of the fighting and were able to return to Ireland with their loot.

The Year 1069

The year 1069 was to prove the crucial year in the course of the conquest as William I faced a number of simultaneous challenges to his rule.

The previous year William I had appointed Robert of Comines as Earl of Northumberia in place of Gospatric, but he was not a popular choice and whilst at Durham he was ambushed and killed togther with 900 of his men, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.(Or 700 according to Simeon of Durham or a mere 500 if you prefer Orderic Vitalis.) Edgar Aetheling, who had the previous year fled with his family and supporters to the relative safety of Scotland, took advantage of this display of resistance and left Scotland and,

came to York with all the Northumbrians and the men of the market town made peace with him
William rapidly marched north and surprised the Northumbrians and "ravaged the town and killed many hundreds of men" and recaptured York. For good measure he plundered the city; at *St. Peter's minster he made a profanation, and all other places also he despoiled and trampled upon

Edgar Aetheling fled back to Scotland where he was joined by more refugees.

Back in the West Country the sons of king Harold II returned. After the previous summers successful expedition Godwin and Edmund came once more with a fleet full of mercenary troops.

They tried to capture Exeter this time but failed as the Normans had strengthened the city walls and built a castle and so returned to raiding Somerset and Cornwall. This time Brian of Penthievre organised an army against them and in a series of enagagments inflicted heavy losses on the brothers. They returned to Ireland and abandoned any further ideas of opposition to William I.

Faced with the news that her grandsons had failed to make any headway, Gytha abandoned Flatholm and sailed for Flanders and into obscrurity.

Unfortunately for William there was more trouble to come as the king of Denmark, Swein Estrithson arrived in the Humber esturary accompanied by his sons and his brother the Jarl Osbern, with a fleet of either 240 or 300 ships (the different versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle disagree on this point).

The appearance of large Danish fleet in the Humber was possibly the most significant challenge that William had yet encountered particularly as the Danes were soon joined by a number of native dissidents.

The Winchester Chronicle describes how the;

Prince Edgar and Earl Waltheof and Maerleswein and Earl Gospatric with the Northumbrians and all the people of the land riding and marching with an enormous raiding army, greatly rejoicing; and thus all resolutely went to York and broke down and demolished the castle and won countless treasures, and there killed many hundreds of Frenchmen

It was at this moment that Eadric the Wild together with his Welsh allies re-emerged from the hills and proceeded to attack and captured Shrewsbury and moved into Cheshire, where Chester was still holding out and refusing to recognise William I as king.

William advanced north to first counter the Danish threat. As he approached them the Danish fleet put to sea and began harrying the east coast. Satisifed that there was to be no organised move against London, William left part of his force behind to watch over the Danes and their allies and crossed the Pennines to meet the threat of Eadric.

There William I|William] was joined by Brian of Penthievre, fresh from his victory over the sons of Harold and together they defeated the combined force Welsh and marcher force at the battle of Stafford, although sans Eadric, who had scurried back to the safety of Wales some time before.

Having 'pacified' the western borderlands, William I|William] could now deal with the north, an issue that had become more pressing now that Hereward the Wake had began his revolt in the Fenland region of East Anglia. William I|William]therefore drove his army back across the Pennines to York and re-entered the city without opposition.

It was then that William carried out the notorious 'Harrowing of the North', when his army set out on an orgy of destruction, burning, looting and killing anything and everything they came across in the broad arc of territory between the Humber and the Wash; the Winchester Chroncile says that William "wholly ravaged and laid waste the shire" the Peterborough version simply says that he "completly did for it".

William paused to celebrate Christmas at York then spent the rest of the winter ravaging the Cleveland hills.

The year 1070

William's 'Harrowing of the North' a calculated act of political terrorism had its desired effect, as "This year Earl Waltheof made peace with the king". William,

gave the county of Northampton to earl Waltheof, one of the greatest of the English, and married him to his own niece Judith to strengthen the bonds of friendship between them
according to Orderic Vitalis and was later to grant him the earlodum of Northumberland as well.

Gospatric too made a deal with William, and given that he still held the fortess at Bamburgh he was able to avoid any retribution for his opposition of the previous year.

With the revolt in Northumberland now silenced William once again crossed the Pennines with an army, his objective this time being Chester which stubbornly refused to recognise his authority. Despite difficulties with the weather, supplies and the mutiny of some of his French mercenary troops he arrived at Chester which promptly surrendered without a fight. Next according to Orderic Vitalis he suppressed all risings throughout Mercia with royal power.

The fall of Chester appears to have prompted Eadric the Wild to join the list of former rebels now making their peace with William I and two years later even joined William on his expedition of Scotland.

The threat of the Danish fleet remained however, and having over-wintered in the Humber. At the beginning of 1070 they established a base at the Isle of Ely and were joined by a mumber of local people including the famous Hereward the Wake. The appointment of a Norman bishop to the see of Peterborough seems to have meant that the city was now regarded as a legitimate target. The Danes and Hereward co-operated in an assault on Peterborough when the Danes stripped the cathedral of its valuables.

Although William made little headway in his attempts to dislodge the rebels from Ely, Swein Estrithson now appears to have decided that there was nothing more for him to gain in Britain and the two kings were now reconciled; "the Danes went out of Ely with all the aforesaid treasure, and carried it away with them."

The year 1071

William might have been reconciled with both Waltheof and Gospatric but the two sons of Aelfgar were still at large; as the Chronicle explains they "ran off and travelled variously in woods and open country". Morkar eventually joined Hereward the Wake at Ely, but Edwin was "treacherously slain by his own men"

The arrival of Morkar at Ely seems to have spurred William into action and he launched a combined naval and land based assault against Ely and was eventually able to storm the rebel base by means of a specially constructed causeway. The outlaws then all surrendered; that was, Bishop Aylwine, and Earl Morkar, and all that were with them; except Hereward alone, and all those that would join him, whom he led out triumphantly

Hereward was to remain an irritant for a few years to come, but was never again able to significantly challenge Norman rule in England.

The Year 1072

The Danes had now been bought off, the Welsh Marches subdued, the revolt in the Fenlands had been quashed and Northumberland bludgeoned into submission, but in the far north there was further trouble was brewing as Malcolm III of Scotland sought to take advantage of events in the south.

William therefore "led a ship army and land army to Scotland and beset that land seaward with ships". Faced with a Norman army on his doorstep, Malcolm seemed disinclined to make a fight of it and "Malcolm came and made peace with king William and was his man and gave him hostages".

The resulting peace, known as the Treaty of Abernathy required Malcolm to refuse sanctuary to the enemies of king William so Edgar Aetheling was forced to pack his bags and seek accomodation elsewhere. Gospatric was forced to abandon Bamburgh and spent the rest of his life in Scotland assisting Malcolm.

By the end of the year 1072 William was at last in control of England and he was able to spend most of the following year on the continent surpressing a revolt in Maine mainly with the use of English troops. There was to be further opposition to his rule in England, but it came from the ranks of his won supporters, most notably in the Revolt of the Earls in 1075.

As William of Jumièges wrote in his Gesta Normannorum Ducum, William I;

governed by that prudence which he always followed in all things, carefully surveyed the lack of fortification of his kingdom and caused strong castles to be raised in suitable places, manned by a picked force of knights and large numbers of stipendiaries. At length the storm of wars and rebellions dying out, he now both clemently rules and even more prosperously and powerfully reigns in glory over the whole English kingdom.

Why the Normans won

One of the curiousities of history is how a comparatively small body of Norman adventurers succeeded in conquering a nation such as England.

Much of this was down to the personal qualities of drive and energy possessed by William himself. Years of fighting to establish himself as Duke in Normandy had taught him how to fight on multiple fronts at the same time and the value of terror as a political weapon. William simply had no reservations in using the most extreme measures against a population that failed to obey his will. Standard Norman tactics when faced with opposition was to loot the surrounding area, indiscriminately slaughter whoever they came across then build a castle. By such means the local population were terrorised into submission.

But fundamentally there was a lack of unity in the opposition to William . Of course the Scots and the Welsh sought to take advantage of the situation to cause trouble on their respective borders, but other than that the real opposition came from the territories formerly known as the Danelaw.

In the midst of all the excitement of the Norman Conquest it is easy to forget that England had already been previously conquered in 1014 by Cnut of Denmark. To consolidate his grip on power Cnut appointed a series of henchmen to key positions of power in the land, effectively dividing up the country between his supporters.

It was the sons of these men that still held effective power in 1066, most notably of course Harold Godwinson or king Harold II who had seized the throne in 1066 through a coup d'etat. Harold had no real legitimate claim to the throne but was naturally accepted by his peers as the man most likely to protect the interests of the Anglo-Danish ruling class that he represented.

Many of them died on the battlefield at Hastings and of the handful that remained and sought to establish a powerbase in the north and east it is never clear whether their objective was to 'liberate' England or simply recreate some king of independent kingdom along the lines of the old Northumbria/Jorvik.

As one can see from the above account of the events of the years 1067 to 1072; Eadric the Wild sacked Hereford, Hereward the Wake together with Swein looted Peterborough whilst the sons of Harold pillaged the West Country. These seem to be not so much wars of liberations but rather opportunistic acts of piracy. One can understand why many might have welcomed a Norman victory as it at least promised an end to such activities and the restoration of some semblance of law and order.



Quotations taken from the following:-

The Anglo Saxon ChroniclesTranslated and Edited by Michael Swanton (Phoenix Press, 2000)

together with

Extracted from http://www.stephen.j.murray.btinternet.co.uk

Geoff Boxell The Time of the Wolf and the Raven; Conquest and Resistance-England 1066 to 1088 (Maþeliende Volume V, Number 3, Spring 1998) at http://www.english.uga.edu/~mathelie/mathv3.html

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