The Norman Conquest

By Elroy Bert Coan

Map of Norman Conquest

Imperial College's production of The Norman Conquest, produced in association with Sussex Video, Ltd., explains the period just before, during, and after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The documentary was produced in 1982 and does not have the current computer generated graphics to accentuate the narrative.

The documentary has an introduction by Dr. Kathleen Burk that sets the stage of the invasions by showing a map of England and Normandy. Dr. Burk explains the setting and includes the important locations of the events that took place in the summer and fall of the year 1066. She introduces the main parties involved, including Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson, William of Normandy, and Harold Hardrada, and last, Dr. Burk introduces the main narrator of the documentary, Professor H.R. Loyn of Westfield College, London University, a specialist in Anglo Saxon and Norman History.

Loyn opens the narrative at Berkhamsted. This, he explains, is where William accepted the final surrender after the Battle of Hastings. Loyn takes the viewer on a small tour of the medieval Norman fortifications there and explains that it is a symbol of Norman success. Loyn chooses this time to explain, somewhat, about just who, or what, the Normans were. He starts by explaining that William the Conquerer was illegitimate by birth. He says that William's father died when William was eight years old and William faced a number of confrontations with his own barons as well as with the King of France.

Loyn argues that although the Norman army included many Frenchman, it was still Norman. He goes on to say that the "Normans were the strongest Princes" in a country made of principalites.

Prior to the invasion, Edward the Confessor was the King of England, Edward died without leaving an heir. Edward the Confessor from the Bayeaux Tapestry Edward's nephew was brought in from Hungary, but he was weak and soon died. Several people had claim to the throne: the Scandanavian Kings, the Danish Kings, and the Norwegian King, Harold Hardrada. Loyn explains that William of Normandy also had a claim. He explains that William had been promised the crown by Edward the Confessor. Loyn says that England decided that it needed a strong King and the Witan, in 1066, elected Harold Godwinson, King. Harold was the son of Edward's brother in law and a soldier and statesman. The narrator says that he was the strongest in all of England.

Loyn explains that William heard of Harold's election and acted. William actually made his case through the Papal Court and throughout Europe, that he should be made King of England. Loyn states that they all agreed. Loyn explains that Edward had promised William a voice in the election of his succesor. Duke of Normandy, William I By summer of 1066, William had recruited an army and was waiting at the coast to invade. He was waiting for a favorable wind.

Narrating from the coastal location of Pevensey. Loyn sets the stage for the invasion. He explains that Harold Hardrada, the Norwegian king, had set sail with three hundred ships. Harold Hardrada's claim was based on a treaty made in the 1040's. Loyn explains how Harold Hardrada landed in Northumbria at the River Tyne and joined Scottish troops at Riccal.

The Northern Earls fought and lost to the Norwegians at York (Fulford Gate). Hearing this, Harold Godwinson, gathered his army and marched north from London traveling two hundred miles reaching Tadcaster on Sept. 24, 1066. The next day Harold Godwinson defeated the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge. Harold Godwinson then withdrew to York. Loyn then explains that the winds turned favorable, and William set sail, landing at Pevensey on Sept. 28, unloaded and marched east, setting up his fortification at Battle (Hastings)

Lyn then speaks on location at the Battle of Hastings. He says that Harold marched south toward London. Loyn describes Harold's mood as being very confident. He states that Harold had just marched a great distance to defeat an enemy, and that he was returning to his favorite patch of country that was being threatened.

He said that swift action had accounted for Harold's success. Harold arrived and drew up position at Senlac on Oct. 13.

On Sat. Oct. 14, William decided to move north (to Battle.) Harold discovered the Norman Army ready to attack. Loyn makes the point that the "battle depended on initiative and mobility". He says that in one sense William won the battle only by making the decision to move at the outset. He describes the Norman army as "Norman in the center, the French and Flemish on the left, and the Bretons to the right".

Loyn describes the Battle. He stated that "mobility gave success to William, but only after tremendous effort. He describes the Battle as being a series of cavalry charges. In the first charge, Harold's two brothers were killed. The Normans were repulsed.

Loyn states that some of the English, possibly overconfident, moved down the hill and were cut-off. William, with no thought of harm, led the last cavalry charge. Loyn speaking from the spot where Harold was killed, explains that the Battle of Hastings was finished. Normans claimed afterwards that all of England was won at the Battle of Hastings.

After the battle, Loyn explains, William tried to govern with the help of the Great Men. This did not work, and rebellion broke out all over England. William advanced north and devastated Northumbria. This was called the "Harrying of the North": William put down rebellions harshly. The effects of the invasion and subsequent rule were explained by Loyn thus: William had claimed to be the rightful heir, but he was also a conqueror. He says that these two roles are interwoven.

He maintains that William introduced the feudal settlement into England with knights on horseback, and lords with military service. Page from the Domesday (Doomsday) Book Loyn is shown inspecting the Doomsday Book, with a record of land holdings of William's England.The English aristocracy had been displaced. He shows that by 1086 only 4% of the land was under English control. Loyn explained that the language also changed with Norman French becoming the tongue of polite society. Medieval Couple  Hunting Moreover, merchants and other people moved in from Normandy ensuring that England kept more firmly in contact with the continent. Loyn sums it up, concerning Norman rule, by quoting a contemporary, William of Malmesbury. "Normans plundered their subjects, but protected them from others".

The documentary, The Norman Conquest was made without the benefit of current technological special effects, so it shows its age. It appears to have been on a very low budget, but it is at the same time very informative. The viewer notices the passion which the narrator has for the subject matter, but also that he seems to take for granted that the viewer knows the subject matter well. The documentary is more akin to a college lecture series than a film for personal enjoyment.