Medieval England and Vikings: The Culmination of the Viking Influence on England, Part 4

Diorama with Vikings

The result of the disagreement over the crown led England into two decisive battles, one with an outlawed earl and the Norwegian Vikings, and the other with the Normans. Harold Hardrada and Tostig pressed their position, invading England from the north. King Harold went to meet and defeat them at Stamford Bridge. Duke William acted while Harold was still in the north. William was aware that supplies for his troops would be a problem if he didn’t engage Harold soon. He raided in the south, which was in Harold’s earldom, to insult the king into a quick battle. Harold rushed his troops the nearly 200 miles to fight at Hastings. Harold’s troops were worn by the prior battle and long march. William’s troops were fresh, and eager for battle with the promise of great reward should they win. Harold died in the battle and his forces dispersed. His two brothers, earls Leofwine and Gurth also died at Hastings, leaving the south and east without centralized English leadership, and easy for William to fully subdue.

England was structurally a kingdom of established royal administrative and judicial procedures, and of strong local government, …always under threat from Scandinavian invasion and the turbulence of overmighty subjects, it was clearly ripe for Norman plucking.

William’s dukedom was a militaristic Viking land, though several generations removed from its Norwegian origin. Like the Danes, the Normans harassed the English into submission. William’s methods were born out of lessons learned from the past, and the necessity to secure his kingdom. William did not originally seek to destroy the Anglo-Saxon way of life. William was later forced to transplant English leadership with French, due to the English unwillingness to accept their new king.

The south was somewhat securely in William’s hands, but he saw great resistance in London. He made his overlordship known in areas surrounding London, by violence and displays of might. He took the treasury at Canterbury before moving on to the great city. Word of what the duke was capable reached London, and when he got there the city gave its allegiance with little opposition. William was crowned king on Christmas Day, 1066. Upon his crowning, the cheers were such that the guards posted outside thought something so terribly wrong had happened that they started to burn the houses surrounding Westminster Abbey, which was another reason for the English to resent the Normans.

William wished to be known to all the English as the legitimate king. He still had respect for Anglo-Saxon ways, and had the Witan approve his kingship, which was the Witan’s last official act. William swore that he would “govern this nation according to the best practice of his predecessors if they would be loyal to him.” William saw England and the kingship desirable as it was, and not in need of drastic change. Earls Edwin, Morcar and Waltheof still held power in Mercia, Northumbria and Huntingdon. As king of England, William marched north to secure the rest of his new kingdom. His conquest had only begun.

William rewarded his loyal followers with land from the killed or exiled English. No other king had this sort of opportunity, and William’s followers had to obey the terms of the agreement, since their land-holding was dependent on William’s being on the throne. Although it was not William’s intent to crush England into submission, over 4,000 resistant thanes lost their land to fewer than 200 Norman barons. The new rulers of England were resented, but the ideas behind their military rule had at least been envisioned, if not already in some form, implemented. The change in leadership brought about changes in land ownership and defense.