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Early Middle Ages: The Normans (800-1200), part 1: The Conquest and The Bayeux Tapestry

(Previous Medieval History post: The Vikings )

The Normans were Danish overlords and tough warriors who had absorbed Carolingian and Christian ideas. We set out to answer some questions: How did Normandy come to play such an influential role in England's history? Why did William the Conqueror invade England?  What was the basis of his claim to the throne? Could it have ended differently? What were some of the changes brought about by the Normans? 

To answer these questions, we read books:

  • Hastings (Battles) (Battles That Changed the World) by Samuel Willard Crompton 
  • 1066: The Crown, the Comet and the Conqueror Paperback – January 1, 1996 by David Hobbs
  • Heritage History: William the Conqueror by Jacob Abbott
  • Heritage History: Days of William the Conqueror by E. M. Tappan
articles and posts:

  • Thinking History: The Battle of Hastings Decisions on the Spur of the Moment?
  • Thinking History: The Events of 1066: Could it have ended differently?
  • Thinking History: Why Did William Want to Conquer England?
  • Battle of Hastings 1066 at History Learning Site
  • Battle of Hastings, Junior General
and then went through the story, making maps using maps (Medieval Maps) as a guide. 

It is in the year 1066. Edward the Confessor was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. (Sorry, I couldn't help it. No disrespect to Charles Dickens.) He was dead and no less than three who vied for the throne:

Harold Godwinson of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon. He had been the most powerful man in England. He was a great soldier and led the English army in victories against the Welsh. King Edward had also said that he wanted him to be king once he had died.

Harald Hardrada, King of Norway.  He was a great Viking war leader. Conquering England would give him more glory. Only twenty-five years ago, England was ruled by kings from Scandinavia and there were many people who had descended from Vikings living in the north of England.

William, Duke of Normandy. He had fought many wars in France and now he wanted to add England to his conquests.  King Edward grew up in Normandy and he had promised him that he would be the next king.

The English, afraid of invasion, have swiftly crowned Harold of Wessex.

There is a race to invade England, but the Normans are held up by unfavorable winds. Harald Hardrada invades first, striking Northern Ireland with his Viking warriors.

Harold Godwinson was in the south but raced north to meet the threat. The Norwegians won the battle, but Hardrada is killed.

William landed in Southern England with a Norman army. He decision to bring a substantial calvary force across the channel cost him some time but, as you will soon see, ensured that the Normans were able to play to their strengths when they actually did land in England.

"We've just marched from Stamford Bridge near York."
Harold's Saxons form their shield on the top of Senlac Hill. He forced the army to come to him where his army was flanked by rough terrain ensuring a frontal assault for which he is prepared.

"I live an will conquer yet." says William, raising his helmet as in the Bayeux tapestry.
The Normans tried to break through through an entire day. Then, the Normans get their break. Harold's men chased the Normans back down the hill, opening gaps in the shield wall. The Normans break through and win, killing Harold in the process.

William the Conqueror becomes king.

The Norman Conquest and the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry, probably commissioned by William's half-brother, Bishop Odo in the 1070's, was discovered in a cathedral in Bayeux, Normandy in 1729.

(Next post: The Normans (800-1200), part 2: The Impact of the Norman Conquest)

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1 comment:

  1. Hee hee, Charles Dickens quote.
    I wonder how history would have changed if the Normans weren't held up by bad weather.


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