This role play is a discussion with Bardolf the Axe Lover, an English peasant who returns home after Hastings to live his life under Norman rule. He is in an inn after news had reached their village that William had died and discusses what has changed and what things stayed the same for him. While he comments on what had happened to him, he also talks about other groups of people in the village and what has changed or stayed the same for them.
Bardolf, do you think the Normans have changed our lifestyle here in England?
"Our old lord was killed with Harold at the great fight at Hastings and we’ve got a new Norman lord so we have to be careful. Most people are afraid of how their new foreign lords will treat them."
There has been a lot of talk around town about how bad the Normans are. Is it true that they are not doing anything good for us English men?
"They are rebuilding our cathedrals and making them larger. King William was very religious and gave a lot of money to churches. Rebuilding cathedrals is a good way to worship God and it makes work for English men so that they can feed their families."
How about hunting? Is there any changes in how we can hunt?
"The Normans say we can no longer hunt for meat. These new Norman forest laws say only the King and his lords are allowed to hunt deer and other animals. If you are caught with a weapon in the forest then they cut off two of your fingers to make sure you never go hunting with a bow again. The second time they put your eyes out. If a Norman is found dead then everyone in the area has to pay a large fine."
How about the country's government?
What changes have been made?
"We still use the same coins and pay the same taxes. These Normans haven’t changed the way the country is governed but it’s harder to get away with anything any more! Why are they asking all these questions about our village? They are even counting every sheep and pig. Are they going to collect even more taxes or take our animals back to their farms in Normandy?"
I have heard that the Norman's medical treatments are better. Is that true?
"The Normans used the same medical treatments and cures as we do. They use cures based on herbs that are handed down through families or they use charms and chants to scare away evil spirits."
Do you farm the land differently?
"The Normans haven’t changed how we farm the land. I need to plough my land whether my lord is Norman or Saxon. We still depend on the harvest to have enough to eat. Best get on with the ploughing!"
What about these new castles? Do you like them?
"They just build them to intimidate us and they knock down people’s homes to build their castles. I hate castles and I hate watching Norman soldiers ride past. They’re so arrogant. They look at you and talk and you don’t know what they’re saying."
Some say that the Normans have made life easier. What do you think?
"These Normans haven’t made my life easier. The fastest way to travel was still on horseback – if you’re rich! I have to make do with walking and using oxen to pull my plough. It probably feels safer for the merchants to travel to fairs and markets to sell their cloth, because these Norman soldiers keep us merchants safe from thieves, at least down in the south."
So, you don't think that the Normans have improved our life?
"The Normans are ruthless. What about all the places they have destroyed and the people they’ve killed? They’ve forced people to leave their homes so they can make their new forests. They’ve burned villages all across the north after the rebellions. Refugees have been begging food from villages and monks all over the south."
Some say that they have improved our lives because the Normans have brought our country culture. What do you think?
"People in Winchester have a fancy new fashion. They call their sons after King William’s sons, William, Robert and Henry. They say they prefer these new French names to our old Saxon names like Ethelred."
Thank you very much for your thoughts, Bardolf.
Source: Thinking History: Changes and Continuity: The Impact of the Norman Conquest. I had the boys read the quotes and come up with questions that the interviewer could use with each of the quotes. They then dressed up as peasants and we held the interview, with me asking the questions they had wrote and taking pictures.