Nicholas Richards In assessing the Norman Conquest of 1066 which would you stress: continuity or cataclysmic change? When assessing the Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Saxon systems of government it is generally agreed by historians that the Norman's took a good Anglo-Saxon system of government and managed it more efficiently. I would question this assumption and instead say that they managed it differently to the Anglo-Saxons, rather than stressing any major value difference between them. This essay will examine the changes that did occur and highlight the continuity of certain important aspects of the Anglo-Norman regime. The Norman reputation for efficiency is one of the crucial differences between the regimes that have been suggested by historians.
Unfortunately it rests upon a series of assumptions that rest on a very little proof, this should be noted when discussing these issues but is hardly unknown in events this long ago. The main evidence given in support of this reputation comes from the very fact of the existence of the Domesday Book. This collated all the information about the kingdom and brought it within the purview of the king's officers, allowing a more sophisticated tax policy to be implemented. There is also evidence for a civil service separate from the royal household from at least the start of the 12 th century.
This is based upon an exchequer audit that survives from 1130 checking the sheriff's tax returns. Yet nobody knows what the Domesday Book was actually intended for, we know how it was compiled and we know what information we can extract from it; but not much else. Pipe rolls, the evidence of a working civil service are of little use when they are fragmentary and a sequence is not preserved until the late 12 th century. Thus our hypotheses will continue to be based upon guesswork. The Norman's didn't really understand Anglo-Saxon customs and traditions, whilst unsurprising it does explain some actions that they took. Early on after the conquest they replaced Saxons at the top tier of society, but crucially not further down, at the administrative level.
When these men passed on, Norman appointees then took their places. However, their knowledge of how the system worked was not there leading to a deterioration in standards. An example of this is in the coinage. This became seriously debased after the Norman ascendancy and eventually moved to a fixed coinage, rather than the more flexible later Saxon coinage that was demonetized and replaced more frequently.
This had given the king an opportunity to make money on payments owed to him depending upon whether he took them in weight or as a fixed value. The Norman's twisted many Anglo-Saxon traditions: in Anglo-Saxon society the fribourg was a mark of a freeman and his 'law-worthiness'. The Norman's replace it with the 'frankpledge' (or in Norman 'francpleg') this is a direct translation from the Saxon, suggesting that they intended it as the same thing. Yet the Norman frankpledge is the mark of a villein. This could well show the increasing feudalization of society under Norman rule. These indications of misunderstanding, when combined with other data suggesting that Henry I had to order courts to do their traditional duty, make a case that the traditional fabric of the state administrative machine was breaking down.
Examples of this are in things such as the penalties for debasement of the coinage. This had become so widespread that the government was forced to nick every coin to prove that it contained it's stated content. Another symbol of Norman misunderstanding of Saxon culture and customs was their misunderstanding of the role of the geld. This was originally intended as a short term revenue generating Nicholas Richards measure.
Under the Norman's this became a generalised land tax. Now, whilst this in itself would have been no bad thing the bizarre way in which it liability for it was assessed was not efficient and relied more upon historical accident than land assessment. There is some (rather tenuous) evidence that the Domesday Book was intended as a guideline for reform, rather than the assessment for liability that it became. This mainly rests upon the claim by Od eric Vital is that Ranula Flam bard was going to remeasure the fields 'by the rope '1. This was never carried out and the taxation remained unreformed. Whilst this was scarcely uncommon in the rest of Europe it is a blow to our perception of extraordinary Norman efficiency.
Under the Norman's the old Anglo-Saxon system disintegrated about 50 years after the conquest as those who knew how to operate it died off. However whilst this is a consequence of 1066 and does constitute a large breach with the Anglo-Saxon past it did occur after 50 years of transition and so its impact can perhaps be slightly minimised. There has also been a movement among historians towards promoting the merits of Anglo-Saxon government over the Norman style. There are several positive points in this but in the end it falls at the same fence as an over embellishment of the Norman role; a lack of evidence.
The Anglo-Saxons did follow their own customs and repartitioned land according to hides and hundreds in most of the land they had, or later acquired. However there was considerable resistance among people to land (and by implication) monetary and rental change in an age where items were expected to have a 'fixed price'. There has been a suggestion that the resistance in pre-conquest Northumberland against To stig as Earl was partly due to his attempt to integrate the territory into the general Anglo-Saxon system complaints of 'unheard of taxes's ugg est that this was the case. I would give this some credence, as it is worth noting that although the Norman's may have changed the owners of the land they did not change the way (or units) that it was measured, or that taxes were paid. Despite their misunderstandings it is worth noting that the Norman's did at least attempt to understand Anglo-Saxon customs and retain them. Change did occur in the landholding pattern of the country.
By 1086 Englishmen had been pushed out of landholding and their places given to Norman's. This indisputably occurred, however the main contention among historians has been as to how this process occurred and with what speed. This information gives us insights into the motivation of William in assigning territory and in assessing what he though was important. An example of this is the writs throwing out those the gns who had fought at Hastings that were delivered in 1067. Lordship and Kinship played no significant role in the parceling out of land after Hastings.
These were the two main priorities of pre-conquest England. The Norman's circumvented these by going directly to the small landholders who felt (justly) threatened by the new position after Hastings. This loss of dues and retinues forced the (formerly) powerful landholders into rebellion and hastened their demise as a governing force. Whilst it is correct to state the England was taxed to pay for wars in Normandy this was far from a unique situation. Tax levied in England being transferred overseas is most strikingly seen in the Danegeld. This bears a significant resemblance to the transfers of English wealth into the constant war between the Norman Duke's and their neighbours.
In other words this was no unheard of catastrophe that pillaged England but the latest in a long line of taxes that enabled the 1 Warren, 130 Nicholas Richards English to live in peace. The only difference was that this was now being levied and received by their masters. The growth of a cross channel Norman ruling class was an innovation but this (and the migration that went with it) seems to have tailed off 20 years or so after the conquest as the best land had already been a signed. I would stress that there was change after 1066. If there had been no change after an invasion that would be even more noteworthy. What I can not agree with is the use of the terms catastrophic or cataclysmic.
Whilst this may have been the effect upon a high noble at the time of the conquest the vast majority of people continued in the same way, only paying someone with a Norman name. The invasion can not be seen as cataclysmic for the country either as, far from continuing as a foreign ruling class the Norman aristocracy became integrated into the English people. Evidence of intermarriage between the two peoples is strong, showing that the Norman's were not seen as an alien threat. After all, an Anglo-Norman alliance was seen (among the Anglo-Saxon nobility) as the only way to keep the Vikings out of England, and whilst there is little evidence that people were afraid of the Norman's, fear of a Viking invasion was rampant. Apart from a possible Viking take-over many people (Edward among them) believed that a Norman king was the only protection the country had against internecine strife among the Earl's in the aftermath of Edward's death.
Whilst several scholars have advanced positions that the Anglo-Saxon state was more advanced than the Anglo-Norman, or that Norman administrative efficiency refined the Anglo-Saxon state into a fearsome machine this essay is not here to adjudicate. I will merely note the debate and state that I believe a different point can also be drawn from the evidence provided. As James Campbell has noted both models of the state (the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman) were influenced by the Carolingian empire, particularly in such areas as administrative districts (the 'hundreds') and land surveys (the polyptych in the church and the descript as mans as of 843). I conclude that both models of the state were inherently the same (at the time of the conquest) and that later innovations (of seen as regressions in sophistication) are not in the scope of this essay.
Whilst the flavour of administration may have differed among the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman governments: one being more sophisticated monetarily, the other having closer royal control they both sprang from the same Carolingian practice of a Germanic stem. There is clear evidence for change in Britain after the Norman invasion. The huge shake-up in landholding alone is proof enough of that. However I would suggest that this change was not a cataclysmic one for the country as a whole due to the similarity of Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Saxon governmental styles. Whilst there was a thorough change in the top tier of government and public life, with very few English bishops remaining it's effect on the country as a whole would be overstated by the use of the word cataclysmic.
I would stress change, but an essential respect for tradition. Nicholas Richards Bibliography R Fleming, The Domesday Book and the ten urial revolution, Battle (1987) J Campbell ed. , The Anglo-Saxons, 1982 R Fleming, King's and Lords in Conquest England, Territories and Time, London 1991 WL Warren, The myth of Norman administrative efficiency, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, (1984). D Bates, Normandy and England after 1066, English Historical Review, 1989 J Campbell, Observations on English Government from the Tenth to the Twelfth century, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, (1975) S Harvey, The knight and knight's fee in England, Past and Present, (1970).