the normans (libretto)

Ask any Englishman the date of the Battle of Hastings and he will answer you 1066.

Why is this date so important? It marks the last time a foreign army landed on the British coast.
Let’s start from the beginning!
In the —–century AD in England there were the Anglo-Saxons, Germanic tribes under Edward the confessor.
He loved Normandy a lot and chose as his successor on the British throne a Norman man, William the conqueror.

Who was this man?

Personal profile

Date of birth
Place of birth
Physical aspect

William was born in Falaise, southern Normandy in 1028, son of a young woman, Herleve, a tanner’s daughter and Robert, the Devil, Duke of Normandy. The couple was not married, but the duke wanted William to become his successor and heir
When his father died in 1035, little William became a duke at about seven years old. He was tall and well built with red hair and a firm regular jaw.
The other noblemen did not accept him because his parents were not married and a civil war started.
William sometimes had to escape to survive and became an experienced soldier, loyal, but cruel as well, brilliant and brave.
He was persuasive, devout in his religion and constant to his friends. Finally he won. Edward the confessor went to stay in Normandy and named William his successor to the English crown.
Little later William married Matilda of Flanders against the king of France’s will. So Henry I moved n attack, but was defeated. William and his wife could finally enjoy a period of peace and founded 20 monasteries.
It was in this period that the English earl Harold of Wessex landed on the coasts of Normandy because of a storm. William took him as a prisoner and promised him freedom under two conditions: first he had to help William to bet the throne in England, second he had to marry William’s daughter. Harold of course accepted these conditions, but once free he ignored them because he was an ambitious man. In 1066 Harold became king of England after ewer’s death
William was furious and claimed the English throne. So he prepared an army and made plans to invade the country. His man worked hard to prepare a fleet of ships to carry not only soldiers in full armour, but horses and three prefabricated castles of wood.

Figura nave

This is a picture of a Norman ship in the Bayeux tapestry, a long piece of needlework (a work made with needle) probably due to the bishop Odo of Bayeux, duke William’s brother.

What is a needlework?
It is a work made using needle and thread. Technically is called embroidery. It is 50 cm. High and spans 40.34m. in it you can see the various phases that led William on the English throne: from Edward the confessor to Harold’s death.

In the meantime Harold was facing new enemies in his country. His brother Tosig and King Hardrada from Norway were fighting to get the English crown. So, while Harold was engaged in this battle, William landed on the south coast. Harold defeated Tosig and Hardrada near London. But his great enemy was William with his 777 ships, 4000 foot soldiers and knights. Harold’s man covered two hundred miles in four days to meet the Normans at Hastings.

The battle of Hastings
Willaim’s army was made of 3 groups: the Bretons on the left, the French and the Belgian on the right and the Normans in the centre.


The sound of horns and trumpets marked the beginning of the battle. Harold had an advantage because his men were on the hill and soon the Normans remained without arrows. The Norman infantry (soldiers on foot) went closer so the English had to put their shields together to push them back.

At that moment the British heard a cry. “William is dead”. The soldiers were frightened and began to retreat. It was impossible to win without their leader. The English troops thought that the victory was on their side and started running down the hill ignoring Harold’s shout to stop. Harold was right. William was alive and ready to lead his troops against the English.
The Normans killed violently Harold’s soldiers under their king’s eyes. William’s archers launched a second attack to the English shield wall still intact. But they shot high in the air and a shower of arrows rained on the fyrdsmen’s heads. These were unprofessional soldiers who fell to the Norman swords. We do not know exactly about Harold’s death: probably an arrow stroke his face, but the final blow was due to a soldier on horse, a knight. William’s hatred towards Harold did not permit a burial proper to a king. His corpse was mutilated and then buried on the beach under stones. The English soldiers’ end was not better: some died, other ran away pursued by the Normans till night. On Christmas day 1066 William the conqueror became king of England in the great new abbey of Westminster.

Look at this picture. This is a page of the “Descriptio Angliae”. Now this survey is famous under the name of Doomsday Book or Book of the Judgement (you must pronounce it Doom that means Judgement)

William the conqueror came back to Normandy soon leaving Odo, bishop of Bayeux and William Fitzosbern to lead the country. They exploited and oppressed the poor people as we can still read on the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the first report of English history.
Look at this picture: here is the position William and the Normans had in the English history.
Iberians Romans…..

At last in 1067, William came back and set down the rebellion of the Anglo-Saxon in Exeter and York.
But the Anglo Saxons asked some Danish tribes for a help and William had to show again who was the leader of the country punishing people and destroying cattle and crops. Under William reign raised a great interest in law: the king himself wanted to punish every criminal both Norman and English.
Many were still the laws by the Anglo Saxons but he added some new ones.
His rule was right and lawful.
He rewarded with gifts and lands his loyal servants and soldiers distributing English lands in return of a number of soldiers and knights. This marked the beginning of the feudal system.
But the English were not satisfied under his reign: they had to pay heavy taxes for castles and soldiers. In fact they were always fighting against the constant invasions of the Danes. In order to impose a right taxation on the people William ordered a survey a description of England or doomsday book in 1085. it was written by only one scribe in the city of Winchester. His commissioners finished the book after less than a year: there were millions of words. It was useful to provide a record of the owners of land and ended the years of confusion after the conquest and disputes for the ownership of the land. Of course w. was also curious to see exactly his properties and what he had now.
In fact England was a rich with arable land, manufactures of wool and fishing was prosperous its system of coinage – a coin was a form of money – and tax collection was sophisticated already at William’s time. Culturally the church had favoured literacy and arts. Especially concerning manuscripts, jewellery, carvings on wood and ivory.

So it is interesting to study this book as it contains a record of some historical aspects of life 900 years ago.
There are two examples of the way justice worked:
if somebody killed a man in Chester on a week day the fine was of 10 shilling, if it was on Sunday it cost twice.
Is a man prepared bad beer the punishment was to stay on a dungstool – the seat where the condemned man had to sit – in the middle of the square while people was throwing him mud.
If a Welshman kills a Welshman the relative of the murdered go and rob the property of the killer and his relatives and burn the house until the dead man is buried about midday of the day after.

In the doomsday book you can also find the quantity of land each manor has, the number of slaves, of cows, pigs, horses and cats.
Clearly this system was for the English people a symbol of oppression
When the doomsday book was finished William went to Norway because his son Robert was rebelling against him.
William was still the leader of his army even if he was no longer the young and strong warrior who had defeated Harold at Hastings.
He defeated his son’s army, but hurt himself falling off his horse and beating against the saddle pommel. He died few days suffering a lot in September 1087 in Rouen, after naming his son Rufus his successor as a king of England and Robert as duke of Normandy.

Manor: village, town
Slave: a man who ius forced to work without being paid and without freedom.

Norman castles and Strongholds
Only in its architecture England was behind the civilization of its conquerors. Most of the buildings were made of wood. There is a sentence said by William of Malmesbury at that time which explains English situation. “the English live luxuriously in squalid houses; the Normans frugally in fine buildings”. In this field the Normans influenced a lot the Anglo Saxons culture. Soon after the conquest a building boom began in England. Every building, church or castle built by the Saxons was demolished and replaced by a Norman one. The only exception was Westminster Abbey which was already built in Norman style. Under the reign of Edward the confessor a hundred year before. Many castles were built all over the country because the Normans wanted to secure their power. The anòo Saxons instead defended themselves building their villages behind the walls of the romans conquerors or in the forts like the first settlers in the American west. The doomsday book was studied during the centuries under the tudoir and the stuart dynasties ubder queen victorua’s reign as it was considered the symbol of the beginning of every enmglish village. Nowadays it is studied as a testament to the continuity of English lifebecause almost the 80% of the settlements described in the book resists today and the same is for the culktivated lands. The modern estates advertise their properties with the sentence as mentioned in the D B.
But for the anglo Saxons it was a symbol of oppression and it is….
Under William ‘s reign the Normans built a lot of castles, simple but elegant. They replaced the old English buildings, apart from Winchester abbey, built about one hundred years before, that had already a Norman structure thanks to Edward the confessor’s taste.


They built a network of castles all over England to protect themselves while the Anglo-Saxons had only got ancient roman walls to defend their villages and forts like the one you can see in western movies.
In this way the Normans kept the English under control. These castles were on strategic points where they could dominate villages and valleys. They were easy to defend, had a good water supply and became symbols of the Norman power. Everything was destroyed if it was on the site chosen for the castle.
In these castles there were places to sleep and stables and horses, rooms for food and weapons (storerooms) and where they could work (workshops)
At first these buildings were made of wood, but they were not resistant because the weather was wet and there was danger of fires. So they started building castles from stones. The man responsible for the construction were military engineers. The only exception was a priest, Grundulph, bishop of Rochester, William’s great friend who was responsible of the tower of London. Of course it took much longer to build a castle of stone and many men were necessary.

The smith forged the iron, the carpenters worked the wood and the stone-masons worked the stones, cut it and put it on the mortar.
The stone was sometimes on the place where they worked, sometimes they had to transport it. The transport by water was less expensive than the transport by land
It was a hard work to build these castles as they needed a solid foundation of rock and stone and a strong building to raise the blocks of stone. The roof was made of wood and lead, the most heavy and hardest metal. Now you can easily understand that this work took a long time but when you see the tower of London and the castle of Dover you can also understand why they are still considered symbols of the Norman power.

They needed structures to raise the stones

This is a picture of The Descriptio Angliae, famous under the name of Doomesday Book or book of Judgement (Doom means judgement)


1. write the words referring to the armour or to the weapons (figura guerriero con armature e armi)
2. match the following definitions: Fyrdsmen; huscarles; infantry//professional soldiers; unprofessional soldiers; group of soldiers.
3. True or false
1) William is dead
2) The beginning of the battle was marked by trumpets
3) Harold’s soldiers were on the plain
4) William’s soldiers retreated

4. write down the right preposition
5. William landed …..the costs and defeated Tosing and king hardreada …London.
6. William had a fleet …..777 ships. Harold’s men went … the Normans ….Hastings.
7. his army was divided …..3 groups: the Bretons ….the left; the French and the Belgian …the right and the Normans ….the centre.
8. …..first Hardrada had an advantage because his men were …..the hill.
9. then the Normans started ……push them back. …..that moment the Britons heard a dry: Williams is dead.

5. write the names you remember of the parts of the castles

6. Complete the following sentences:
a) The smith is a person who….
b) The carpenter
c) The stone mason
d) The military engineer is
e) The priest is
f) A doctor is
g) An architect is

7. Battle dresses (figure)
mail shirt to protect the soldier against the arrows and the sords
Norman helmet.

8. Edward the confessor went to live in ….where he named William his …….on the ….throne. When Harold of Wessex shipwrecked in france, William took him as a ….and promised him freedom under …..conditions. the first was that he had to help ……the second he had to ….., willim’s ….
Once free Harold did not maintaine his promise and became himself ……of England. so William prepared an …..and a … move war against Harold. The king of England was already fighting against …..and ….from Norway to get the English throne.

10. here is a list of the most important functions of the D B.; underline the ones that are true:
record of owners
record of lands
list of battles
list of William’s properties
list of cattle
report of Saxons life
quantity of land
number of cattle
number of soldiers
number of castles

Why is it so important for William?
Why is it interesting for us’
How was it considered by English people?

11. The D B also provides examples of how justice works during William period. Examine the first example of punishment. Whuy is there a difference between a murder on a wweekday and on Sunday?
12. as to the second example. What can you know about English and their free time.

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