Anglo-American Culture, Chapter Two

Chapter Two, William the Conqueror

 

 

Pre-reading vocabulary and phrases:

Divine right:

Alderman:

Poaching:

Pick up (a woman):

Collaborate (politically):

 

When William (a Norman) beat King Harold (previous, Saxon King of England) at Hastings, he introduced Norman law and the Norman language to England.

Prior to William there had been no “divine right of kings” in England. The king, while traditionally the son of the previous king, had to be approved by the Witan – or Saxon ruling council. This was a kind of “parliament” that the Saxons had. The Normans destroyed all parliament and concentrate all power with the king. The parliament would vanish from England until 1215.

The Saxon (rulers before William) Witan was a fairly sophisticated system of representatives and aldermen. There were different levels of government for dealing with local matters, regional issues and national concerns. The Norman system William brought was far cruder and based more on the use of power rather than law.

The Normans also introduced the incredibly unpopular “Forest Law,” which made all the wild areas not specifically the property of certain person property of the king. This badly disrupted the Saxon way of life, as common grazing areas (for cattle) and common hunting areas (for deer) had been very important. Forrest Law and high taxes gave rise to period of “hero-outlaws” – the most famous of whom is Robin Hood. Poaching became not only a way for Saxons to feed their families, but also a way to take revenge on the Normans.

Since the Normans felt unsafe in England, a period of intense castle and wall building began. Bear in mind that castles are the architecture of fear. Prior to William’s arrival, the Saxons had had a fairly open society, with fortifications required only at the coasts to protect against the Vikings and the Irish. After William, the entire countryside was filled with military buildings.

Finally, there is the lasting impact of Norman French on the English language. It has been famously said that “English is the result of Norman soldiers trying to pick up Saxon barmaids” and that’s only a little simplified.

Ever wonder why English has two words for everything? Why it’s a cow in the field and a pig in the pen, but beef and pork on the table? It’s because the Saxon farmers who were raising the animals called them one thing, but the Norman aristocrats who were eating inside their castles called them differently.

 

Please watch this documentary on William the Conqueror

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gItfGVaRnZo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV1ujajcPa0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrXAVYEy-fs

 

 

 

Study Quesitons:

How do you think William’s dangerous childhood affected him in later life?

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William wanted absolute power for the king. Do you think this was all good, all bad or both good and bad? Explain.

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“William’s message was clear, collaborate or die.” How is this similar to the Romans? How is it different?

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William was not just a destroyer. He built castles and commissioned the “Doomsday Book” to list all the things people owned in England. These things took power away from small “Lords” and gave it to just a few people in London. In other words, he made one, powerful government instead of many, small governments. How do you think this changed England?

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