Who were the Normans?
The Normans were the next group of people to rule England after the Anglo-Saxons. They built some of our most well-known castles, such as Windsor Castle and the Tower of London.
The Normans came from northern France, and invaded England in 1066 after King Edward the Confessor died without leaving an heir to the throne. They eventually defeated the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, when King Harold II was killed. The Normans ruled England for about 300 years.
Top 10 facts
- The Normans came from northern France, in a region called Normandy.
- The Normans invaded England in 1066 because they wanted to have Norman king in England after the Anglo-Saxon king died.
- The first Norman king was William the Conqueror, who won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 against the Anglo-Saxons.
- While the Normans planned their invasion, the Vikings were also interested in taking over England – they were led by Viking King Harald Hardrada.
- William the Conqueror published the Domesday Book, which tells us a lot about the people who lived in England in the 11th century.
- The Bayeux Tapestry tells a story in pictures about the Norman invasion of Britain and the Battle of Hastings.
- The Bayeux Tapestry also tells us things about Norman life, such as what clothes, armour and even boats looked like.
- The Normans built wooden houses covered in a mixture of mud, dung and straw, which kept them warm in the winter.
- The Normans also built stone castles – some of these are still standing today!
- England in Norman times was ruled by the feudal system.
- January 1066Edward the Confessor died, and Harold II became king.
- 25 September 1066The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place near York, between the Anglo-Saxons and Viking invaders led by Harald Hardrada
- 14 October 1066King Harold was killed in the Battle of Hastings, making William the Conqueror the new Norman king
- 25 December 1066William the Conqueror was crowned at Westminster Abbey, making him King William I.
- 1399Henry Bolingbroke took over the throne and became the first king from the house of Lancaster (Henry IV), ending the rule of Norman kings
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Did you know?
- The first Norman King was William I, but most people know him by the name ‘William the Conqueror’ because he defeated the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
- After the Normans invaded England and won the Battle of Hastings against the Anglo Saxons, they made a special project to mark the events – the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s actually not a tapestry, but a very large embroidery made up of small stitches outlining different pictures on a piece of fabric. The pictures show what happened during the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings.
- The Normans lived a very similar sort of lifestyle to the Anglo-Saxons, but their houses were a little different. They made them with a wood frame that was covered in ‘wattle and daub’, which was mud and dung (animal poo!) mixed with straw.
- The Normans built some of the first stone castles in England, including Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. They wanted to make sure that they could defend England from any more invaders, and being inside a strong stone castle was a good way to do that.
Look at the gallery below and see if you can identify the following:
- The Domesday Book
- A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry
- A Norman-style house
- Windsor Castle
- The Tower of London
- Clifford's Tower, York, dates from the 13th century
- A Norman church
- A Norman-style catapult
- Women’s clothing in Norman times
- A re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings in 2015
The Normans invaded England because they thought William the Conqueror, who was also the Duke of Normandy, should be king instead of Harold. When King Edward the Confessor died there wasn’t anyone else in line to take the throne, so this meant that a few different people thought they should be king. It also meant that 1066, when Edward died, was not a peaceful year.
Besides the Normans, another group of people who wanted to try to take the English throne were the Vikings. The Viking king of Norway, Harald Hardrada, thought he’d have a chance at being king of England because he was related to King Canute the Great. Harald conquered York, but when King Harold II heard this he sent an army up to take York back. The Anglo-Saxons won, but then had to rush back south to fight against William and the Normans! On 14 October 1066 the battle of Hastings was fought and the Anglo-Saxons lost.
The Bayeux Tapestry is an important artefact from the Norman period, and it’s currently displayed in Normandy in France. It has 72 pictures of different events during the Norman invasion, and it was made in eight strips that were joined together. This makes it about 70 metres long – almost as long as a football pitch! Some of the last panel is missing so we don’t know how long it would have been when it was made in the 11th century. It begins with scenes about Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor, and ends with the death of King Harold in the Battle of Hastings.
When William the Conqueror became king, he established the feudal system. It put everyone into a sort of queue depending on what their place in society was, and explained who they needed to pay money or tribute to in order to have a house, grow food, etc.
- The king was at the front of the queue and owned all the land in England. He then gave land to the barons, who could give the king knights and money if he needed it.
- The barons were allowed to rent out the land that the king gave them to the knights, who protected and provided for the baron, and went into battle if the barons told them to.
- The knights could rent out the land they were given to serfs (also called villeins), who were at the end of the queue. They could never leave their master’s manor, and they worked for the knights without getting paid. Serfs pretty much had to do whatever the knight asked – they even had to ask permission if they wanted to get married.
The Domesday Book is an important contribution to history from the Normans. When he first became king, William the Conqueror made a record of how many people lived in England, and what they owned, and had it published as the Domesday Book. He figured out how much tax people owed him from this, which became part of the feudal system of government that people in Norman times lived by. Today, we use the Domesday Book to learn more about the people who lived in Norman times.
Men in Norman times usually wore baggy shirts and trousers with a tunic and cloak over them. Wealthier people would have more decorations and designs on their clothes. Women also dressed differently depending on their rank in society – serfs wore loose-fitting dresses and wimples (a type of hood that fastened under the chin), while wealthier women who didn’t work as much wore more fitted dresses with long, flowing sleeves.
Names to know (Norman kings and when they ruled, listed in order):
William I, the Conqueror (king from 1066-1087)
William II, Rufus (king from 1087-1100) – William II was called Rufus (which means ‘reddish’) because he had a red face, and not because he had red hair
Henry I, Beauclerc (king from 1100-1135) – Henry I was called Beauclerc because he was very well educated – it means ‘fine scholar’
Stephen (king from 1135-1154, though Empress Matilda ruled England for a few months in 1141)
Just for fun...
- Sing along to the Horrible Histories Wicked William the Conqueror Song
- Test your Norman knowledge with this 20-question quiz
- Print off and colour in this drawing of a Norman soldier
- Make a Bayeaux Tapestry of your own
- Search the Domesday book for your own town or village
- Organise your own Norman feast and bake some Norman spiced date loaf
- Read a fantastic English Heritage kids' magazine about the Normans, The Kids Rule! Guide to the Norman Conquest
- Try some Norman castle activities
- Get help from an adult and cook the Norman way with recipes for girdle bread and frumenty
- Gather a group of friends and play a Battle of Hastings history game
- Try some Domesday Book hands-on activities
Children's books about 1066, William the Conqueror and the Normans
Find out more:
- Watch a BBC introduction to the Normans
- A children's guide to the Normans
- 1066 and the Norman conquest: the facts explained in a BBC step-by-step guide
- The Domesday Book explained for children
- About the Bayeux Tapestry
- See each scene in the Bayeux Tapestry and read a short description about what’s going on
- More information about Norman motte and bailey castles and how they were built
- Information about the Normans in Ireland
- Look at a Norman penny, minted between 1083 and 1087 during the reign of William I
- Learn to identify a Norman church and a Norman castle
- A diagram to explain the feudal system in the Middle Ages
- Find out more about food in Norman times
- Discover the secrets of the Domesday Book, find out what the Domesday Book tells us about English life in the 11th century, take a closer look at the contents and watch some video clips to find out more about how it was compiled, try some Domesday activities then take a Domesday Book quiz
- Read children's fiction set in Norman times
See for yourself
- This Norman village, Mountfitchet Castle, was recreated to look like it would have done in 1066
- See Windsor Castle, built by William the Conqueror
- A replica of the Bayeux Tapestry was made in the 19th century, and is on display at the Museum of Reading
- See the site of the Battle of Hastings in Sussex, and visit the Abbey that William the Conqueror had built on the spot where King Harold II died