Uncovering the past Uncovering the past

A series of podcasts exploring aspects of some of the issues surrounding the Norman Conquest of England, brought to you by the School of History at the University of East Anglia.

The Norman Conquest is one of those events of the English past which everyone is expected to know something about. It forms part of the curriculum for eleven year olds and it is even an event that those wishing to take UK citizenship are required to know a little about.  Yet what we do know and is taught is often a distortion of what historians have come to understand about the events that surrounded the conquest.

In these podcasts, seven medieval historians from the School of History at the University of East Anglia explore aspects of some of the issues surrounding the Norman Conquest of England and to bring to you, in a lively and engaging manner, insights into the key historical issues.


Photo of a field with hedges.

In this podcasts, professors Tom Williamson and Mark Bailey set the scene for the Norman Conquest by discussing the physical landscapes of medieval England. Popularly thought to have been widely wooded, Tom and Mark show that in fact England was highly cultivated on the eve of the Norman Conquest.

Whose Crown

Mosaic of King Edward the Confessor

Duke William's invasion of 1066 was not undertaken as a simple piece of Norman aggressive expansion. Duke William thought that the crown of Edward the Confessor rightly belonged to him, and that he was, in invading England and in giving battle to King Harold, confronting a man who had unlawfully usurped the crown. King Harold no doubt thought that he was the legitimate king of the English. Indeed, his coronation on 6 January 1066 ought to have put an end to any debate on the matter, since in that coronation he had received unction with holy oil and been consecrated king. Others, too, thought that they had some right to the crown. Harald Hardrada, who led an invasion in September 1066 that came close to succeeding, thought he had a legitimate claim. Earl Tostig, King Harold's brother, too, seems to have had aspirations for the kingship. And Edgar Aetheling, too, a direct descendant of King Edmund Ironside (d.1016), who was, by 1060, designated by Edward the Confessor as being ‘throneworthy' might also have seen himself as a contender for the throne. The year 1066 was to all intents and purposes a succession dispute. In this podcast Professor Nicholas Vincent explores the validity of these claims of the pretenders to the English throne in 1066.


Photo of Norwich Castle from the bottom of the mound.

The Battle of Hastings did not mark the end of the Norman Conquest of England, rather it marked the beginning of the long process that would change the face of English society. One of the key events in that process was the rebellion of the earls in 1075. In this rebellion, the sons of those men who had brought William victory at Hastings in 1066 sought to find their own place in the regime that dominated England. In this podcast, Dr Lucy Marten examines the detail of that rebellion and explains why it is significant in the history of the Norman Conquest of England.


Photo of Castle Acre in Norfolk, part of which is a ruin

Castles are synonymous with the Norman Conquest of England. Although castles existed in England before the Norman Conquest, it was the events of 1066 which brought castle-building to England in a significant way. Before 1066, the English lord had lived in his burgh (pronounced ‘borough'), or fortified manor house. If he went into rebellion against his lord, then he would go to his ship, set sail for a foreign land, and then return to harry his lord's lands until a settlement between the two might be reached. In Normandy, the lord lived in his castle (his ‘castrum') and from here dominated the surrounding countryside. For him going into rebellion meant fortifying his castle and waiting for his lord to come and lay siege to him. The new lords of the Norman Conquest brought with them their castles. A distinctive form of fortified building, castles came to dominate the British landscape. in this podcast, Dr Lucy Marten examines the castle, its role and its function.

Domesday Book

Photo of the Domesday Book on display

Built upon a sophisticated English administrative structure that had existed before 1066, Domesday Book is nonetheless a product of the Norman Conquest of England. Made up of two distinct surveys conducted in 1086: one of the king's lands and another of the lands of the tenants-in-chief (ie those who held land directly of the king), the returns of these two surveys were used to draw up the folios of Domesday Book (Domesday is made up of two volumes, Little Domesday and Great Domesday). The purpose of Domesday Book is contentious, but some things are clear. The first is that whatever its purpose, those who ordered the survey wanted to know who held the land at the time Edward the Confessor was alive and dead (ie 5 January 1066) and who held it now (ie the time of the survey). Sometimes, they also wanted to know who held the land in between those two dates. As a result, the contents of these two books allow us to see deeply into eleventh century society both that of the late Old English kingdom and the new Norman kingdom that sat squarely on its shoulders. In this podcast Dr Ann Williams introduces us to some of the complexities of Domesday Book.


King John

Effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral

An added bonus in this collection of podcasts is this one on the earliest original testament to survive from an English king. Composed on the last day of the life of King John (18 October 1216), the testament records the final wishes of a king who knew that his end was in sight and who was facing the invasion of a foreign prince and the possible extinction of his dynasty. In this podcast, Professor Stephen Church examines the text and the context of its preservation in Worcester Cathedral.

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