Edward the Confessor died in January , 1066.On Christmas Day in the same year William the Conqueror was crowned king in Westminster Abbey. It had been a terrible year for Englishmen. From the very beginning of it they had feared that evil things were going to happen, and when a comet began to flame in the sky , early in the summer , their fears were increased. To all Englishmen it seemed to foretell defeat. And defeat came upon them when Duke William landed at Pevensey , in Sussex ,and advanced to Hastings. King Harold rushed to meet him , but he and many of his faithful thanes were slain. The bravest of them gathered to make a last desperate fight round the English standarts ,and when they fell the days of English liberty were over for a long period.On the very spot where Harold and his men made their last stand the Norman conqueror built Battle Abbey to commemorate his victory. If you go there today, you will be shown the place where Harold fell.
It was a hard time for Englishmen. As William marched slowly by a round- about way to London, his men plundered the village so terribly that it took them many years to recover. His soldiers searched everywhere for food and all the things that an army needs. Villagers, flying in terror to the woods, saw their cattle driven off,their stored corn and hay carted away,and their houses burnt. This was the way in which William hoped to terrify Englishmen into submission. He was successful. On Christmas Day,1066,he was crowned king of the English by the Archbishop of York in Westminster Abbey.
Straightway he began to drive English nobles from their lands,for he said they had treacherously fought against their true king. And in their places he put Normans, who despised the English, and treated them cruelly. So in the year 1067,if you had been travelling about then, you would have seen parties of Normans riding through the country-side to take possession of the lands that William had given them in returm for their help at Hastings.These men , of couse,had Norman names, and if you look at a map of England today, you will see that some villages are still called by the names of the Norman lords to whom William gave them, for example, Norton Mandeville in Essex.Some Englishmen nowadays have Norman names, such as Harcout, Montgomery, Mantague.For a long time after the battle of Hastings no one who wished to be considered a gentleman spoke English;even little boys at school learnt their lessons in French, so that, when they grew up, they might be able to keep company with the rulers of the land and pretend they were Normans.
Let us imagine that we are visiting a village when it is new master rides into it.Our old English master, our thane, is dead, for he went off with his soldiers when Harold called for his help against the foreigner, and fell beside his king on the day of the battle of Hastings.All though the winter the villagers have starved, for they have had little corn & meat to live on,since William,s army went past on it is way to London.Their houses are in a ruinous condition, And the very barns have gone, for some of them were burnt & others pulled down to supply fuel for Norman camp fires.The old mill wheel has not turned since the village was sacked, for even the dam, which supplied the water, was hacked to bits by the soldiers.So when the new master rides into the village, he sees lean sterving men, women and children.There are fire-blackened ruins of English homes all around.Some small patches of growing corn can be seen, for even in starvation time men must save some seed for the next crop. But the fields are small compared with what they were.
How we hate this new-comer!How we should like to take vengeance on him and his men for all our sufferings, & for all the fathers & brothers who will never return from Hastings!But we dare do nothing, & say nothing.We can see that this man is no coward, for he rides into the middle of us, & looks all straight in the face.Rising in his stirrups, he calls in French : " I would have you know that King William has given me these lands & that you are my tenants now. Do your part faithfully, & I shall do mine.But if any man checks me in my just rights, let him beware".No Englishman understands a word, but everybody suspects what the speaker means well enough.
He makes his way to the thane's house, & there he meets the window & her daughter accompanied by the steward.He explains the lady that a small piece of land out of her husband's estate will be left to her.She knows that she will be very poor for the rest of her days, but she is to proud to ask for anything more and withdraws in silence with her daughter.