III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 3. Western Europe and the Age of the Cathedrals, 1000–1300 > b. The British Isles
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1066)
b. The British Isles
1. England
William I (the Conqueror), a man of medium height, corpulent, choleric, but majestic in person and a great soldier, governor, centralizer, legislator, innovator.  1
Speedy submission or reduction of the south and east. The Confessor's bequest, acceptance by the witan, and coronation “legalized” William's title. Reduction of the southwest (1068). Reduction of the rest of England (1067–70): a series of local risings leniently dealt with; construction by forced native labor of garrison castles (Norman mounds). Great rising of the north (Edwin and Morca's second) with Danish aid (1069) put down by William in person. The “harrying of the north” (1069–70), a devastation (often depopulation) of a strip from York to Durham (the consequences survived to modern times), ended Scandinavian opposition in England.  2
Norman fusion, conciliation, innovation: (1) Feudalization on centralized Norman lines (on the ruins of the nascent Saxon feudalism) followed military reduction and confiscation of the rebel lands (1066–70). Theoretically every bit of land in England belonged to the crown; in practice only the great estates changed hands and were assigned to William's followers on Norman tenures. The king retained about one-sixth of the land; less than half of the land went to Normans on feudal tenures. Except on the border, few compact holdings survived; the earldoms, reduced in size, became chiefly honorific. Some 170 great tenants-in-chief and numerous lesser tenants emerged. A direct oath (the Oath of Salisbury) of primary vassalage to the crown was exacted from all vassals, making them directly responsible to the crown (1086). Construction of castles (except on the borders) subject to royal license; coinage a royal monopoly; private war prohibited. (2) The Anglo-Saxon shires (34) and hundreds continued for local administration and local justice (bishops no longer sat in the shire courts and the earls were reduced) under the sheriffs (usually of baronial rank), retained from Anglo-Saxon days, but subject to removal by the king. The sheriffs were an essential link between the (native) local machinery and the central (Norman) government. Communities were held responsible for local good order; sporadic visitations of royal commissioners. Anglo-Saxon laws little altered. (3) Early grant of a charter to London guaranteeing local customs. (4) Innovations of the centralizing monarch: a royal council, the great council, meeting infrequently (three stated meetings annually), replaced the Anglo-Saxon witan and was of almost the same personnel: tenants-in-chief; the chancellor (introduced from Normandy by Edward the Confessor); a new official, the justiciar (in charge of justice and finance, and William's viceroy during his absences); the heads of the royal household staff. This same body, meeting frequently and including only such tenants-in-chief as happened to be on hand, constituted the small council, a body that tended to absorb more and more of the actual administration.  3
The Church retained its lands (perhaps a fourth of the land in England). Pope Alexander II had blessed William's conquest, and William introduced the (much-needed) Cluniac reforms (See 1012–46). Archbishop Stigand and most of the bishops and great abbots were deprived or died, and were replaced by zealous Norman reformers; Lanfranc (an Italian lawyer, a former prior of Bec), as archbishop of Canterbury, carried through a wide reform: celibacy enforced, chapters reorganized, new discipline in the schools, numerous new monastic foundations. By royal decree, episcopal jurisdiction was separated from lay jurisdiction, and the bishops were given their own courts, a decisive step in the evolution of the canon law of the Church and the common law as separate jurisdictions. William refused an oath of fealty to Pope Gregory VII for his English conquests and (despite the papal decree of 1075) retained control of the appointment of bishops and important abbots, from whom he drew his chief administrators (thereby making the Church, in effect, pay for the administration of the state). No papal bull or brief, no papal legate might be received without royal approval, and no tenant-in-chief or royal officer could be excommunicated without royal permission. The king retained a right of veto on all decrees of local synods. The great prelates were required to attend the great council, even to do military service.  4
The great Domesday survey. Royal commissions on circuit collected on oath (sworn inquest) from peoples of the counties and vills full information as to size, resources, and present and past ownership of every hide of land. The results, arranged by counties in the Domesday Book, gave a unique record as a basis for taxation and administration. Recent research on the Domesday Book allows tentative and approximate population estimates for England in 1086: slaves, 9 percent (in some western counties, such as Cornwall, 20 percent); serfs, 85 percent; burghers and townspeople, 3.5 percent; clerics (priests, monks, nuns), .5 percent; knights and nobles, 1 percent.  5
Royal finance: (1) nonfeudal revenues: Danegeld, shire farms, judicial fines; (2) the usual feudal revenues: relief (inheritance tax on great fiefs), scutage (paid in lieu of performance of knight's service).  6
Military resources of the crown: (1) (nonfeudal) the old Anglo-Saxon fyrd (including ship fyrd) was retained (i.e., a national nonfeudal militia, loyal to the crown, was used, as against the Norman rebellion of 1075); (2) (feudal) about five thousand knights' fees owing service on the usual feudal terms. The prosperity of England under Norman rule was great, and an era of extensive building (largely churches, cathedrals, and monasteries) began under the Conqueror and continued even through the anarchy of Stephen and Matilda.  7
William II (Rufus), a passionate, greedy ruffian, second son of the Conqueror, designated by his father on his deathbed (Robert, the eldest, received Normandy; Henry, cash). A Norman revolt (1088) was put down, largely with English aid, and William was firmly settled on the throne. Justice was venal and expensive, the administration cruel and unpopular, taxation heavy, the Church exploited. On Lanfranc's death (1089), William kept the revenues of the see of Canterbury without appointing a successor until he thought himself dying, when he named (1093) Anselm (an Italian, abbot of Bec, a most learned man, and a devoted churchman), who clashed with William over the recognition of rival popes; Anselm maintained church law to be above civil law and went into voluntary exile (1097). William, deeply hated, was assassinated (?) in the New Forest.  8
Henry I (Beauclerc, Lion of Justice), an educated, licentious, prudent ruler, a good judge of men, won the crown by a dash to the royal treasury at Winchester and a quick appeal to the barons by his so-called Coronation Charter, a promise of reform by a return to the good ways of the Conqueror (a promise often broken). Anarchy in Normandy under Robert's slack rule, an invitation from the revolting Norman barons, and the victory of Tinchebray (1106) gave Henry Normandy (Robert remained a prisoner until his death). Anselm, faithful to the reforming program of the revived papacy, on his recall from exile refused homage for the archiepiscopal estates (i.e., he refused to recognize lay investiture) and refused to consecrate the bishops who had rendered such homage. Henry temporized until firmly on the throne, then seized the fiefs and exiled Anselm. Adela, Henry's sister, suggested the Compromise of 1107, which terminated the struggle by establishing clerical homage for fiefs held of the king, while the king allowed clerical investiture with the spiritual symbols. The crown continued to designate candidates for the great prelacies.  9
This reign was marked by a notable expansion, specialization, and differentiation of function in the royal administration (e.g., the exchequer, influenced by accounting methods from Lorraine, or Laon). Extension of the jurisdiction of royal courts: growing use of royal writs, detailing of members of the small council as judges on circuit (hitherto a sporadic, now a regular practice), who not merely did justice but took over increasingly the business formerly done by the sheriffs (e.g., assessment and negotiation of aids and other levies), and brought the curia regis into closer contact with shire and hundred courts.  10
Prosperity was general, and trade in London attracted Norman immigrants. The Cistercians arrived (1128) and began an extensive program of sheep farming, mill and road building, agricultural improvement, and stock breeding. Henry began the sale of charters to towns on royal domain.  11
Influence of the conquest on English culture. In architecture: wide introduction of the Norman (Romanesque) style (St. John's Chapel in the Tower of London, end of the 11th century; Durham Cathedral, c. 1096–1133). In literature: Anglo-Saxon, the speech of the conquered, almost ceased to have a literary history, rapidly lost its formality of inflections and terminations, and became flexible and simple, if inelegant. Norman French, the tongue of the court, the aristocracy, the schools, the lawyers and judges, drew its inspiration from the Continent until the loss of Normandy (1204). The Normans then began to learn English, and Anglo-Saxon was enriched with a second vocabulary of Norman words, ideas, and refinements.  12
Anglo-Norman culture. In historical writing: Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain (written in Latin, before 1147), created the tale of Arthur for Europe; Walter Map (c. 1140–c. 1200), author of Goliardic verse, welded the Grail story into the Arthurian cycle, giving it a moral and religious slant; Wace (c. 1124–c. 1174), Roman de Brut and Roman de Rou; Marie de France; all three were at the court of Henry II. In science: Adelard of Bath, a student of Arabic science, in the service of Henry II, observed and experimented (e.g., studying the comparative speed of sound and light), translated Al-Khwarizmi's astronomical tables into Latin (1126) and introduced Al-Khwarizmi's trigonometric tables to the West; Robert of Chester translated Al-Khwarizmi's algebra into Latin (1145); Alexander Neckham (1157–1217), encyclopedist, wrote on botany and on the magnet. In philosophy: John of Salisbury (d. 1180), pupil of Abelard, the best classical, humanistic scholar of his day, attached to the court of Henry II and later bishop of Chartres, wrote the Policraticus. Beginnings of Oxford University (c. 1167) on the model of Paris, a center of national culture.  13
Stephen. Henry's son drowned on the White Ship (1120), and Henry had had his daughter Matilda (widow of the emperor Henry V) accepted as his heir and married to Geoffrey of Anjou, as protector. Stephen of Blois (son of Henry's sister Adela) asserted and maintained his claim to the throne at the price of a dynastic war (till 1153) with Matilda, the climax of feudal anarchy, and the ruin of English prosperity. Archbishop Theobald finally negotiated a compromise (1153) whereby Matilda's son Henry should succeed to the crown on Stephen's death. The reign was remarkable for a tremendous growth of ecclesiastical influence.  14
The house of Plantagenet (Angevin).  15
Henry II. Master of a hybrid “empire” (England, Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine by inheritance; Poitou, Aquitaine and Gascony by marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine (1152); Brittany (acquired 1169), and Wales, Ireland, and Scotland (on a loose bond)) without unity save in the person of the ruler. Dynastic marriages: daughter Eleanor to the king of Castile, Joan to the king of Sicily, Matilda to Henry the Lion. King Henry was a man of education, exhaustless energy, experience as an administrator; a realist; violent of temper.  16
Restoration of England to the good order of Henry I: dismissal of mercenaries, razing of unlicensed castles (1000?), reconquest of Northumberland and Cumberland from the Scots, resumption of crown lands and offices alienated under Stephen. Reconstitution of the exchequer and great council. After 1155 Henry felt free to leave England, and spent less than half his reign in the realm.  17
Struggle to reduce clerical encroachment on the royal courts. Under Stephen, anarchy and the theories of Roman law had favored the expansion of clerical courts, extending to all who were literate, even accused murderers, benefit of clergy—that is, trial in the ecclesiastical court, where the penalties were far milder than in the king's court. Thomas Becket (a close friend of Henry's at the time of his elevation to the chancellorship, 1155) resigned as chancellor when he became archbishop of Canterbury (1162), and clashed at once with Henry over the criminous clerks. The Constitutions of Clarendon (1164), largely a restatement of old customs (including the Conqueror's), provided (inter alia) for the indictment of clerics in royal courts, their trial in ecclesiastical courts, and their degradation, followed by their sentencing and punishment in royal courts. Becket claimed this amounted to double jeopardy, that “not even God judges twice for the same thing.” Henry argued that too many criminals were escaping justice. The Constitutions also extended royal jurisdiction (at the expense of clerical), and asserted royal rights of control in episcopal elections. Becket yielded, was dispensed from his oath by the pope, violated the Constitutions, and fled to France. Reconciled (1170) with Henry, Becket returned, excommunicated certain bishops friendly to Henry, and was murdered in the cathedral of Canterbury by four knights of Henry's court, spurred by Henry's outbreak of fury against Becket, but not by Henry's orders. Henry escaped excommunication by promising to abide by the papal judgment, and was reconciled with the papacy (1172) after swearing an oath denying all share in the crime. Henry retained the right of presentation and virtual control over episcopal elections.  18
Judicial reforms: (1) Increasing concentration of judicial business in the small council. (2) Designation (1178) of five professional judges from the small council as a permanent central court; extension of the transfer of judicial business to royal courts by the increase and specialization of royal writs (the fees a valuable source of revenue); formalization and regularization (c. 1166) of the itinerant justices (justices in eyre), the great source of the common law (a law universal in the realm). One of the judges, Glanvil, wrote the Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England, the first serious book on the common law, which revealed the formal influence of Roman law but was English in substance. The itinerant judges were charged with cases dealing with crimes like murder, robbery, forgery, and arson, and with financial business as well as judicial. (3) Expansion of the sworn inquest (probably of Roman origin, introduced into England by the Conqueror): statements by neighbors (freeholders) under oath in the shire courts, in the form of a jury (12 members) of presentment in criminal cases (Assize of Clarendon, 1166) later called the accusing, indicting, or grand jury, but guilt in criminal cases determined by ordeal by battle or hot iron or cold water, which were appeals to the supernatural; local juries used to determine rightful possession of land in civil cases.  19
Reorganization of the exchequer. Nigel, bishop of Ely (nephew of the original organizer, Roger of Salisbury), restored the exchequer to the general form of Henry I. Innovations in the raising of revenue: (1) tallage, levied by local negotiations (i.e., by the itinerant justices) with boroughs and tenants: (2) hidage (carucage) replaced the Danegeld; (3) scutage, levied by Henry I on the clergy, now extended to knights' fees in lieu of military service (due to Henry's need of nonfeudal levies across the channel); (4) personal property taxes (the first, 1166), Saladin tithe (1188), assessed by neighborhood juries. The Dialogue of the Exchequer was written by one of the officials of the exchequer.  20
Extension of trade. German merchants were well established in London by 1157; there was a large Italian business in wool; and there was extensive development of domestic trade.  21
Foreign affairs. The Norman penetration of Wales since the conquest bred a sporadic national resistance; Henry, with three expeditions, reduced Wales to nominal homage to the English crown. Ireland, despite a brilliant native culture, was in political chaos under rival tribal kinglets and was economically exhausted. Pope Adrian IV, hoping that Henry would reform the Church in Ireland, “gave” Ireland (1154) to Henry. Richard of Clare's (Strongbow) expedition (1169–70) established a harsh rule; Henry landed (1171), temporarily reduced the rigors of the baronial administration, and reformed the Irish Church (Synod of Cashel, 1172). John Lackland (Henry's son) was appointed lord of Ireland (1177), arrived (1185), and was soon recalled for incompetence.  22
Intrigues and revolts (beginning 1173) of Henry's sons, supported by their mother, Eleanor, King Louis VII, and later Philip II of France, as well as by disgruntled local barons.  23
The ruling class continued to speak French during this reign, but the establishment of primogeniture as applied to land inheritance ensured that younger sons would mingle with the nonaristocratic sections of society and accelerate the fusion of Norman and native elements. Manor houses began to appear in increasing numbers as domestic peace continued. Numerous Cistercian houses spread new agricultural methods and especially improved wool raising.  24
Richard I (Coeur de Lion). Neither legislator, administrator, nor statesman, but the greatest of knights errant, an absentee ruler who spent less than a year of his reign in England, he visited his realm only twice, to raise money for Continental ventures. Taxation was heavy. The government remained in the hands of ministers largely trained by Henry II, but there appeared a tendency toward a common antipathy of barons and people toward the crown. Richard (having taken the Cross, 1188) went on the Third Crusade with Frederick Barbarossa and Philip II, his most dangerous foe. On his return trip Richard was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria and turned over to Emperor Henry VI, who held him for a staggering ransom. John and Philip bid for the prisoner, but Richard finally bought his freedom (1194) with a ransom raised partly through taxation in England. The crusade gave Englishmen their first taste of Eastern adventure, but drew few except the adventurous portion of the baronage. The domestic reflection was a series of anti-Semitic outbreaks. John Lackland (despite his known character) was given charge of several counties; his plot against Richard was put down by Hubert Walter with the support of London. Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury and justiciar (1194–98), ruled England well, maintained the king's peace, and began a clear reliance on the support of the middle class in town and shire. Charters were granted towns (London received the right to elect its mayor)—and the knights of the shire were called on to assume a share of county business as a balance to the sheriffs. Knights (elected by the local gentry) served as coroners and chose the local juries, a departure looking to the day when local election and amateur justices of the peace would be the basis of government. The first known merchant guild established in 1193.  25
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.