Horses neighed, armor clashed, and the earth shook as two armies drew battle lines against each other near the town of Hastings on October 15, 1066. On one side stood the seven thousand soldier army of Duke William I of Normandy, come to make good his claim to the English throne (Corbishley 31).
Opposite to the Normans was a smaller, newly-arrived army, led by King Harold of England, who had just reached Hastings to repress William’s invasion. A Norman minstrel struck up “The Song of Roland” and began the charge, seven thousand voices joining his, seven thousand swords ringing with his. As the two sides met, little did they realize that they were altering history forever, and that the results of this one battle would change England and the world. On the day that William crushed the English army and won the English crown, he created the modern English language, transformed English architecture, and helped bring about the Hundred Years’ War.
One of the most obvious changes the Norman invasion brought was the alteration of England’s language from Old English, a mixture of Germanic and Scandinavian languages, to Middle English, a mixture of Old English and Norman French (“English Language”). This change in language came about slowly, though, because the Norman upper class refused to speak English, instead using their native Norman French. Similarly, most of the indigenous English stuck steadfastly to their native tongue, except for those who sought to gain power and influence in the royal court. However, after some time the Anglo-Saxon English began to bridge the language gap, and “the use of French words eventually became fashionable in England [and] the English borrowed thousands of these words and made them part of their own language” (“English Language”). In addition, the Normans gradually accepted the English language, as they lost their close connections with France and formed new ones with the local English through marriage. Thus, the language differences separating the Normans and Anglo-Saxons disappeared, and by the late 1300s Norman French and Old English had melded to form Middle English, which in turn became the English language of modern times.
More visible changes than those made to language are evident in the churches and castles that arose in England after the Norman invasion. Well-prepared for invading England, William I brought plenty of supplies and war horses with him, but most importantly for the future of English architecture, he took prefabricated castels, the Norman French word for what the English would later call castles (Hanawalt 67). These fortresses were a relatively new invention, and under William’s reign the English landscape quickly became dotted with them. According to one historian, “William set off to the west [of England] with his army, building castles in every county and castles in every location where he met resistance” (Hanawalt 67). Thus, the medieval age of castles was born in England. However, the introduction of castles was not the only impression the Norman Conquest left on English architecture in following years. Another notable Norman modification of English architecture was the use of stone, instead of wood, as a building material. Gradually, stone churches and castles replaced the wooden edifices of the Saxons. One famous example of Norman-English architecture looms in the center of London and has served its people as a stronghold, prison, and palace. It is the Tower of London. William built the first part of the Tower, called the White Tower, in the late eleventh century, and succeeding generations, adding onto this, eventually created the Tower of London as it stands today (“Tower of London”). Constructed of thick stone walls and surrounded by a shallow moat and two exterior walls, the Tower of London exemplifies many of the reigning features of Norman-English architecture (“Tower of London”). Other distinctive aspects of Norman-English architecture include huge columns, round arches, and a motte and bailey fortress design (“Norman Architecture”). A motte was the hill on which a castle was situated, and a bailey was the fortification that surrounded the base of the motte (“Castle”). All of these became characteristic features of English castles following the Norman invasion (“United Kingdom”).
Although its effects on English language and architecture were significant, probably the Norman Invasion’s greatest impact on history was that it helped to cause the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Normandy was a large and powerful duchy in France and provided English monarchs after William I with a powerful French foothold. Later marriage alliances between France and England added to this original tie, and all of these connections culminated in an English claim to the French throne in 1337, sparking the Hundred Years’ War (“Hundred Years’ War”). In this way, Normandy ended up being more than a foothold in France, for during the Hundred Years’ War it became a bone of contention between France and England. Both countries grappled for control of Normandy, until the English finally lost it in 1449 to Charles VII of France (“Normandy”). Thus, William set the stage for strife between France and England as he brought together his holdings in Normandy and his acquired lands in England.
When Harold lost to William of Normandy on October 15, 1066, who would have thought that the results of the battle would change England and history forever? To most who saw the event, it was merely another melee, another mastery of one nation over another. Yet, the Battle of Hastings and the ensuing fall of England were far more important, for if the Norman Conquest had not succeeded, the English language would be utterly unrecognizable, English architecture would look entirely different, and history would most likely have not included a Hundred Years’ War.
“Castle.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2013. Corbishley, Mike. The Middle Ages. New York: Facts on File Inc., 1990.
“English Language.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.
Hanawalt, Barbara A. The Middle Ages: an Illustrated History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
“Hundred Years’ War.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.
“Norman Architecture.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.
“Normandy.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 17 Sept. 2013.
“Tower of London.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.
“United Kingdom, History of the.” World Book Online Reference Center. World Book, 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.