The Norman conquest of England was the invasion and subsequent occupation of England by an army of Normans and French led by Duke William II of Normandy. William, who defeated King Harold II of England on 14 October 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, was crowned king at London on Christmas Day, 1066. He then consolidated his control and settled many of his followers in England, introducing a number of governmental and societal changes.
The story of the Norman Conquest does not start in 1066, but 50 years earlier, with another invasion and another group of Norsemen. In 1016, Cnut, King of Denmark, seized the kingdom of England by exploiting the bitter rivalries between king Aethelred Unraed (without counsel), his son Edmund Ironside and his closest advisors. Cnut's takeover had not been unexpected: many English magnates had been aligning themselves for just such an eventuality - most important among them being Eadric, ealdorman of Mercia, whose treachery at the Battle of Ashingdon handed Cnut the throne. Eadric did not get quite the reward he expected. At the Christmas court of 1017, Cnut stunned the English with the murder of ealdorman Eadric, his supporters and every member of Aethelred's royal family he could get his hands on. Only Edward and his brothers, the younger sons of Aethelred, survived. They fled to Normandy, where they took refuge with Duke Richard II, brother of their mother Emma. In place of the murdered magnates, Cnut installed his own men, both Danish and English, loyal to himself. The most prominent of these were Earls Leofric and Godwine, who prospered under the new Danish regime. They and their families had learned two valuable lessons from the Danish conquest: traitors were never trusted, but collaboration paid. Cnut also secured his external position by marrying Emma, maintaining a link to the old regime and ensuring that the Duke of Normandy would not come out in favour of the dispossessed Edward.
Edward spent the next 30 years in exile under the protection of his uncle, Duke Richard II and his successors. Whilst there, he made several friends, among them Eustace of Boulogne and the Breton Ralph the Staller. On his return to England in 1042, as Edward the Confessor, he promoted many of these Frenchmen into positions of influence, as a counterbalance to the overweening power of the Godwine family.
The Godwines had prospered greatly while Edward was away. Under Cnut and his successors, they had amassed so much land that they were second only in power and wealth to that of the King. So when Edward returned after the death of Cnut's son, Harthacnut, he found his position hamstrung by Cnut's old Earls. He tried to offset this by allying himself with Earls Leofric and Siward, the enemies of Godwine, and by promoting his own friends, a notorious group called the 'Frenchmen' who were made up of the Norman and French nobles with whom Edward had shared his young adulthood.
Meanwhile, Normandy was embroiled in its own succession crisis. Duke Richard II's son, Robert, had died in 1035, leaving an 8-year-old bastard son, William as his heir. William's formative years were immersed in assassination, exile and civil war, from which he emerged in 1047 at the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes as the dominant power in Normandy, with his capital at Rouen, a prosperous trading settlement much like Viking Jorvik (York). William was a large man, of exceptional strength and appearance. His tomb at St Etienne in Caen was despoiled by Calvinists during the Reformation, but its size and analysis of the one remaining thigh bone show that he was remarkably tall for a medieval man, standing at 5'10". He had inordinate strength: William of Malmesbury describes how he could draw a bow that no other man could draw, whilst spurring on a horse. He was also ruthlessly efficient, and thanks to his childhood valued personal loyalty and the unbreakable ties of the family above all...