Group Leaders: Alan & Susanna
Venue: The Swarthmore Centre, Mutley Plain
Day: 3rd Wednesday Time: 14:00

YEAR 3: The Normans 1066 – 1154


Harald_Hardrada King of Norway

Edgar the aetheling, son of Edward the exile

Harold Godwinson


William the Conqueror

We begin our third year with a study of the origins and character of the Vikings in France, Southern Italy and Sicily and then review the back story leading to the Norman Conquest. Who were the main contenders for the throne of England when Edward the Confessor died in January 1066?


The Bayeux Tapestry is a key source of information for historians and over the next three sessions we will be telling the story using step by step images of this important tapestry.

Nov.21 No Meeting


What was happening during the final months of 1065 and how did events unfold in the first 9 months of 1066. Using the Bayeux Tapestry, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles and the Vita Edwardi as our key sources, we review William’s preparations in Normandy and Harold’s battles against his brother Tosti and the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada.


It should have been a clear cut victory for Harold so what went wrong. In this session we will tell the story of the battle and the tactics that enabled William to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 


William may have been victorious at Hastings but the Anglo Saxons had not given up. Mercia and Nothumbria supported Edgar the Aethling and a massacre of a Norman garrison in York led to “The Harrowing of the North”. In Ely Hereford the Wake led an uprising but by 1086 the Normans ruled the land of England, to the victor the spoils.


The Anglo-Saxons were not famed for building in stone, and during the first half of the 11th century had not embraced the new architectural style, now known as ‘Romanesque’, that had become fashionable on the continent. Before 1066, the only major Romanesque church in England was Edward the Confessor’s new abbey at Westminster, still not quite finished at the time of the king’s death on 5 January that year.

Normandy, by contrast, had experienced a church-building boom during the rule of William the Conqueror, with dozens of new abbeys founded and ancient cathedrals rebuilt. After the Conquest, this revolution was extended to England, beginning with the rebuilding of Canterbury Cathedral from 1070. England had 15 cathedrals in the 11th-century. By the time of William’s death in 1087 nine of them had been rebuilt, and by the time of the death of his son Henry I, in 1135, so too had the remaining six. The same was true of every major abbey. It was the single greatest revolution in the history of English ecclesiastical architecture.

Castles were a French invention – the earliest examples were built around the turn of the first millennium along the Loire valley. There were plenty in Normandy before 1066, but only a tiny handful in England, built in the previous generation by French friends of the English king, Edward the Confessor. The Norman conquest changed all that. “They built castles far and wide, oppressing the unhappy people”, reported the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

By the time of William’s death in 1087, around 500 castles had been built across England and Wales. Most were constructed from earth and timber, but work had also begun on great stone towers in London, Colchester and Chepstow.


The lasting legacy of William’s reign was the production of Domesday Book and we shall be taking an in depth look at that in this session .



When Henry I died he left a daughter, Matilda. Earlier in his reign, Henry had indicated that the succession should pass to Matilda and, ultimately to his grandson, Henry. But Henry I’s premature death and the lack of enthusiasm in parts of the country for Matilda to succeed provided Henry’s nephew, Stephen, with an opportunity. It led to one of the darkest periods of English history.



YEAR 4: The House of Plantagenet 1154 – 1215

Our plans for Year 4 are under review. Below is an initial indication of what we may cover but we are happy to receive suggestions from our members and to hear from anyone who would like to prepare and present part of a session in which they have a particular interest.
Sept 18. Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine, her early life
Oct 16. Henry II (1154-1189) first Plantagenet, his wife, Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine and their four sons Henry, Richard I, Geoffrey, John – Part 1
Nov 20. Henry II (1154-1189) first Plantagenet, his wife, Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine and their four sons Henry, Richard I, Geoffrey, John – Part 2
Dec. No Meeting
Jan 15. William Marshall – The Greatest Knight plus a look at life for the average family in Plantagenet England
Feb 19. Richard Lion Heart (1189-1199) 
Mar 18. The 3rd Crusade
Apr 15. Troubadors (Blondel etc.)
May 20. The Treasures of the East
Jun 17. Robin Hood and the wicked sheriff of Notingham
Jul 15. King John (1199-1215) and Magna Carta (1215)
Aug. No Meeting

YEAR 5: Crown versus People (Part 1) 1215 – 1327

YEAR 6: Crown versus People (Part 2) 1327 – 1381

YEAR 7: The Waning of the Middle Ages 1381 – 1485