We are in a French fishing village on a grey September day in the year 1066. The small port is crowded with many
ships. Their square sails hang limp, for not a breath of wind is blowing. On the shore, horses are being exercised
by grumbling soldiers. William, Duke of Normandy, their leader, who has promised to take them across the Channel
to conquer England, passes with bis half-brother, Bishop Odo, and other nobles. The Duke is on his way to church
to pray for a favourable wind.
Ever since Christmas 1065, when Edward, King of England, died, the Duke has been preparing to land on the island.
He says that Edward promised him the crown, and that Earl Harold of Wessex, who now reigns in England, has no
right to it. Nearly all September his army waits by the shore. They hear that the English ships which have been
guarding the south coast all the summer have now gone back to port and the seamen to their harvest-fields.
They hear that King Harold has gone away to fight an army of Norsemen in Yorkshire. All favours William except the weather.
Will the wind never change ?
On the 29th of September, at last, a wind comes up. Sails are hoisted and the rowers take their places at the
benches, and one by one the boats are shoved off to follow Duke William's crimson sail across the Channel.
Early next morning the Sussex coast is sighted. The Duke is impatient to begin his conquest, he leaps out of bis
ship and slips on the beach. A soldier helps him up, and sees that the Duke's hands are full of English pebbles.
"You hold England, my lord," he laughs.
But Harold the King is now hurrying south. He has defeated his enemies and marches with his soldiers to Hastings
in only five days. And there near the village called 'Battle', the English are beaten by William The Conqueror.
William was thirty-nine years when he was crowned King on Christmas Day 1066, and he ruled England for
twenty-one years. In that time he changed the entire country. Not only did he build many big castles and
churches, but he also changed the government of the people.
William and his barons and knights were intensely proud, and they looked with contempt on the conquered
English. Norman master and English slave were separated by a deep gulf. The Norman in his castle lived and
spoke just as he had done in Normandy. He hunted and played his knightly games, sat on the judgement seat,
and feasted in his hall, while the Englishman looked after the cattle and worked in the fields.
In fact it can be seen from the English language how much the Normans were masters of the land. Notice these
pairs of words: cow, beef; calf, veal; sheep, mutton; swine, pork; deer, venison. The first word of each pair is
English, the second is French. Now the English names are those given to the animals when alive: the French words
are those given to them when dead and ready for cooking. This shows us that the English looked after the animals
and fed them when alive, and that when they were dead the Norman cook made them ready for his master's table.
William was a great believer in castles; whenever he took a town of any size, he built a castle. These castles
served as a place of safety for his soldiers, as a place where he could store his arms and his food, and as a
hindrance to any enemy. Thus the River Thames was held by the White Tower of London, so called because of the
whiteness of the Norman stone. It was also built to keep the citizens of London in order. Inside its massive
walls, fifteen feet thick and ninety feet high, were several floors. The ground floor was the store-room and
also the torture chamber. On the first floor was the great hall where the soldiers and guards lived; on the
second were the banqueting-hall and the chapel, on the top floor the council chamber and the rooms for the use
of the King.