The AngloNorman Court:

Frankish lords of Anglosaxon Britain

The norman nobility of Britain took charge of the military styled central government created by King Alfred (the Great) in his reconstruction of english society.
Alfred's centralized government apparatus, with its sweeping power to levy taxes almost instantly, from every hundred and county, had been misused recently to raise Danegeld, tribute cash, to ransom the kingdom from raiders.
(This had only encouraged the Danes, who came in ever greater numbers. Eventually, fleets numbering upwards of two hundred longships had attacked England, as of old.)
So, Duke William used this exchequer to levy taxes immediately, twice in succession, using the cash of the land to finance the huge standing army of imported normans and frenchmen he needed to consolidate his takeover.

An arrow slit in a wall at Kenilworth Castle

Troops were garrisoned in every single town and hamlet. They built redoubts, keeps, forts, even castles, for themselves. From these defensive structures, they could venture out at will and terrorize the english tenants and freemen. The authority of the normans was incontestable. William's loyal knights were all paid off with manors and earldoms seized from english enemies.
William Algernon de Percy received a huge barony in Northumbria, near that of his comrade in arms, Gilbert de Nevile.
Aubrey de Vere was rewarded with many holdings, including Hedingham in Essex, where he built his castle. The de Veres settled in for the long haul, bringing hundreds of vines for grapes, and planting them on several estates. Aubrey had to wait some years to taste his first english table wine though, since the entry for another of his vineyards in Essex, recorded in 1086 A.D. in the Domesday Book, states that only one of the eleven arpents of vines bore fruit.
Castle Hedingham grew in the importance of english court life over the years. His grandson, also named Aubrey, was created Lord Aubrey, 1st Earl of Oxford, and Lord Great Chamberlain of England, in the reign of Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Roger de Montgomery was created Earl and given the manor of Arundel Rape, in Sussex (site of a formerly vast roman villa which had been connected by its own road to Stane Street, the Roman road which ran from London to Chichester, but abandoned seven centuries previous).
William, the Conqueror, (he evidently preferred this nickname to "the Bastard") needed to join the english royal line. This was done with his son's marriage to Gospatrick's young second cousin, the scottish princess Edith.
Her maternal grandfather had been the english king Edward the Outlaw, the son of king Edmund Ironside.

Three years after the conquest, William gave Gospatrick the barony of Northumberland. It was always an unsettling district and he had no more luck of it than had Earl Tostig. Briefly, he held the earldom, but he was deprived of it due to a rebellion which swept the province in the year 1070.
Gospatrick's son, Dolfin, became the saxon underlord of Raby. The norman earl of Raby at the time was Geoffrey de Neville, the grandson of Gilbert, admiral of the fleet.
Dolfin's son, Robert, married Geoffrey's daughter, Isabel de Neville. Their descendents kept her family name, and from them are descended all the Nevilles. The earldom of Raby remained in Gospatrick's family for five hundred years, and through marriages with England's royal family, the Neville family grew to occupy all of Britain's key baronies.

The Norman succession was not disputed by the english catholic church, nor by the pope in Rome. The great and disastrous military adventures known as the crusades were just beginning to take off, partly in response to the french and italian angst over the presence of thousands of norman fighting men in the centre of european life. It was hoped that the crusades could occupy the majority of them as far away as possible.
As it turned out, by organizing themselves for the complex task of mounting a crusade, the norman nobles and mercenaries who came from viking communities all over europe developed into a wealthy and mightily armed international clique, called the Knights Templar, powerful enough to rival the catholic church in europe, and more powerful than any single national sovereign.
They became a criminal mob, who answered to no king or law but themselves. In time, the king of France, with the Pope's blessing, arrested most of the Knight's Templar, and put them on trial. Found guilty of worshipping "pagan gods", they were burned at the stake.

Edith and king Henry had one daughter, Matilda. Whomsoever Matilda chose to marry, would assume the crown. Since they all still only spoke french, and still ruled over Normandy, she preferred a frenchman.
Matilda collected more land for herself in France by choosing the Count of Anjou, whose family name was Plantagenet. They had a son, whom they named Henry, after his grandfather.
This son, king Henry II, married a most remarkable woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine. She held the Aquitaine by inheritance, and so the throne of the french speaking king of England collected another bit of France for itself. However, her subjects rebelled at this transfer of title to beyond the sea, and Henry was forced to spend the better part of his life fighting with them for control of the Aquitaine.

And now for something completely interesting...

Click here to view Simon Schama discussing
the Assasination of Archbishop Thomas aBecket. (from the BBC series "A History of Britain")
Real people, real stories and clips from your favourite BBC History programmes.

Meanwhile, the crusades were on, and the king's restless elder son, Richard Coeur d'Lion (the Lionheart), rode off with his buddies for a long war in the Holy Land, where they all learned that the infidel Arabs knew way more than them about almost everything.
The Arabs had inherited the ancient sciences of the Greeks and the Romans, which the western Goths had lost when they destroyed the Roman libraries eight hundred years earlier. Furthermore, the Arabs had been improving on the ancient learning, and developed sophisticated technologies to enhance the civilization which they were building throughout the Mediterranean.
The Arab contribution to basic western science can be proved out simply by looking at our scientific language.Arab words such as al'gebra, azimuth, nadir, al'chemy, al'titude, et cetera, hint at the scope of their contribution. Virtually all modern thought: medicine, chemistry, civil engineering, mathematics, and grammar, all modern philosophy, optics, biology and hygiene, began before what we call our Re-naiss'ance, rebirth of knowledge, with a gigantic boost from the so-called "infidels".

Science in the Twelfth Century .....


While King Richard the Lionheart was off in Palestine for most of his adult life, his younger brother John took charge of the kingdom. John's Regency is not remembered fondly in English circles, mainly due to the fact that the scribes writing the Anglo-saxon Chronicles during his reign remind us in detail just how badly he did. It was Richard's own fault for having abandoned his own kingdom for so many years, that John behaved as though he was the king himself, encouraging the rise of his own followers, who learned the habit of disloyalty to the true king.
King Richard the Lionheart returned from overseas just in the nick of time to save his throne from total loss. The loyal Barons helped him route the bad ones, and he restored discipline in the land, before heading overseas again to retain his french possessions. He never quite succeeded, and he died overseas. John then became king in his own right, and continued to do a super bad job.
Firstly, he lost the Aquitaine.
Then, he lost Anjou.
Finally, he lost Normandy.
Then, with the help of a small and somewhat out-of-control cabal of his favorite Barons, who were overtaxing the people, and torturing Lords of the manor who were not cooperating, John almost lost England itself. There was a historic rebellion among the remaining, and very disgruntled, Barons of the land who forced the King to submit to a new contract of powers, the Magna Carta, or Great Contract. It required the king to concede rights and powers to those Barons, and required him to submit in the future to any laws the Barons might decide upon later, if they wanted to get together and talk, or "parle" as they all said, in the french language which was still their native tongue. Whatever was writ during their parle a'ment of Lords was going to be the law of the land from then, on.
The Pope was so upset with this limited democratic rebellion against his annointed King that he excommunicated the lot of them.
King John died and was succeeded by his son, Henry III, who disavowed the Magna Carta and was then forced to submit to an even more stern version of it under the Barons who called the first Parliament in English history in 1264. .....

And now for something completely interesting...

Click here to view Simon Schama discussing
The expulsion of the English Jews. (from the BBC series "A History of Britain")
Real people, real stories and clips from your favourite BBC History programmes.

Collier's rendition of King Edward


The son of Henry III was the fierce and effective Edward I, whose chief accomplishment was the suppresion of the Welsh nationalist rebellions and the construction of several immense fortifications inside Wales to consolidate Norman power there.
He was succeeded by his son, Edward II, who was apparently not really a lady's man. His wife Isabella d'Anjou hated him so much (the general story being unsavory, we will leave it off) that he was killed at the manor of a baron loyal only to the Queen; she having plotted the king's murder so her twelve year old son, Edward, could take the throne, if nothing else, and she alone assumed the regency during his childhood.
Edward III reigned for a very long time, since he assumed the crown when he was twelve, and then lived to be a very old man.

Edward III: circa 1370

During his early reign, the bubonic plague beset Europe, having been brought back to Europe from the Middle East on the ships of returning crusaders. The plague was transmitted by lice on rats. It killed them both, but not before jumping species time after time. When the infected and dying lice bit people, they got sick, too. Since lice were considered so normal that there was even etiquette addressing the proper way of disposing of them in polite company, the infection of europe by lice was a foregone result of the arrival of the plague in Venice.
About one third of the people in Europe died of the plague over the next hundred years, as it swept back and forth again and again.
One result of this depopulation was the increasing value of a good working man and his wife. The slavery of Frankish fuedal life gave way to a more equitable exchange of labor for value and liberty.
Another result of the dying off of the older generations prematurely was the astonishing youthfulness of Europe's remaining ruling classes. Ruled by youths, Europe became an adolescent land, with immature values and preoccupations. This included the highly prized virtue of courtly love, which was actually nothing less than what we would call adultery. They also inflated the importance of tournaments, pretend battles, games of chivalry which supposedly hearkened back to the age of King Arthur, which only existed in the pages of Mallory's Mort d'Arthur and similar childish stories.
Edward III presided over the rise of this entertainment, while his appalling son, the prince of Wales, went about France all his adult life calling himself The Black Prince, dressed in an outlandishly fierce suit of armour, and killing and maiming his french subjects without ceasing, until his premature death.

And now for something completely interesting...

Click here to view Simon Schama discussing
The Black Plague. (from the BBC series "A History of Britain")
Real people, real stories and clips from your favourite BBC History programmes.

Richard II, the son of The Black Prince, succeeded his grandfather, but since Richard was a boy, his uncle John of Gaunt (Ghent) actually ran the government for many years, and did a creditably good job. So good, in fact, that John's children thought themselves entitled to follow in his footsteps, and started fighting over the throne. Between the Duke of Lancaster and the Duke of York there arose the War of the Roses, which the Neville family orchestrated to their own benefit for the next hundred years.

John of Gaunt, younger brother of The Black Prince, had a lifelong mistress, Catherine Swynford. She bore him many sons, and in the end one daughter, Joan. These children took the name of the castle he gave to Catherine, which was called Beaufort castle. Joan Beaufort and her brothers were finally legitimized when the widowed John finally married their mother in his old age.

Wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was an extraordinary woman. Noted biographer Alison Weir (Life of Elizabeth I) pays Eleanor her due and brings the turbulent worlds of medieval France and England to life.


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