1066 CE was a watershed year in English history. In that year, the duke of Normandy, William II, defeated an English army at the battle of Hastings and made good on his claim to be the rightful king of England. William’s victory at the battle of Hastings forged a closer, and often tense, relationship between England and France, of which Normandy was a province. This fractious relationship would eventually result in an event known as the Hundred Years War, lasting from 1337-1453 CE. The last few years of this prolonged war with France would, in turn, lead to an internal struggle for power in England, an event commemorated by the somewhat poetic title the War of the Roses, a conflict between rival branches of the English royal family that ultimately led to the accession of the Tudor dynasty in 1485. But the period 1066-1485 was not just a period of warfare and political struggle. It was also a period of immense political, legal, and cultural development in English society. The Norman victory at the battle of Hastings led to the introduction of Norman French as the language of the elite in English society, with the inevitable incorporation of many French words into the developing English language. The introduction of Norman French political and legal customs, many of them drawing heavily on imperial Roman law, did not bring about the elimination of older Anglo-Saxon political and legal customs, but instead led to a fascinating synthesis of the two and a concomitant balance of power between the kings and their subjects best seen in Magna Carta. In addition, the imperial tendencies of the Norman kings were embraced by the English people themselves, such that, long before they founded their North American colonies, the English were actively attempting to colonize their neighbors in the British Isles: Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. In this class, we’ll examine all these aspects of English history from 1066-1485 and will see that this was a formative period for English society as we know it today.
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