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The Empire of the Normans

22 июля 2012. Разместил: tutor

The late 11th and 12th centuries in Europe were a time of good order, prosperity and progress. An age when war was treated almost as a sport, as something all upper-class men were expected to practise, was not always peaceful. But increasing trade, growing towns and safer travel were signs of better times. The Norman rulers of England were not responsible for these improvements, but they did something to make them possible.

Kings of England enjoyed one great advantage over other rulers. England was a united kingdom, accustomed to royal government. This was the achievement of Alfred and his successors. In more recent times, with the rise of the great earls, the kingdom had shown signs of breaking up into smaller pieces, but that development was prevented by the Norman Conquest.

William the Conqueror did not have to invent centralized government. The system already existed, and a very thorough system it was, right down to the courts of justice in every shire and hundred (a hundred was a division of a shire). The English people were used to regular taxation - one good result of Danegeld («Датские деньги», поземельный налог для уплаты датским викингам) - and together with the huge estates that William kept as royal property, the Norman monarchy could count itself rich.

All that was needed was a strong man at the top. William was such a man, and so were his sons, the rough, red-faced William Rufus (shot in a hunting accident at the age of forty) and the cool, clever Henry I.

William the Conqueror was, above all, a military leader. His army had gained the kingdom for him, and his army had to keep it. The first essential was to make sure of the loyalty of his chief followers, which he did by rewarding them for their service with land. William had about 200 tenants-in-chief (крупных землевладельцев), or barons as they were later called, to whom he gave large estates. He made sure that their estates were scattered in different parts of the country, as he did not want to run the risk of creating dangerous centres of power for some future rebel.

building a castle

The tenants-in-chief carried out certain duties in return for their lands. They were the king's representatives in the provinces, and they had to attend his court and give advice if needed (the king did not have to follow their advice). Most important of all, they had to provide military service, not only by bearing arms themselves, but also by bringing with them a certain number of knights (the number depended on the size of their estates), properly armed and mounted.

As a rule these knights were sub-tenants - men who held land from the barons just as the barons held it from the king. Many of them found it very tiresome to spend an agreed forty days a year on military service, as they were more interested in their farms. The custom grew up of paying Scutage, 'shield money', instead - the medieval way of buying yourself out of the army.

The idea of land rented for military service was not new to England. But the businesslike Normans made it the foundation of society, a matter of strict contracts and official agreements.

The organization of the country in this military way certainly did not suit everyone. The poor peasant farmer was struggling to keep his independence in Anglo-Saxon times; under the Normans he often became a serf, or villein (крепостной) - not a slave (slavery was disappearing), but definitely 'unfree'. He had to work for the local lord; he could not leave the village or get married without the lord's permission. Of course, he might have been no better off if the Norman Conquest had never happened. He might even have been worse off, for not all peasants went down in the world after 1066, and although he had so many duties to his lord, the lord also had some duties towards him.

All the same, the English were a conquered nation after 1066. William I might insist that no 'conquest' had taken place, but many an Englishman, hiding from Norman soldiers in his ruined house, must have laughed bitterly at such a notion. Hardly any Englishmen were left in positions of power, and although William Rufus might speak affectionately of 'my Englishmen, strong and true', the law made it plain that Englishmen were different from Normans. If a man was found murdered in any place and his murderer not discovered, the local inhabitants had to pay a fine - unless they could prove that the dead man was an Englishman, and not a Norman.

the Tower of London

When we look at the magnificent buildings of the Normans - majestic cathedrals like Durham, superb castles like the Tower of London - we think of the skills of the stone-mason and the vision of the masterbuilder. We forget the pain and exhaustion of the labourers who were forced to haul the great stone blocks into place. When we read about the efficiency of the Normans, we think of orderly government and enforcement of law. It is easy to imagine that the Normans brought 'civilization' to Anglo-Saxon England, as the Romans brought it to Celtic Britain. But when we ask exactly what this 'civilization' meant for ordinary people, we often find it meant terror, distraction and death.

Eventually, the Normans and English merged into a single nation, but there were few signs of reconciliation until the reign of Henry I (1100-35). At the beginning of his reign Henry issued a charter of English liberties, which promised to restore the 'good laws' of Edward the Confessor. He married an English princess, a descendant of King Alfred, but gave her a French name (Matilda) to make her sound more respectable to his Norman subjects. They were scornful of Henry's pro-English policies and in private called 'the king and queen simple old Anglo-Saxon names, Godric and Godgifu.

When a business company takes over another firm, its directors want to know as much about the new firm as possible. When the Normans 'took over' England, one of their problems was that they did not know a great deal about the country. If William gave an estate in - for example - Gloucestershire to some French knight (not all his men came from Normandy), the man must have had a hard time finding out where the place was.

Of course, many English were willing to help: within a year or two of the Conquest, William was using English soldiers against English rebels. But there were no records to compare with the records kept by a modern business company, let alone our modern civil service, and William, as a good manager, wanted to know more.

Twenty years after the Conquest, when the country was fairly peaceful, William organized a government inquiry into the state of England. Its results were recorded in the Domesday Book («Книга страшного суда»).

compiling the Domesday Book

The purpose of the Domesday inquiry was to discover, in every shire and hundred, who occupied the land, what were the local rights of landlord and tenant, what were the local law courts, how much land was cultivated, was there a working watermill, or fish pond, and so on. The government wanted to know the exact number of cattle and pigs kept, even chickens, and it wanted an answer for the situation at present (in 1086), and for the situation twenty years earlier, in the time of Edward the Confessor. At each place a 'jury' of witnesses was assembled, who gave their answers under oath.

The king did not carry out this huge inquiry just for curiosity. He was interested in taxes, and taxation only works if the government knows what there is to tax. The survey also told him how many knights he could call on to fight a Danish invasion (which he was expecting), and it provided evidence to settle the many arguments over land ownership which had arisen since 1066.

extract from the Domesday Book

But for historians, the Domesday Book has a greater value. It gives a detailed picture of everyday affairs in Norman England, and it also shows what changes had taken place as a result of the Norman Conquest.

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