The Norman invasion and conquest of Anglo-Saxon England by William the Conqueror in 1066 greatly shaped the face of England. The influence of the Normans brought England culturally closer to the rest of the European continent. The invasion also wiped out the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and with it the ruling class of a Germanic society. The Anglo-Saxon shire system of government remained during Norman rule but was greatly improved following the Conquest.
Anglo-Saxon England was dominated by Germanic culture. This included the “Old English” language. After Harold Godwinson was defeated by William the Conqueror an Anglo-Norman language began to take over England. The Norman language is Latin based and very different to the Germanic languages. This change to a Latin based language brought England closer to the culture of other Norman influenced areas of mainland Europe, this included nearby France. This opened successful trade routes between Southern England and Continental Europe. This benefited the Southern English cities including Southampton and London.
The conquest of England put a virtual end to the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. Those not killed in the Battle of Hastings or its follow-up skirmishes were replaced by Norman, French, or other European mercenaries who had fought for William the Conqueror with the promise of land in England. These new estate owners were able to change the structure of the country from the inside, drastically altering the higher society of England. This was done without changing the daily lives of peasants too much and risking a huge uprising.
The Anglo-Saxon history
The Anglo-Saxon government was built on a structure of shires roughly the same size; they were administratively controlled by a sheriff. Unlike many countries in Europe at the time, Anglo-Saxon government was based in one permanent physical location. This differs from the usual traveling courts of continental Europe. The Normans kept this setup and rather than implement their own system they adapted the system to follow their own ideals. The changes included a move to a more centralized power over the autonomous shires and the creation of “The Domesday Book”. “The Domesday Book” allowed the Normans to track the census, this, with the creation of an accounting officer known as an Exchequer by King Henry I in 1150 were able to increase the efficiency of taxation in England. While these were not popular additions for the Anglo-Saxons it improved the functionality of the Norman government over the shires and added invaluable tax money to the treasury in Winchester.
So how did they helped England out?
The Norman government was also able to standardize the laws England followed. Previously the Scandinavian based “Danelaw” had been modified to suit the Anglo-Saxon shire system.
The Norman rule of England can be appreciated as having long term positive effects. While some of the Anglo-Saxon characteristics such as language and many of the nobility, the switch to a Latin based language certainly opened up additional trade that was vital to making southern England, especially London a European stronghold. The Anglo-Saxons had made a well organized start to creating a stable government for the shire system. The Normans again put their own ideas into the system and were left with a very successful way to tax and track the inhabitants of the country.