The Invasion

The Normans were descended from Vikings, who had settled in Normandy, married into the local population and adopted the French culture. It is believed that in 1051 King Edward of England named his distant relative, William Duke of Normandy as his successor. So William had claim to the English throne.

Edward died on the 5th January, 1066 and on the following day, Harold was crowned as the new king in Westminster Abbey. His rivals to the throne had been William Duke of Normandy and Harald Hardrada of Norway.

The Norman invasion had been expected and so Harold made plans to defend the country. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed that by June 1066 Harold had gathered such a great naval force, and a land force also, as no other king in the land had gathered before. His plans however, were thrown into disarray when his estranged brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria and Harald Hardrada of Norway led an invading army from the northeast.

A Harald Hardrada coin.

At the beginning of September, 1066, Harald Hardrada's army raided Scarborough and slaughtered most of its inhabitants. On the 20th September, Hardrada and Tostig won a battle at Fulford Gate and on the 24th September they captured York.

Harold and his English army travelled the 200 miles from London to York and fought the invading army at Stamford Bridge, on the 25th September. Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed during the battle and large numbers of their troops were drowned in the River Derwent.

Harold heard that William of Normandy had landed at Pevensey Bay on 28th September with an invading army, possibly whilst celebrating his victory in York.

Harold and his troops quickly returned to London, waiting there for about a week before travelling south again. He had hoped that some of the northern English troops would join him there, but they didn't materialise. Harold and his army marched south and camped at Caldbec Hill, just over 8 miles to the north west of Hastings, on the night of the 13th October. Harold and his 7,000 strong army were at a great disadvantage because they were suffering from the exertions of their previous battle and the 240 mile long march from the north.

Harold had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill, now called Battle. On the 14th October, Harold and his army were defeated. During the battle, Harold and many of his troops were killed. The traditional account of Harold dying from an arrow to the eye and brain dates to the 1080s, but of course is unproven. William was crowned in London on Christmas day 1066.

The image of the wounded King Harold on the Bayeux Tapestry.


After the invasion, the Normans quickly gained control of the southern part of the county, but were met with hostility in the north and east. King William initially had control of the old kingdoms of Essex, Kent, Wessex, Sussex and part of Mercia. Edwin Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, were delighted that William had overthrown the Godwin family in Wessex. They believed that he would be satisfied with the territory he had already gained and so would leave them in control of their kingdoms. If they had understood their true situation and attacked William before he became established, they may have been able to overthrow him.

Three months after his coronation, King William returned to France and took with him the people who were most likely cause trouble while he was away, including Edwin and Morcar. During his absence, unrest began to grow and there was an attempted invasion by Eustace, Count of Boulogne, who was Edward the Confessor’s brother-in-law.

William hastily returned in December 1067 and set about consolidating his hold on the country. He took Exeter after an 18 day siege and began to build castles at important sites. His wife Matilda arrived here in 1068 and was crowned Queen. When he returned to Normandy in 1069, one of his most formidable lieutenants, Robert de Commines, and 500 of his followers were slaughtered after a drunken debauch in Durham. The Norman castle at York was besieged and on the king’s return he put down the rebellion and sacked York. William was hated by many of the English and more resistance to his rule was to follow.

William and his army swept through the northern counties from Shropshire to Durham and the Scottish borders on a mass killing spree. Villages were burned, animals slaughtered, crops destroyed and any survivors were left to starve. This led to the deaths of over 100,000 people and effectively ended any further resistance in this part of the country.

A Danish fleet arrived off the Northumbrian coast to lend support to the general uprising. This was led by King Swein who had as much claim to the English throne as William, if not more. He was the nephew of King Canute and was joined by Edgar the Atheling who was the main English claimant to the throne. William managed to buy-off the Danes and Edgar fled to Scotland.

An engraving of a silver penny from King William's reign.
The final English revolt took place in the fenlands of East Anglia in 1071. Hereward the Wake led a number of raids on the Normans from the safety of the marshes around Ely. He was joined by Earl Morcar, whose brother Edwin had been murdered by his own men. William sent troops into the marshes and defeated the Saxons. Hereward escaped but Morcar was captured and imprisoned.

William felt that he could not trust the Saxons at all and the remaining Saxon landowners had their lands confiscated and given to trusted Normans. After 1066 most of Mercia still belonged to Earl Edwin of Mercia, but after his death the estates were divided amongst William’s followers. Much of local Mercia including Dudley was given to Ansculf of Picuigny who built a motte and bailey castle at Dudley.

Under William the medieval feudal system continued to be used. William owned all of the land and divided it up into areas, which were each ruled by a tenant in chief who was one of his trusted barons. They each controlled their area in return for payment from taxes and supplied soldiers for the king’s army. Each area was divided into smaller areas (manors) that were controlled by the baron’s knights, who were called lesser or mesne tenants. They had to take an oath of loyalty, carry out any required duties and pay taxes for their land. Each manor would include several villages whose inhabitants were called peasants. There were several classes of peasant. The highest was a freeman who was free to pursue a trade. The other classes were owned as part of the land and were not free to move around.

They were villiens, bordars, cottars and serfs. A villien offered agricultural services to his lord, a bordar was a smallholder who farmed on the edge of a settlement, a cottar was a cottager and a serf was an agricultural labourer. In return the lord of the manor was supposed to protect and help them. The other major landowner was the church and bishops and abbots could be tenants in chief or lesser tenants.

The original Dudley Castle, a simple wooden motte and bailey, was constructed in 1070 by Ansculf de Picquigny, father of William Fitz-Ansculf, who succeeded him. At this time the town served as the seat of the extensive Barony of Dudley, which possessed estates in eleven different counties across England: Stafford, Warwick, Worcester, Surrey, Berkshire, Northampton, Buckinghamshire, Rutland, Oxford, Middlesex and Huntingdon.

As the country settled down under Norman rule, William wanted to ensure that he received all of the taxes that were owed to him. This was very complex because the country had been divided into a large number of tax paying manors. The solution was the Domesday Book and work on it began in 1085 when teams of investigators toured the country. The information gathered from all over the country was collated into the book at Winchester and from this precise taxes could be calculated.

When a team of investigators arrived in an area they would meet with the landowner, the local priest and a group of older villagers. The information gathered was as follows:

The name of each tenant-in-chief, tenant and under-tenant, the total amount of land, the amount of land under cultivation, the amount of woodland, the number of people, animals and ploughs and any fishponds or mills.

The Domesday Book was not completed until after King William’s death on 9th September 1087. Today it is the most important source of information about village life in the Middle Ages.

The entry for Dudley is as follows:

Dudelei, in the hundred of Clent in Worcestershire. The town was listed as being a medium-sized manor in the possession of Earl Edwin of Mercia prior to the Norman Conquest, with William Fitz-Ansculf as Lord of the Manor in 1086. It had a population of 16 households in 1086, consisting of 3 villagers, 10 smallholders, 2 slaves and 1 smith. There was enough plough land for the lord's plough team and 10 men's plough teams and 2 leagues of woodland. Dudley was valued at an income of 3 pounds annually to the lord in 1086 and 4 pounds in 1066.

An engraving of the reverse side of a silver penny from William's reign.
There was one hide, around 120 acres, an area that a team of 8 oxen could plough in a year and about two miles of woodland. The hide was in the lordship’s demesne and so was part of the estate directly held by the lord and not let out to tenants. There was also plough land for the tenants which would have been farmed in strips. The only free man was the smith, who would have shod horses, made agricultural implements, carried out simple iron work, possibly including weapons for the castle. The total population was probably no more than 100 people.

William Fitzansculph was in control of more than 80 manors, scattered across several counties and like his father was based at Dudley Castle. His holdings included Amblecote, Aston, Birmingham, Bushbury, Chasepool, Edgbaston, Enville, Erdington, Essington, Great Barr, Handsworth, Himley, Moseley, Newport Pagnell, Orton, Oxley, Pendeford, Perry Barr, Sedgley, Seisdon, Trysull, Upper Penn and Lower Penn, Witton and Wombourne.

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