William the Conqueror as we know won the battle of Hastings, with less than 10,000 men, the population of England was around the 2-3 million mark.
Previously when Kings died in battle the English made accommodations with the victor even if they were foreign. For example, Cnut, what didn’t happen is the whole landowning class being kicked off the land and it being handed over to the new kings best mates.
The English could have fought on but by Christmas 1066 William was crowned King of England.
Well this is my opinion and you may plausibly disagree, I think the Catholic Church had a lot to do with it.
The Pope supported William’s claim to the Throne and gave him a banner which was blessed to show public support for him.
The Witan (English counsel/early parliament) had lost a lot of the most senior Lords, and Earls and most of the professional fighting men in two bloody encounters. First Stamford Bridge then Hastings.
The English church was rich it held 20% of all land in the kingdom.
William couldn’t take church land as this would enrage the Pope. So the writers of history the Clerics had more sway in the aftermath of the Battle and I think a secret deal was done with the Church supporting Williams coronation, then helping William and collaborating with him
With Church support and their power on his side, the ignorant peasants were less likely to rebel. The church was very powerful at this time they were rich owned land and had the ability to rouse the population as they did against the pagan Vikings many times before 1066, their meek acquiescence stinks!
Once crowned in the remainder of his lifetime William was busy quelling rebellions, dolling out land to his supporters and finding out what he could tax to make his family rich and able to carry on ruling what was a foreign country to the Normans who spoke French and if educated Latin.
So what changed when William took over and why is this significant in identifying the sources of English Law?
The first thing William changed was he established through a census recorded by clerics in the Doomsday book who had what land and who owned everything in his Kingdom. The church had a monopoly on writing and education at this time so for him to get and use this information he needed the assistance of the English Catholic Church which was provided.
What he did next was brilliant he took all the land and said that you do not own the land I do, you can still farm it only if I let you.
He then gave the land to his supporters who had fought for him they became tenants of the land and held rights over the land and had rights over the people on the land who worked it as their serfs.
The tenants in chief the Saxon nobility were simply kicked out and replaced by Normans who then largely continued to abide by the common law and local customs in relation to rights to graze animals on common land, work their own strips of the communal field and work the lord’s land as a payment for being allowed to continue living and working on the land.
Very similar to sharecropping in the united states after their civil war.
Historically even today any freehold landowners do not, in fact, own the land they think they own, they only own the “fee simple absolute in possession“.
The land is still owned by the crown ultimately that is why the crown can grant rights to frack on land or mine on land or route utilities underground land with houses. That is why you can’t charge airlines for flying over your land, the landowner only has ownership of certain rights which can be taken away from you by the state.
The Defence of the Realm Act DORA in the second world war gave the state the power to requisition land for the use of the state and many people were thrown out of their homes.
It’s William the Conquerors fault!
That is why there are different tenancies, lease-holding rights which can be bought and sold or given to others by conveyance or through custom and practice over many years. For example the right to walk down a public footpath on land owned by someone. The rights to easements access for example across the land you do not own.
William the Conqueror and the Catholic church had a lot to answer for, we would be much more like the Danes and Germans and we wouldn’t have been embroiled in constant conflict in France for over 400 years.
Tony Hughes LLB, PGCE Barrister Retired.