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The Anglo-Normans were the descendents of the Normans who ruled England following the conquest by William of Normandy in 1066. They spoke the Anglo-Norman language.

Following the Battle of Hastings, the invading Normans and their descendants formed a distinct population in England. To all outward appearance the Norman conquest of England was an event of an altogether different character from the Danish conquest. The one was a conquest by a people whose tongue and institutions were still palpably akin to those of the English. The other was a conquest by a people whose tongue and institutions were palpably different from those of the English.

The Norman settlers in England felt no community with the earlier Danish settlers in England. In fact the Normans met with the steadiest resistance in a part of England which was largely Danish. Ousting the Danes who had recently conquered England, and who provided some of the stiffest resistance to the Normans, and largely replacing the powerful Anglo-Saxon territorial magnates, while co-opting the most powerful of them, the Normans imposed a new political structure that is broadly termed "feudal. (Historians debate whether pre-Norman England should be considered a feudal government - indeed, the entire characterization of Feudalism is under some dispute.)

Many of the Anglo-Saxon English lost lands and titles; the lesser thegns and others found themselves lower down the social order than previously. A number of free geburs had their rights and court access much decreased, becoming unfree villeins.

The Norman conquest of England also signalled a revolution in military styles and methods. The old Anglo-Saxon military elite began to emigrate, especially the generation next younger to that defeated at Hastings, who had no particular future in a country controlled by the conquerors. William (and his son, William Rufus), encouraged them to leave, as a security measure. The first to leave went mostly to Denmark and many of these moved on to join the Varangian Guard in Constantinople. But the Anglo-Saxons as a whole were not demilitarized, which would have been impractical. Instead, William arranged for the Saxon infantry to be trained up by Norman cavalry in anti-cavalry tactics. This led quickly to the establishment of an Anglo-Norman army made up of Norman horsemen of noble blood, Saxon infantrymen often of equally noble blood, assimilated English freemen as rank-and-file, and foreign mercenaries and adventurers from other parts of the Continent. Note that the Anglo-Saxon cniht was adopted instead of the French chevalier, reflecting the Anglicization of the younger Norman aristocracy -- who also adopted such Saxon styles as long hair and moustaches, upsetting the older generation.

The degree of subsequent Norman-Saxon conflict (as a matter of conflicting social identities) is a question disputed by historians. The nineteenth century view of intense mutual resentment, reflected in the popular legends of Robin Hood and the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, may have been considerably exaggerated. Some residual ill-feeling is suggested by contemporary historian Orderic Vitalis, who in Ecclesiastical Historii (1125) wrote in praise of native English resistance to "William the Bastard". Likewise, a law called the "Mudrum fine" established a high (46 mark) fine for homicide against a Norman; this law was thought to be necessary due to the high rate of English attacks against Normans.

Whatever the level of dispute, over time, the two populations largely intermarried and merged, combining languages and traditions. Normans began to identify themselves as Anglo-Norman; indeed, the Anglo-Norman language was considerably distinct from the "Parisian French ", which was the subject of some humour by Geoffrey Chaucer. Eventually, even this distinction largely disappeared in the course of the Hundred Years war, and by the 13th century the Anglo-Normans had merged with the Anglo-Saxons to form the English.


Anglo-Norman barons also settled in Ireland from the 12th century, initially to support Irish regional kings such as Diarmuid MacMorrough, then to support Henry II of England and his son John as Lord of Ireland. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, known as "Strongbow", was a significant example. They increasingly integrated with the local Celtic nobility through intermarriage, and, despite being known as Old English, became more Irish than the Irish themselves, especially outside the Pale around Dublin.

See also

Last updated: 02-06-2005 20:30:41
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55