William the War-Criminal



After the battle of Hastings, William was crowned king in London on Christmas. Day, 1066.

Historians debate whether the Norman Conquest was a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing' for England.  For the conquered Saxons there is only one answer: the Norman Conquest was a disaster.  William took absolute control over England.  In the 'Domesday Survey' of 1086, his surveyors wrote down how much land belonged to each village, who had owned it in the time of King Edward the Confessor and who held it now.  They also wrote down how many ploughs there were in each village.

By that time, almost all the Saxons had lost their land.  Important Saxon noblemen were reduced to the level of village officials.  Ordinary Saxon freemen lost their freedom; they became 'villeins' unpaid workers for the Normans and were listed in the Domesday Book alongside the ploughs as the lord's possessions.


Crimes Against Humanity

I would go further.  For me, William was not only a 'bad thing', he was a mass-murderer certainly worse than Saddam Hussein, and arguably worse than Hitler and Stalin.


Study these Sources, then answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


William the Conqueror:

A short BBC summary and

History Learning Site

Historyteachers lively song!

A much more detailed BBC study


The Impact of the Conquest

BBC Bitesize: consequences of the Conquest

BBC video on the effects of the Conquest

A list of consequences of the Conquest: difficult


BBC Activity: good activity revising some of the things you have learned already, and asking whether the Norman Conquest was good news for England?


BBC Bitesize: different interpretations, of the impact of the Conquest

A difficult comment on the historiography in wikipedia


1  The Harrying of the North

The Saxons in the north-east of England did not want William as their king.  In 1069, they rebelled against him.  William slaughtered the rebels, destroyed their food stores, and moved the survivors into what we today would call concentration camps.

This account of William's actions was written by Simeon of Durham, in his A History of the Kings.  Simeon died in 1129:

King William quickly gathered an army, and hurried to Northumberland in great anger, and did not stop for the whole winter from destroying the country and killing the men...


Because of this, there was so great a famine that men, forced by hunger, ate human flesh, that of horses, dogs and cats, and everything that is horrible.  It was horrific to see human corpses decaying in the houses, the streets and the roads, swarming with worms, while they rotted with an abominable stench.  For no-one was left to bury them, for everyone had either been killed by the sword, or by the famine, or had left the country because of the famine.


Meanwhile, the land was deserted.  The villages between Durham and York were empty.  They became hiding places for wild animals and robbers.


2  King William the Judgement of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

This was written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, for the year 1087:

King William was a man of great wisdom and power, greater in honour and strength than all others... 

He was so stern and relentless that no man dared to do anything against his will... 

Neither must we forget the good order he kept in the land, so that a wealthy man could travel unharmed throughout the country with a bag of gold.  No man dared kill another...


[Yet] it is certain that in his time men suffered grievous oppression and manifold injuries.

         "He caused castles to be built which were a sore burden to the poor.

          A hard man was the king, and took from his subjects huge sums ... he was sunk in greed.

          He set apart a vast deer forest and made laws about it; whoever killed a deer was to be blinded,

          for he loved the stags as dearly as though he had been their father.

          The rich complained and the poor lamented, but he was too relentless to care."


3  King William the Judgement of an old children's textbook

This assessment of William is from People of Bygone Days, written by Dorothy King in 1934:

The Norman rule made a great change in our land.  Through the lively Normans, the Saxons became less slow, and more 'wide-awake', as we say.  They learned to trade and to build with more skill, and their manners grew more polite...


As the years went by, the Norman speech mingled with the Saxon tongue, [and] the two races mingled also, until they became one the great race of the English people.