The King’s SupportersCategory: 11th century
A monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: “The King William was severe beyond all measure to those people who resisted his will. The earls who resisted him were kept in chains. He deprived bishops of their power and lands, and abbots of their abbacies, and cast earls into prison …. There is no doubt that people were greatly oppressed in his time:
He had castles built
And the poor men hard oppressed.
The king was very stark
And took from his subjects many a mark
Of gold and more hundreds of pounds of silver.
Into avarice did he fall And loved greediness above all,
He made great protection for the game And imposed laws for the same.
That who so slew hart or hind Should be made blind.
Hares too, did he decree, should go free.
Powerful men complained of it And poor men lamented it.
But he was so ruthless that lie minded not their hatred,
And they had to follow out
The king’s will entirely
If they wished to live or hold their lands.”
In spite of the severe measures taken by William I there were many supporters of his policy. His great supporters were the Norman barons. The Normans enjoyed many privileges in the conquered country. All the members of the Great Council were Normans. All the sheriffs and other royal officials were Normans too. The same was true in the English Church where nearly all the priests, bishops and abbots were also Normans. England was ruled by a foreign king and foreigners occupied all the highest offices. To defend these privileges the Normans who were in the minority in the conquered country had to unite under a strong royal power. And the Norman barons supported William as they were interested in strengthening the royal power which helped them to suppress the Anglo-Saxons.
The Conqueror won the support of the Anglo-Saxon lords too. Those who had not fought against him were left in possession of their estates. They became the king’s allies in his struggle against those great lords who dared to disobey William I because only a strong king could protect them against the tyranny of the great Norman barons who held now all the high posts in the state. The smaller lords too, both Norman and Anglo-Saxon, relied upon the king to help them to turn the free peasants into serfs and to put down their growing resistance.
The Church helped greatly in strengthening the royal power. Evidence of this can be found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle where a monk praises the Conqueror: “The King William was a very wiseman, and very powerful, and stronger than any predecessor of his. He was gentle to the good people who loved God… In his days was the great Monastery in Canterbury built, and also very many others over all England . .. This land … was well filled with monks… And all the rich men over all England were with him: archbishops and bishops, abbots and earls. .In return for its support of the Conquest the Church of England, the greatest feudal lord in the country, was granted some privileges. William established separate church courts which decided all cases that concerned marriages, wills and accusations against the clerics. In this way the Church assumed certain state functions, that is, it was becoming an important part of the state machinery. Many new churches and cathedrals were built all over the country. Much gold, silver and precious stones were sent as gifts to Rome. And the clergy preached up William’s power and threatened anyone who dared to disobey the king with God’s punishment.
The townspeople supported the royal power too. William the Conqueror took severe measures to establish peace in the country, and now men could travel without fear of being robbed or murdered. “Among other things,” the monk wrote, “one must not forget the good order that William maintained in this land, to such a degree that any honest man could travel over his kingdom without injury with his bosom full of gold.” In the reign of William the Conqueror there was more trade and travelling than before. More merchants could move about without fear of losing their goods. Trade connections with Normandy permitted the extension of trade on the Continent: trading was no longer limited to England. Towns began to grow and the townspeople paid high taxes to the royal treasury. The townspeople gave William their full support for granting them certain privileges and for protecting trade.