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1066 and all that – Normans and Plantagenets, The Domesday Book and Magna Carta

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1013: King Swein sails up the Humber

Swein of Denmark arrives in order to become King of the Danelaw but quickly finds all England submitting to him. Poor Ethelred the Unready (so-called because the Viking raids always seem to take him by surprise) flees to Normandy.

1016: Ethelred succeeded by his son

Ethelred's son was known is Edmund Ironside.

1016: Cnut becomes King of England

Cnut had agreed a treaty with Edmund to divide England between them but Edmund dies and Cnut marries Ethelred's widow and gets the lot. Cnut (Canute) is the king who, according to legend, sat in his throne on the seashore and ordered the tide not to come in. This a pious gesture to demonstrate that the power of God is greater than kings. He was, in fact, the most powerful king ever to rule over Anglo-Saxon England, being King of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden.

1040: Macbeth becomes King of the Scots

Macbeth kills Duncan in battle to become King, but unlike the title character in Shakespeare's play, he proved to be a good and well-respected king.

1042: Edward the Confessor becomes King

Edward the Confessor was so-called because of his deep religious convictions. The son of Ethelred the Unready, he had been living in Normandy but was re-called to the English court by his half-brother Hardicnut when he assumed the throne. Hardicnut died in a drinking binge and Edward resumed the Saxon line of kings.

1043: Lady Godiva founds Coventry Abbey

Lady Godiva was a real person but whether or not she rode naked through the streets in exchange for her husband's promise to reduce local taxes is debatable.

28 Dec 1065: Westminster Abbey consecrated

Edward the Confessor orders the building of a large stone church dedicated to St Peter the Apostle. Unfortunately, the pious King never set foot in there while he was alive. He missed the consecration ceremony but his remains were buried at the High Altar the following year.

1066: Edward succeeded by Harold II

Harold was the son of the powerful Godwin family of Wessex. His reign was cut short by the invasion of another contender for the throne, William of Normandy.

14 Oct 1066: Battle of Hastings

William the Conqueror defeats the English at the Battle of Hastings. The battle is commemorated in an embroidered "cartoon strip" called the Bayeux Tapestry, sewn by the French victors' wives. This was the last time England was successfully invaded.

25 Dec 1066: William I crowned

The new king is crowned in Westminster Abbey.

02 Jun 1070: Hereward the Wake rebels

Peterborough is looted by Hereward's men. This is the last Anglo-Saxon uprising against the Norman invaders. Hereward is one of the people the myth of Robin Hood is built around.

1078: White Tower completed

The first part of the Tower of London is built.

01 Aug 1086: Domesday Book first draft completed

William wanted to know how much the kingdom he had just invaded was worth. He commissioned a survey of England to provide records of landholders, their tenants, the amount of land they owned, how many people occupied the land, the amounts of woodland, meadow, animals, fish and ploughs and other resources, and what kind of buildings there were (churches, manor houses, etc.). Incredibly, the information was gathered in less than a year.

09 Sep 1087: William I succeeded by younger son

William I chose William Rufus (so-called because of his red hair) to be his successor, rather than his older son Robert. Robert had instigated a rebellion against his father in Normandy, so the move was not altogether surprising.

27 Nov 1095: First Crusade called

Interference with the Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem by the Turks inspired Pope Urban II to call for a Crusade to free the Holy Land from the Saracens, as the Muslims were known. There were eight or so Crusades (depending how you classify them) over the next 200 years. Many English noblemen, as well as commoners, took part in the Crusades – which were frequently bloodthirsty reprisals. The rhetoric of religious righteousness, the experience of foreign lands and the huge cost of the fighting had an enormous impact on English society.

02 Aug 1100: William II killed by an arrow

While hunting at Brockenhurst in the New Forest, the King was shot in the chest with an arrow fired by Walter Tirel. Tirel claimed it was an accident, that he was aiming at the stag, but he jumped on his horse and escaped to France. William II was succeeded by his son, Henry I.

1130: History Of The English Peoples

Henry of Huntingdon's book is published. It contains the earliest written reference to Stonehenge.


22 Dec 1135: Henry I succeeded by Stephen

Stephen was Henry's nephew and he claimed the throne rather than allow it to pass to Henry's daughter, Matilda.

1138: Historia Regum Britanniae

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History Of The Kings Of Britain is published. It claims to be a history of kings who lived in Britain over a period of nearly 2,000 years. It is a great piece of myth-making and no one has yet identified the "ancient book in the British tongue" that he claims to have got his information from. Most notable for beginning the legend of King Arthur and proposing the theory that Merlin was responsible for Stonehenge.


08 Apr 1141: Matilda named Queen

Matilda invades England in 1139 and joins a rebellion against Stephen in this year. She is recognised as Queen but proves so unpopular she is expelled from London. Stephen's forces rally and he regains the throne.

1154: Stephen succeeded by Henry II

Henry was Matilda's son, named as Stephen's successor by the Treaty of Wallingford.

29 Dec 1170: Murder in the Cathedral

Murder of Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, in Canterbury Cathedral on the supposed orders of Henry II. Rumour has it that Henry was heard to mutter "who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and that the four knights who took it upon themselves to do so hoped to be handsomely rewarded. Public outcry at the murder was such that, whatever the truth of the matter, the four knights were shunned for the murder and Henry publicly atoned. Beckett was canonised a mere three years later. TS Eliot's play Murder In The Cathedral is a powerful verse drama and was first performed in the Cathedral in 1935.

1172: Henry II succeeded by Richard I

The play A Lion In Winterdramatises the tempestuous family life of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine, fighting over which of the three brothers – Richard, Geoffrey or John – should receive the crown of England.

1187: Third Crusade

This is led by Richard I, the Lionheart, intending to liberate Jerusalem from Saladin.

16 Mar 1190: Massacre of Jews in York

Fearing for their lives in one of a number of pogroms [the organised massacre of a particular ethnic group] that were occurring all over England, York's Jewish Community sought refuge in the medieval castle of Clifford's Tower. By the end of the night they were all dead, either committing suicide, being burnt alive as the building was set on fire or murdered when they surrendered.

13 Mar 1194: Richard ransomed for 100,000 marks

Richard was captive to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, and only released on payment of a sum equivalent to twice the annual income of the English crown. Raising this sum in addition to funding all his foreign wars was bankrupting England. Richard's scheming brother John offered the Emperor nearly as much to hold on to him!

1199: Richard I succeeded by John

John had been plotting to get the English throne throughout Richard's reign and acted as Regent during the long periods while Richard was away fighting.

1209: First stone London Bridge completed

This made permanent the wooden structure built by the Romans. It had taken more than 30 years to build and cost the lives of some 150 workmen.

15 Jun 1215: Magna Carta signed

Magna Carta means the Great Charter. John was forced to sign this document by the English Barons who wanted to have a legal statement of their rights. It is regarded as one of the foundations of English democracy because it guaranteed tax collection only by legal means, the right to a fair trial for all people and no imprisonment without trial.

1216: John succeeded by Henry III

Henry is only nine years old when his father dies. Henry's reign is notable for the fact that he was ruler in name only for some of it! See 1258

1220: Construction of York Minster

Archbishop Walter Gray kick-started the programme of “improvements” that transformed the original Norman church into the magnificent Minster that we see today – a process that took around 250 years!

c.1225: Robert Hod outlawed

A Robert Hod, alias Robert of Wetherby, is outlawed by the King's Justices - is this the real Robin Hood?

1245: Westminster Abbey goes Gothic

Henry III commands the rebuilding of the Abbey in the French Gothic style we see today. The work continued until 1517.

11 Jun 1258: New wave of parliamentary freedoms

The powerful barons under Simon de Montfort force Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, signed on this day, which place them in virtual control of the country. The form of government they establish is the beginning of the two-tier parliamentary system. Civil war breaks out in 1264 with de Montfort's troops winning out. A council of barons rule in the King's name for a year before Henry's son, Edward, manages to fight back.

1272: Henry III succeeded by Edward I

Edward was nicknamed "Longshanks" because he was very tall! He was one of the most successful of the medieval kings: firm but fair. He presided over turbulent relations with Scotland, which was trying to assert its independence from English rule at this time.

18 Jul 1290: Jewish Community banished

Edward I passes a law expelling England's population of 3,000 Jews. This is accompanied by pogroms and confiscation of books and property.