Wednesday, July 14, 2010

William the Conquerer and the Enslavement of England

In my article, Review of Robin Hood Movie, I mentioned that when the Normans invaded England in 1066 it was the first time England had a king who believed that he actually owned all the land he ruled. This was a completely novel concept in the annals of British history and went against the tradition of liberty that had been passed down from such great kings as Alfred the Great.

Thinking that all of England was his own private backyard, William the Conqueror began to systematically dispossess English landowners of their property in contravention of Proverbs 22:28. He handed over these stolen lands as gifts to his French supporters. Following suit, these nobles then enslaved the populations in their territories. Commoners could no longer even marry without the permission of their overlord. Essentially, England was turned into a slave state of Northern France.

The Domesday Book documents William’s project of expropriation, showing that by 1086 only 5% of land in England south of the Tees was left in English hands. Moreover, William turned 36 parishes of the New Forest into his own hunting ground. The tracts of land that he kept for his own personal hunting grounds had the houses schools and churches leveled. Anyone who hunting in the New Forest had his eyes put out.

The Domesday survey was carried out 20 years after the conquest and reveals the complete destruction of the English ruling class. “Lands belonging to 4-5,000 English earls and thegns had been redistributed among 180 barons of Continental origin” Paul Johnson commented. “One fifth of the land was controlled directly by the King himself; a quarter by a powerful ring of senior vassals, bound to the King by marriage, official status and long friendship a quarter by the Church; and the rest by other barons, almost all of them from France.”
Moreover, to finance the engine of his expanding government, William levied heavy taxes on imports exports and all sales as well as the use of bridges and roads.

In order to prevent the English from ever revolting again (the year following his invasion, some Thanes in the West and North had tried to revolt), William passed through the North massacring entire villages burning crops to the ground, sowing salt into the fields and destroying tools so that the native populations could not support themselves. The French nobles William placed in leadership throughout England followed their king’s example by enslaving the populations in their territories.

By the time of King John, however, these nobles had begun to think of themselves as Englishmen, and had imbibed many of the ideas of liberty that had been native to the English tradition. Moreover, many of these nobles had become powerful, capable of mounting a front to resist the king’s oppressive taxation leading ultimately to the Magna Carta. But that will be the subject of a future blog post.

Postscript

According to one report, King William did repent on his deathbed for some of his sins, having allegedly declared:

"I treated the native inhabitants of the kingdom with unreasonable severity, cruelly oppressed high and low, unjustly disinherited many, and caused the death of thousands by starvation and war, especially in Yorkshire....In mad fury I descended on the English of the north like a raging lion, and ordered that their homes and crops with all their equipment and furnishings should be burnt at once and their great flocks and herds of sheep and cattle slaughtered everywhere. So I chastised a great multitude of men and women with the lash of starvation and, alas! was the cruel murderer of many thousands, both young and old, of this fair people."


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