How did the Normans change Anglo-Saxon England? LANGUAGE: French became the language of the court (that is, the king and his administrators). All official business was conducted in French (except that which was conducted in Latin, the language of the church). Anglo-Saxon English continued to be spoken by the Anglo-Saxon people and used when they were speaking or writing to each other (those who knew how to write, which were few). However, over time, the old Anglo-Saxon language took on many characteristics of the French language of business and administration. All language evolves and changes, taking on some “foreign” words and expressions, changing spellings, and even changing how some words or sounds were spelled. While some words come down to us unchanged from Anglo-Saxon English (like the Anglo-Saxon battlecry of “Out!”), others undergo such significant change (even to disappearing altogether) that we no longer recognize them as English words. CASTLES: The Anglo-Saxons built long, sturdy halls to live in. The thegn, earl, or king who ruled the village would have the best of these long houses, which functioned rather like a palace. Even the churches from the time (around 1000 CE) were mostly wood, though some stone churches remain). Villages would be surrounded by a wooden fence. There were fenced, well-protected settlements called burghs, but they were not like what the Normans brought. The Normans brought with them a revolution in defensive fortifications: the castle. On the continent, there were already stone castles, but the earliest form of castle, the one that was fastest and easiest to build, was the wooden motte-and-bailey castle. Motte is the name for the hill or mound on which the castle was built. If a hill couldn’t be found in the vicinity, they would dig up soil and build one! On top of the motte they build a wooden tower of some sort and maybe some outbuildings, all of them surrounded by a high palisade fence made of wood. There was also often a fence along the bottom of the hill and alongside a set of stairs or steps cut into the motte. A ditch dug around the motte made it more difficult for an enemy to bring his soldiers up the hill. The area enclosed by the fence was called the bailey. You can think of the bailey as a large yard. The motte and bailey castle housed the lord who was in charge of the land and also housed the soldiers he kept on hand to keep the locals from getting out of hand. The chief disadvantage of this is that wood burns. Later on, when time permitted, they went back and tore down the wooden structures, replacing them with stone, enlarging the motte, and building stone walls around the bailey instead of using wooden fences. ADMINISTRATION Duke William (now King William) sent men around to conduct a census (that is, a count) of England. The results of this census are recorded in the Domesday Book. We can learn a lot from this book about what England was like at the beginning of the Norman era. The king then divided up the land among his most important noble followers (some of whom held high positions in the Catholic Church, and others of whom were nobles in France who were able to expand their wealth and power in England as well.
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