32

After the "Norman conquest of England", many things including languages, the ways of life, etc. have changed a lot in Europe. Especially it affected the English language significantly that a lot of French words were borrowed by English.

Now, I would like to know how history describes the period when England was ruled by royal families of France. Also, if it was regarded as a colony, was there any independence war against the French rule in England? When did England became free of the political influence by France and by what event?

  • 12
    Actually, the Normans regarded themselves as a separate entity. They still owned parts of France, but fought lots of petty little wars with the French in England's name. I could write a complete answer later; for now, I've got to sign off and get some rest. – Ricky Nov 24 '15 at 12:27
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    P.S. It is a fascinating question nevertheless, and I hope it opens a huge can of worms here. The English court continued to speak French for quite a while after the Conquest. They laughed at John Lackland (he of the Magna Carta fame) for actually knowing English. – Ricky Nov 24 '15 at 12:30
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    @MarkC.Wallace Well, the Ancient Greeks had (short-lived) colonies, so the concept probebly wasn't entirely unknown. However, it would definitely help to clarify the exact meaning of the word "colony" in this question :) – Luaan Nov 24 '15 at 14:45
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    I am Canadian; the first time I visited England I mentioned to the hostel manager where I was staying that some Oxonians had joked that I was from the colonies. He said "I am Roman, and I feel the same way about England." So at least one person considers England to be a former colony of the Roman Empire long before any part of it was French. – Eric Lippert Nov 24 '15 at 15:02
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    The Normans were not French, they were Norman. They had conquered that part of France (hence it is called Normandy) for the purpose of invading England. Thus after a few centuries they spoke the local language. The country we now call France did not exist at that point in history. – RedSonja Nov 25 '15 at 8:44
57

I'm going to say that England should not be considered as having been a colony of France.

From the wiki page for colony

a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state, distinct from the home territory of the sovereign

When William took power he did so on behalf of himself and not on behalf of France, and he ruled as King of England. So while England had a sovereign who happened to be a foreigner, the English were not governed by a foreign state (i.e France).

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    This is the correct answer - William took the Crown, he did not subjugate England into France. This kind of event was fairly common in that era. – Jon Story Nov 24 '15 at 14:26
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    William may have paid taxes/tributes to the French crown in his role as Duke of Normandy but, as noted in the other answers, that was separate from his role as King of England. – KillingTime Nov 24 '15 at 14:56
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    As a counterexample to illustrate the difference, England (at least the danelaw) would be considered a colony of Denmark? – user662852 Nov 25 '15 at 4:50
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    The word colony in the sense of a territory administered by another country would not appear (from the Oxford English Dictionary) to have come into existence until the 16th century. This corresponds with the age of the great marine navigators. So no, England was not considered a colony as the word did not have any particular meaning in that regard. – WS2 Nov 25 '15 at 21:50
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    @WS2 - not only the word "colony" is anachronic; the kind of relation between metropolis and colony that we associate with the "colonisation" of the Americas (and Africa, Australia, and parts of Asia) didn't exist in the 12th century. – Luís Henrique Oct 9 '16 at 0:32
23

It shouldn't. Before conquering England, William the Bastard was Duke of Normandy, a political entity that had been separate from West Francia (by 1066, the Kingdom of France) since 911 C.E. The Normans spoke a dialect of French, and William and his ancestors were technically vassals of the kings of France, but it was still more or less a separate entity.

Once William took the crown of England, he ruled both as King of England and Duke of Normandy, but he kept the administration of the two states entirely separate, and after his death he divided the two states between his sons Robert and William, who became Duke of Normandy and King of England respectively. Throughout this period, I don't think you can really call England a colony of either France or Normandy. Even later on, when Henry II established the unified Angevin state that included all of England and much of modern France, both his British and continental holdings were equal parts of a single kingdom, so the colony concept doesn't quite work here.

edit: Even though England was ruled as a separate kingdom following 1066, there was in fact some resistance to Norman rule during William's reign, especially in northern England. Hereward the Wake, for example, led a rebellion against William and his imported Norman nobility around 1070, along with Morcar, the ousted earl of Northumbria. William's imposition of a new set of Norman nobles and his confiscation of lands from those who refused to recognize him as king were motivating factors in these rebellions, which were crushed a few years later. However, the divide between the ruled Anglo-Saxon and the ruling Norman classes continued to play a part in English politics.

  • 1
    I think that last sentence should read "continues to play a part in English politics." ;-) – Pieter Geerkens Aug 7 '17 at 12:51
  • Good point! In fact, the Windsors are still related to William I, aren't they? – 0A0 Aug 10 '17 at 11:24
14

It was never really ruled by French royalty in the usual sense of the word. The Duke of Normandy was a vassal of the French king but such a relationship was often a two-way street. The vassal had obligations to the feudal lord but the lord also had obligations to the vassals. This was especially true of the kings of England who commanded enough influence and power that they couldn't be "bossed" around by the king of France in the way that a lesser vassal could. At times the Duke of Normandy, and hence England, would control vast amounts of France, even more than the King of France at times despite being a vassal of France. Much of this came to a head throughout the Hundred Years War where eventually England was pushed out of France proper, save for a few holdouts.

To answer the question, I would say England was never a colony of France. Despite its rulers being vassals of the King of France, they exercised too much autonomy to be considered "ruled" as a colony would imply.

Here's a map showing the lands claimed by the King of England around 1170. It illustrates how the vassal relationship between France and England is a bit deceiving as the King of France cannot exercise in practice what he might be able to in theory over the King of England. At times the King of England could claim the throne of France (specifically during the Hundred Years War), France could claim England through the vassal relationship but in reality was France able to exercise the kind of colonial control as it did in places like Algeria? Not even close.

enter image description here

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    Your statement that those lands were directly controlled by Henry II is incorrect. They were his claims. – Denis de Bernardy Nov 28 '15 at 16:12
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    Ah yes, you're correct. I will edit it, thank you. It also helps to further illustrate the differences between claims through vassals or heritage and outright control like a colony. – PeskyToaster Nov 30 '15 at 18:17
7

NO. England was conquered by a "Frenchman," William the Conqueror, not France.

Unlike e.g. Christopher Columbus, who colonized the "Indians" and handed over his new colony to Queen Isabella of Spain, William did not conquer England for France.

He was a "warlord" who conquered England for himself, and crowned himself king.

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    I think if you had asked him he would have identified as Norman, not as French. – RedSonja Nov 25 '15 at 8:45
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    Yes, the Normans were a fairly recent arrival in France. – GeoffAtkins Nov 25 '15 at 13:19
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    OK, I unbolded "Frenchman" and put it in scare quotes instead. – Tom Au Nov 25 '15 at 14:36
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    And he claimed that he was not conquering England, but merely carrying out the wishes of Edward the Confessor. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 25 '15 at 14:49
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    Good point. It's easy to forget that, despite being a Norman, William was also Edward's first cousin once removed, giving him an arguably better claim to the throne than Harold Godwinson had (at least if we're going by blood ties.) – 0A0 Nov 25 '15 at 16:06
6

The Kings of France were never Kings of England. However, the Kings of England did, on different occasions, do homage to the King of France but only for those lands they held in France - Normandy in the time of William and later Aquitaine after it become a possession of the English crown after the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

On the other hand, Edward III (of England) and several kings after him, claimed to be the legitimate Kings of France. This was one of the main issues at stake in the 100 Years War.

By the way, it is not even quite clear whether England was even a colony of Denmark, since Cnut the Great ruled here as King of England, as the Wikipedia entry on Cnut explains:

As a Prince of Denmark, Cnut won the throne of England in 1016 in the wake of centuries of Viking activity in northwestern Europe. His accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together, [emphasis mine]

He died in England and was buried in Winchester.

6

The idea that England would have been a "French colony" comes from our modern idea of united, clearly delimited, socially and politically distinct states.

But in 1066 there wasn't a "state" of France as they now exist. There was a king of France, who different nobles owed homage to, but he wasn't a direct ruler - for example, the king of France couldn't decide to put another Duke at the head of Normandy.

So many of the conquerors of England spoke some kind of French, but the conquest was not organised by the French state for the kingdom. It was done by William to conquer a kingdom. Which is why the dynasty he forms isn't "French rule over England", but "Norman rule of England".

That also explains why, for centuries later, William and his successors pay homage to the king of France for their Duchy of Normandy, but not for their English possessions: they are, indeed, independent rulers of England and simultaneously vassals of the French king in Normandy.

5

At that time, the Duke of Normandy was more or less independent from France, his fealty to the king amounting to more of a mutually beneficial relationship than that of a strict subject. If anything, England could have been viewed as a colony of Normandy, but colony implies ownership by a state. In this case, it was instead that both Normandy and England were controlled by William, both distinct territories under his rulership.

2

"colony", from Ancient Greek times, implies a settlement. E.g., the Greeks from one city-state in Greece would send a bunch of settlers to a place in Italy or in Sicily and settle it, and it would be a colony. The Normans did not settle England, even though a bunch of them moved over and took over estates, property, they did this as a ruling class, not as "settlers". It was a conquest, not a settlement. "New England" was both, and so was a colony, as was "New France", but the conquest was bit by bit.

Another distinction between conquest and colony is in what happens to the existing laws. According to Blackstone, conquest does not give the conqueror the right to change the law code. Thus, Porto Rico still has the Napoleonic Code it had in 1898. New Orleans to some extent also (purchase). But colonists always bring with them the laws of the mother country although they then may choose to modify or develop them or even start afresh. So the U.S kept the Common Law of England for several centuries.

-1

"When did England became free of the political influence by France and by what event?"

This part of the question was only partially answered. As mentioned England was not ruled by the French king. But it was ruled by a French-speaking monarchy. It is a common misconception that the English at some point gained independence from this French-speaking monarchy, but this is not true. The current monarchy descends from William the Conqueror. There was no big war of independence as some might imagine. What did occur is that over time the English commoners began to resent the French-speaking aristocracy so the aristocrats had to switch to using English as a means to show themselves to be more English. Even today, though, the motto of the royal family is still written in Norman French.

  • "The current monarchy descends from William the Conqueror." - Not in any meaningful way, they don't. – KillingTime Jul 10 '18 at 20:00
  • The Statute of Pleading in 1362 required English to be spoken in courts. From the early 15th century, Henry V promoted the use of the English language in government & required English to be used as the language of record. You may have noticed from the dates that these changes took place during the first half of the Hundred Years War. – sempaiscuba Jul 10 '18 at 23:59
  • Just to respond to KillingTime ... See the following regarding the royal family's relationship to William: [famouskin.com/…. Elizabeth is the 24th Great-Grandaughter to William. "Meaningful" is debatable, of course. – Miguel Corazao Jul 11 '18 at 21:16

protected by Pieter Geerkens Jul 10 '18 at 23:15

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