Seems to me once you have won the war, your troubles are just beginning. You've got a small number of men few that can speak the local language. How do you go about putting your men in charge, putting your institutions in place?

You replace the top level nobles with your own people, but at some point you need to use the local low level rulers, yes? How do you get their support and loyalty?

"Sir Pierre, I'm granting you Waterford Castle and all the land that belonged Baron Biscuit."

Pierre presumably has a platoon (dozen? hundred?) men at arms to help him keep order. Also, at this point, you have the dual problem of needing your vassals support to chase down locals who had a following, and also to control, make productive, and raise taxes off the land you hold, all this with having only a small number of people are know both medieval French and old English.

Edit as per request:

The wikipedia article fills in much of my question about what is happening at upper levels of the Norman administration. I'm still unclear about the logistics where a tiny force can maintain control over a large population of people who don't understand them when they give an order. One source (http://www.localhistories.org/population.html) claims 2 million people at the time of the Doomsday book, ~20 years after the conquest. It's not clear to me if the population in 1066 was above or below this. If the wiki article is correct in there being about 8,000 Norman land owners, that's about 250 Anglo-Saxons per Norman. It's not clear if a landowner in this case is just a knight, or if his personal retinue of men at arms is included. Eg: Is my example of Sir Pierre above counted as one land owner or 12 to 100? If as 1, then 8000 land owners with a bunch of men at arms each drops the ratio to somewhere around 1:20. But that would also mean some 80,000 Normans. So far I've not run into (or missed...) any mention of followup invasion forces. Was there a large influx of Norman supporters -- their own armsmen, armourers, managers that followed over the next years?

Maintaining order with a 1:100 ratio is daunting. The United States averages about 1 policeman per hundred people, (969/100,000 population) and the U.S. inhabitants by in large are agreeable to their government. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_number_of_police_officers) By comparison the Palestinian Authority has about 12:100. But both the US and the PA have a LOT of government in addition to police. The Normans have to run the entire government with their 1 to whatever ratio of Normans to Anglo Saxons.

From the wiki article, not mentioned directly, but likely true: The invading aristocrats and both Norman and Anglo clergy spoke and wrote latin. This would go a long way to bridging the communication gap. Presumably there were traders who knew enough Anglo Saxon and Norman French to get by too.

Norman sheriffs replaced Anglo-Saxon sheriffs, along with essentially all of the nobility. But at some level in this society there was a layer of Normans, and the layer directly beneath them was Anglo Saxon. How did the mechanics of that work?

As a thought experiment, I considered my local village -- Warburg, Alberta. It has about 700 people in it, and a similar number of people in the surrounding country side. I'm trying to visualize how, say 6 Francophone Quebecois, would take over the town and district and make it stick, using only the high school french teacher as translator. The invaders might last a week. Sure a hunting rifle is no match to an AR-15 in close combat, but there are a lot of hunting rifles.

In Medieval England a peasant with a pruning hook or axe is no match against an armoured knight. But it doesn't take long to turn a pruning hook into a bill hook. And a scythe blade mounted on a pole instead of a snathe would make short work of a war horse's back tendons.

The Harrying of the North. (I wonder if this originally was 'Harrowing' to vex, distress, break up. Harrowing in that sense though came into use a couple of centuries later) suggests that depopulation was the Norman answer when rebellion burned bright. Modern England is about 50,000 sq. mi. 2 million people is an average of about 40 people per square mile. Given the tendency for villages to be small, and to farm the surrounding land, there must still have been a LOT of rough land. The wiki article on the Harrying says that in Yorkshire, the hardest hit, some 2/3 of the villages had a 'wasted manor' and that the county as a whole had a value only of 40% of its former value. It seems that William stomped hard on local hot spots.


Ratios again: If you have 1 warrior per 100 local inhabitants, that's an average of 2.5 square miles per soldier. Or roughly a modern township per squad of 12. Finding a hundred people who don't want to be found with a force this small would be hard. Hence the destruction of villages, burning of food and tools. This is before the Doomsday book is commissioned. Williams men didn't have decent maps of the country, and would have to find each village by following the road to it.

If the object of the harrying was stop rebellion it wasn't very effective. A partial answer to my question, as to consolidation was, "he didn't" The Normans were playing Whack-a-Mole for 20 years. At some point the Anglo Saxons had to accept the rule of the Normans. The advantages of some sort of order was greater than the desire to have their A.S. lords in charge.

  • 2
    Welcome to History:SE. Could you edit your question to clarify what you've looked into already, complete with links and references, and context if applicable? In particular, please let us know what you find missing or unclear about the Wikipedia entry on the topic, if one exists. This allows those who might want to answer to do so without needing to redo the work you've already done. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask.
    – MCW
    Dec 9, 2019 at 17:38
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    @MarkC.Wallace: I'm pretty harsh to insufficient questions, but this one seems to me posed as having an adequate understanding, expression, and focus. Dec 9, 2019 at 17:56
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    @PieterGeerkens Although it does appear to already be answered by the Wikipedia article mentioned in my comment above. If so, then it would be off-topic since the site is not about "Questions answered by a simple Google search or to be found in a Wikipedia page" (as noted in our Help Centre ). Dec 9, 2019 at 18:03
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    I'm not sure whether OP is asking for the Harrying of the North or the Feudalism page, or possibly simply a definition of "occupation" - you kill those who resist, and tax those who don't.
    – MCW
    Dec 9, 2019 at 19:17
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    Upvote due to revisions. The answer is still that the legal right to execute someone on a whim has a remarkably positive impact on their ability to understand you.
    – MCW
    Dec 9, 2019 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


Others (and perhaps myself) will no doubt expand, but the general outline was as follows:

  1. Replace the nascent hierarchical feudal system of Anglo-Saxon England (and similar to contemporary French and German feudal systems) with an Anglo-Norman flat feudal system where every baron swears an oath of fealty directly to the Monarch, and only knights swear fealty to directly your Earls and Barons (the only two peerage orders immediately post-conquest).

    Under the English feudal system, the person of the king (asserting his allodial right) was the only absolute "owner" of land. All nobles, knights and other tenants, termed vassals, merely "held" land from the king, who was thus at the top of the "feudal pyramid". When feudal land grants were of indefinite or indeterminate duration, such grants were deemed freehold, while fixed term and non-hereditable grants were deemed non-freehold. However, even freehold fiefs were not unconditionally heritable—before inheriting, the heir had to pay a suitable feudal relief

  2. Allow those Anglo-Saxon Earls (of Mercia and Northumbria, Edwin and Morcar) who had not fought against him to keep their land provided only that they swear fealty to him directly.

  3. Put down - harshly - the uprisings (Harrying of the North) that occur over the next decade or so.

    the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis wrote

    The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty. This made a real change.

    To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation. I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him.

  4. Build lots of castles (both royal and noble), initially as wood and later as stone fortifications, around the kingdom at key defensive and communication sites. These will serve as administrative headquarters; reminder of the "new order"; and garrison posts among other purposes aimed at both subduing the population and providing the "peace and good order" that wins over loyalty of the population.

    From having almost no castles in the period before 1066, the country was quickly crowded with them. According to one conservative modern estimate, based on the number of surviving earthworks, at least 500, and possibly closer to 1,000, had been constructed by the end of the 11th century – barely two generations since the Normans’ initial landing.

  5. Commission the Domesday Book to enumerate the kingdom and ensure that your tax collectors are both honest and competent.

    Then, at the midwinter [1085], was the king in Gloucester with his council ... . After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out "How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire."

This BBC article goes into some additional depth on the mechanisms of conquest


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