Considered one of the most important events in English history, the Norman Conquest in 1066 C.E. produced many different outcomes that changed the course of English history. Under the rule of William the Conqueror, numerous elements of the English government and political system changed with the introduction of feudalism. In addition, Norman French prompted the English language to change. While many people believe these modifications are the most significant Norman impacts upon England, the Norman Conquest’s influence on women’s roles in England was no less remarkable.
As history has shown time and time again, the death of a ruler brings about drastic changes in that ruler’s nation. This was the indeed case in the death of the English king Edward the Confessor in January 1066. To make this matter complicated, King Edward left no living heirs. In life, Edward had sympathized with the Normans in northern France, and William, the Duke of Normandy, claimed the English king had promised him the throne. However, there were also rumors that on his deathbed Edward had named Harold Godwinson, the head of the
army, the heir to the English crown. While neither of these claims was ever ratified, Harold ended up seizing control of England. This event, however, infuriated Duke William. In October 1066, William invaded England, and King Harold was killed in the decisive Battle of Hastings. With this glorious victory, the new king William obtained his well-known title as William the Conqueror.
As the Conqueror settled into his new position as King of England, many other Normans followed their leader across the English Channel to settle into the island nation. These Normans brought with them their own customs and culture that differed rather significantly from that of English culture. Since the Normans, as the conquerors, became the new ruling class, they greatly impacted many features of English life, including the lives and roles of women.
While rights of women have never been as historically similar to men’s rights as they are in today’s twenty-first century England, the women in Anglo-Saxon England before 1066 were relatively independent. However, the collision of the Norman male dominated society and culture against the Anglo-Saxons’ lifestyle introduced many modifications to the role of women after the Norman Invasion. To examine these alterations, it is necessary to look at the aspects of women’s rights such as land ownership, marriage, occupation, and education before the Norman Invasion in Anglo-Saxon England and how they differed from the rights of women in subsequent years as the people slowly became known as Anglo-Normans.
The first evidence of change in women’s rights is land ownership. Women during the Anglo-Saxon period were allowed to own, control, and sell land by themselves as well as with their husbands. Controlling land gave these Anglo-Saxon women considerable autonomy that is comparable to that of men. Evidence of this can be...