Conquest by the Normans

The Saxon line of princes continued to rule, with the exception of three Danish reigns, till the year 1066, when the crown was in the possession of a usurper named Harold. The country was then invaded by William, Duke of Normandy, a man of illegitimate birth, attended by a large and powerful army. Harold opposed him at Hastings (October 14), and after a well-contested battle, his army was defeated, and himself slain. William then caused himself to be crowned king at Westminster; and in the course of a few years he succeeded, by means of his warlike followers, in completely subduing the Saxons. His chiefs were settled upon the lands of those who opposed him, and became the ancestors of most of the present noble families of England.

Previously to this period, the Church of Rome, which was the only surviving part of the power of that empire, had established its supremacy over England. The land was also subjected to what is called the feudal system (see HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE AGES), by which all proprietors of land were supposed to hold it from the king for military service, while the tenants were understood to owe them military service in turn for their use of the land. All orders of men were thus kept in a chain of servile obedience, while some of the lower orders were actually slaves to their superiors.

In the year 853, Kenneth, king of the Scots, had added the Pictish kingdom to his own, and his descendant Malcolm II, in 1020, extended his dominions over not only the south of Scotland, but a part of the north of England. Thus, putting aside Wales, which continued to be an independent country, under its own princes, the island was divided, at the time of the Norman Conquest, into two considerable kingdoms, England and Scotland, as they were for some centuries afterwards. Ireland, which had also been invaded by hordes from the north of Europe, was divided into a number of small kingdoms, like England under the Saxon Heptarchy.