The Normans came to govern following one of the most famous battles in
English history: the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
From 1066 to 1154 four Norman kings ruled. The Domesday Book, a great record
of English land-holding, was published; the forests were extended; the
Exchequer was founded; and a start was made on the Tower of London. In
religious affairs, the Gregorian reform movement gathered pace and forced
concessions, while the machinery of government developed to support the
country while Henry was fighting abroad. Meanwhile, the social landscape was
altered, as the Norman aristocracy came to prominence. Many of the nobles
struggled to keep a hold on both Normandy and England, as divided rule meant
the threat of conflict.
This was the case when William the Conqueror
died. His eldest son, Robert, became Duke of Normandy, while the next
youngest, William, became king of England. Their younger brother Henry would
become king on William II's death. The uneasy divide continued until Henry
captured and imprisoned his elder brother.
The question of the succession continued to weigh heavily over the remainder
of the period. Henry's son died, and his nominated heir
Matilda was denied
the throne by her cousin, Henry's nephew, Stephen. There then followed a
period of civil war. Matilda married
Geoffrey Plantagenet of
Anjou, who took control of Normandy. The duchy was therefore separated
from England once again.
A compromise was eventually reached whereby the son of Matilda and Geoffrey
would be heir to the English crown, while Stephen's son would inherit his
baronial lands. All this meant that in 1154 Henry II would ascend to the
throne as the first undisputed king in over 100 years - proof of the
dynastic uncertainty of the Norman period.