About the Norman period

Timeline - Norman


The defeat of the English King Harold at Hastings by the Norman Duke William brought to an end the domination of the Anglo-Scandinavian and English (Anglian) lords over Yorkshire. Many of William’s people were originally Norsemen themselves however, and the feudal system he introduced to the land was probably not that unfamiliar to the peasants toiling in the fields. Their old masters were simply replaced by new ones or themselves had to pay dues to new ones.


English and Anglo-Scandinavian landowners in Yorkshire and Northumberland found the undermining of their political power too hard to take and so in 1069 they rebelled. William fought back and swiftly destroyed all opposition to his rule. There followed a dreadful revenge called the Harrying of the North where estates were burned and crops and stock destroyed. Yorkshire was consumed by a great famine. By the time of the Domesday Book some of this land was still waste, in other words, uncultivated.


The Dales seem to have suffered along with the rest. Just over half of Count Alan’s lands for instance, much of it in the north of the National Park area with its centre at Richmond, was described as waste. The entry for Hudswell in Swaledale is translated as follows: “6 carucates taxable; 3 ploughs possible. Thorr had this land. Now Enisant has (it). Waste. The whole, 1 league long and 1 wide. Value before 1066, 16s.” (Faull & Stinson 1986). It may be however, that describing land as waste was just a useful way of avoiding taxation.


In order to maintain control over their new territories, William’s landlords built castles. Castlehaw is an early one, dating to the late 11th century. The remains of the earthwork motte and bailey castle can still be seen in a commanding position overlooking the River Rawthey near Sedbergh. Stone castles followed such as those at Skipton, Middleham and Richmond.


From these centres of power, Norman lords such as Count Alan at Richmond, controlled vast territories in the Yorkshire Dales. These estates were either farmed directly for the lord (demesne land), divided into smaller manors whose owners paid rent or turned over to hunting forest for the lord’s pleasure and profit. The village of Maulds Meaburn in the Westmorland Dales retains its classic regular two-row layout, which is representative of those developing in the north of England following the Norman conquest.


Once settled, the Norman lords gradually began to give away their least profitable lands or ‘wastes’ to the church in return for intercession in the next life. As a result, the great monastic houses like Fountains and Bolton Priory came to own three-quarters of the land defined by the modern boundary of the National Park.


Norman lords also built new churches in a number of villages and their fragments survive today. St Oswald’s Church in Horton-in-Ribblesdale with its chevron and dog tooth door mouldings is one of the most complete. The Norman church at Kettlewell on the other hand, was completely rebuilt in the 19th century and only the Norman tub font remains.