2 - The Normans

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Summary

  • Normans land in Britain and arrive in 1067 in Wales
  • Quickly take hold of large swathes of South Wales
  • Build churches, castles and market towns and settle in for a longer term form of economic warfare
  • Bring the beginning of the end of slavery enshrined of the laws of Hywel Dda

songs, poems, quotes and stories
Quote about William the Conqueror's trip to St. Davids.

Washing line item
1067 The Normans

Condensed text

Now I’m sure none of you here have been sold for a pound or had your right hand cut off recently, so what changed? You might be surprised to know that despite some of their heinous atrocities, it was the Normans who transformed slavery in Britain. And when did the Norman’s arrive? 1066? No 1067 in Wales! They managed to quickly occupy large swathes of the lowlands of South Wales and establish castles, churches and trading towns. The Normans had recently abandoned slavery - we don’t fully know why - but it could have been combination of their conversion to a reformed Christian church and the fact they found it more profitable to have rent paying surfs (who they could still technically own) and to impose fines on those who attempted to keep slaves.

Here is a crucially important line from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1081 which documents William the Conqueror’s only visit to Wales, on a pilgrimage to St. Davids.

“The king led levies into Wales, and there freed many hundreds of people.”

Freeing the Welsh from the Welsh isn’t an idea that we’re used to but this was the reality of a class structure which was prevalent throughout Europe at this time – it just goes to show that hierarchical social structures often transcend nations, borders and languages.

It’s also worth remembering that at this point in time, Wales was not a unified country. It was a patchwork of small kingdoms who were perpetually squabbling with each other, often betraying their follow countrymen to make deals with the Normans for their own personal gain. This is one reason why Norman occupation lasted for nearly two hundred years until the mid 13th century when the Llywelyn ap Gryffudd finally managed to unite most of Wales in rebellion against the Normans (or the English as they had become by then).