A Revolutionary Reform: How William the Conqueror Conquered the Church

A Revolutionary Reform: How William the Conqueror Conquered the Church 

By William Shirley

Citations: Journal of Undergraduate Research (2016)

William the Conqueror - Harley 624   f. 145

Few historical figures have had as significant of an impact as William the Conqueror. The Conquest in 1066 is one of the most well-known and discussed events in history. It marks the Norman invasion of England, William’s defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, and his coronation as William I, King of England. This description is largely how he is remembered. This great Norman warrior crossed the English Channel and conquered the whole of England. However, what William accomplished in the twenty-one years of his reign, made a lasting and significant impact on the countries future.

The aspect of William’s rule that this work is primarily focused on is his effect on the church. The changes to the church in England can only be described as revolutionary. William’s governance of the church had a massive impact on England’s future and has been studied by a multitude of historians. If we wish to illustrate the revolutionary significance of William’s church reform, we must examine not only the differences between the Norman and Anglo-Saxon churches but also the enormity of the impact William’s church reform had on the landscape of England’s future. The significance that William’s church reform had on the future of England, as well as a clear understanding of the differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Norman churches, can be found in the works of modern historians.

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One of the foremost historians on William the Conqueror was Frank Barlow. Barlow’s writings on the English church are extensive and lay the ground work for later scholars in the field, some of whom were his own students. There are three Barlow texts that are essential for research of William’s Church reform. The first of which is The Feudal Kingdom of England from 1042-1226. Frank Barlow lays out every aspect of Norman rule in extensive detail, including a section on the reform of the church. Barlow argues that the conversion of the English church from a loose organization of churches into a strict controlled unit under William was a direct attempt to tie the English church to the continent. He stated: “the changes made in the English church after the replacement of the English by foreign bishops in 1070 were designed both to give it greater structural coherence and to reform its culture on the Norman pattern.”

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