Two knights galloping on horseback. Text: Reasons for English - The Year 1066 by English with Stephen

Reasons for English: The year 1066

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at the important things that happened in the year 1066 which have a huge impact on the English language.

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Hello there! My name’s Stephen Greene and this is English with Stephen, the podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English in under 10 minutes. Today’s episode is the first of two parts about the year 1066. 1066 is an amazingly important year in English history and, even though it is nearly 1, 000 years ago, the things that happened in that year are still relevant today.

In this first episode, I am going to tell you the story of what happened in 1066. In next week’s episode, I’ll look at some of the implications the year 1066 had for the English language. Seriously, if the events of 1066 never happened, the English language would be totally different.

But first, this.

Ok, so, today’s episode might be a bit complicated. There are a few unusual names in it and there is a lot of information. For this reason, you might want to read a transcript of the episode to make sure you have understood everything. Reading a transcript can be a great way to improve your listening skills, as well as learning more vocabulary and grammar. If you would like to read the transcript you can find it for free on my site EnglishwithStephen.com. That’s S T E P H E N, EnglishwithStephen.com.

And now back to the year 1066.

It was the 6th of January, 1066. The King of England, Edward the Confessor was on his deathbed and some of the most important people in England had gathered to watch him pass away.

Edward the Confessor had been king for 24 years. But he had not been a great king. There were lots of rebellions against him and even a civil war. Many of the Anglo-Saxon nobility disliked the fact that Edward seemed to prefer Normans, from France, to the English.

But the biggest problem with Edward the Confessor was that he had failed at the most important thing any king has to do. Obviously, a king should protect his people and bring peace to the land, but there was something even more important for any king.

The number one priority for a king was to produce an heir. If the king does not have any children, especially at this time a boy, then the kingdom will be thrown into chaos. The weakness inherent in monarchies at this time is the question of succession. Who will take power after a childless king has died?

And so, with no heir to take the throne, 1066 was going to be a year of chaos for England. A year that would completely change everything about this small country on the edge of Europe. Within 12 months the culture, government, laws, and language would all be different.

As soon as Edward died, Harold Godwinson declared himself king. He claimed that the last words to leave the dead king’s mouth were that he, Harold, should take over the throne. Which is convenient.

Harold was the richest and most powerful man in England, even more powerful than the old king. The other Lords in England agreed that Harold should be their king. This was no time for a civil war where they fight among themselves. There were plenty of enemies outside England to fight with instead.

One of those enemies was Harold Hadrada. He was the King of Norway and a kind of old-school Viking. He believed he had a claim on England through some family links. He also had as an ally Tostig Godwinson, the new king of England’s brother (I did tell you this was going to get a bit complicated).

Another person who had his eye on the English crown was the Duke of Normandy, Duke William. At the time, he was known by his nickname, William the Bastard. He claimed that the late Edward the Confessor once promised him the throne. However, the only people who knew about this promise were William’s friends and family. So that is also very convenient.

The first person to make a move was Harald Hadrada. He landed in the north of England with a great army, including the famous berserkers. These berserkers would fly into a rage when in battle. If you hurt them, they just got even more angry. The only way to stop a berserker was to kill him, but this was difficult as they were also skilled fighters. We still use the word ‘berserk’ in English to describe someone who is very angry or out of control.

King Harold Godwinson of England marched his army to meet this Norwegian king. There had already been a small battle with some of the local English forces which the Norwegians had easily won, so they were not expecting a new battle. The English had the element of surprise and made it count. They won a decisive battle at what is now known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

For football fans, the battle of Stamford Bridge has no relationship at all with the home stadium of Chelsea which is also called Stamford Bridge, although there have been a few battles there as well over time.

As soon as the battle was finished, Harold Godwinson received more depressing news. William, the Duke of Normandy, had landed in the south of England. There was no time to celebrate his victory. King Harold had to march to meet this new invader in the south.

William, the Duke of Normandy in the north of France, had chosen this moment to make his play for the throne. When he landed with his men he burned all the boats. This was a message to his soldiers that either they would win the battle, or they would be killed. There was no option of running away to save themselves.

Harold Godwinson, fresh from his victory against the Norwegians, marched all the way down to the south. On the way, he picked up fresh soldiers for the new fight. The Anglo Saxon forces met the Normans in a place called Battle. However, because saying the Battle of Battle is a little bit strange, we call it the Battle of Hastings, which is a town close by.

It was a long and hard battle. The Normans fought on their horses, but the Anglo Saxons held firm. It looked like the Normans had no way of winning, but right at the end of the day, they managed to break through the Anglo-Saxon lines. King Harold of England was killed when an arrow hit him in one of his eyes. And so died the last Anglo Saxon king of England.

William did not go straight to London. He took weeks travelling through lots of towns and villages in the south of England. Every time he came to a new place he ordered his men to take all the food and anything of value. Everything else was burned.

Eventually, on Christmas Day, 1066, William arrived in London and was crowned the new King of England. And from this day, everything was different.

All of the nobles who had fought against William at the Battle of Hastings immediately lost all of their lands. This land was given to Normans who had fought with William. Over the next few years, William removed most of the remaining Anglo-Saxon nobles so that all of the aristocracy was French.

The government was reformed to make it more European. The organisation of the country was changed. The connections between the lords and the people were broken. If anyone complained about any of this, they were punished severely.

And as French speakers were installed into the important positions of English society, French became the language of government, of law, of bureaucracy. The language of the Anglo Saxons, Old English, was relegated to being used by the farmers and workers. It was the language of the poor and uneducated. French was the language of power and money.

And as we shall see next week, this had a huge impact on the development of English.

I hope you can tune in then when we explore the effect the Normans had on English. Don’t forget, that you can find a transcript to this episode on my site EnglishwithStephen.com. Lots of my listeners have told me that they like to listen to the podcast without the transcript, and then go back and listen again with the transcript to make sure they have understood everything.

Thanks for listening. Take care!

You can find the next episode here.

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