Norman Invasion of 1066

The Norman Invasion of England in 1066 had been prepared well. Duke William knew that there would be other claimants to the English throne. A fleet was prepared. An army assembled. Arrangements made for the governance of Normandy in his absence. Allies were called upon for support and Papal blessing sought, and gained, for the venture.

When Edward the Confessor died in January of 1066 it sparked a series of attempts to take the crown. The different claimants to the throne would at some point all take to arms to press forward their claim. Harold of Wessex took the crown quickly. He was the most powerful of the Saxon lords and had the support of most of the leading nobles.

Planning the Norman Invasion

The Norman Invasion was planned by a number of nobles. William worked with men such as his half-brother, Odo of Bayeux, to ensure that every detail was accounted for. A successful invasion by the Normans would need several things:

  • Ships, of which between 700 and 900 were required. Some were built, many were requisitioned or bought from Flemish ports. The Bayeux Tapestry shows how the ships were constructed. It is also known that each lord taking part in the Invasion had a quota of ships to provide.

Bayeux Tapestry shows ships being built in preparation for the Norman Invasion

  • Men. An invasion force needed a strong, capable army. It would need to be strong enough to engage in a battle against a formidable opponent and defend it’s camps and supply chain. Normandy alone did not have enough trained knights, allies from neighbouring duchies were brought in and mercenaries hired. Estimates vary greatly on the number who fought, the range being 7000 to 15000.
  • Horses. The Norman knights were accustomed to fighting on horseback. Horses were also needed for moving supplies. Some 2000 horses are believed to have made the crossing. The Bayeux Tapestry shows them tethered to the ships.
  • Food. Lots of food. You have a large army and many horses. Neither man nor beast can fight well if hungry. The invasion force could be cut off from supplies for days or weeks. It had to take with it enough food to last for some time. The food would therefore need to be long lasting, such as salted or cured meats.
  • Pay. The army and servants needed to be paid as well as fed. William’s method was the promise of land should the conquest be successful. This was a ransom reward for the nobles in his ranks.
Motivation and Justification

As well as practical things such as those above, an invasion force needs motivation. Here a leader needs to offer the rewards, such as land, but the cause has to be one that the men are willing to fight for. William gained Papal approval for his invasion. With the church saying that he was the rightful King of England, the invasion was easily justified.

The Weather

The Invasion of England by the Normans could take place once all of the preparation was completed. It was though, dependant upon the weather. The ships were powered by sail and oar. The wind had to be blowing in the right direction. On two occasions the Invasion fleet was damaged by storms before it had even set sail. Eventually, on the 27th September, 1066, the Norman fleet set sail from St Valéry sur Somme.


Upon landing, the Normans protected their ships by creating an embankment. This created a harbour of sorts which would prevent storms from damaging the fleet. The Normans had landed near Pevensey. Here they made use of a Roman Fort. Earth ramparts were put up to create a temporary Castle: later developed into a permanent stone castle.

With the ships secured and a fort from which his men could defend themselves, the Norman Invasion force was able to assess the surroundings and situation. William received intelligence reports about the movements of the Saxons. His men were ordered into the local area where they destroyed all they could find. William was forcing the English to come to him. Then he could fight on his terms.

William ordered a Castle to built to protect his men from attack in the early stages of the Norman Invasion. Pevensey Castle was later built in stone, shown here.


English Heritage – How to organise a Norman Invasion

BBC History – 1066

The Normans

Find out about the Norman monarchs and key features of Society during the Norman era from the menu below.
Harold's death as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry
Click on the image for Teaching Resources on the Norman Conquest
The Normans
William the ConquerorWilliam RufusKing Henry I
King Stephen
Claimants to the throneBattle of FulfordBattle of Stamford Bridge
The Battle of Hastings
The Norman Church
Robert of JumiegesStigandOdo of Bayeux
LanfrancAnselmRalph d’Escures
William de CorbeilTheobaldArticle: Anglo-Norman Church
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