The Reign of William the Conqueror

William and the Barons

The late 11th century keep of Chepstow castle (Monmouthshire – south Wales) on the west bank of the River SevernWilliam the Conqueror in an initial letter from the Chronicle of Battle Abbey [British Library]As soon as he was secure in his new kingdom William dispossessed the Anglo-Saxon nobility, and granted castles and landed estates, ‘fiefs’ or ‘honours’, to the leading Norman barons.  In return they paid homage to the king, promised to be faithful to him and provided him with military service. There was a similar relationship between the barons and their own knights. In theory landholdings were not hereditary, the heir of a dead man having to pay to take it over, but inheritance by the first born son soon became commonplace.

To prevent any individual baron becoming too strong and establishing a regional base for rebellion William ensured that their possessions were scattered over different parts of the country. On the Welsh border, or ‘March’, the earls of Chester, Hereford and Shrewsbury were given larger landholdings than most other barons as they needed to raise sufficient forces to defend England against the Welsh.

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