At the beginning of the 11th century, England was under the rule of Danish kings, but after the death of the great Danish king Canute, the English became independent again. However, their independence did not last long. When the English king, Edward, died in 1066, he was succeeded by his brother-in-law Harold, but William, the powerful duke of Normandy, also claimed the English crown. He pretended that Edward had promised him the crown of England and accused Harold of perjury.
Two years before while Harold was sailing along the southern coast of England a storm broke out and blew his ship to the shore of Normandy. As Harold was in William’s power he had to swear on an altar containing the bones of a saint that he would help William to become king of England.
However, when Edward died, Harold crowned himself King. Hearing this William became very angry and started preparations for the invasion of England, but the strong winds in the Channel prevented William from crossing it whole summer. This made Harold think that the Normans would not come any longer that year so that he let many of his soldiers go home and harvest their crops. On the other hand, the King of Norway landed in the north with a great army to conquer England. Harold hurried to the north and defeated the Norwegians but in the meantime William landed in England.
With a weakened and tired army Harold hurried to the south to meet William, who was plundering the country. The battle took place at hastings and though the forces of the two sides were fairly equal in numbers, the Normans were greatly superior in quality. Harold’s army consisted mainly of untrained peasants whereas William’s Normans were well-trained archers and mounted knights.
The fight lasted the whole day, but the English could not be beaten. Towards evening, William thought of a trick. The Normans pretended to run away. The English thought they had won the battle and dashed after them but the Norman cavalery beat them easily back and the Norman archers poured their arrows on them. An arrow struck Harold in the eye, and soon after he died. Dismayed by this, the English fled from the battlefield and soon after that William entered London and became King of England.
For two cnturies after the Norman Conquest, England was ruled by foreign kings and French became the language of the upper classes. As French was used in Parliament, in the law courts and in all official writings as well as in literary works, many Englishmen were compelled to learn to speak it. However, the serfs and the yeomen continued to speak their native language.
Only in the fourteenth century, nearly three hundered years after the Norman Conquest, English became the official language of the country again, and towards the end of the century it became the language of literature as well.