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1066: The Year That Changed Everything

1066: The Year That Changed Everything

Professor Jennifer Paxton Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
Course No.  8422
Course No.  8422
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Course Overview

About This Course

6 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

If you were to look back at hundreds of years of history in search of the one critical moment after which the history of the English-speaking world would never be the same again, it would undoubtedly be the year 1066. It was during this pivotal time that an event occurred that would have untold ramifications for the European continent: the Norman Conquest of England.

But why does this moment matter so much, both for the medieval world and for us today in the 21st century? While the true meaning and importance of the Norman Conquest has been sharply debated, medievalist and professor Jennifer Paxton of The Catholic University of America argues that the Norman Conquest, and the entire year of 1066, matters deeply for two key reasons.

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If you were to look back at hundreds of years of history in search of the one critical moment after which the history of the English-speaking world would never be the same again, it would undoubtedly be the year 1066. It was during this pivotal time that an event occurred that would have untold ramifications for the European continent: the Norman Conquest of England.

But why does this moment matter so much, both for the medieval world and for us today in the 21st century? While the true meaning and importance of the Norman Conquest has been sharply debated, medievalist and professor Jennifer Paxton of The Catholic University of America argues that the Norman Conquest, and the entire year of 1066, matters deeply for two key reasons.

  • It turned England away from a former Scandinavian orientation toward an orientation with mainland Europe, making the island nation a major player in Europe's political, social, cultural, and religious events.
  • It created a rich hybrid between English and French culture that had a profound impact on everything from language and literature to architecture and law.

In fact, it was only with the tumultuous events of the year 1066 that England was equipped to become a full participant in the unprecedented developments of the Middle Ages and the centuries that followed. And with 1066: The Year That Changed Everything, Professor Paxton's exciting and historically rich six-lecture course, you can experience for yourself the drama of this dynamic year. Taking you from the shores of Scandinavia and France to the battlefields of the English countryside, 1066: The Year That Changed Everything will plunge you into a world of fierce Viking warriors, powerful noble families, politically charged marriages, tense succession crises, epic military invasions, and much more.

Meet Intriguing Figures, Follow Powerful Battles

Your journey starts in the 10th and early 11th centuries, when power in England and Normandy was very much up for grabs—and when the small island nation was under continuous assault from Viking forces. Professor Paxton helps you gain a solid grasp of the complex political alliances and shifting relationships between figures such as

  • Emma of Normandy, whose marriage to the English king Aethelred II in 1002 brought the two powers together against invading Vikings and planted the seeds for future conflict;
  • Cnut, the fierce Danish conqueror who succeeded in taking over England in 1016 and then married the widowed Emma of Normandy, making her the queen of England—for the second time;
  • Edward the Confessor, who in 1042 brought the kingship back into English hands after Danish rule but who eventually came under the dominion of the powerful Godwinson family; and
  • Harold Godwinson, brother-in-law to Edward the Confessor and the controversial successor to the royal throne after Edward's death in 1066.

Edward the Confessor's death and Harold Godwinson's succession sparked two invasions that form the centerpiece of 1066: The Year That Changed Everything. With her powerful storytelling abilities and her intricate knowledge of this period, Professor Paxton recounts the two seminal battles that pitted England against the Scandinavians and the Normans.

  • The Battle of Stamford Bridge: The Scandinavian king Harald Hardrada and the king of England's own brother Tostig invaded England from the north, defeated local English forces, and steadily made their way inland. Racing north, Harold Godwinson defeated the Scandinavians at Stamford Bridge—yet was now on the wrong end of the country to meet the impending Norman invasion from the south.
  • The Battle of Hastings: Considered one of the definitive conflicts of the medieval world, the Battle of Hastings pitted Harold Godwinson, whose forces were still reeling from the Battle of Stamford Bridge, against William the Conqueror, the Norman ruler whose invasion was backed by papal authorities and was supplied with men and ships from surrounding French territories. After a battle filled with twists and turns, William emerged master of the field.

It was this last battle, you'll learn, that forever enshrined in the pages of history the name of William the Conqueror, whose military and political prowess made the Norman Conquest a success. You'll follow how he managed to solidify his conquest of England in the subsequent years.

Probe Lasting Controversies and Enduring Legacies

Throughout the lectures, Dr. Paxton opens your eyes to continued debates and controversies over this year and offers her own take on the Norman Conquest's enduring legacy and the fascinating results of this epic clash. A seasoned historian whose teaching and scholarship focuses specifically on this unique chapter in the grand narrative of Western civilization, she makes an engaging and trustworthy guide for this visit to a year that literally made history.

By exploring 1066: The Year That Changed Everything—what led up to it, what happened during that fateful year, and what changed as a result—you'll gain a sharper perspective and a greater understanding of everything that would come afterward.

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6 Lectures
  • 1
    The Norman Conquest through History
    What makes 1066 such a pivotal year in the history of Western civilization? How has the meaning of the Norman Conquest been debated and interpreted over time? And how did two weddings—between the English king Aethelred and the duke of Normandy's sister, Emma, and then, after the death of Aethelred, Emma's marriage to the Danish king Cnut—lay the groundwork for this tumultuous moment? Find out in this lecture that provides crucial information for grasping the Norman Conquest. x
  • 2
    England and Normandy before the Conquest
    Take a closer look at the half-century between the Danish conquest of England in 1016 and the fateful year of 1066—a chaotic time when power was up for grabs. Two figures were crucial during this time. The first: Edward the Confessor, who succeeded to the English throne in 1042 but was dominated by the powerful Godwinsons. The second: William the Bastard, the ruler of Normandy, who brought the Norman nobles under control and then set his sights on conquering England. x
  • 3
    The Succession Crisis in England
    Investigate how the relationship between Edward the Confessor and William the Bastard put England and Normandy on a collision course when the childless King Edward had to plan the succession to the English throne. You'll focus on Edward's plans for succession, meet the contenders to the throne, and learn how Harold Godwinson achieved victory at the Battle of Stamford Bridge—only to face another invasion of England from the south. x
  • 4
    The Battle of Hastings
    Revisit one of the most important moments in English history: the Battle of Hastings, after which the island nation—and the entire Western world—would never be the same. Dr. Paxton reveals how the Normans mustered up enough men and ships for their invasion; investigates some intriguing mysteries and controversies about the invasion; explains the tactics of medieval warfare; and provides a blow-by-blow account of the battle. x
  • 5
    Completing the Conquest
    It took several years for William the Conqueror to consolidate the gains he made at the Battle of Hastings. Learn how he used a combination of diplomacy and clever military tactics to take control of London without a fierce battle; how he won over the church so that he could get himself crowned king; how he spent the early years of his reign responding to various rebellions in the northern part of the country; and more. x
  • 6
    The Aftermath of the Conquest
    Why does the Norman Conquest matter? Take a closer look at the relationship between the Normans and the English in the generations immediately following the conquest, with a focus on the myriad ways that Norman and English culture intermingled. You'll realize the ultimate legacy of this vital year: the transition of England into the European mainstream. x

Lecture Titles

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Jennifer Paxton
Ph.D. Jennifer Paxton
The Catholic University of America

Dr. Jennifer Paxton is Assistant Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. She was previously a Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University, where she taught for more than a decade. The holder of a doctorate in history from Harvard University, where she has also taught and earned a Certificate of Distinction, Professor Paxton is both a widely published award-winning writer and a highly regarded scholar, earning both a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a Frank Knox Memorial Traveling Fellowship. She lectures regularly on medieval history at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, and has also been invited to speak on British history at the Smithsonian Institution and the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC. Professor Paxton's research focuses on England from the reign of King Alfred to the late 12th century, particularly the intersection between the authority of church and state and the representation of the past in historical texts, especially those produced by religious communities. She is currently completing a book, Chronicle and Community in Twelfth Century England, that will be published by Oxford University Press. It examines how monastic historians shaped their narratives to project present polemical concerns onto the past.

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Rated 4.8 out of 5 by 48 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Yes, a Turning Point Shortly into the first lecture, Professor Paxton mentioned a parody written in 1930 about English history and how one of the supposedly turning points of England was 1066. In turn, she asks several questions: why was it considered important? Was William's strategy brilliant or was he simply lucky? Should we care about it today? From that start, she introduces a host of characters ranging back 200 years BEFORE the Conquest showing how various events led to William and the other claimants to the throne, the invasion, its difficulties as well as several attempted coups until the last was finally suppressed in 1072. The last lecture went over how the Norman Conquest impacted the people of England. There is a report of a trial in 1072, examples of how fashion changed, how clerical historians reported various observations to give an impression of how the people of England thought of their new rulers - which seemed overall positive. By the end of the course, the questions are answered - in my opinion. As much as they may have wanted isolation, it took until the 1500's before England lost it's last foothold in French territory. But they were a integral part of Europe and European history and even went on to creating a worldwide empire. As for Professor Paxton herself, her lecture style is clear and crisp as well as light. There is a line of humor in some of her comments that seem to make it nearly entertaining and not dry facts being related. I listened to this course in two gulps while driving and I was for the most part, able to keep the cast clear - especially as she does 'remind' her audience who this person was and the last time he - or she - may have appeared in the course. Definitely an enjoyable lecturer and I will investigate her other course. November 3, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Paxton is terrific, again This short course, following her previous course on medieval England, continues to support Jennifer Paxton as one of my favorite lecturers. Paxton has a particular way of lecturing that I admire. She is on the younger side, and her somewhat youthful enthusiasm comes through easily. She is an interesting combination of informal and formal. What I mean is that Paxton enjoys telling a story and keeps us engaged by being a raconteur, yet her lectures are tightly structured with a high degree of expertise. As has been mentioned, the topic, the Battle of Hastings (and it 's meaning in the development of Britain) it limited, but it is a vehicle for her to dislay her considerable history teaching talents. Paxton manages to integrate her material and convey it in a coherent manner that surpasses many other courses I have heard. Interestingly, I learned that Dr. Paxton is the daughter of the 60's folk singer, Tom Paxton. Many years ago he recorded a song called "Jennifer's Rabbit" which he wrote for her when she was a toddler. Her courses in a way, hints at the "entertainer" in her while retaining a base of serious scholarship. I hope for more courses from her. February 1, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by The last conquest of the British Islands This whole short course is dedicated to one central, pivotal, event in English history: the Norman Conquest. Professor Paxton gives us a brief overview of the political situation before this stunning turn of events: the country had been ruled by a Viking king – king Cnute, and his reign had been quite steady. The problem made that itself present with Cnute’s death, was that there was no clear successor and a tumultuous era in which power was up for grabs followed from the accession of King Edward the confessor in 1042 CE until the Norman conquest in 1066. William Duke of Normandy had a rather tenuous genealogical contention to the throne: the wife of king Cnute was his own great aunt, queen Emma – not very close… Furthermore, William’s political arena was hardly Britain. Prior to his invasion he had little business there. It was due to Williams’s tenacious nature and his brilliant tactics combined with a good dose of good luck, that allowed him to make a stunning appearance on the British scene and conquer it from the hands of Harold Godwinson, changing British history forever. We explore William’s brilliant harrying tactics of submission, his building of a sophisticated castle network on his way to conquering London, and finally the brilliant fashion in which he conquered London with relatively little shedding of blood. William introduced many administrative and legal reforms during his reign. He governed in a manner that allowed his Norman loyal following to migrate to England with him, to settle down and to assume key positions. The magic is that he did this without alienating the local English population to such an extent as to perpetuate endless strife between the two civilizations. In fact we are told that after about one century, there had occurred a more or less complete integration creating a brand new British culture. This amalgamation would forever affect British culture and particularly, the English language. Furthermore, the conquest had the effect of making the European continent the main arena of focus for the British nation in terms of politics and trade, whereas before it had been focused on the North due to the Viking invasions. William's descendants would become some of the most colorful and famous of the Monarchs of British History. I deeply enjoyed hearing this course given by Professor Paxton. She is a fantastic presenter and the content of this short and focused course is really fascinating. When one considers it, this 1066 conquest was an absolutely unexpected turn of events that turned the British narrative on its head yet again (after it had earlier been conquered by the external invaders thrice – the Romans, the Angles and Saxons, and the Vikings). It would leave Britain forever changed, and in many ways create a more sophisticated and united civilization, and it would have absolutely pivotal effects on all of Western civilization for centuries to come. November 5, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by fascinating! All I remembered about the Battle of Hastings from my high school history class was that it took place in 1066. This lecture series changed all of that! The stories seemed to come out of a Korean Drama! It was fascinating! I did have to print out a family tree chart from wikipedia to keep things straight as there was so much intermarriage and similar names used, but I sure remember a whole lot more now than just the date. The lecturer was great, too. She had a great sense of humour and really helped the stories come alive. October 26, 2014
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