1066: The Year That Changed Everything

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

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
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Jennifer Paxton

About Your Professor

Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D.
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...
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1066: The Year That Changed Everything is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 101.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Norman bias throughout It's quite clear that Dr. Paxton held the Normans in high regard, while thinking very little of the English. This bias pervades throughout the course. Thus we end up with Edward The Confessor as being a stick in the mud, William brilliantly outwitting Harold, and the aftermath of the conquest being relatively benign after 1070. It's the last item that particularly shocked me. Every book I have read on what transpired after Hastings describes a full disenfranchisement of English nobility and higher clergy. There was a strong class divide that persisted for centuries. The harrying of the North left Yorkshire desolate. Yet Dr. Paxton contends that except for some isolated examples, the English and Normans blended together quickly. Thus I can't recommend this for someone seeking to learn about 1066 and its aftermath. However, Dr. Paxton's delivery style is upbeat and she infuses her talks with a bit of irreverent humor.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Paxton does it again! As she did with the Celtic course, she gives another clear, concise & enjoyable review of the prior conditions, the battle & its aftermath, and the consequences for the future of England, which were positive in so many ways.
Date published: 2018-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insight into the importance of 1066 The lecturer was very knowledgeable. She was made this chaotic time easy to follow and clearly laid out the main motivations for the key players
Date published: 2018-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Short Course Should Be This is my second review in a row of a short (six lectures) course. I did not give the prior one a particularly good review, even though the subject matter was well suited to this brief format. Therefore I approached listening to this one with a bit of trepidation. My faith in TTC was rewarded, as Dr. Paxton delivers full value with this course. He ability to not only cover the Battle of Hastings, but what came before, and perhaps more importantly what came after and why it was all so important is simply amazing. Even though the battle itself is limited to one lecture, I never felt that the battle itself was slighted. Not only are we treated to William’s initial setbacks, but Professor Paxton vividly describes the turning of the tide (I could really imagine William riding along the line with his helmet off) and the winning strategy. Her word pictures of the feigned retreats of the Normans and their counterattacks, how difficult this is to pull of in practice and other details of the battle obviated the need for a video course. Professor Paxton clearly is a fan of Williams, though she does not neglect some of his more unsavory moments. A born storyteller, backed up by solid scholarship. There is plenty besides the battle in this course. For example her descriptions of the “harrying” and castle building that allowed William to conquer England with minimum battles is both instructive (almost makes one wonder if William had read “The Art of War) and interesting. Aside from answering her own question (why is this important) several times in varying ways, Dr. Paxton provides many side tidbits. For example who could not love the story of Emma, becoming Queen of England twice, married to two different Kings and bearing children with both men. Although I was already familiar with the subject matter there was quite a bit of new material for me (the prior example of Emma being one). Other reviewers have mentioned the number of similar names as contributing to some confusion. For me however, Professor Paxton does quite a good job of keeping them separate as she goes along. The genealogy chart in the course material is helpful for those not familiar with the period. Surprisingly the course materials contain full transcripts of the lectures, as well as the chart. There is a bibliography but not biographical info, something that I think would have improved the course a small bit. Otherwise, a hit.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 1066: The Year That Changed Everything Though the speaker's knowledge is not in doubt, the course was somewhat disappointing in that it seemed to jump all over unnecessarily. Also, seemed to repeat many portions.
Date published: 2018-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought that I knew about 1066 and the Norman Invasion but learned so much more about the details of the actual invasion. The professor also covered the impact of ethnic diversity in England ie the French-speaking Normans and the native English intermingling and the new orientation of England toward continental Europe.
Date published: 2018-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Six-Lesson Course Dr. Jennifer Paxton is a brilliant scholar and lecturer. Her wry, yet subtle sense of humor makes it so pleasant to understand the crazy-complicated relationships of the people who interacted to shape what we currently know as the UK. Kudos on a fabulous Great Course, Dr. Paxton.
Date published: 2018-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging and addictive Great course! I loved the way that Dr. Paxton not only laid out the battle, but delved deeper into who all the players were in the years before and after 1066 -- characters very absorbing. Makes me want to go farther and learn more on my own. If you are a history buff, like me, or just want an escapism from anything that resembles driving in traffic and weekend chores, then this course is excellent. Dr. Paxton really brings the time period to life. If there isn't already, this epoch should be the next TV mini-series. Can you tell I really liked it?
Date published: 2018-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise explanation I found 1066 concise and crystal clear on why the year was of pivotal importance for England and for English. The story of the background to the invasion was interesting and offers insight into the midieval European world.
Date published: 2018-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 1066; The year that changed everything Excellent program. This program was about a subject I knew a lot about; but found facts and connections that I hadn't put together. This lecture was short, sweet, and well researched. Truly a pivotal point in history, that needs to be understood . This period is the basis for the next 600 years of British history.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fast and Furious A quick listen, but you’d better be ready to move fast through a convoluted cast of characters! The prof is great, and speaks of this varied cast as if she knew each personally. Her storytellling is good, and you can almost taste Harold’s sweat as he rides South to take on William after his Stamford Bridge victory. I was familiar with some of the history, and this came fast. I happily listened to it twice and probably a third to assure I caught it. Well done by a knowledgeable prof who can tell a heck of a good story!
Date published: 2018-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Gem for History Buffs Professor Jennifer Paxton packed an impressive total of information into this short, six-lecture course, which I am pleased to recommend heartily. She clearly laid out what questions she would try to answer in the course, and I felt that she succeeded at what she had set out to do. Her storyteller’s style appealed to me and helped me to keep straight numerous historical characters, some sharing very similar names. I appreciated, too, that the professor explained factors that had set the stage during at least two previous centuries for the dramatic events of the year 1066, and that she also devoted time in her final lecture to discussing global repercussions over subsequent centuries. How the Norman Conquest of England influenced the development of the English language was particularly interesting. This course’s guide book included transcripts of each lecture in addition to the usual sort of outline. It was a nice surprise that a transcript book would not cost extra. I certainly am interested now in the other course by this instructor that is available from The Teaching Company.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bought it Having listened to the programme on disk borrowed from the library, I enjoyed it so much I ordered a copy for myself.
Date published: 2018-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Best study of the Norman Invasion. Well organized. It went beyond just the basics, i.e. the king died, invasion from the north, invasion from the south. Added background as to why there was this conflict, the preparations, the process, the impact on those during that year and the consolidation of Williams position as King after the Battle of Hastings.
Date published: 2017-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good title, always wanted to know! This was a superb introduction to the times earlier than and during the life of William the Conqueror. I had always been taught English history started with 1066 but this clarified many questions! The teacher is clear, delightful, and insightful.
Date published: 2017-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course! Very interesting- keeps your attention! You do not want the session to end.
Date published: 2017-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than just the Battle of Hastings Professor Paxton made an excellent case for the importance of 1066 in English history, as well as European history in general. She provided the necessary background information, which could have been confusing (all those guys named Edgar and Edward), to understand William the Conqueror’s relationships to the other European rulers, his supporters and detractors, and his strategies for making allies and overcoming resistance. After listening to this course, I felt like I had a better understanding of the effects the events of this year had on England and France; in particular the changes in the English language. I thought it was well done.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Changed Everything" is very strong but debatable. As a member of the Marine Corps I find the logistical problem of caring for 8000 men and 1000 horses for several months, moving them across the English Chanel and then fighting a winning battle a remarkable achievement. William of Normandy must be seen as one of histories greatest generals.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Short and very Sweet A fairly brief course and definitely worth the price. The format (30 minute lectures) made it convenient for my drive time to work. Excellent layout to the presentation. A LOT of background before and after the epic moment that put everything in perspective.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Distracting presentation Enjoyed the historical and cultural content but it was difficult for me to tune out the irritating manner of the presenter. The constant upspeak and inflection was just too much for me.
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Listened while driving. Lecturer was wonderful and was super expert on her subject.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a very good course A very good course. The title is perhaps a little misleading, insofar as the content really covers the broad context of England in the 11th century. Then again, a course called "11th-century England" lacks the blunt appeal of "1066." "The Norman Conquest of England" would probably be the most apt, but again, it's hard to beat "1066"! Die-hard enthusiasts of military history might lament the lack of any detailed blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Hastings, but those who want one can find it just about anywhere. What Prof. Paxton has delivered is much more valuable: a thorough--and engaging--assessment of the English (and Norman and Scandinavian) context in the period of the conquest, as well as its lasting significance.
Date published: 2017-02-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable, Educational But a Little Hard to Follow I did enjoy this very brief course. It is certainly worth the price as one of TGC's best deals. My criticisms are few and minor. First, the early part gets into a lot of [maybe] necessary genealogy. Not being deeply familiar with all the players and not having a printed program to follow, It was very hard to keep track of who is who and what side who was on. That can be resolved with a little research and a second listen. The other deduction is for the general balance of the material. There's a bunch of genealogy, the battle is over in a minute, then a little post battle material but other than beards coming into vogue, I didn't really get a sense that "everything" changed. Do I recommend this brief course? Yes. Are the lectures well delivered? Yes. Is it interesting enough to take your time? Yes.
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good but Not Great History Norman Conquest Overall I give this course a B+. Generally, most of the important information about the events leading up to and including Duke William's military campaign against King Harold and England before and during 1066 are clearly presented. Probably the strongest aspect is the Battle of Hastings of 1066, however I believe there were a few shortcomings where some juicy details were left out. I think my main disappointment was the lecture didn't really give me a sense of the age itself. She talks at length about the different personages of the era, Duke William, King Harold, King Edward the Confessor, and others, but I didn't have a good picture of the texture of the landscape and the places of the England of Anglo-Saxon times. She rightly points out that England didn't really have castles prior to 1066, but I had no idea what Anglo-Saxon England had instead. I assume kings and nobility didn't live in shacks, unless I'm mistaken. What were the houses and furnishings like? What did London look like in 1066? I also wanted to hear more about the weaponry and armor used during the era, such as I believe chain mail was the prevalent armor of the early-to-mid-Middle Ages while plate mail became more prevalent later. What are the details about chain mail and the swords they used? Were they Viking-like swords? Also, sometimes Paxton spoke in gross generalities, which is I think what plagues a lot of textbooks and lectures of this sort. At one point she says there was a lot of "squabbling" among the English nobility prior to the Norman Conquest, but she gave no example as to the form of this squabbling . Did these nobles feel unappreciated by King Harthacnut, King Edward the Confessor, or King Harold or were their squabbling more serious than that? Was it about land? I needed some examples. Overall a good presentation, and certainly the Battle of Hastings is well-presented. I feel it needed a bit more in the detail department in other parts of the lecture. Anglo-Saxon England was very different than even the Norman-Anglo England of the time of Chaucer, circa 1400. I would have liked a better sense of that landscape and those differences.
Date published: 2016-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stuff I like Love driving and consuming history. I learned a bunch about an era I was not versed about. Well presented and a fascinating time. Love the revelation about the politics.
Date published: 2016-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to listen to and comprehensive I enjoyed listening to this course. The professor had a pleasant voice and style. The subject was concisely explained and valuable. I would choose this professor again.
Date published: 2016-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of my new favorite professors! I only wish this course had more lectures--but I now absolutely love this professor. At first I thought she sounded a bit cartoonish--but then again, would I rather listen to some humorless, stuffy snob? She's so good at explaining/telling these complicated stories that I had to immediately buy her longer course, "Story of Medieval England," which I am also enjoying. She covers a lot of material with a lot of characters, but manages to keep it understandable, relevant, and extremely entertaining. You never have the feeling that you're sitting in a boring lecture hall--it really does feel like someone is telling you a really great story and you don't want it to end.
Date published: 2016-07-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 1066 Placed in Fascinating Historical Context One often thinks of critical events and dates as a few lines in a modern HS history text without recognizing the actions, motivations and personalities within the historical context and the ripple effect of the activities. A great flaw of the 21st Century PC thinking is placing everything into our current perspective. 1066 shows how people operated within the cultural norms and beliefs of the 11th Century.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Year 1066 in British history Presentation is very clear, and it is nice to have the guidebook for reference.
Date published: 2016-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Right Amount of Content and Excellent Stucture I appreciated the following: Duration: 6 Modules; 30 minutes each Course structure: a beginning, a middle, and end. I tend to enjoy history books that provide a beginning, a middle, and an end. This might sound trivial but after a few hundred (or more) pages, it’s good to know when the conclusion is coming. Or if there is a conclusion. The outline of this course was excellent as the course provided an overview of the Norman Conquest in history and tied that lecture to the last lecture on the aftermath of the conquest. In between, the course described England and Normandy before the Conquest and especially important, the chaos of English monarchy which created a void to be filled by multiple claimants to the English crown. The course did not overemphasize the Battle of Hastings and pointed out that after that battle was over, the Conquest was not complete for several years. In the end, the English and Normans sort of merged into a “hybrid” nation. I feel like I learned much in just 180 minutes. Great job.
Date published: 2016-02-02
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