When William defeated Harold’s army on 14 October 1066 he captured probably the wealthiest and most well-governed Kingdom in western Europe. On Christmas Day that year, the day of his coronation, he stepped into the shoes of the West Saxon Kings, a position bringing great secular and religious status.

The King’s new office also brought him great wealth. With manors and rights in every county, King William was by far the most powerful individual. At the time of Domesday he held 17 per cent of land in England, in person or through his immediate family. The rest of the land was given to William’s own barons, bishops or abbots, although a small amount was left in the hands of English lords. Only the King possessed absolute rights over property. The tenants-in-chief did not own land but were landholders, paying rent to the King. The total value of the lands recorded in Domesday Book – almost all of William’s kingdom – was about £73,000. Modern estimates of the King’s direct income from this set it at very roughly £22,500 a year. The main source was the King’s own lands in each county, administered by the sheriffs, which realised some £12,000 a year.

William and his half-brothers Odo Bishop of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain in the Bayeux Tapestry. By special permission of the City of Bayeux. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century
William with Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century; by special permission of the City of Bayeux

William rewarded his supporters with land and power. He is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry with his half-brothers Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain. These two men fought alongside him at the Battle of Hastings. When the King returned to Normandy in 1067 he appointed Odo of Bayeux as one of the two people who would share the position of regent in his absence.

The King received income from a variety of sources. Some of his dues came from taxes on markets in towns. Others came from the royal mints. There were over 60 mints, at least one in each county. Taxes were paid in the existing Anglo-Saxon monetary system of pounds, shillings and pence. The penny was the only coin minted in England at the time. These were silver coins, so alike that dies must have been made centrally. When the coinage was changed every few years to prevent counterfeiting, each of the King’s moneyers, the people who produced coins at the mints, owed him a payment. In addition he received the profits of justice, such as fines.

Domesday entry for Lewes, Sussex.  Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.26.  Digital Images and Translation reproduced by kind permission of Editions Alecto Limited
Domesday entry for Lewes (link to transcript). Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 f.26. By kind permission of Editions Alecto Limited.

In Sussex the administrative districts were known as rapesglossary icon. These were sizeable areas of land, usually named after the rape’s main town, each stretching from north to the south east coast. Each rape had a castle, a mint and a sheriff, evidence of its military and commercial importance.

In this entry for the rape of Lewes the details of horse and ox sales allude to the market, the moneyers to the mint. Details of the sums owed the King raised through fines are included.

Despite the sophisticated administrative structures that he inherited or created, ultimately William relied on force to dominate his Kingdom. Since William had become the Duke of Normandy in 1035, castles had played a central role in his military campaigns. Immediately after the Conquest, William and his barons started to build motte and bailey castles in England. These earth and timber castles were centred on a raised mound with a keep on the top, surrounded by a strong palisade and ditch. They were quick to construct and could be defended by small numbers of Normans when under attack by larger forces. The earliest motte and bailey castles were associated with the conquest of the south of England. The first was constructed at Pevensey. Castles were built in places along the route William took towards London. Hastings, Dover and Canterbury were three of these sites. The remains of the motte at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, where the surrender of London was negotiated, give an idea of the sheer scale of these constructions.

Workmen are depicted building the mound for the castle at Hastings on the Bayeux Tapestry.  By special permission of the City of Bayeux.  Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century
Workmen build the mound for the castle at Hastings. Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry – 11th century; by special permission of the City of Bayeux

Workmen are depicted building the mound for the castle at Hastings on the Bayeux Tapestry. Domesday Book states that William gave this castle and the area it controlled to the Count of Eu, a church benefactor and advisor to the King. The counts took their name from the town of Eu in Normandy.

The Tower of London’s origins at the beginning of William the Conqueror’s reign were modest. A simple enclosure was constructed using pre-existing Roman walls on two sides to fortify William against the 'fickleness of the vast and fierce populace' in what was already the most powerful city in England. Some 20 years later the White Tower (c.1078) was added. It was the first stone keep to be built by the Normans in England.

The White Tower at the Tower of London. Historic Royal Palaces
The White Tower at the Tower of London. © Historic Royal Palaces

The White Tower at the Tower of London is one of the most dramatic surviving symbols of Norman domination in England. As well as a castle fortress it was intended as a palace of great splendour suitable for a conquering King.