War and conquest is expensive work. William the Conqueror, after leading the Norman subjugation of England in 1066, quickly put into effect laws and decrees designed to refill his treasury with English wealth. In 1067, King William imposed a tax on the newly conquered English, demanding a rate which was described as “heavy” by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (An. M.LXVII) and “insupportable” by the Chronicle of Florence of Worcester (AD 1067). The king, however, did not stop with secular taxes. He also targeted England’s church institutions. By 1070, William the Conqueror brought Lanfranc, a loyal abbot from Caen, Normandy, and had this clergyman elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. Around the time that this friendly archbishop was in place, William moved on to his next fundraising tactic—seizing wealth from monasteries.
Between 1070 and 1071, William systematically had the monasteries of England searched for treasure. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the scribes of the text bitterly described these searches and seizures as sacrilegious plundering of the holy cloisters. Another medieval chronicle, however, made an effort to explain William’s alleged reasoning. According to the aforementioned Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, “king William, during Lent [17th February], caused all the monasteries of England to be searched, and the money deposited in them by the richer sort of the English, for security against his violence and rapacity, to be seized and carried to his own treasury” (AD 1070). He would go on to replace almost all of England’s Anglo-Saxon bishops with imported clergymen from his Norman lands. Ironically, these questionable church actions were fairly anomalous when compared with William’s other interactions with the church. Generally, William the Conqueror is remembered by history for having an admirable and productive church and state relationship, often guided by the aforementioned Archbishop Lanfranc.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Relief from the monastery of Haghpat, [Public Domain] via pxfuel.com and Creative Commons).
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester translated by Thomas Forester. London: Petter and Galpin, originally published 1854.