Teaching History
A woman dressed in Saxon costume holds her hands out towards students

Teaching Anglo-Saxons and Normans

The Anglo-Saxon (c.400-1066) and Norman (1066-1154) periods saw the creation of a unified England and the momentuous Norman Conquest.

Read advice from our educational experts and historians on how to approach this transformational time in English history. We have historical information to help ground you in the topic as well as a range of activities to try with your students at home, in the classroom, or on a school trip. 

This guide is intended to help anyone teaching the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods, but the activities featured will be of particular interest to National Curriculum Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 learners. 

A girl wearing Saxon costume

Hints and Tips

  • Remember the ‘big three’– the three main contenders for Edward the Confessor's throne in 1066 were: Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, Harald Hardrada from Norway, and William, Duke of Normandy.                                                                                                                        
  • The Norman Conquest is often described as ‘significant’ or ‘transformational’ – Using this as the basis of an overarching enquiry question can be useful for structuring students’ learning and getting them to consider change and continuity through the time periods.                     
  • Anglo-Saxons and Normans were people too – studying these periods can often feel like memorising a list of battles and weapons. Look for opportunities to bring in aspects of social history and role play to maintain interest and balance.

Suggested Activities

History At Home Live! 1066 and the Battle of Hastings

Watch our History At Home Live! with Ben Shires and our expert Roy Porter to deepen your understanding of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. 

Who deserved to be king? How did the events of 1066 play out? Why did William of Normandy emerge victorious? Find out the answers to all these questions and more. 

Get to Grips with the Period

Germanic peoples – Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians – came to Britain during the Roman period and afterwards. Anglo-Saxons occupied most of lowland England by the mid-600s and established several independent kingdoms. In the east, the pagan conquerors were converted to Christianity by missionaries from Rome and Ireland. Christian culture blossomed at religious centres like St Augustine's Abbey and Lindisfarne, helping to create the idea of an English nation. In the west, the British population and Christianity had a constant presence throughout the period.

Towards the end of the 8th century, Viking raids became invasions. King Alfred of Wessex fought back and his descendents recovered the Viking-held lands. His grandson, Aethelstan, became the first ruler of a unified England. 

In 1066, Edward the Confessor died without an heir and the crown of England was fought over by Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy. William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings began a new era during which castles like Richmond and Pevensey became the instruments and symbols of Norman power.

Read the Story of England here
  • Early Medieval: Religion

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  • Early Medieval: Power and Politics

    This period saw the evolution of a nation of warlords into a country organised into distinct kingdoms.

  • Early Medieval: Architecture

    Most early medieval buildings were constructed mainly using wood, but this tradition left its mark on later stone-built churches.

  • Early Medieval: Art

    The early medieval period produced many examples of highly distinctive art of world-class significance.

Anglo-Saxons and Normans Glossary

  • Anglo-Saxon and Norman Definitions

    abbess
    A woman who is the head of an abbey and has authority over the nuns in her house and its dependencies.   

    abbot
    A man who is the head of an abbey of monks and has authority over the monks in his house and its dependencies.  

    Anglo-Saxon period
    The years between around 430, when Germanic peoples settled in eastern England, and 1066. The Norman Conquest in 1066 marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. 

    Anglo-Saxons
    The groups of people who came from mainland Europe to live in Britain in the 5th century. The first group came from tribes in northern Germany and southern Denmark. There were several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms before the supremacy of Wessex resulted in a single kingdom of England in the 10th century.    

    baron
    A nobleman and major landowner, called a 'lord' in person. Generally they held their land direct from the king. The title was introduced in William the Conqueror's reign. 

    Battle of Hastings
    One of the most famous battles in English history, fought on 14 October 1066 between William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, and Harold Godwinson, king of England. William's army defeated Harold's and William took the throne, becoming the first Norman king of England. 

    Battle of Stamford Bridge
    The battle that took place in north Yorkshire on 25 September 1066, where English forces led by King Harold Godwinson, defeated an invading Norwegian force led by King Harald Hardrada.  

    Benedictine
    Used to describe monks or nuns whose monastic life is governed by the Rule of St. Benedict. Their monasteries are described as Benedictine.  

    bishop
    A senior priest in the Christian church who manages other people working for the Church (the clergy), usually within a large area (a diocese). 

    cavalry
    Soldiers who fought on horseback.  

    cellarer
    The person in a monastery who is responsible for providing food and drink.  

    chapel
    A small building or room used for Christian workshop within a larger building such as a castle or monastery church. 

    chapter house
    A building used for meetings in a monastery or cathedral.  

    choir
    The part of a cathedral or large church between the high altar and the nave, where the services were sung.  

    consecration
    The solemn act of dedicating a building or object to a special religious purpose by a bishop.              

    crossbow
    A wooden bow fixed to another piece of wood, which can be pulled back and released to shoot a short arrow (called a bolt) with great force. They can sometimes be made of bone or even metal.

    Domesday Survey
    A record which listed the extent, value and ownership of land in England, made in 1086 by order of William I.   

    dormitory
    A large bedroom, mostly in a monastery or nunnery, for a number of people.         

    fortification
    Reinforcement built to strengthen a place against attack.   

    Harold, Earl of Wessex, King of England (r. Jan. 1066-Oct. 1066)
    The last Anglo-Saxon king of England. Harold succeeded Edward the Confessor and reigned until he was killed at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October, fighting a rival claimant to the throne, William the Conqueror. 

    high altar
    The most important altar in a church. 

    housecarl
    (before the Norman Conquest) a member of the bodyguard of a Danish or English king or noble. King Harold's housecarls were particularly feared for their expertise with the battle-axe.

    infantry
    Soldiers marching or fighting on foot.  

    Knight
    Soldiers capable of fighting on horseback. Knights eventually formed a class in society, above peasantry but below the nobles.  

    line
    In battle, the arrangement of soldiers in a line formation.  

    monk
    A religious man who tries to achieve an ideal love of God through self-sacrifice, making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. All monks belonged to one of the religious Orders, principally the Benedictine monks, or others from the 12th century onwards.

    nave
    The central part of a church building, intended to accommodate most of the congregation.  

    noble
    A man or woman from a wealthy or land-owning family - after royalty, the highest level in society.

    Norman Conquest
    The overthrow of King Harold and the government of England by William of Normandy after winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  

    penance
    A punishment that has to be performed to show repentance so that a sin can be forgiven. 

    refectory
    A room in a monastery or nunnery used for communal meals.  

    satellite priories
    after the Normans successfully conquered England in 1066, French abbeys founded satellite priories in England. These priories were connected to the larger abbeys in France, sharing their religious codes of living and living off the same income.  

    Vikings
    Warriors from Denmark and Norway who attacked England from the sea between the 8th and 11th centuries. They were given the name 'Viking' which means 'pirate'.  

    William, Duke of Normandy, King of England (r.1066-87)
    The leader of the Norman Conquest. He won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and became the first Norman king of England. 

Expert Advice

We asked one of our curators for their thoughts on studying the Anglo-Saxons and Normans: 

It’s immensely rewarding studing the Anglo-Saxon period. This is an age when history emerges from myth, when the kingdom of England was formed and when the foundations of much of our culture were laid. 

We can trace so much of modern England to the Anglo-Saxons; from the language we speak to the laws by which we’re governed, from the counties we live in to the customs which characterise our behaviour. Anglo-Saxon society was complex and its culture sophisticated, yet this was also the age of the blood feud, a time when political confrontation often resulted in bloody fighting and one which witnessed brutal wars. 

Studying this period means encountering the alien as well as the familiar, and it requires the broadest range of historical enquiry; from the material evidence revealed through archaeology to the documentary evidence of writs and chronicles. Within this vibrant, tumultuous age, we find aspects of ourselves reflected as well as a fascinating culture worthy of study in its own right. 

Roy Porter, Senior Properties Curator

 

Read more about Teaching History

Video Resources

Discover more about Anglo-Saxon and Norman England with our variety of videos. 

Find out about the history of the Normans and meet an Anglo-Saxon warrior. Investigate who deserved to be king in 1066 and uncover why William of Normandy was victorious at the Battle of Hastings. 

  • Meet an Anglo-Saxon Warrior

  • Harold vs. William - Whose Crown?

  • Why William won at the Battle of Hastings

Help with home learning

In these challenging times many parents and carers are home schooling their children for the very first time, and often in difficult circumstances.

We have gathered together advice from our team of teachers and education experts on how to approach home learning during the current crisis.

Read our home learning help
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