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How William the Conqueror spent Christmas in 1066

Published: 22 December 2016
Posted by: English Heritage
Category: History In-depth

This Christmas marks the 950th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s coronation. 1066 was a turbulent year, and William’s coronation was no different – as we’ll explore below.

Look back through 1066

If you need a reminder of the events that led up to this point, take a look at how we told the story of 1066 in tweets.

Christmas Day 1066

Despite fighting desperately to win the throne, it seems that William was reluctant to be crowned without his wife by his side. But after the people of London submitted to William at Berkhamsted Castle, they begged the Duke to take the crown right away.

The English were anxious, because the country was in political limbo without a king. The Normans wanted the rewards they’d been promised for taking part in the invasion, and they could only get them once William was crowned. Under pressure from both sides, William agreed to make the necessary preparations for his coronation.

The ceremony took place at Westminster Abbey, the church founded by Edward the Confessor – William’s predecessor, and the man on whom he based his own claim to the throne. The coronation took place on Christmas Day 1066. It’s likely that the ceremony adhered to long-standing English traditions, such as the singing of anthems praising the new king.


An artist’s impression of the Christmas Day coronation of William the Conqueror at Westminster Abbey in 1066

Outside the church, tensions were running high. London was now home to many English survivors of the Battle of Hastings and the families of men who’d died there. According to William of Jumièges, the advance guard that William sent to the city “found many rebels determined to offer every possible resistance.” William of Poitiers describes how the Normans built a fortress “as a defence against the inconstancy of the numerous and hostile inhabitants.” There was no guarantee of peace in the city.

So during the coronation, guards stood outside the abbey ready to put down any unrest. One story describes how, upon hearing the congregation shouting their oaths to William, the guards panicked and assumed the English were attacking. They set fire to nearby buildings, and the congregation fled out of fear. William remained seated as the bishops hastily finished the ceremony. By the end, William was said to have been trembling from head to toe. It wasn’t exactly the start he would have wanted, and perhaps a sign of the turbulent decades to come.

The legacy of 1066

This is the last of our posts in our year-long series celebrating the 950th anniversary of 1066. As well as following the story of the Norman Conquest through the people of 1066 all through the year (including what happened to them after the Battle of Hastings), we’ve also looked at plenty of surrounding topics.

Find out more about:

  • William the Conqueror’s legacy
  • the role of women in 1066
  • the reason why we have surnames
  • Myths and legends that developed after the Conquest
  • How to drink and dine like a Norman

You can catch up with anything you might have missed in our 1066 hub or play along with our special interactive animation.

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