William the Conqueror’s England and its relations with the Papacy

In this blog update I am going to talk about William the Conqueror and his relation with the Papacy concerning the Post-Conquest English church. As everyone knows William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings leaving the kingdom under Norman rule. This famous period in English history has often been remembered solely because of the landmark battle but not so much in regards to what came after, particularly the religious aspects.  Therefore I aim to look at the approaches by both the Papacy and the Normans to reach an agreement over how the church will be controlled.

The Papacy had begun a series of reforms to the European churches under its influence in the eleventh century and the Pope wanted to bring these reforms into the newly conquered English kingdom with the support of King William. These reforms were concerned with morality and practice within the church and from the 1040s onwards there were attempts to suppress the customs that many of the higher clergy thought unfit for their flock. Therefore in the eyes of the Papacy the English church was in need of reform. As it would soon be seen in England, William was not against removing church figures from their posts if needed; in the mid-1050s William deposed his uncle Malgar as Archbishop of Rouen and Primate of Normandy for simony.

Upon entering the English kingdom, both William and a group of papal legates removed another individual from office due to his corruption; the Archbishop of Canterbury Stigand. Stigand faced three charges when the papal legates arrived in 1070 to crown William king and bring England back into the influence of the Roman church. At the Winchester Council he was charged with; continuing to hold the see of Winchester whilst being Archbishop of Canterbury, taking the archbishopric whilst Robert of Jumiege was still alive and using in mass the pallium (a woollen cloak bestowed by the Pope to those with jurisdiction over bishoprics and archbishoprics) that belonged to Jumiege. With Stigand deposed, the church could be reformed alongside the standards of the Continent.

Clerical marriage was also a problem for the Papacy when renewing their influence over the English churches. However at the Council at Winchester in 1076 the new Archbishop of Canterbury Lanfranc shrewdly avoided a general condemnation of the practice and contended himself with legislation to make clerical marriages impossible in the future. Therefore the Conqueror and the Papacy indeed followed some of the same policies towards the English church when it would suit both sides. Reforming the English church gave the Normans a further degree of legitimacy in their conquest whilst the Papacy reformed its link with England.

However there were also some occasions when the relations between the Conqueror and the Papacy were strained. To secure further ties between the Papacy and William, the Pope in 1080 asked for fealty from the England and the continuation of Peter’s Pence. However William response, that he will not pay fealty to Rome, shows the limits of papal authority. Though William agrees to pay the Peter’s Pence, England is being brought into a conflict between two Popes in Europe; the debate between the Pope and the anti-Pope had begun with the pope in Rome calling for English support. Both William and Lanfranc stay neutral and refuse to get involved with William ordering that no pope should be recognised and that no papal letters should be received in England.

With the papal crisis continuing in Europe, papal influence in England was stalled and the Norman kings were able to regain some of their lost influence over the church. This end the part that the papacy plays in the reign of William the Conqueror and during the reigns of his sons, the papacy and the kings of England do clash again. I hope this blog update has given you an insight into the Post-Conquest English church and how the Papacy used its influence to reform the religious structure.


G, Slocombe., William the Conqueror (1959)

E, Van-Houts and  C, Harper-Bill, (ed.) A companion to the Anglo-Norman world (2003)

B, Golding., Conquest and Colonisation, the Normans in Britain: 1066-1100 (1994)

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