1066: The Year That Changed Everything

Course No. 8422
Professor Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
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Course No. 8422
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Course Overview

If you were to look back at hundreds of years of history in search of the one critical moment after which the history of the English-speaking world would never be the same again, it would undoubtedly be the year 1066. It was during this pivotal time that an event occurred that would have untold ramifications for the European continent: the Norman Conquest of England.

But why does this moment matter so much, both for the medieval world and for us today in the 21st century? While the true meaning and importance of the Norman Conquest has been sharply debated, medievalist and professor Jennifer Paxton of The Catholic University of America argues that the Norman Conquest, and the entire year of 1066, matters deeply for two key reasons.

  • It turned England away from a former Scandinavian orientation toward an orientation with mainland Europe, making the island nation a major player in Europe's political, social, cultural, and religious events.
  • It created a rich hybrid between English and French culture that had a profound impact on everything from language and literature to architecture and law.

In fact, it was only with the tumultuous events of the year 1066 that England was equipped to become a full participant in the unprecedented developments of the Middle Ages and the centuries that followed. And with 1066: The Year That Changed Everything, Professor Paxton's exciting and historically rich six-lecture course, you can experience for yourself the drama of this dynamic year. Taking you from the shores of Scandinavia and France to the battlefields of the English countryside, 1066: The Year That Changed Everything will plunge you into a world of fierce Viking warriors, powerful noble families, politically charged marriages, tense succession crises, epic military invasions, and much more.

Meet Intriguing Figures, Follow Powerful Battles

Your journey starts in the 10th and early 11th centuries, when power in England and Normandy was very much up for grabs—and when the small island nation was under continuous assault from Viking forces. Professor Paxton helps you gain a solid grasp of the complex political alliances and shifting relationships between figures such as

  • Emma of Normandy, whose marriage to the English king Aethelred II in 1002 brought the two powers together against invading Vikings and planted the seeds for future conflict;
  • Cnut, the fierce Danish conqueror who succeeded in taking over England in 1016 and then married the widowed Emma of Normandy, making her the queen of England—for the second time;
  • Edward the Confessor, who in 1042 brought the kingship back into English hands after Danish rule but who eventually came under the dominion of the powerful Godwinson family; and
  • Harold Godwinson, brother-in-law to Edward the Confessor and the controversial successor to the royal throne after Edward's death in 1066.

Edward the Confessor's death and Harold Godwinson's succession sparked two invasions that form the centerpiece of 1066: The Year That Changed Everything. With her powerful storytelling abilities and her intricate knowledge of this period, Professor Paxton recounts the two seminal battles that pitted England against the Scandinavians and the Normans.

  • The Battle of Stamford Bridge: The Scandinavian king Harald Hardrada and the king of England's own brother Tostig invaded England from the north, defeated local English forces, and steadily made their way inland. Racing north, Harold Godwinson defeated the Scandinavians at Stamford Bridge—yet was now on the wrong end of the country to meet the impending Norman invasion from the south.
  • The Battle of Hastings: Considered one of the definitive conflicts of the medieval world, the Battle of Hastings pitted Harold Godwinson, whose forces were still reeling from the Battle of Stamford Bridge, against William the Conqueror, the Norman ruler whose invasion was backed by papal authorities and was supplied with men and ships from surrounding French territories. After a battle filled with twists and turns, William emerged master of the field.

It was this last battle, you'll learn, that forever enshrined in the pages of history the name of William the Conqueror, whose military and political prowess made the Norman Conquest a success. You'll follow how he managed to solidify his conquest of England in the subsequent years.

Probe Lasting Controversies and Enduring Legacies

Throughout the lectures, Dr. Paxton opens your eyes to continued debates and controversies over this year and offers her own take on the Norman Conquest's enduring legacy and the fascinating results of this epic clash. A seasoned historian whose teaching and scholarship focuses specifically on this unique chapter in the grand narrative of Western civilization, she makes an engaging and trustworthy guide for this visit to a year that literally made history.

By exploring 1066: The Year That Changed Everything—what led up to it, what happened during that fateful year, and what changed as a result—you'll gain a sharper perspective and a greater understanding of everything that would come afterward.

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6 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Norman Conquest through History
    What makes 1066 such a pivotal year in the history of Western civilization? How has the meaning of the Norman Conquest been debated and interpreted over time? And how did two weddings—between the English king Aethelred and the duke of Normandy's sister, Emma, and then, after the death of Aethelred, Emma's marriage to the Danish king Cnut—lay the groundwork for this tumultuous moment? Find out in this lecture that provides crucial information for grasping the Norman Conquest. x
  • 2
    England and Normandy before the Conquest
    Take a closer look at the half-century between the Danish conquest of England in 1016 and the fateful year of 1066—a chaotic time when power was up for grabs. Two figures were crucial during this time. The first: Edward the Confessor, who succeeded to the English throne in 1042 but was dominated by the powerful Godwinsons. The second: William the Bastard, the ruler of Normandy, who brought the Norman nobles under control and then set his sights on conquering England. x
  • 3
    The Succession Crisis in England
    Investigate how the relationship between Edward the Confessor and William the Bastard put England and Normandy on a collision course when the childless King Edward had to plan the succession to the English throne. You'll focus on Edward's plans for succession, meet the contenders to the throne, and learn how Harold Godwinson achieved victory at the Battle of Stamford Bridge—only to face another invasion of England from the south. x
  • 4
    The Battle of Hastings
    Revisit one of the most important moments in English history: the Battle of Hastings, after which the island nation—and the entire Western world—would never be the same. Dr. Paxton reveals how the Normans mustered up enough men and ships for their invasion; investigates some intriguing mysteries and controversies about the invasion; explains the tactics of medieval warfare; and provides a blow-by-blow account of the battle. x
  • 5
    Completing the Conquest
    It took several years for William the Conqueror to consolidate the gains he made at the Battle of Hastings. Learn how he used a combination of diplomacy and clever military tactics to take control of London without a fierce battle; how he won over the church so that he could get himself crowned king; how he spent the early years of his reign responding to various rebellions in the northern part of the country; and more. x
  • 6
    The Aftermath of the Conquest
    Why does the Norman Conquest matter? Take a closer look at the relationship between the Normans and the English in the generations immediately following the conquest, with a focus on the myriad ways that Norman and English culture intermingled. You'll realize the ultimate legacy of this vital year: the transition of England into the European mainstream. x

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Your professor

Jennifer Paxton

About Your Professor

Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
Dr. Jennifer Paxton is Assistant Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. She was previously a Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University, where she taught for more than a decade. The holder of a doctorate in history from Harvard University, where she has also taught and earned a Certificate of Distinction, Professor Paxton is...
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Reviews

1066: The Year That Changed Everything is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 99.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great But Short This course is very well-done, and the professor is outstanding. There is much to learn, and it is well-organized. However, I really wish the course was longer. I think this could have been a twelve lecture course with more detail.
Date published: 2019-03-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting Lectures woul have been enhanced with some videos.
Date published: 2019-01-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Course: Test I am testing the feature of locating all your reviews.
Date published: 2019-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully concise I loved this course , it is concise without sacrificing a lot of important details
Date published: 2018-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Value Although this course is only 6 lectures long, you won't feel cheated or disappointed. The professor does a great job speaking and explaining everything in concise detail. By the second lecture I was hooked and absolutely fascinated with how history had unfolded in 1066! Anyone who loves Medieval Europe must buy this course.
Date published: 2018-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting and entertaining Short course but full of information. Learned things I didn't know! Professor was excellent!
Date published: 2018-08-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Norman bias throughout It's quite clear that Dr. Paxton held the Normans in high regard, while thinking very little of the English. This bias pervades throughout the course. Thus we end up with Edward The Confessor as being a stick in the mud, William brilliantly outwitting Harold, and the aftermath of the conquest being relatively benign after 1070. It's the last item that particularly shocked me. Every book I have read on what transpired after Hastings describes a full disenfranchisement of English nobility and higher clergy. There was a strong class divide that persisted for centuries. The harrying of the North left Yorkshire desolate. Yet Dr. Paxton contends that except for some isolated examples, the English and Normans blended together quickly. Thus I can't recommend this for someone seeking to learn about 1066 and its aftermath. However, Dr. Paxton's delivery style is upbeat and she infuses her talks with a bit of irreverent humor.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Paxton does it again! As she did with the Celtic course, she gives another clear, concise & enjoyable review of the prior conditions, the battle & its aftermath, and the consequences for the future of England, which were positive in so many ways.
Date published: 2018-08-12
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