1066: Interpreting the Norman Conquest in 2016

1066 and landscape change post-Conquest

This October, to mark 950 years since the Norman Conquest, the Royal Armouries is hosting a public lecture and a two day conference at the Tower of London to celebrate the anniversary – 1066: Interpreting the Norman Conquest in 2016 (14-16 October)   

The conference aims to present the huge changes that have taken place in the interpretation of the Norman Conquest, bringing together distinguished scholars; experts in many fields. The conference will explore the history of the year 1066 itself and the general significance of the Conquest for English, British and French history. 



On Day 2 of the conference, the Royal Armouries will be welcoming speaker Professor Robert Liddiard of the University of East Anglia, for 1066 and landscape change post-Conquest.

This special blog post, written by Professor Robert Liddiard, discusses his recent visit to Castle Hedingham in Essex, which got him thinking about the impact of the Norman Conquest on the landscape, and his upcoming paper at the conference…

It is a pleasure to be invited to speak at the Norman Conquest at the White Tower, but such invitations always draw my attention to the inadequacies of my image bank. As a late convert to digital technology most of the images I use comprise scanned old-fashioned slides, which increasingly show their age when used with modern projection equipment.

As a consequence I need no excuse to go to pleasant places on the pretext of getting superior pictures and as fieldwork took me to south Suffolk last week, I took the opportunity to nip over the border into Essex and visit Castle Hedingham. Not only was I able to replace the old slides with digital images, but the experience inevitably got me thinking about the impact of the Norman Conquest on the landscape and my paper at the conference.


Castle Hedingham, Essex © Robert Liddiard

Castle Hedingham is best known for its well-preserved keep, probably raised by Aubrey De Vere III, 1st Earl of Oxford about 1141, and possibly the building in which his investiture as Earl took place. Much has been written about it as a keep, but my interest lies more in the castle’s landscape context: by the thirteenth century, and probably much earlier, two deer parks (the great and little park) were attached to the castle and the adjacent village was originally connected to the castle by enclosing banks and ditches; the precise date of which are frustratingly unknown.

When put into its contemporary setting, the whole site was truly vast. In recent years landscape historians have been able to show that, as settlements, castles tend to reflect the characteristics of their wider regional landscapes, and in this respect the configuration of the various elements that made up medieval Hedingham is typically ‘Essex’ – the ‘nucleated’ settlement of the village lying in the river valley, with the castle parks situated between the more dispersed hamlets and farmsteads on the valley sides and tops.

But Hedingham is also important because, while it is a remarkable survival of a ‘Norman’ building, it has little to do with the events of 1066 per se; rather, it belongs to a different generation – one that did not experience the Conquest at first hand. At the time of the keep’s construction, England was sliding into civil war and its ruling French-speaking aristocrats were thinking of using their castles to fight each other; rather than for keeping down a hostile English population opposed to Norman rule.

Thinking about monuments in terms of generational change is a reminder that historians of landscape tend to emphasise longer term trends in their analyses and so often play down the significance of short-term events, especially political ones. Of course, it would be immensely foolish to do so when it comes to 1066, especially at a conference taking place within the walls of the Conqueror’s own trophy monument to conquest, but places like Hedingham draw attention to the fact that not all of what we call ‘Norman’ in the countryside was an immediate consequence of the battle of Hastings.


Castle Hedingham, Essex  ©  Robert Liddiard

The period 1000-1200 was one of enormous changes to the landscape, not all of which were related to the activities of the Normans. The castles, churches, parks and warrens of eleventh- and twelfth-century England frequently owed their existence to more subtle and drawn out trends in the development of the English countryside. How we tease out what was genuinely new in the landscape after 1066 and how they related to ongoing processes is the subject of my paper at the conference.

After all, how, if at all, would we recognise the ‘Norman’ in a place like Hedingham if it didn’t have a castle…?

Professor Robert Liddiard


Robert Liddiard lectures in landscape history at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. His chief research interest is the landscape context of castles, but also in the wider impact of the Norman Conquest on the countryside. His publications include Anglo-Norman Castles (2003) Castles in Context (2005) and The Medieval Park (2007).

Towton on Twitter

On 29 March 1461 the largest and bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought about 12 miles southwest of York, between the villages of Towton and Saxton. According to the chroniclers more than 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York & Lancaster fought in blizzard conditions on Palm Sunday 550 years ago.

Towton 1461

Towton 1461

On Saturday 9 April join us on Twitter from our Towton History In Your Hands Seminar to learn more about the arms and armour of the period, find out how the battle unfolded and see images of contemporary pieces from the Royal Armouries collections. We’ll be Tweeting the day’s events live as they happen from 10.30am.

To join simply follow @Royal_Armouries on Twitter or search for #RAseminars on Twitter to join in the action. We’d love to hear any questions you have about the Battle of Towton so please ask away, on the day or in advance – we’re waiting to hear from you!

Power House – Object Conservation 4

Object: Uniform Coat of the Duke of Wellington c.1835 (xvi.8)

Blogger: Suzanne Dalewicz-Kitto, Conservation Manager

This blue cloth uniform with white lining and scarlet facing was worn by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower of London. It has gilt buttons bearing a miniature of the White Tower in silver, and epaulettes made of gold and silver thread.  The coat is in reasonable condition with only a few small holes and surface grazing of the cloth, probably caused by moths.  The main area of interest to our Conservators were the tarnished metal threads and spangles (sequins) on the epaulettes.

Duke of Wellington's uniform

Duke of Wellington's uniform coat

Metal threads are fragile at the best of time.  Some are made from twisted fine metal wire and others are formed by twisting wire around a cotton or silk thread.  When applying treatments to remove the tarnish Conservators have to be careful not to leave residues behind that will ‘rot’ the thread over time.  On these epaulettes there are eight different types of thread design including: dull purl, pearl purl, bright check and Lizardine close.

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

The tarnish was removed by gently cleaning the surfaces with a damp swab using a mixture of carefully chosen chemicals.  This was carried out under a microscope to make sure no metal threads were being pulled away from the epaulette.  Residues where removed again by careful swabbing using deionised water – very pure water that has had any minerals filtered out of it.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London which opens on Saturday 2nd April. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.

Power House – Object Conservation 3

Object: Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservation

This musket is one of several experimental firearms which are to be included in the Power House exhibition. The musket was designed and made by the gunmaker Richard Wolldridge who worked at the Tower from about 1704 until 1749. Although this particular pattern or design was not issued to the military its does show the general form which British military firearms were beginning to take in the early 18th century.

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

The musket was is a very good condition prior to entering the Conservation Lab with only a small amount of old yellowed oil visible on the lock. Even though the exterior of the musket didn’t need a great deal of remedial work the lock mechanism was carefully removed from the musket, after of course checking that the firearm wasn’t loaded.

When working with firearms we will always, where possible, remove the lock mechanism in order to check the condition of the lock’s interior as well as the underside of the barrel. Often the interior of a lock can look very different to its external appearance, with combinations of dirt, old oil or wax and corrosion all potentially present.

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Luckily in this case the interior of the lock was in a very good condition with no further cleaning or disassembly needed. The musket was therefore reassembled, making sure that the screws were replaced in exactly the same order they were removed. This is good practise as particularly with older firearms the screws threads will have been hand cut so using the wrong screw can damage both the screw itself as well as the internal thread.

Once the old yellowed oil was cleaned from the musket’s lock using solvent swabs the metallic sections of the object were given a thin coating of Micro Crystalline wax providing a protective layer. Finally the object was photographed and packaged for transport to the Tower of London.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.

Power House – Object Conservation 2

Object: Brass belt plate (mid 19th century) I.979 ii

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservation

It’s always nice to work on an object which can be related back to a particular person in history. This belt plate is one of a pair of objects relating to the Board of Ordnance’s only identified rat-catcher, Richard Dean.

The plate is the only surviving portion of Dean’s uniform and he can be seen wearing it in a portrait which is to be displayed alongside the plate. The brass belt plate is engraved with a rat shown sitting below the arms of the Board of Ordnance, whilst around the edge the inscription reads ‘Richard Dean, Chislehurst, Rat Destroyer to the Honorable Board of Ordnance’.

Belt Plate

Belt Plate

In order to make the letters and images engraved on the plate stand out a black enamel-like material was originally applied to the object. Unfortunately over time this material has cracked and in some areas has been lost. Where damage to the enamel had occurred traces of a powdery green corrosion could also be seen.  The powdery corrosion was carefully removed from the damaged lettering and other areas of decoration using a scalpel whilst under magnification. Once clean it was necessary to stabilise the enamel to prevent any further cracking or loss, this was done by running a thin adhesive solution into the damaged areas.

Before and after conservation

Before and after conservation

In addition to the problems with the lettering several finger and palm prints were clearly visible and spread across the plate. When we handle metal objects with our bare hands the sweat and oils on our fingers are transferred to the objects and if not swiftly removed can become etched into the objects’ surface. Sadly there is no way of removing finger prints once they are etched into a metal surface without removing the object’s top layer at the same time. Once fingerprints are imprinted they are generally there for good, which is why conservators always ask people to wear gloves when handling or moving objects.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at the Tower of London. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.

Power House Installation: Week One

Blogger: Karen Whitting, Creative Programmes

Construction of the Power House exhibition at the Royal Armouries in the Tower of London began last week. Preparing the gallery for the installation has involved ripping out the old displays, which in an old building can be problematic if unanticipated issues are found.

Often all the pre-planning and preparation done prior to installation can be overturned in an instant – with new solutions and decisions needed immediately. However, with the right project team these moments feel more exciting and a challenge to be solved rather than finding them to be insurmountable problems.


Squeezing into the Tower of London

Squeezing into the Tower of London

On day three of the build a clear blue sky greeted the delivery of the crane – an excellent situation as snow or high winds would have meant potential schedule delays. The crane lorry squeezed its way under the Tower’s historic archways and over bridges to take up residence, allowing the removal of the old exhibition material and lift in of new build items.

Craning items in and out

Carefully craning items in and out

By day four it was apparent that the existing showcases had originally been screwed very firmly to the floor and each supporting foot had to be located and unscrewed before they could be moved to their new positions. However, as move after move took place and with a van and 2 builders skips of old material left the site, it was clear that a new exhibition was beginning to take shape.

As the first week drew to a close not only had all the cases been repositioned, they had also received a complete internal fit-out and one of our new cases was also finished. Everything was ready for graphic installation – and then objects…

More images of the installation at the Tower of London can be found on our Flickr page.

Power House – Object Conservation

Prior to installation of a new exhibition the objects which will appear on display have to be carefully cared for by the Conservation Team. Nyssa Mildwaters, one of the Royal Armouries Conservators, will be blogging about several interesting items which will soon be on display at the Tower of London.

One of the more unusual looking objects being conserved for the Power House exhibition is a three stemmed candlestick.  The main body of the candlestick is made from metal weapon parts which twisted and fused together during the blaze which destroyed the Grand Storehouse at the Tower of London on the 30th of October 1841.

Candlestick made from debris of the fire at the Tower of London in 1841

Candlestick made from debris of the fire at the Tower of London in 1841

Large numbers of weapons and other historic objects were destroyed by the fire, however in the weeks that followed tables were set up in what was left of the building and pieces of bizarrely twisted and shaped metal debris were sold off to members of the public at prices of up to £1 each.

This particular piece of debris was converted into a candlestick by drilling into the lump and then screwing on the three decorative stems, which as you can see have a very different appearance to the twisted and misshapen metal below. Although it is not possible to identify all the metal components which fused together forming the centre of the candlestick, yet to one side there is still clearly visible the remains of the lock or firing mechanism from a flintlock rifle.

Very little remedial conservation work was actually needed to get this object ready for display as it was already in pretty good condition if a little dusty. The dust and any dirt were removed using solvents swabs, after which the whole object was coated with a protective layer of Micro-Crystalline Wax. This was achieved by using a technique called ‘hot waxing’, where the wax is warmed during application to give a better and more even coating.  With conservation complete the candlestick is now awaiting packaging and transport to the Tower of London, ready for display.

The Naming of the Dragon

A fabulous “bejewelled” dragon – standing 3m high and specially commissioned by the Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces – will create a guaranteed “wow factor” as the centrepiece of the Power House exhibition at the Tower of London.

A modern trophy, the dragon is made up of components representing each of the great institutions of state associated with the Tower. The design is still being finalised but the majestic beast is likely to include:

Power House Dragon

Power House Dragon

  • Ordnance Office – armour, swords, firearms and cannon to create the back legs and body
  • Menagerie – a cage for the ribcage
  • Prison – chains to create the tail
  • The Royal Mint – coins to represent the dragon’s fire
  • The Observatory – telescopes for front legs
  • The Records Office and Ordnance Survey – parchments and maps for wings
  • The Jewel House – fake diamonds and rubies for the dragon’s eyes

This is your chance to make history – a prestigious dragon such as this deserves a befitting name. The Royal Armouries has teamed up with History™ for your opportunity to win an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Tower of London and two tickets to the VIP private view of the Power House exhibition.

To enter please suggest a name for the dragon by emailing the Royal Armouries at competitions@armouries.org.uk. Please include your name and telephone number on the email. The competition closing date is Thursday 31 March 2011. Terms and Conditions are available on the History™ website.

Collections Up Close March

In March 44BC Julius Caesar was warned to ‘Beware the ides of March’. Caesar dismissed the warning that harm would come to him, only to be stabbed to death later that day by Senators in the Roman Senate. The ‘ides of March’ refers to March 15th in the Roman calendar, and is probably linked to the full moon as the ides fall on either the 13th or 15th day of each month. The prediction and Caesar’s fate were later dramatised in William Shakespeare’s famous play ‘Julius Caesar’.

Roman Gladius and mounts

Roman Gladius and mounts (IX. 5583)

One of the oldest items in the Royal Armouries collection is a Roman Gladius, dated mid to late 1st Century BC. The sword is of the ‘Pompeii-type’, named after four swords found in the ill-fated city of Pompeii. Swords like this have also been found in Britain, France and Germany. In addition to the sword blade is a set of bronze scabbard mounts, engraved with a warrior carrying a spear and shield, as well as two depictions of the goddess Victory. These items are on display in our Leeds Museum in the Early War section of the War Gallery.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Power House Work Begins

Work has begun at the Tower of London on the installation of the new exhibition – Power House. The exhibitions ‘Prisoners and Punishment’ and ‘Hands on History’ which have been running on the top floor of the White Tower, closed on 28 February. Over four days Royal Armouries staff carefully removed collection objects to safe storage leaving an empty shell of cases and structures.

Hands on History Gallery, Tower of London

Hands on History Gallery, Tower of London

The core design team is continuing to work on the interpretation panels, with graphic amendments and text approvals as the deadline for print and production rapidly approaches.

There is a moment in any project where there is a pause – a brief moment of calm between preparation and installation – before the real hard work begins and does not stop until the handover of the exhibition to the operations team. At 7.30am on the morning of 7th March, that moment arrived and by 8am had passed again as the installation team from Paragon Creative arrived, unloaded a van full of tools and set about dismantling the existing structures.

Prisoners and Punishment Gallery, Tower of London

Prisoners and Punishment Gallery, Tower of London

This was swiftly followed by the first meeting of the Royal Armouries project installation team. A project as big as this requires the expertise of a broad spectrum of Museum staff – a combination of skills from both our Leeds Museum and from the Tower – including display technicians, curators, conservationists and registrars.

The next week provides the team with the chance to make final preparations prior to object installation – ensuring all the bespoke mounts and plinths made by the in-house display technicians are complete and labelled up ready to be matched with each object and case.