THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND: SOME KEY EVENTS
THE NORMAN CONQUEST IN 1066
The Norman Conquest was a turning point in English history. The Normans were in origin Vikings, who had settled in Normandy, married local women and adopted and developed a French culture. The Normans quickly established control in the south of England, but resistance to the invaders remained strong in the East and the North. Eventually, Norman innovations in government and administration acted as a catalyst to speed up change.
The Norman Conquest was a take-over at the top of English society. The Normans established supremacy with a new aristocracy and clergy of Norman French origin. By 1086, when Domesday Book was compiled, fewer than six of the 180 major landowners in England were English. The land was mostly held by the king or by his Norman French supporters. The manor of Dartford was held by the king. There is a very full and interesting entry in Domesday Book relating to Dartford. Gundulfs rebuilding of the church would have been the most visible sign of Norman control in Dartford.
At a local level, most ordinary peoples lives were controlled by the lord of the manor, the constables, the jury courts and the ecclesiastical courts. The middle ages were not a time of democracy. The will of the majority was of no consequence, and only on a handful of occasions did people from the lower levels of society make their mark in the political arena. One major incident of popular rebellion took place during the reign of Richard II (1377-99), sparked off by the imposition of an unpopular tax, the poll tax.
In 1380 a tax of one shilling per head was imposed on the population. The outcome was the Peasants Revolt of 1381, led by Wat Tyler. Dartford was caught-up in this revolt. A confrontation in London resulted in the King promising the rebels charters of freedom from serfdom. Tyler was killed and the revolt crushed. Although in itself it was a relatively minor rebellion, the Peasants Revolt did show the peasantry as a force to be reckoned with by landowners.