The Palace and the Normans

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror inherited the Palace of Westminster as a major seat of his domain from the Anglo-Saxons. He thought of himself as the legitimate heir to the kingdom of England.

To demonstrate the dynastic continuity to which he laid claim, he adopted his predecessor's church and abbey at Westminster as his own.

Tower of London

The king also established a tight grip on his newly-acquired kingdom by building a new stone fortress in the East, the Tower of London. During this period, London's population grew and it became increasingly important as a trading port and business centre. However, the seat of government was not yet permanently based at Westminster; it was wherever the King happened to be with his royal Seal.

Westminster Hall

In 1097, his son William II (William Rufus) began laying the foundations of the Great Hall (Westminster Hall), which was ready for use two years later. At the time it was the largest of its kind in Europe - and still is today. The hall was used for royal feasts and banquets, thus making Westminster the ceremonial centre of the kingdom.

Settling at Westminster

Over the following century, an increasing number of institutions began to break away from the royal household and settle at Westminster. The capital city of England under the Anglo-Saxons was Winchester in the kingdom of Wessex.

However, during the reign of King Henry II (1154-1180), a subsidiary treasury was established at Westminster to keep the royal treasure safe when away from Winchester Castle.

Centre of government

Under the reign of his son King John (1199-1216), the Exchequer (which had previously settled at Winchester), followed suit. This gradual transfer of the mechanics of rule from Winchester to Westminster made it an increasingly important centre of government, even in the absence of the king.

Also within Living Heritage

Westminster Hall is the only part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives in almost its original form. Find out more about its long history

Biographies

You can access biographies of

William the Conqueror
William II (William Rufus)
King Henry II
King John

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Did you know?

William the Conqueror was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day