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Je Suis le Roi. What happened after 1066?

Like all the most effective activities, this began with the diagnosis of a learning problem. Once past Hastings, many students think of William as an English king. Therefore it's hard for them to envisage a real clash between invaders and invaded and so there are no fears and hostile attitudes to explain. But Guillaume le Batard (or whatever!) didn't become the epitome of Englishness the moment the last arrow was loosed at Hastings. A more realistic way of thinking about these years has been proposed by the historian, Elisabeth van Houts, who persuasively likens the events, feelings and fears in post-conquest England to the Nazi occupation of western Europe.

In brief, the activity uses the classroom as a map of England. Two thirds of the class are distributed around the room as English landowners, the other third being Norman knights. The main individual role is William the Conqueror who initially intends to allow the English to keep their lands. However, as rebellions multiply, William replaces the English with Normans until all have been replaced. William is best played by the class teacher or a colleague - in French! - with a translator so the English can understand you. This use of French is to get across the reality of alien rule.

The activity has been used successfully both with Year 7 pupils and, in an extended form, with second year undergraduates. Ideas for extending the content can be found in Notes & Variations, below.

A more comprehensive discussion can be found in an article in Teaching History 108, September 2002, Thinking from the Inside: Je Suis le Roi by Ian Dawson and Dale Banham.
   • HA members can read this article here…
   • Or you can read a PDF version on this website here…


This activity (originally part of the Thinking History Active Learning DVD) is now available on YouTube.

But please don't just leap into watching the activity – please read the introduction, context, points and questions first [ HERE… ]


A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying room plan can be donwloaded:

This activity is based on the ’Simulation’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.


This activity is therefore intended to help students develop an understanding of

  • the pattern of rebellions against William and why the rebellions did not succeed
  • the impact of the Normans on life in England, particularly the changes in landownership and why they came about
  • how the English and Normans felt about each other and how these feelings developed in the years 1066-1071.

Setting Up

Click here to download the full room plan in a new window

1. Create a layout as shown in the plan with tables representing five English regions. You may also want to add Denmark and Normandy to the layout. Add farm animals in the form of stuffed toys to the table representing the north of England.

2. Divide your class, with one-third as Norman knights and two-thirds as English landowners. Coloured bibs, borrowed from the PE department, are a good way of identifying the two groups and help students see how the pattern of landownership changes during the lesson.

3. Now position the English landowners in the five regions with a minimum of 2 students per group. They should sit on the desks with the same number of empty chairs alongside. The Normans line up at one side of the room - looking acquisitive!

4. You do not need to have covered the rebellions before doing this activity – you will have done Hastings and, perhaps, William’s coronation but this is an interesting, challenging way of covering what happened next, requiring students to think and to participate, not recall previous knowledge.

The Activity

1. Introduction in your normal role as teacher. Explain that the purpose of this activity is to investigate what happened in England after the battle of Hastings. Then:

a) ask the English (so all can hear)

- what had happened at Hastings? What does the battle tell you about the Normans and William?

- what are you afraid of now William is king?

- do you want to rebel?

- what might make you rebel?

Through leading questions try to bring out their fear of losing their land, that they might rebel, depending on what the Normans do, perhaps if they take away the land of the English landowners. Remember that pupils are suggesting how they feel or act, not working from previously acquired knowledge.

b) ask the Normans (so all can hear)

- what do you hope to gain from victory?

- will you be able to beat the English if they rebel?

Try to bring out their hopes of gaining land and that the English will be most dangerous if they rebel all at once.

2. So what happened after 1066? Now is the time to go into role but first, what role will you play? There are 3 aspects of this - William, the translator and the teacher who moves pupils around the room. One possibility is for you to combine playing William with the teaching role and to ask a colleague or sixth-former (or confident pupil) to act as translator. An alternative is to ask a colleague in the languages department to play William. Whether you play the role of William or the narrator/translator, it is important to note that, despite the apparent unorthodoxy of this activity, the teacher is in control all the time. The only movement around the room is under your direction. There is no simulated fighting or arguing.

What follows is a text you can use verbatim. William starts off as the voice of reason but slowly becomes angrier. You'll know from your relationship with the class whether to make William lose his temper or be coldly furious. Remember you are free to rant loudly in French - your translator will be clear and comprehensible.

Step 1: William's intentions

William (to the English): Je suis le roi Guillaume. Harold est mort et je suis maintenant le roi d'Angleterre

Translator: I am King William. Harold is dead and now I am King of England.

William: Vous êtes tous des propriétaires importants. Je pourrais enlever votre terrain et le donner à mes soldats. Mais je ne veux pas faire ça.

Translator: You are all important landowners. I could take away your lands and give them to my soldiers. But I will not do so.

William: Je vais donner à mes soldats seulement le terrain des hommes qui sont morts au combat. J'étais généreux envers vous - donc vous serez dès maintenant fidèles envers moi.

Translator: I will give my soldiers only the lands of the men who died in battle. I have been generous to you so now you will be loyal to me.

Teacher action/explanation - move 1 Norman into south-east to take over lands of the dead. Do not move out any English landowners.

Step 2: The First rebellions

Teacher says: In 1067 an English landowner Edric the Wild and some Welsh kings rebelled in the west Midlands. (Point to the regions concerned and the pupils involved). William beat them. This is how William responded.

William: Je suis votre roi. Vous vous êtes révoltés contre moi, donc vous perdrez votre terrain. Je vais donner à mes soldats votre terrain.

Translator: I am your king. You rebelled against me so you will lose your lands. I will give your land to my soldiers.

Teacher action/explanation: Replace half of English landowners in Midlands with Normans. Put the English into the empty chairs so that they are sitting lower than their new Norman lords, demonstrating their newly inferior status. Then finish by William saying to the demoted English landowners -

William: vous Anglais travaillerez pour mes Normands.

Translator: You English will work for my Normans.

Step 3:

Teacher says: The next year, in 1068, King Harold’s sons sailed from Ireland and attacked Bristol. They were defeated. Other rebels took control of Exeter but surrendered after an 18 day siege. William built a castle at Exeter.

William: Je suis votre roi. Vous vous êtes révoltés contre moi, donc vous perdrez votre terrain. Je vais donner à mes soldats votre terrain et vous travaillerez pour eux.

Translator: I am your king. You rebelled against me so you will lose your lands. I will give your land to my soldiers and you will work for them.

Teacher action/explanation: Replace most of the English landowners in the south-west with Normans. For a simple castle just fold an A3 sheet in 4 for a square keep or roll into a circle for a circular motte and bailey and distribute these round the room as you put down the rebellions. Better still, force the English to make them and constantly chivvy and criticise them.

Step 4:

Teacher says: The next year, 1069, there was another rebellion. The Norman commanders in York and Durham were killed by rebels. The rebels made alliances with the Kings of Scotland and Denmark. William marched north, won back control of the area and built two castles in York. However a large Danish army joined the Northern rebels in another attack on York. William forced the Danes to flee and punished the local people.

William: Cette révolte a été très dangereuse. Je punirai le nord si sévèrement que personne n'osera jamais encore se révolter contre moi.

Translator: This rebellion has been very dangerous. I will punish the north so severely that no-one will ever dare to rebel again.

The bear gets it!Teacher action/explanation: Replace all English in the north with Normans and sweep all the toys representing farm animals from the desk top in your regal fury! An even more dramatic demonstration of William's calculated savagery is to take a pair of scissors and very slowly cut an ear off a cuddly toy. Feedback from teachers who have used this activity suggests this gets the point across powerfully – and there’s always a volunteer afterwards to sew the ear back on for you!

Step 5:

Teacher says: Another year and still more rebellions. In 1070 there were small rebellions in Cheshire and the Midlands. Then the King of Denmark and his army sailed into the River Humber. This sparked off a rebellion in the Fenlands of East Anglia led by Hereward the Wake. William made peace with the Danes and forced the rebels to surrender after a long struggle. Many rebels were killed.

William: Je suis votre roi. Vous vous êtes révoltés contre moi, donc vous perdrez votre terrain. Je vais donner à mes soldats votre terrain et vous travaillerez pour eux.

Translator: I am your king. You rebelled against me so you will lose your lands. I will give your land to my soldiers and you will work for them.

Teacher action/explanation: Replace rest of English landowners in Midlands and E. Anglia and any others outstanding elsewhere with Normans.


1. First use questions that allow pupils to demonstrate the knowledge gained from the role play and that reinforce the narrative framework. Focus on the sequence of events, the building of castles and the harrying of the north.

2. Next ask more open questions about motives and reasons. For example: Did William intend from the beginning to give all the land in England to his Norman followers? Why did he change his mind? Why were the rebellions not successful (leadership/failure to rebel at once)?

3. Encourage students to describe aloud what they had been thinking and feeling at different stages of the role play e.g. on the impact of a foreign language and how their inability to understand William had affected them. Did it make them feel scared and powerless? Why do you think William destroyed the north – was he just angry or was it deliberate tactic – or a mix – and how would we find out?

4. Also focus on language - ask the English whether they think or talk about the Normans as their 'lords' or their 'masters'; whether they are 'ruled' or 'occupied'; whether the northerners were 'punished' or 'massacred'; whether they had rebelled or were 'fighting for freedom'. From here it's a small step to an unusual context for the debate over who were the terrorists and who were the freedom fighters. Would the Normans call the English 'terrorists' in 1069?

5. Finally, students can work in pairs to generate their own questions about what happened after 1066. Having been involved in thinking 'from the inside' this topic is more likely to matter to students. As Geoff Lyons has written 'Arousing pupils' emotions .. is deliberately intended to help them understand that the topic matters'.

Notes & Variations

1. Using props (such as William wearing a crown) and playing medieval music in the background adds to the sense of a special lesson. You aren’t just going through the motions as a teacher, so students are likely to contribute more effectively.

2. Role-play leads naturally into the vital question of 'how do we know that these recreated attitudes and feelings are accurate?' Empathetic reconstructions must relate to evidence or they are, at best, the very broadest hypotheses. You could ask Year 7 students how they think English and Norman chroniclers would have described the Harrying of the North, then, armed with their ideas, look at the accounts and see if anything (e.g. Orderic Vitalis) surprises them and why. Certainly with A level students it is to look at the available evidence and ask pupils how certain they can be about the accuracy of their feelings as Normans or English - completely certain, fairly or totally uncertain.

3. I’ve been amazed when running courses round the country just how many teachers are using this activity and how they have given it their own personal touches. One teacher, in role as William, triumphantly nails the teddy bear’s ear to the classroom wall as a further warning to any would be rebels not to mess with the Normans.

4. The depth of detail covered can be increased by adding students to play the parts of the Danes, the King of Scotland, Edgar Aetheling and the lords of Anjou, Maine and Brittany – William’s neighbours whose rivalry and attacks prompted him to return to Normandy at regular and for long intervals. It is important for students at A level to appreciate that William now ruled a cross-Channel empire and that England was not his sole focus. You may not want to get this point across with Year 7 but this activity involving William crossing backwards and forwards across the Channel physically is the most effective way of doing so.

To do this, add labels for Scotland, Anjou, Maine and Brittany to your physical map and add students to play the parts of the Danes, the King of Scotland, Edgar Aetheling and one of the French rivals. Then begin the activity, adding these details into the activity above

a) the English - What did Hastings tell you about the Normans and William?

- what are you afraid of now William is king?

- do you want to rebel?

- what might make you rebel?

- what do you need to be successful?

Focus on Edgar Aetheling – why did you and other nobles submit to William?

What might make you rebel?

b) the Normans - what do you hope to gain from victory?

- will you be able to beat the English if they rebel?

c) France/ Anjou/Britanny/ Maine – how might William’s conquest of England help you?

d) Danes – what are you hoping for? Why might you be optimistic?

e) Scots – what are you afraid of? Would you attack William?

f) Return to Edgar Aetheling – any further thoughts on when you might rebel?

Now work through the activity, adding in questions and references to the new roles as appropriate. For example,

Step 4: 1069

Another rebellion - the Norman commanders in York and Durham were killed.

Edgar Atheling flees to Scotland. Rebels ask Scots for help.

Ask Scots – will you help rebels? Move Scots and EA across border

Ask Danes – what will you do? Move Danes south off the English coast.

William marched north, won back control of the area and built two castles in York.

Move Danes inland

However a large Danish army joined the Northern rebels in another attack on York. William forced the Danes to flee.

Scots and Danes retreat.

User Feedback

From Lindsey Hughes in Solihull

I recently did 'Je Suis le Roi' with my Year 7s, using a talented Year 12 French and History student as King William, and it worked a treat.  It was wonderful to hear serious discussions among the deposed Saxon earls about the fact that they still felt like earls but could not act that way, plus the humiliation of being made to work for the Normans.  We keep referring back to the role play as we look in more detail at the ways the Normans consolidated control which has made it even more effective.

From Dan Lyndon in London

Just done 'Je suis le roi' for the second year now and thoroughly enjoyed it once I had overcome the aanoyance of having to tell certain brats to shut up every five minutes. They really do stop the flow! The responses from the boys during the debrief was so insightful that it really made the whole thing worth while. I could hardly have scripted it better myself. Marvellous stuff. Mind you I have had to accept temporary defeat with my other yr 7 class who will not be doing the same activity. I can't even manage to start the lesson for 25 minutes!

From Sue Korman in Sussex

We loved 'Je suis le roi'. Several Year 7's said they would ˜never recover” from the mutilation of the teddies & have taken them home for hospitalisation.

We added giving chocolate largesse to the Normans, as well as to those Saxon landowners who finally acquiesced to William’s authority.

From Jane Cowie in Derbyshire

I saw Je suis Le Roi done at the SHP conference a couple of years ago and have done it ever since, It works superbly, though I had a student teacher cut off the teddy's ear last year and he did it with so little dramatic effect the kids took no notice, you have really got to play up to the crowd.

This year I am teaching the same class Thinking Skills and History. Part of Thinking Skills is circle time where they can only talk if they are holding the teddy. The kids are therefore very attached to teddy already, when I chop his ear off in January I'm expecting tears.

From Nichola Boughey

Wow did the Je suis le Roi exercise today! OK had to take 30 mins from lunch to set up room, and prep last night, with a little help from sixth form. OK then had to apologise to Sixth Form lesson next door for the amount of fun and noise being had in our room! But wow - they acted stern with each other, forced Saxons to build castles out of lego and even pretended to be dead when I swept their 'livestock' off the table.

At the end of it they reall understood how firm William was and really hated him!

Success - bit whacked now!

PLUS - Could not bring myself to cut the ear off my stuffed toy!

From Jo Dawson (no relation) who tackled je suis le roi while a PGCE trainee

Thought I would just drop you a line to let you know how I got on with my class the other week.  I was doing it with an all girls, fairly low level year 7 class, who, it must be said, are rather boisterous.  It was also the first time I had actually taught them.

Unsurprisingly they loved it!  They were really engaged throughout the whole lesson (some holding the swords I had made a little too much so!)  They also responded well in the questioning session that I did with them afterwards.  The highlight though, as you suggested, was the chopping off of Winnie the Pooh’s ear.  The looks on their faces were priceless!

Things I learnt from the role play

Choose who you give the swords to carefully!

Tell them that they need to follow the events so that they can answer the questions I will ask them later

Get them sitting down on the floor when doing the questions.  Too many were lolling all over the tables

I can still remember some French!  And it scared them to see me bellowing at them in French! (Perhaps I should try it more often when they are being too noisy!)

I made some cardboard castles that they could just slot together to construct.  This helped them remember where these were built.

The use of bibs was excellent as it helped them to see clearly how the tide changed and how the Normans took over

Getting them to write a paragraph for homework on what they had learnt and how they learnt it was very useful as it enabled me to see whether they had understood the purpose of the lesson.

My mentor was really impressed and has said that she will get the whole department to do the lesson next year as it was a really good way of getting across the impact that the Normans had.  


  1. Did students enjoy the nature of the activity and what impact did this have on their learning?
  2. How does this activity link to other material within your KS3 course? For example, can students use what they have learned about rebellions or royal power later in their course?
  3. Could you use this activity to develop students’ understanding of causation more effectively? e.g. why rebellions failed
  4. Did this technique make a long-term impact on knowledge and understanding



Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

This Page





Setting Up

The Activity


Notes & Variations

User Feedback