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Why Did William Want to Conquer England?


One of the strange things about running CPD days is that you spend the day discussing teaching activities, people leave and I wonder ‘will they use any of that?’ This activity from Anna Jordan provides one answer as it takes a teaching activity I’d demonstrated in relation to why the Romans wanted an empire and transfers the method to the context of 1066. It tackles very clearly William’s range of motives for invading England and one of its advantages is that it thereby identifies a range of reasons why wars have begun – an issue you may want to come back to later in KS3 when following the thematic story of Conflict and Co-operation (though not much sign of co-operation in 1066).

Here is Anna’s description of her activity, together with a range of supporting material that helped pupils organize and write up what they had learned and think about how to create effective essays.

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

Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying cards can be downloaded:

  • For Activity file [ click here ]
  • For a set of 6 motive cards cards [ click here ]
  • For blank (and completed) Venn diagrams [ click here ]
  • For essay sequencing cards, essay framework and notes for teachers [ click here ]

This activity does not conform to any of the models listed in the 'Activities by Model' section so it's included in a miscellaneous group – on understanding causation. For other miscellaneous activities click here.

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By the end of this activity:

a) All students will be able to identify William’s reasons

b) All students will be able to categorise William’s reasons

c) Most students will be able to describe and explain William’s reasons

d) All students will be able to prioritise William’s reasons; most will also be able to justify the priority through explanation. Some may be able to analyse William’s reasons in order to ‘prove’ their asserted priority.

Setting Up

a) You will be playing William as Duke so something to help you get into role will be useful – an English Heritage wooden sword, a cloak? Plus any other props that will make the activity memorable and help weaker students to make the connection between what William is discussing and the summary reasons on the slips of paper.

b) A piece of parchment tied with a piece of ribbon would also be useful – especially if you want to have your script on it – lining paper is good for this.

c) You will need to decide exactly how the activity works (see below) in terms of sorting motives – so you will need to print off and organize the sorting cards included above in Support section.

The Activity

Stage 1

The core is a speech (provided below) made by you in role as William, with any level of over-acting considered appropriate! Each paragraph of the speech has a separate reason for William wanting to conquer England. As the speech is delivered, students have to identify the reasons as they are ‘discussed’ by William.

Depending on ability of class you can either set this up first with them as the teacher, by telling them that in 1066 the King of England, Edward the Confessor died. A man called Harold Godwineson became King. Then England was attacked. Tell them that they are going to find out why England was attacked in 1066. I like to keep a bit of mystery by only mentioning that the attacker is called Guillaume, and then asking at the end if anyone can tell me the name by which he is commonly known. For higher ability classes, you may want to skip a ‘teacher’ introduction, and use the speech below instead, which outlines to the class both the historical context for the investigation and what they need to do as the activity.

There are different ways of managing this activity.

a) Each student or pair of students can have a set of motive cards on the desk and hold up the correct one whenever William pauses.

b) Or divide the motive cards so that each group of 5 or 6 students has one card, which they have to bring to the front when they think William has explored that reason, sticking it into the correct place on a table/Venn diagram on the board.

The Speech

‘Bonjour, my name is Guillaume, Duc de Normandy. Have you heard what is happening in England? Edward the Confessor has died and Harold Godwineson has made himself King. It is a problem, but, also, an opportunity. I think I shall invade, and conquer England for myself. But this is not a simple matter. I have to persuade my barons and knights to support me and I would have to persuade the Saxons to accept me. I have very many ideas in my head. I will talk the matter over with you and you can help me to decide what ideas I could use to persuade my knights to help me and what I should tell the pesky Saxons. … and I must be careful – there may be things here that are best kept to myself!

Now continue your speech. You can use notes on ‘parchment’, be pretending to write a diary or sort out paperwork, or just do it from memory!


Topic Card

Mmm, Harald Hadraada also wants to conquer England. He is from Norway and his ancestors ruled England. He has a lot of support in the North and may be successful. If Hadraada defeats Godwineson the Viking Empire will stretch from Scandinavia to the English Channel. They are ambitious, and may use their base in England to attack mainland Europe – and Normandy would be their first target! If I conquer England now, Normandy will be protected. [you may want to have a map of Europe in 1066 on the wall and point to the appropriate places as you talk]

For the future peace and safety of Normandy

In addition, England is a wealthy country. The Romans occupied England for 500 years. They created good roads, wealthy towns and trading centres. And the silver mines will come in very useful! The Saxons would have to pay taxes to me, just like they paid taxes to the Romans…yes, conquering England could make me a very, very rich man and, naturellement, also make rich those who support me.


I will also become powerful. I am a Duke, it is true, but that’s not the same as being a King. …It could be a small probleme to rule two nations separated by the Channel, I might have to do a lot of travelling to ensure I am not overthrown in my absence. But I am sure I can persuade them that they will gain more from supporting me than challenging me! My sons will inherit an Empire and history will remember me as a successful warrior and a mighty King, like Charlemagne, or Julius Caesar!

Fame, power and Reputation

Plus, England is the only place to attack if I want to become more powerful. If I attack Burgundy or Brittany, those dukes they will get help from the French King and I could lose my lands. Far too dangerous!! England it will be much easier to defeat. England has no castles or city walls to protect it, only these ‘earth embankments’, ….and I have beaten Godwineson before…! True, Godwineson has the support of his Lords, but they will all have to travel south to support him against my attack and they will be tired. And no-one else would help Harold! Certainly not the Vikings, as the Viking King Hadraada wants the land for himself. Mmm, a defenseless little nation ….

Chance of an easy victory

And let’s not forget the fact that Godwineson is a wretched little liar who has no right to the throne. He rebelled against his King, Edward the Confessor and Edward had to ask me for help! After this rebellion by Harold, Edward decided I should be King after he died, not Harold. He even sent Harold to me to promise that he would be loyal! Harold has been asking for this war ever since he stole the throne when Edward died.

It’s the right thing to do because Edward wanted me to be king

I am a little worried, of course, that war is a sin. But I have checked with the Pope, Alexander II, and he has agreed that Edward’s wishes should be supported. The Pope is God’s representative on earth and now he has given me his blessing to become the King of England. There may be people who won’t like this, but with God and the Pope on my side, who can argue with me?!

It's God's will - the Pope has given his blessing


Stage 2

Click on the image to download the full diagram in a new windowOnce the activity is completed, students should be given time to discuss the reasons and decide where they go on the Venn diagram. I do this in groups of three, and ask that decisions about categorizing are unanimous, to help build argument and discussion skills. Students don’t have to do more than identify on the Venn diagram, as the follow-on essay-sequencing activity will provide them with full detail. However, it is important in discussing the categorization that you ask students to explain their reasons fully.


Potential plenary/homework activities include:

a) students should either prioritise William’s reasons and write what is, effectively, a conclusion to an essay.

b) Alternatively, students can be asked to write either a letter to the Norman barons, to the Saxon Witan or a private diary entry. In this activity students are practicing selecting arguments for an audience.


  1. What have pupils learned from this activity [e.g. about why wars happen or about cause and motive] that means you will refer back to this activity later in Key Stage 3? [If you won’t refer back to it why have you done it?]
  2. If you repeat this activity next year will you handle it differently to get more out of the activity or clarify its purposes?
  3. Where else in your courses could you use this activity, including at GCSE or A level?

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

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Setting Up

The Activity