A yoke is a piece of wood used to connect a farm animal to the plough they are meant to pull. The idea of the Norman Yoke is based on the belief that before 1066, England was a free country with self-governing institutions. After the Norman Conquest – where Harold was defeated by William at the Battle of Hastings, dethroning the English monarchy – the country and its power structure was greatly altered and these lasting effects of William’s reign have become obvious in this term.
The Norman Yoke first emerged in the 12th century, while the specific term became well established during the English Revolution of the mid-17th century where it was used as a critique on the lack of liberty – something that was traced back to 1066.
Essentially, it was a term that was popularised by revisionists, an historical construct to establish exactly what it was to be ‘English’. It suggests a tyrannical imposition on the free Saxon and while there certainly were changes introduced by William and the Normans, the wide ranging context in which it is now used cannot realistically be directly linked to 1066 and its subsequent changes.
The Norman Yoke has been an argument used throughout history because it points to a better, more free time. From parliamentarians arguing against the reign of Charles I during the English Civil War through anti-Catholics centuries later saying that papal influence over England can be traced back to the Norman invasion, it has become a term defining what is wrong with the power balance in the country.
Though its accuracy has long been a topic for historical debate, the fact that Norman Yoke is such a prominent term shows the huge significance of 1066 in England’s entire history and national identity.
"Norman saw on English oak.
On English neck a Norman yoke;
Norman spoon to English dish,
And England ruled as Normans wish;
Blithe world in England never will be more,
Till England's rid of all the four."
See also: The Legacy of the Norman Conquest
"The Norman Yoke". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.