The Harrying of the North was a series of attacks on northern villages and towns by William the Conqueror in the winter of 1069-70. The presence of the last potential heir to the English throne, Edgar Atheling, had encouraged rebellions in the north of England against William.

Records from the time describe the Harrying of the North as “savage” and the destruction caused by it “brutal”. Some historians have described the Harrying of the North as a genocide, although others said William the Conqueror couldn’t have gathered enough troops to cause that much destruction.

What did William and his army do?

William’s army destroyed crops and houses, forcing those who wanted to rebel against him to hide. In early 1070, his army was split and told to “burn, loot and terrify”. Food and animals were destroyed, meaning that survivors would have eventually starved, unless they moved to nearby towns and villages.