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The background of Ivanhoe is the second half of the reign of Richard I. The battle of Hastings is a crucial historical touchstone for the story. From the fifth century to 1066 AD, England was mainly inhabited by Anglos, Saxons, and Danes -- all Germanic peoples. William, Duke of Normandy, however, hoped to succeed his cousin, Edward the Confessor, as King of England. His chief contender for the English throne was Harold, the Saxon noble. In 1062, Harold was shipwrecked on the Norman coast. He was captured by Duke William, who released him on the condition that he agreed to give up his claim to the English throne. However, when Edward died in 1066, the Anglo-Saxon Great Council elected Harold their King.
William of Normandy did not give up; he marshaled a huge army and landed in Sussex near Hastings. Harold could not concentrate on defeating William, for he had to rush north to crush a Norwegian invasion. He then marched south, but was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings. William promptly had himself crowned King of England. The results of this event were far- reaching. William confiscated the lands of most of the Saxon nobility and handed them over to his Norman followers. He also established French as the language of the court, which meant that Anglo-Saxon was now the language of the laboring classes, the slaves (serfs), the outlaws, and those who were brave enough to oppose the Normans. The Norman rulers also introduced unfair forest laws, codes of chivalry, and continental customs, such as curfews and trial by combat.