Active Learning on

Nationalities and Family Connections: 1066

Introduction and Objectives

It’s easy for students to assume that Edward the Confessor and Harold were English in every respect because they appear in the story of 1066 as the English leaders in contrast to the Norman Duke William. This short activity is designed to help students understand that the issue of nationality was more complicated than they may think and that there was considerable contact between the ruling groups of these countries.

This is intended as a brief activity for GCSE or KS3. You could do it on paper, on your whiteboard or even verbally but the physical movement of students has greater impact on memory and helps with the core idea which may be harder for students to appreciate because it goes against the grain of their expectations of historical nationality

I’ve also included a second very short simple activity about the pattern of English kings before 1066 – English or Danish? – to help students appreciate that kings of England were not necessarily English.


A WORD version of this activity and the layout can be downloaded:


• Tabards or identity cards for individuals in activities (see names below)

• Plan of classroom layout, shown alongside
(Note it's not a map)






Setting Up

Identify students to take the roles of these leading characters – each should have a large card or tabard showing their name so everyone can see:

William of Normandy, Canute of Denmark, Swein of Denmark, Harald Hardrada of Norway, Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson.

Identify the 4 corners of your room as ‘countries’ – see plan for layout

Provide every student with a sheet showing the 4 corners/countries or ask students to draw the plan in their books.

Have a map of the countries available for reference – it may be needed to show that the placement of the 4 countries in the corners of the room is not the same as a map.

Activity 1: How English were the English in 1066?

1. Start with the individuals who provide context – it’ll help students be clear on nationalities when they meet these people when studying events. For these 4 individuals you probably need to tell the class which countries they come from but begin by asking to see if they know.

William the Conqueror – which corner does he go in? place him in Normandy

Repeat with Canute, Swein and Harald Hardrada – just use the names – where do students think they’re from? Then place them in the corners they belong in. Emphasise that Denmark and Norway were different countries.

2. Move onto the complicated Englishmen

Where would you put Edward the Confessor? [aim here is to identify assumptions]

In turn provide information about his parents:

Edward’s father was English – King Ethelred [move Edward to England corner?]

Edward’s mother was Emma of Normandy [where would you place Edward now?]

This may well lead to placing Edward halfway between England and Normandy in the room – you could then add more information if you wish such as Edward’s lengthy exile in Normandy. Does this adjust his position?

[Emma’s second husband was Canute and she was Duke William’s great-aunt – which is probably way too complicated – but it does emphasise the inter-connections]

Where would you put Harold Godwinson? [again aim is to identify assumptions]

In turn provide information about his parents:

Harold’s father Earl Godwin was English

Harold’s mother was Gytha, a princess from Denmark, daughter of Thorgils Sprakaleg.

This may well lead to placing Harold part way between England and Denmark though not necessarily half-way.

Other complications you may not want to venture into!

Edgar Atheling – grandson of Edmund Ironside (briefly king of England 1016) and son of Edward the Exile who spent much of his life in Hungary. Edgar’s mother was a noblewoman from Hungary or Germany – nobody seems sure.

Tostig Godwinson (like Harold of Anglo-Danish parentage) was married to Judith of Flanders (who was the aunt of William of Normandy’s wife, Matilda of Normandy)

Debriefing Activity 1

Begin by asking students what they have learned – so they have to think about and identify what they have learned. Don’t weaken if they don’t say anything immediately – wait for answers!

Key points to identify:

• Edward’s close ties with Normandy

• Strong English links with Scandinavia and Normandy

• There’s many interconnections

Activity 2: Where did English kings come from?

This is even simpler.

You need 6 students, each representing one of the kings listed below. Do NOT give them names to begin with, just provide each one with a large piece of coloured paper card to hold. You need two colours – one colour for the three English kings, a different colour for the three Danish kings.

Ask the class – here we have the six kings before 1066 – what do you think the colours might mean?

Refer back to the activity above as a clue – or simply do whatever it takes to get them thinking about the answer – maybe identify Canute in the line-up – what might his name suggest?

Now identify the pattern – that we have 3 English and 3 Danish kings – and move onto the main question:

Do you expect there to be an English king when Edward dies?

The idea is to help students realise that other outcomes were possible and that another king from Scandinavia was a real possibility – which may help understand why William was so concerned about Danish invasions after 1066.

Kings of England

Details of parentage just added for information for teachers!


Ethelred II



Edmund Ironside


Son of Ethelred and Aelgifu, an English noblewoman




Harold Harefoot


Son of Canute and Aelgifu of Northampton – probably!



Son of Canute and Emma of Normandy, widow of Ethelred II

Edward the Confessor


Son of Ethelred and Emma of Normandy



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

This Page




Setting Up

Activity 1

Debriefing 1

Activity 2

Kings of England