William preserved much English government machinery, partly because of practical necessity, because the Normans were always ready to adapt what they found, and because he considered himself the legitimate successor to the English crown. There was, however, the almost complete imposition of a new, French-speaking group of officials, who looked not to Scandinavia but across the Channel to France. The lands of defeated Englishmen were parcelled out, which explains why lords, even the king, had scattered estates. By the end of William’s reign in 1087 there were only two Englishmen of any consequence left in nobility, and only three prelates.
The Normans took over the use of the sealed writ, soon being written in Latin to conform with continental methods. The royal seal had shown the king on both sides seated in majesty; now one side was replaced by the king as a mounted knight. The introduction of feudalism saw the English witan replaced by the council of William’s tenants-in-chief. A specific treasury now appeared; the king accrued wealth from the geld, but also from additional crown lands, feudal dues and increasing profits of justice.
In the early 12th century come the first references to the Exchequer. The king now had two lands to govern, and so the new post of chief justiciar makes its appearance in English government, its incumbent to rule in the king’s stead when absent. Similarly the chancellor appears, head of an itinerant chancery.
The Normans kept the basic system of local government also. William did not impose his vicomtes as in Normandy; instead, he utilised the English shire reeves, or sheriffs. With the great earls gone the sheriffs became powerful royal servants, the king’s representative in the shires, usually being based in the castle of the county town. Legal cases were held in the shire court.
At first William made no move to remove English officials and probably wished for a genuine Anglo-Norman kingdom, since he was patient with the surviving English nobles. However, honorial courts were a new feudal institution. At local level, the hundred courts continued. New laws, including the murdrum fine for killing Frenchmen and the judicial duel imported from Normandy, were added to a legal system invigorated by the Normans, such as in the centralisation of hearing pleas.
William inherited a rich country and made certain that he controlled the rights to mint money, the dies in London being changed to his name. Foreign magnates wishing to stamp their authority, and to increase their resources, set up new boroughs, often next to one of their castles.