The eight-part limited drama series THE CONQUEST is an epic revelation of the personal and political events surrounding the Norman conquest of England in 1066, when the broken friendship between Duke William the Bastard of Normandy and King Harold Godwinson of England led to the most consequential battle in England’s history.
This real-life Game of Thrones – a medieval story filled with complex family dynamics, heartbreak, hidden plots, betrayal, war, and a close study of the expectations of gender roles – has at its heart two would-be kings and their queens who fumble their way through broken promises and political stakes that challenge their beliefs and humanize the tragedy of 1066.
The series opens in 1071, when a heartbroken Edith Swan-Neck, the common-law wife of King Harold of England, must put aside her grief to accept a new position working for the very Norman lords who killed her husband and destroyed her society. She hides her identity to begin work on the greatest piece of propaganda in history: the Bayeux Tapestry. While designed and sponsored by the conquering Normans, it is the abused and under-appreciated English craftswomen who create the textile work. As Edith begins to remember and recreate the events of the conquest in thread and cloth, she uncovers the power of her memory and the importance of truth in recording history.
Through her memories and act of creation we witness the events of the fall of 1065, when Edith and her husband Harold – the richest and most powerful man in Anglo-Saxon England – are shipwrecked off the coast of Normandy while on a mission to rescue Harold’s brother and nephew, being held hostage by the Duke of Normandy. They are captured by a local warlord and their unlikely rescuer is none other than the Duke himself, William the Bastard, a crude and militaristic leader with a complicated agenda. As an unwilling but good-humored guest in the court of William and his quiet but domineering wife Matilda, Harold develops a close but twisted friendship with William built on jealousy, competition, and a devastating standard of toxic masculinity that has haunted the illegitimate William his entire life. While they fight side-by-side against French rebels and while Matilda and Edith find common ground in managing courts of power, a tension marks the air. With Harold pressured to swear allegiance to William in order to win his release back to England, the stage is set for the ultimate betrayal.
Just a few months later, Harold has broken his oath by claiming the crown of England for himself, a crown that William believes is rightfully his. So begins a fraught year of political machinations and personal recriminations. Through secret councils, brothers betraying brothers, calls to war, Viking attacks, and marital difficulties, both William and Harold struggle to balance their past promises and broken friendship with their hopes for the future. In the end, an invasion leads to them facing each other in a final military showdown at Hastings that would change the face of England – and the world – forever.
History is written by the victors, and throughout the episodes of the series we witness Edith’s grief and anger at being forced to create a piece of propaganda to glorify the Normans. In confronting the biased designs of the Bayeux Tapestry, she is able to share the true events by altering the design in small and covert ways, right under the noses of those who think they have conquered, preserving the legacy of her husband and her people for the ages. Although the conquest of England by the Normans meant the end of Anglo-Saxon society, she finds small ways to preserve the integrity of her legacy and that of her husband Harold.
THE CONQUEST is ultimately a story of power. Who has it, who wants it, and who deserves it. Part of the exercise of power is determining the narrative of history. Heroes can be made villains, and a noble cause made dishonorable. The bravery and tenacity of one woman in shaping a piece of history is what drives the core of this series, and challenges us to ask ourselves who tells our history.