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William The Conqueror

William (sometimes nicknamed the Bastard) was the illegitimate son of Robert II of Normandy (1028-1035) and Herleva, the daughter of a tanner. He succeeded to his father's dukedom young, in 1035, and spent much of his early years fending off rebellion and anarchy. His authority was finally established in 1047 after defeating his rivals at Val-es-dunes, and two years later he was able to begin expanding his realm by making war on the count of Anjou. In 1051 he paid a visit to England, where he claimed Edward the Confessor nominated him as a successor to the English throne. Such a claim, is not altogether unlikely since Edward had himself spent much of his early years as an exile in the Norman court, and had promoted many of William's countrymen into positions of power, much to the annoyance of the English barons. After marrying his cousin Matilda of Flanders, against the church's wishes, in 1053, he demonstrated his military skill by repulsing attacks from King Henry of France (1054 and 1058), capturing Maine (1063) and asserting his overlordship over Brittany (1064). Following a shipwreck in 1064, Harold, earl of Wessex, and effectively the power behind the English throne fell into William's hands, and appears to have been forced into giving a solemn oath to not stand in the way of William's claim to England. After Edward the Confessor's death in January 1066 however, Harold, with the support of the barons assumed the throne, and William prepared his invasion plans.

William's invasion, graphically told in the famous Bayeux tapestry, began with his landing in England in late September, and his forces defeated Harold's larger but exhausted army (which had marched the length of England in order to see off another rival claimant, the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada) at Hastings (14th Oct.) Harold was killed in the battle, and William had himself crowned at Westminster on Christmas Day. A long campaign of ruthless subjugation of local revolts continued for the next five years, most notably the brutal destruction of the native resistance in the north. Much of William's time was spent reorganizing his new realm, promoting more of his countrymen to high office, including replacing the English archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, with his own man, Lanfranc. He accepted the homage of Malcolm, king of the Scots in 1072 after a northern campaign, put down further rebellions in Maine (1073) and England (1075), and secured his Welsh border (1081). Towards the end of his reign his problems increased with the death of his wife, and son Richard in 1083, the rebellion of another son, Robert (1080-82), and threats of invasion from Scandinavia (1086), but his great achievement in these years remains the Doomsday book, a huge and meticulous survey and census of the entire realm, completed in 1086. He was at war with France again in 1087, and during capture of the town of Mantes, he was mortally wounded after falling from his horse. A man of extraordinary character and determination, ruthless when the occasion demanded it, William was respected if not loved by his new English subjects. He ruled Normandy with strength and vigor while still only a youth, and as king of England, oversaw what amounted to a political and social revolution from the Anglo-Saxon age.

Major Events of the Reign

1066 The Norman Invasion. Edward the Confessor dies, and Harold Godwinesson is chosen to succeed him. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge Harold defeats a Norwegian invasion led by King Harald Hardrada of Norway; meanwhile Duke William of Normandy invades Kent to challenge for the throne. After a forced march south Harold is killed at the Battle of Hastings by William, who marches to London and has himself crowned king.

1067 The Saxon cathedral at Canterbury is burnt down, work on the new Norman structure begins three years later. The Tower of London is begun.

1069 Rebellion against William in Mercia and Northumbria. Norman troops devastate the north in retaliation.

1071 Revolt of Hereward the Wake in the Fens.

1079 Robert, son of King William rebels in an attempt to gain possession of Normandy for himself. He is defeated and reconciled to his father.

1080 Pope Gregory VII demands that William do homage to him. William refuses on the grounds that his predecessors have not done so.

1086 The Doomsday Book is completed.

1087 William the Conqueror dies in France after a fall from his horse. His son William Rufus becomes king of England.

The first Norman King; On September 28, 1066 William secured the sanction of Pope Alexander II for a Norman invasion of England. By 1070 the Norman conquest of England was complete. William introduced the Continental system of feudalism; by the Oath of Salisbury of 1086 all landlords swore allegiance to William, thus establishing the precedent that a vassal's loyalty to the king overrode his fealty to his immediate lord. During a campaign against King Philip I of France, William fell from a horse and was fatally injured. Buried Abbey of St. Step, Caen, Calvados, France.

From the Charter of King William, The Conqueror: William by the Grace of God, King of England and the Duke of Normandy to all people as well French, English and Normans, greeting: Know ye that we have granted to your beloved kinsman Robert Umfreville, Lord of Tours and Vian otherwise called Robert with the Beard, the Lordships, vale and forest, with all Castles, Manors,.... and Royal Franchise, which late belonged to Mildred the son of Akerman, late Lord of Redesdale, and which came into our hands by Conquest, to have and to hold to the aforesaid Robert, his heirs of us and our heirs, Kings of England, by the service of defending the same from enemies and wolves for ever with the sword which we had by our side when we entered Northumberland. . In testimony, whereof we have caused our Seal to be affixed to these letters. Witnesses: Matilda, our consort, William and Henry, our Sons, this 10th day of July in the tenth of our reign.

Although he was never keen on actual capital punishment, William the Bastard could get touchy about jokes too near the bone and, when he captured the town of Alencon that had displayed flayed skins on its walls in allusion to the tanner's trade (his maternal grandfather, Fulbert, had been a tanner), he chopped the right hand and left foot off each citizen to teach them a lesson about laughing last. Probably in 1064, Harold was at his court and swore to help him gain the English crown on Edward's death. When, however, Edward died in 1066, Harold became king. William laid his claim and, on October 14, defeated Harold at the battle of Hastings or Senlac. Harold was slain and William was crowned on December 25. The west and north of England were subdued in 1068; but next year the north revolted, and William devastated the country between York and Durham. The constitution under William assumed a feudal aspect, the old national assembly becoming a council of the king's tenants-in-chief, and all title to land being derived from his grant. The Domesday Book contains the land settlement. He also brought the English Church into closer relations with Rome. The Conqueror's rule was stern and orderly. In 1070 there was a rebellion in the Fen Country and, under the leadership of Hereward the Wake, the rebels held out for some time in the Isle of Ely. English exiles were sheltered by the Scottish king, Malcolm, who plundered the northern shires; but William in 1072 compelled Malcolm to do him homage at Abernethy. In 1073 he reconquered Maine. He also made a successful expedition into South Wales. His eldest son, Robert, rebelled against him in Normandy in 1079. Having entered on a war with Philippe I of France in 1087, William burned Mantes. As he rode through the burning town, his horse stumbled and he received an injury of which he died at Rouen on September 9. He left Normandy to his son Robert, and England to William. William The Conqueror was a big man, in many ways, --- tall, powerful and domineering. He would be considered "overbearing" and "opinionated" today, no doubt. He was reportedly russet-haired. William was allegedly very faithful to his wife and grief-stricken at her death in November 1083.