brief biography of William of Normandy
was born in Normandy in 1028. His father was Robert,
Duke of Normandy and his mother was Herleva, the daughter
of a wealthy merchant from Falaise. As Robert and
Herleva never married, William was therefore an illegitimate
son: although he was Robert's only child.
his illegitimacy William was accepted by most of the
Norman barons as the heir to the duchy of Normandy.
In 1035, William succeeded his father, who had passed
away whilst returning from the Crusades.
early life was fraught with danger. There were many
Normans, including many within his own family, who
would have preferred to have a different ruler. His
survival during this period was largely due to the
support given to him by his mother's family.
began to take control of his Duchy in earnest during
his teens. Normandy had been through a period of anarchy
following his fathers death and William was quick
to learn that trust could not be taken for granted.
This led to a series of conflicts within Normandy
and against his closest neighbours that, in turn,
led to William becoming a gifted knight and warrior.
was in the 1050's threatened by both the King of France
and the Count of Anjou, both significant players in
contemporary French politics. Williams political guile
at the time was second to none however and, despite
the Pope refusing to accept it, William married Matilda
of Flanders, a close relation of his. This marriage
secured the support of Flanders and enabled Normandy
to stave off the threats from the French king, Henry
and of Geoffrey of Anjou. Not until 1060, and the
timely deaths of both of these hostile leaders, was
William able to feel secure in his tenure and begin
to create a Norman empire.
seized advantage of his neighbours lack of leadership,
France now had a young boy as king, and attacked and
conquered the region of Maine (1063). Now William
could turn his thoughts towards England, where greater
prizes lay in store for him.
the aging and childless King of England, had fallen
out with his father in law: the Earl of Wessex. Most
probably as a result of this fall out, William was
Edwards heir to the throne. Prior to
Edward's death in 1066 however, there had been
a change of heart. Edward named Harold of Wessex (the
old Earl's son) as his heir. Upon the death of the
King, several days later, William found that his inheritance
had been snatched away from him and given to Harold
sequence of events that followed is well documented
elsewhere. In brief, William claimed that on a visit
to Normandy in 1064, Harold of Wessex had sworn allegiance
to William and promised that he would support him
in his claim to the throne. Whether or not this statement
was made by Harold is very hard to prove. William
used this to gain support amongst European leaders
and the church. Harold was a false king, a thief and
a usurper. through this line of argument William gained
the support of many nobles in many parts of Europe.
The offer of riches and reward upon his rightful succession
to the English throne, no doubt, also influenced people
when offering their support for the Duke of Normandy.
To take what was rightfully has, William prepared
for the invasion
of England. A massive risk, with everything to
lose if he was unsuccessful.
Norman fleet, supported by a large number of Bretons
and men from Flanders, set sail across the Channel
and landed at Pevensey, near Hastings. The success
of his mission was incredible. A mixture of luck and
excellent leadership resulted in the
Norman Duke defeating Harold and taking hold of
England. The illegitimate son of a Norman Duke had
now turned the tables, he was now a King.
is in the years after the famous battle of Hastings
that Williams strength of character and determination
are most visible. For 5 years he faced rebellion after
rebellion in England. His forces dealt clinically
with each of these and enforced the new, Norman, order
with terrifying brutality. New structures of Government,
laws and taxation regimes were established across
the country and, by the early 1070's, William's rule
in England was nigh on unassailable from within.
this period William made great use of his closest
allies. His half brother, Odo, was granted great powers
in Normandy whilst William was absent from the duchy
and his barons had huge responsibilities within the
lands that they were granted. William became merciless
in his dealings, the church was stripped of it's bishops
who were rapidly replaced with men of William's liking,
local thanes were stripped of their land, often irregardless
of whether or not they had opposed William's conquest.
was the force behind the conquest that by the 1080's
William was in a position to take stock of his achievements.
His vision and understanding of how to control a population
becoming ever more clear. The Domesday Book catalogued
most manors within the country, providing the Monarchy
with a previously unthought of amount of information
about the value of each person. Economically this
is a major step forwards in terms of taxation and
centralisation of the nations resources. (Although
its purpose was to establish how he could pay for
his growing army when faced by a potential invasion
from Denmark in 1085). The on-going process of castle
building demonstrates his determination to dominate
the population, enabling his regime to be implemented
quickly and, from 1071 onwards, without being openly
is a mistake however to view William as suddenly becoming
English. Most of his time was spent in Normandy. England
was a much treasured prize, not his home. Normandy
itself remained under threat from her neighbours.
His growing empire was threatened by the Scandinavian
Kings, and so William was occupied for much of the
time with further wars and endless diplomacy.
was during one of his many campaigns against the French
kings that William lost his life. Having attacked
the town of Marne William was fatally injured whilst
pillaging the town. he died in September of 1087,
leaving his Duchy to Robert, his eldest son and England
to William (Rufus)
his third son. This act demonstrates what William
considered to be his most prized possession: England,
most certainly, was not that!
in death though William was not beyond causing a commotion.
His body, swollen by several years of excessive eating
and drinking, proved too large for the stone coffin
in which he was to be buried and burst, leaving his
remains on the floor of the chapel.