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William I of England
William I (c. 1027 – September 9, 1087), was King of England from 1066 to 1087. Known alternatively as William of Normandy, William the Conqueror and William the Bastard, he was the illegitimate and only son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva, the daughter of a tanner. Born in Falaise, Normandy, now in France, William succeeded to the throne of England by right of conquest by winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in what has become known as the Norman Conquest.
No authentic portrait of William exists. In the patriotic print he is wearing plate armour that was invented generations after his death.
Early life history
William succeeded to his father's Duchy of Normandy at the young age of 7 in 1035 and was known as Duke William II of Normandy. He lost three guardians to plots to usurp his place. King Henry I of France knighted him at the age of 15. By the time he turned 19 he was himself successfully dealing with threats of rebellion and invasion. With the assistance of King Henry, William finally secured control of Normandy by defeating the rebel Norman barons at Caen in the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes in 1047.
He married Matilda of Flanders, against the wishes of the pope in 1050 or 1051 at the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Eu , Normandy (now in Seine-Maritime). He was 23, she was 21. Their marriage produced four sons and six daughters (see list below).
Conquest of England
See main article Norman Conquest.
Upon the death of William's cousin King Edward the Confessor of England (January 1066), William claimed the throne of England, asserting that the childless Edward had named him his heir during a visit by William (probably in 1052) and that Harold Godwinson, England's foremost magnate, had reportedly pledged his support while shipwrecked in Normandy (c. 1064). Harold made this pledge while in captivity and was reportedly tricked into swearing on a saint's bones that he would give the throne to William. Even if this story is true, however, Harold made the promise under duress and so may have felt free to break it.
The assembly of England's leading notables known as the Witenagemot approved Harold Godwinson’s coronation which took place on January 5, 1066 making him King Harold II of England. In order to pursue his own claim, William obtained the Pope's support for his cause. He assembled an invasion fleet of around 600 ships and an army of 7000 men. He landed at Pevensey in Sussex on September 28, 1066 and assembled a prefabricated wooden castle near Hastings as a base. This was a direct provocation to Harold Godwinson as this area of Sussex was Harold's own personal estate, and William began immediately to lay waste to the land. It may have prompted Harold to respond immediately and in haste rather than await reinforcements in London.
King Harold Godwinson was in the north of England and had just defeated another rival, King Hardrada of Norway. He marched an army of similar size to William's 250 miles in 9 days to challenge him at the crucial battle of Senla, which later became known as the Battle of Hastings. This took place on October 14, 1066. According to some accounts, perhaps based on an interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry commemorating the Norman victory, Harold was killed by an arrow through the eye, and the Anglo Saxon forces fled giving William victory.
This was the defining moment of what is now known as the Norman Conquest. The remaining Saxon noblemen surrendered to William at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire and he was acclaimed King of England there. William was then crowned on December 25 1066 in Westminster Abbey.
Although the south of England submitted quickly to Norman rule, resistance continued, especially in the North for six more years until 1072. Harold's sons attempted an invasion of the south-west peninsula. Risings occurred in the Welsh Marches and at Stafford. Most seriously William faced separate attempts at invasion by the Danes and the Scots. William's defeat of these led to what became known as the harrowing of the North in which Northumbria was laid waste to deny his enemies its resources. The last serious resistance came with the Revolt of the Earls in 1075.
William initiated many major changes, among them a fundamental review of the prevailing Anglo-Saxon legal system, the "common law", which he fused with Norman law. In 1085, in order to ascertain the extent of his dominion, William commissioned the compilation of the Domesday Book, a survey of England's productive capacity similar to a modern census. He also ordered the building of a number of castles, among them the Tower of London. His conquest also led to Norman French replacing English as the language of the ruling classes, for nearly 300 years.
William is said to have deported large numbers of the old landed classes into slavery through Bristol. Many of the latter ending up in Umayyad Spain and Moorish lands, converting and taking high positions in the state.
He died aged 60 at the Convent of St Gervais, near Rouen, France, on September 9, 1087 from abdominal injuries received from his saddle pommel when he fell off a horse at the Siege of Mantes. He was buried in St Stephen's Church in Caen in Normandy. In a most unregal postmortem, William's corpulent body would not fit in the stone sarcophagus, and, after some unsuccessful prodding by the assembled bishops, exploded, mephitizing the chapel and dispersing the mourners.
William was succeeded in 1087 as King of England by his younger son William Rufus and as Duke of Normandy by his elder son Robert Curthose. This led to the Rebellion of 1088. His youngest son Henry also became King of England later, after William II died without a child to succeed him.
Children of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders
Some doubt exists over how many daughters there were. This list includes some entries which are obscure.
- Robert Curthose (c. 1054–1134), Duke of Normandy, married Sybil of Conversano, daughter of Geoffrey of Conversano
- Adeliza (or Alice) (c. 1055–?), reportedly betrothed to Harold II of England (Her existence is in some doubt.)
- Cecilia (or Cecily) (c. 1056–1126), Abbess of Holy Trinity, Caen
- William Rufus (1056–1100), King of England
- Richard (1057-c. 1081), killed by a stag in New Forest
- Adela (c. 1062–1138), married Stephen, Count of Blois
- Agatha (c. 1064–c. 1080), betrothed to (1) Harold of Wessex, (2) Alfonso VI of Castile
- Constance (c. 1066–1090), married Alan IV Fergent, Duke of Brittany; poisoned, possibly by her own servants
- Matilda (very obscure, her existence is in some doubt)
- Henry Beauclerc (1068–1135), King of England, married (1) Matilda (or Edith) of Scotland, daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scotland, (2) Adeliza of Louvain
- History of William I's life and reign. Official web site of the British Monarchy
- William the Conqueror. by E. A. Freeman (1823-1892). Ebook published via Gutenberg Project.
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