In the Days of William the Conqueror

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Were it not for his iron grip over the writing of history, he might easily have been consigned to the second. What we know of William comes to us from his admirers rather than his critics. From long before , the writing of history in Normandy consisted of panegyrics in praise of the ruling dynasty. William and his ancestors, descended from pagan Vikings, were determined to prove the legitimacy of their rule over northern France.

Their English or Anglo-Norman successors — most notably John of Worcester, Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury — wrote in the aftermath of to explain why William and the Normans secured so unexpected and total a victory. As a result, William himself could be portrayed not as villain but as divinely appointed scourge. In theory, no illegitimate son could sit on a ducal throne, let alone a royal one. Yet there is no doubt that William was illegitimate. Rumour, already circulating by the s, identified Herleva as the daughter of a tanner from Falaise, associated with a trade mired in dung and the stench of the abattoir.

Duke Robert died in while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, leaving no legitimate heir. Aged only about eight, William was caught in a power struggle that took more than two decades to resolve.


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Normandy fissured between various factions backed by the neighbouring rulers of France, Brittany and Anjou. His court became notorious as a place of conspiracy and assassination from which William had to be sheltered at night, hidden in the houses of the poor. Fatherless and raised amid paranoia, William triumphed through a combination of diplomacy and calculated terror.

The opposition was then hunted down, killed or exiled. In or , to consolidate support from the north, William married Matilda, daughter of the Count of Flanders. William and Matilda were cousins, so their marriage was immediately condemned by the church. Acceptance came only after intense diplomatic negotiations with the papacy.

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Once again showing his coolness under pressure, William first seized the castle at Arques and then ensured his enemies were defeated in battle at Mortemer in A second attempted invasion in ended in victory for William at Varaville near Caen. Only from this point, in his early thirties, could William claim full mastery over Normandy. In the meantime, victory in at least three battles proclaimed him both a master tactician and a military commander peculiarly favoured by God. There followed a whirlwind of activity and aggression.

Pushing south and west into Maine and Brittany, William laid the basis for his reputation as a conqueror in France. More significantly, he revived plans already devised by his father, Duke Robert, for a Norman descent upon England. Edward had been raised in exile in Normandy, returning to England in the s with Norman assistance.

Thereafter, following his accession in , he looked to his young cousin, William of Normandy, as a potential heir. The intention was to play off William against the influence of the Godwinsons, the most powerful aristocratic dynasty in 11th-century England, into which Edward had been obliged to marry — but which he was determined to exclude from the throne. William IV r.

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William the Conqueror

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BBC - History - William the Conqueror: A Thorough Revolutionary

Edmund II 'Ironside' r. Apr- Nov Read more. Sweyn r. Ethelred II 'The Unready' r. While he was away Waltheof , the Earl of Northumbria, began to conspire against him. Geoffrey of Coutances led the fight against the uprising and afterwards ordered that all rebels should have their right foot cut off. Waltheof was arrested: "His motives, even his actions, were uncertain at the time and have been contentious ever since. Waltheof certainly did not rebel openly.

It may have been simply as one later version had it that he knew about a conspiracy against the king and was slow in reporting it, or following another account that he went along with the plot when it was first put to him, only to have immediate reservations and throw himself on the king's mercy.

William the Conqueror, the man who dared to invade England

In William's eldest son, Robert Curthose , suggested that he should become the ruler of Normandy and Maine. When the king refused, Robert rebelled and attempted to seize Rouen. The rebellion failed and Robert was forced to flee and established himself at Gerberoi. William besieged him there in but his wife, Matilda of Flanders , managed to persuade the two men to end their feud.

Odo of Bayeux had been left in control of England while William was in Normandy. In William heard complaints about Odo's behaviour. He returned to England and Odo was arrested and charged with misgovernment and oppression. Found guilty he was kept in prison for the next five years. While waiting for the attack to take place he decided to order a comprehensive survey of his kingdom.

There were three main reasons why William decided to order a survey. William planned to use this information to help him make the right judgements when people were in dispute over land ownership. William sent out his officials to every town, village and hamlet in England. They asked questions about the ownership of land, animals and farm equipment and also about the value of the land and how it was used.

When the information was collected it was sent to Winchester where it was recorded in a book. About a hundred years after it was produced the book became known as the Domesday Book. Domesday means "day of judgement". William's survey was completed in only seven months. When William knew who the main landowners were, he arranged a meeting for them at Salisbury. At this meeting on 1st August, , he made them all swear a new oath that they would always obey their king.

John F. Harrison , the author of The Common People points out that "from this unique document we have an unparalleled picture of early medieval society in England, including much about the peasantry.

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In later life William became very fat. In William was told that King Philip of France described him as looking like a pregnant woman. William was furious and on mounted an attack on the king's territory. On 15th August he captured Mantes and set fire to the town. Soon afterwards he fell from his horse and suffered internal injuries. Ordericus Vitalis said that as he was "very corpulent" he "fell sick from the excessive heat and his great fatigues". William was taken to the priory of St.