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William de Normandie

King of England
Duke of Normandy
Born: October 14, 1024in: Falaise Castle, Normandy, France
Married: 1052in: Notre Dame d'Eu Normandy, France
Died: September 10, 1087in: Rouen, Normandy, France
Father: Robert d'Exmes
aka: RobertI, Duke of Normandy
Mother: Arlette de Mortain

Wife: Matilda de Flandre

Born: 1032in: Flandre, Belgium
Died: November 02, 1083in: Caen, Normandy, France
Father: Baldwin V de Flandre
Mother: Adele Capet


Robert II, Duke of Normandy
Richard, Duke of Bernay
Cecily de Normandie
William Rufus, King of England
Agatha de Normandie
Adelica de Normandie
Adela de Normandie - Mother of King Stephen
Constance de Normandie
Matilda de Normandie
Henry I, King of England

The Conquering King
by Debra K. Steber

     William was the illegitimate son of Robert Duke of Normandy and Herleva, the daughter of a tanner in Falaise. He spent his first six years with his mother in Falaise. His father died in 1035 in Asia Minor while returning home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Before leaving for his pilgrimage, he had persuaded the Norman barons to recognize William as his heir. William became the Duke of Normandy while still a child so a council of nobles and William's appointed guardians ruled Normandy. For the next twelve years the duchy saw nothing but violence and disorder. Many people would benefit from William's death so his life was always in danger. He survived only because his mother's kin saw to his safety.
      In 1047, William gained control of his duchy. He spent the next several years at war with his nobles and powerful neighbors. William was better able to secure his region and gain power by marrying Matilda, the daughter of the powerful Count Baldwin of Flanders. William and Matilda married despite papal disapproval. The marriage brought several children, four of which were boys.

     Eventually, William was in complete control of his duchy and secured it from outside attacks. His cousin, Edward The Confessor, King of England, needed William's support because of a feud he was having with his father-in-law, Earl Godwin. In 1051 Edward promised William the English throne. As Edward lay dying on his deathbed in 1066, he named Earl Godwin's son, Harold, as his successor. This angered William greatly and he prepared to invade England. He turned to the Pope claiming that not only did Edward name him as successor but also Harold had sworn an oath to support Williams's accession to the English throne. Armed with papal authority, William prepared for battle.

     The Duke was ready to set sail in August 1066, but winds throughout August and most of September prohibited him crossing the English Channel. This turn of events proved to be advantageous for William. While Harold was waiting with his forces for William's invasion on the south shores, Harold Hardrada, the King of Norway, invaded England from the north. Harold Godwin's forces marched north to defeat the Norse at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Two days after the battle, William landed unopposed at Pevensey and spent the next two weeks pillaging the area and strengthening his position.
Harold then turned his tired troops around to fight William in the south. The two met on October 14, 1066 at Hastings. The English held their own for several hours but fatigue finally took over and they gave into William's onslaught. Harold and his brothers died fighting in the Battle of Hastings.
      The English Anglo-Saxon earls and bishops didn't want to support William but realizing that there was no one strong enough to fight the Normans, gave in. He was crowned William I, King of England on Christmas Day 1066. There were immediate uprisings throughout the kingdom. The Normans ruthlessly crushed each and every one of them until William had complete control of the kingdom.

     The entire region was conquered and under William's rule by 1072. William punished rebels by confiscating their lands and giving it to the Normans. He slowly reallocated all English land to Norman barons and brought Feudalism to England. New laws were established and the role of the town sheriff was given the power to arbitrate legal cases and collect tax payments on behalf of the King. In 1085, William commissioned "The Domesday Book" to access land ownership and appropriate taxes. A year later, all of the landowners were summoned to Salisbury to pay homage to the King.

     During William's reign, he took command over the administration of church affairs and replaced most of the English bishops with foreign prelates. He appointed, Italian churchman and theologian Lafranc, archbishop of Canterbury. Separate ecclesiastical courts were established and the Pope was not allowed to dictate policy in England or Normandy.

     William was successful at keeping order in his kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle writes, "...we must not forget the good order he kept in the land, so that a man of any substance could travel unmolested throughout the country with his bosom full of gold. No man dared to slay another, no matter what evil the other might have done him." This success was largely due to the new laws below that the King enacted.



The New Law of the Land as set down by William the Conqueror and his advisors:

  • First that above all things he wishes one God to be revered throughout his whole realm, one faith in Christ to be kept ever inviolate, and peace and security to be preserved between English and Normans
  • We decree also that every freeman shall affirm by oath and compact that he will be loyal to king William both within and without England, that he will preserve with him his lands and honor with all fidelity and defend him against his enemies.
  • I will, moreover, that all the men I have brought with me, or who have come after me, shall be protected by my peace and shall dwell in quiet. And if any one of them shall be slain, let the lord of his murderer seize him within five days, if he can; but if he cannot, let him pay me 46 marks of silver so long as his substance avails. And when his substance is exhausted, let the whole hundred in which the murder took place pay what remains in common.
  • And let every Frenchman who, in the time of king Edward, my kinsman, was a sharer in the customs of the English, pay what they call "scot and lot", according to the laws of the English. This decree was ordained in the city of Gloucester.
  • We forbid also that any live cattle shall be bought or sold for money except within cities, and this shall be done before three faithful witnesses; nor even anything old without surety and warrant. But if anyone shall do otherwise, let him pay once, and afterwards a second time for a fine.
  • It was decreed there that if a Frenchman shall charge an Englishman with perjury or murder or theft or homicide or "ran", as the English call open rapine which cannot be denied, the Englishman may defend himself, as he shall prefer, either by the ordeal of hot iron or by wager of battle. But if the Englishman be infirm, let him find another who will take his place. If one of them shall be vanquished, he shall pay a fine of 40 shillings to the king. If an Englishman shall charge a Frenchman and be unwilling to prove his accusation either by ordeal or by wager of battle, I will, nevertheless, that the Frenchman shall acquit himself by a valid oath.
  • This also I command and will, that all shall have and hold the law of the king Edward in respect of their lands and all their posessions, with the addition of those decrees I have ordained for the welfare of the English people.
  • Every man who wishes to be considered a freeman shall be in pledge so that his surety shall hold him and hand him over to justice if he shall offend in any way. And if any such shall escape, let his sureties see to it that they pay forthwith what is charge against him, and let them clear themselves of any complicity in his escape. Let recourse be had to the hundred and shire courts as our predecessors decreed. And those who ought of right to come and are unwilling to appear, shall be summoned once; and if for the second time they refuse to come, one ox shall be taken from them, and they shall be summoned a third time. And if they do not come the third time, a second ox shall be taken from them. But if they do not come the fourth summons, the man who is unwilling to come shall forfeit from his goods the amount of the charge against him, "ceapgeld" as it is called, and in addition to this a fine to the king.
  • I prohibit the sale of any man by another outside the country on pain of a fine to be paid in full to me.
  • I also forbid that anyone shall be slain or hanged for any fault, but let his eyes be put out and let him be castrated. And this command shall not be violated under pain of a fine in full to me.

         It can also be said that King William was one of the first supporters of women's rights. Many historians credit his wife Matilda for this and point out that William was most likely a faithful husband. Once again we turn to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for insight. "...if a man lay with a woman against her will, he was forthwith condemned to forfeit those members with which he had deported himself."

         William The Conqueror died September 9, 1087 from complications of a wound he received in a siege on the town of Mantes. William has not faired as well in death as he did in life. According to his biographer, Orderic Vitalis, upon the king's death his attendants, "...behaved as if they had lost their wits...the wealthiest of them mounted their horses and departed in haste to secure their property. Whilst the inferior attendants, observing that their masters had disappeared, laid hands on the arms, the plate, the linen, and the royal furniture, and hastened away, leaving the corpse almost naked."
         When William's body was laid to rest his attendants were unable to fit him into his coffin. William had become so fat in his life that his body had to be forced into the stone coffin. The corpse busted open, spilling its contents on the floor and the room with a foul odor. After his grave was vandalized in 1522 by Calvinists, only a thigh bone remained which was buried again in 1642. His tomb was once again destroyed in 1793 by French revolutionaries, at which time the thigh bone was lost. In 1987, according to french authorities, the genuine thigh bone of William I, King of England was discovered in the old tomb. It was reburied on September 9, 1987 under a new tombstone.


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