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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

8. King William the Conqueror His family and some background of his life in France

The story of William The Conqueror is told in the following pages.  He played an important role in History. 

Whilst he may have been responsible for a great deal of suffering in England, he was also responsible for many remarkable achievements in those dark medieval days.

It is also rather remarkable to know that he was my 26th Great grandfather!  

We came up close and personal with him during our recent trip to England!  I did learn he was a determined person, so perhaps that personality taint has filtered down through the genetics!

This story is from wikipedia

The Story of William The Conqueror, the First Norman King of England

William I (Old Norman: Williame I; c. 1028 – 9 September 1087), usually known as William the Conqueror and sometimes William the Bastard was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. Descended from Viking raiders, he had been Duke of Normandy since 1035 under the title of William II. After a long struggle to establish his power, by 1060 his hold on Normandy was secure, and he launched the Norman conquest of England in 1066. 

The rest of his life was marked by struggles to consolidate his hold over England and his continental lands and by difficulties with his eldest son.

William was the son of the unmarried Robert I, Duke of Normandy, by his mistress Herleva. His illegitimate status and his youth caused some difficulties for him after he succeeded his father, as did the anarchy that plagued the first years of his rule. During his childhood and adolescence, members of the Norman aristocracy battled each other, both for control of the child duke and for their own ends.

 In 1047 William was able to quash a rebellion and begin to establish his authority over the duchy, a process that was not complete until about 1060. His marriage in the 1050s to Matilda of Flanders provided him with a powerful ally in the neighbouring county of Flanders. By the time of his marriage, William was able to arrange the appointments of his supporters as bishops and abbots in the Norman church. His consolidation of power allowed him to expand his horizons, and by 1062 William was able to secure control of the neighbouring county of Maine.

In the 1050s and early 1060s William became a contender for the throne of England, then held by his childless cousin Edward the ConfessorThere were other potential claimants, including the powerful English earl Harold Godwinsonwho was named the next king by Edward on the latter's deathbed in January 1066. 

William argued that Edward had previously promised the throne to him, and that Harold had sworn to support William's claim. 

William built a large fleet and invaded England in September 1066, decisively defeating and killing Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. After further military efforts William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066, in London.

He made arrangements for the governance of England in early 1067 before returning to Normandy. Several unsuccessful rebellions followed, but by 1075 William's hold on England was mostly secure, allowing him to spend the majority of the rest of his reign on the Continent.

William's final years were marked by difficulties in his continental domains, troubles with his eldest son, and threatened invasions of England by the Danes. In 1086 William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book, a survey listing all the landholders in England along with their holdings. William died in September 1087 while leading a campaign in northern France, and was buried in Caen

His reign in England was marked by the construction of castles, the settling of a new Norman nobility on the land, and change in the composition of the English clergy. He did not try to integrate his various domains into one empire, but instead continued to administer each part separately. William's lands were divided after his death: Normandy went to his eldest son, Robert, and his second surviving son, William, received England.


Norsemen first began raiding in what became Normandy in the late 8th century. Permanent Scandinavian settlement occurred before 911, when an agreement was reached between Rollo, one of the Viking leaders, and King Charles the Simple of France, surrendering the county of Rouen to Rollo. The lands around Rouen became the core of the later duchy of Normandy. 

Normandy may have been used as a base when Scandinavian attacks on England were renewed at the end of the 10th century, which would have worsened relations between England and Normandy. In an effort to improve matters, King Æthelred the Unready took Emma of Normandy, sister of Duke Richard II, as his second wife in 1002.

Danish raids on England continued and Æthelred sought help from Richard, taking refuge in Normandy in 1013 when King Swein I of Denmark drove Æthelred and his family from England. Swein's death in 1014 allowed Æthelred to return home, but Swein's son Cnut contested Æthelred's return. Æthelred died unexpectedly in 1016 and Cnut became king of England. Æthelred and Emma's two sons, Edward and Alfred, went into exile in Normandy while their mother, Emma, became Cnut's second wife.

After Cnut's death in 1035 the English throne fell to Harold Harefoot, his son by his first wife, while Harthacnut, his son by Emma, became king in Denmark. England remained unstable. Alfred returned to England in 1036 to visit his mother and perhaps challenge Harold as king.

One story implicates Earl Godwin of Wessex in Alfred's subsequent death, but others blame Harold. Emma went into exile in Flanders until Harthacnut became king following Harold's death in 1040, and his half-brother Edward followed Harthacnut to England; Edward was proclaimed king after Harthacnut's death in June 1042.

Early life

Château de Falaise in Falaise, Lower Normandy, France; William was born in an earlier building here.

William was born in 1027 or 1028 at Falaise, Normandy, probably towards the end of the latter year.   He was the only son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, son of Duke Richard II. 

His mother, Herleva, was the daughter of Fulbert of Falaise; Fulbert may have been a tanner or embalmer.

She was possibly a member of the ducal household, but did not marry Robert.    Instead, she later married Herluin de Conteville, with whom she had two sons – Odo of Bayeux and Robert, Count of Mortain – and a daughter whose name is unknown.   One of Herleva's brothers, Walter, became a supporter and protector of William during his minority. Robert also had a daughter, Adelaide of Normandy, by another mistress.

Robert, William's father, became Duke of Normandy on 6 August 1027, in succession to his elder brother Richard III, who had only succeeded to the title the previous year.  Robert and his brother had been at odds over the succession, and Richard's death was very sudden. Robert was accused by some writers of killing his brother, a plausible but now unprovable charge.

Conditions in Normandy were unsettled, as noble families despoiled the Church and Alan III of Brittany waged war against the duchy, possibly in an attempt to take control. By 1031 Robert had gathered considerable support from noblemen, many of whom would become prominent during William's life. They included Robert's uncle, Robert the archbishop of Rouen, who had originally opposed the duke, Osbern, a nephew of Gunnor the wife of Duke Richard I, and Count Gilbert of Brionne, a grandson of Richard I.     After his accession, Robert continued Norman support for the English princes Edward and Alfred, who were still in exile in northern France.

There are indications that Robert may have been briefly betrothed to a daughter of King Cnut, but no marriage took place. It is unclear if William would have been supplanted in the ducal succession if Robert had had a legitimate son. Earlier dukes had been illegitimate, and William's association with his father on ducal charters appears to indicate that William was considered Robert's most likely heir.  

In 1034 Duke Robert decided to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Although some of his supporters tried to dissuade him from undertaking the journey, Robert convened a council in January 1035 and had the assembled Norman magnates swear fealty to William as his heir before leaving for Jerusalem. 

He died in early July at Nicea, on his way back to Normandy.

Duke of Normandy


Diagram showing William's family relationships. Names with "---" under them were opponents of William, and names with "+++" were supporters of William. Some relatives switched sides over time, and are marked with both symbols.

William faced several challenges on becoming duke, including his illegitimate birth and his youth: the evidence indicates that he was either seven or eight years old at the time. He enjoyed the support of his great-uncle, Archbishop Robert, as well as the king of France, Henry I, enabling him to succeed to his father's duchy.

The support given to the exiled English princes in their attempt to return to England in 1036 shows that the new duke's guardians were attempting to continue his father's policies but Archbishop Robert's death in March 1037 removed one of William's main supporters, and conditions in Normandy quickly descended into chaos.

The anarchy in the duchy lasted until 1047, and control of the young duke was one of the priorities of those contending for power. At first, Alan of Brittany had custody of the duke, but when Alan died in either late 1039 or October 1040, Gilbert of Brionne took charge of William. Gilbert was killed within months, and another guardian, Turchetil, was also killed around the time of Gilbert's death. Yet another guardian, Osbern, was slain in the early 1040s in William's chamber while the duke slept. It was said that Walter, William's maternal uncle, was occasionally forced to hide the young duke in the houses of peasants, although this story may be an embellishment by Orderic Vitalis.

 The historian Eleanor Searle speculates that William was raised with the three cousins who later became important in his career – William fitzOsbern, Roger de Beaumont, and Roger of Montgomery.

Although many of the Norman nobles engaged in their own private wars and feuds during William's minority, the viscounts still acknowledged the ducal government, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy was supportive of William.

King Henry continued to support the young duke, but in late 1046 opponents of William came together in a rebellion centred in lower Normandy, led by Guy of Burgundy with support from Nigel, Viscount of the Cotentin, and Ranulf, Viscount of the Bessin. According to stories that may have legendary elements, an attempt was made to seize William at Valognes, but he escaped under cover of darkness, seeking refuge with King Henry.

In early 1047 Henry and William returned to Normandy and were victorious at the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes near Caen, although few details of the actual fighting are recorded.  William of Poitiers claimed that the battle was won mainly through William's efforts, but earlier accounts claim that King Henry's men and leadership also played an important part. William assumed power in Normandy, and shortly after the battle promulgated the Truce of God throughout his duchy, in an effort to limit warfare and violence by restricting the days of the year on which fighting was permitted.

 Although the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes marked a turning point in William's control of the duchy, it was not the end of his struggle to gain the upper hand over the nobility. The period from 1047 to 1054 saw almost continuous warfare, with lesser crises continuing until 1060.

Consolidation of power

Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing William with his half-brothers. William is in the centre, Odo is on the left with empty hands, and Robert is on the right with a sword in his hand.

William's next efforts were against Guy of Burgundy, who retreated to his castle at Brionne, which William besieged. After a long effort, the duke succeeded in exiling Guy in 1050. To address the growing power of the Count of Anjou, Geoffrey Martel, William joined with King Henry in a campaign against him, the last known cooperation between the two. They succeeded in capturing an Angevin fortress, but accomplished little else.

Geoffrey attempted to expand his authority into the county of Maine, especially after the death of Hugh IV of Maine in 1051. Central to the control of Maine were the holdings of the family of Bellême, who held Bellême on the border of Maine and Normandy, as well as the fortresses at Alençon and Domfort. Bellême's overlord was the king of France, but Domfort was under the overlordship of Geoffrey Martel and Duke William was Alençon's overlord.

The Bellême family, whose lands were quite strategically placed between their three different overlords, were able to play each of them against the other and secure virtual independence for themselves.

On the death of Hugh of Maine, Geoffrey Martel occupied Maine in a move contested by William and King Henry; eventually they succeeded in driving Geoffrey from the county, and in the process, William was able to secure the Bellême family strongholds at Alençon and Domfort for himself. He was thus able to assert his overlordship over the Bellême family and compel them to act consistently in Norman interests.

 But in 1052 the king and Geoffrey Martel made common cause against William at the same time as some Norman nobles began to contest William's increasing power. Henry's volte-face was probably motivated by a desire to retain dominance over Normandy, which was now threatened by William's growing mastery of his duchy. William was engaged in military actions against his own nobles throughout 1053, as well as the new Archbishop of Rouen, Mauger.

In February 1054 the king and the Norman rebels launched a double invasion of the duchy. Henry led the main thrust through the county of Évreux, while the other wing, under the French king's brother Odo, invaded eastern Normandy.

William met the invasion by dividing his forces into two groups. The first, which he led, faced Henry. The second, which included some who became William's firm supporters, such as Robert, Count of Eu, Walter Giffard, Roger of Mortemer, and William de Warenne, faced the other invading force. This second force defeated the invaders at the Battle of Mortemer

In addition to ending both invasions, the battle allowed the duke's ecclesiastical supporters to depose Mauger from the archbishopric of Rouen. Mortemer thus marked another turning point in William's growing control of the duchy, although his conflict with the French king and the Count of Anjou continued until 1060.

Henry and Geoffrey led another invasion of Normandy in 1057, but were defeated by William at the Battle of Varaville. This was the last invasion of Normandy during William's lifetime, and the deaths of the count and the king in 1060 cemented the shift in the balance of power towards William.

The signatures of William I and Matilda are the first two large crosses on the

One factor in William's favour was his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders. The union was arranged in 1049, but Pope Leo IX forbade the marriage at the Council of Rheims in October 1049.

 The marriage nevertheless went ahead, and took place some time in the early 1050s, possibly unsanctioned by the pope. According to a late source not generally considered to be reliable, papal sanction was not secured until 1059, but as papal-Norman relations in the 1050s were generally good, and Norman clergy were able to visit Rome in 1050 without incident, it was probably secured earlier.

Papal sanction of the marriage appears to have required the founding of two monasteries in Caen – one by William and one by Matilda.   The marriage was important in bolstering William's status, as Flanders was one of the more powerful French territories, with ties to the French royal house and to the German emperors.    Contemporary writers considered the marriage, which produced four sons and five or six daughters, to be a success.

Appearance and character

No authentic portrait of William has been found; the contemporary depictions of him on the Bayeux Tapestry and on his seals and coins are conventional representations designed to assert his authority.

There are some written descriptions of a burly and robust appearance, with a guttural voice. He enjoyed excellent health until old age, although he became quite fat in later life.

He was strong enough to draw bows that others were unable to pull and had great stamina.

Geoffrey Martel described him as without equal as a fighter and as a horseman.

Examination of William's femur, the only bone to survive when the rest of his remains were destroyed, showed he was approximately 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) in height, quite tall for the time.[

There are records of two tutors for the young duke during the late 1030s and early 1040s, but the extent of William's literary education is unclear. He was not known as a patron of authors, and there is little evidence that he sponsored scholarship or other intellectual activities.

Orderic Vitalis records that late in William's life the king tried to learn to read Old English, but was unable to devote sufficient time to the effort and quickly gave up.

 William's main hobby appears to have been hunting.

His marriage to Matilda appears to have been quite affectionate, and there are no signs that he was unfaithful to her – unusual in a medieval monarch.

 Medieval writers criticised William for his greed and cruelty, but his personal piety was universally praised by contemporaries.

Norman administration

Norman government under William was similar to the government that had existed under earlier dukes. It was a fairly simple administrative system, built around the ducal household, which consisted of a group of officers including stewards, butlers, and marshalls.  The duke travelled constantly around the duchy, confirming charters and collecting revenues. Most of the income came from the ducal lands, as well as tolls and a few taxes. This income was collected by the chamber, one of the household departments.

William cultivated close relations with the church in his duchy. He took part in church councils, and made several appointments to the Norman episcopate, including the appointment of Maurilius as Archbishop of Rouen.

Another important appointment was that of William's half-brother Odo as Bishop of Bayeux in either 1049 or 1050. He also relied on the clergy for advice, including Lanfranc, a non-Norman who rose to become one of William's prominent ecclesiastical advisors in the late 1040s and remained so throughout the 1050s and 1060s. William gave generously to the church; from 1035 to 1066, the Norman aristocracy founded at least 20 new monastic houses, including William's two monasteries in Caen, a remarkable expansion of religious life in the duchy

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry showing William giving arms to Harold during Harold's trip to the continent in 1064

In 1051 the childless King Edward of England appears to have chosen William as his successor to the English throne.

 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in the "D" version, goes so far as to state that William visited England in the later part of 1051, perhaps to secure confirmation of the succession, or perhaps William was attempting to secure aid for his troubles in Normandy. William was descended from Edward's uncle, Richard II, Duke of Normandy.

The trip is unlikely given William's absorption in warfare with Anjou at the time. Whatever Edward's wishes, it was likely that any claim by William would be opposed by Godwin, the Earl of Wessex, a member of the most powerful family in England.

Edward had married Edith, Godwin's daughter, in 1043, and Godwin appears to have been one of the main supporters of Edward's claim to the throne. But by 1050, relations between the king and the earl had soured, culminating in a crisis in 1051 that led to Godwin and his family's exile from England.

It was during this exile that Edward offered the throne to William.

Godwin returned from exile in 1052 with armed forces and a settlement was reached between the king and the earl, with the earl and his family being restored to their lands and the replacement of Robert of Jumièges, a Norman whom Edward had named Archbishop of Canterbury, with Stigand, the Bishop of Winchester.

No English source mentions a supposed embassy by Archbishop Robert to William conveying the promise of the succession, and the two Norman sources that mention it, William of Jumièges and William of Poitiers, are not precise in their chronology of when this visit took place.

Count Herbert II of Maine died in 1062, and William, who had betrothed his eldest son Robert to the sister of Herbert, claimed the county through his son. Local nobles resisted the claim, but William invaded and by 1064 had secured control of the area. William appointed a Norman to the bishopric of Le Mans in 1065. He also allowed his son Robert Curthose to do homage to the new Count of Anjou, Geoffrey the Bearded.

William's western border was thus secured, but his border with Brittany remained insecure. In 1064 William invaded Brittany in a campaign that remains obscure in its details. Its effect though was to destabilise Brittany, forcing the duke, Conan II, to focus on internal problems rather than expansion. Conan's death in 1066 further secured William's borders in Normandy. William benefited in another way from his campaign in Brittany by securing the support of some Breton nobles who went on to support the invasion of England in 1066.

Family relationships of the claimants to the English throne in 1066, and others involved in the struggle. Kings of England are shown in bold.

In England, Earl Godwin died in 1053 and his sons were increasing in power; Harold succeeded to his father's earldom and another son, Tostig, became Earl of Northumbria. Other sons were granted earldoms later: Gyrth as Earl of East Anglia in 1057 and Leofwine as Earl of Kent some time between 1055 and 1057.

Some sources claim that Harold took part in William's Breton campaign of 1064 and that Harold swore to uphold William's claim to the English throne at the end of the campaign, but no English source reports this trip, and it is unclear if it actually occurred. It may have been Norman propaganda designed to discredit Harold, who had emerged as the main contender to succeed King Edward.

 Meanwhile another contender for the throne had emerged – Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside and a grandson of Æthelred II, returned to England in 1057, and although he died shortly after his return, he brought with him his family, which included two daughters, Margaret and Christina, and a son, Edgar the Ætheling.

In 1065 Northumbria revolted against Tostig, and the rebels chose Morcar, the younger brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia, as earl in place of Tostig. Harold, perhaps to secure the support of Edwin and Morcar in his bid for the throne, supported the rebels, and persuaded King Edward to replace Tostig with Morcar. Tostig went into exile in Flanders, along with his wife Judith, who was the daughter of Count Baldwin IV of Flanders. Edward was ailing, and died on 5 January 1066.

 It is unclear what exactly happened at Edward's deathbed. One story, deriving from the Vita Edwardi, a biography of Edward, claims that Edward was attended by his wife Edith, Harold, Archbishop Stigand, and Robert FitzWimarc, and that the king named Harold as his successor.

The Norman sources do not dispute the fact that Harold was named as the next king, but declare that Harold's oath and Edward's earlier promise of the throne could not be changed on Edward's deathbed. Later English sources stated that Harold had been elected as king by the clergy and magnates of England.[71]

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