William the Conqueror biography
William I, the Conqueror (1066-1087 AD)
One of the most important personalities although not English origin in the early Middle Ages, is William I, known as the „Conqueror“.
William, the illegitimate son of Robert I., the sixth Duke of Normandy, spent his first six years with his mother Herleva of Falasiain, a woman about whose origins various theories have been developed, but who was certainly an established partner of the duke. In 1035 Robert set out upon a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in which he died. "He is little", he said about William, "but he will grow, and, if God please, he will mend." William was still a child when he became the ruler of Normandy. His early years were filled with conflict and strife. He faced rival claimants from within his own family and his illegimate birth was sometimes mocked by contemporaries, his other nickname „the Bastard“ was used in his own lifetime. From 1046 until 1054 he faced six long years of uninterrupted war and struggled to survive. In 1047 a serious rebellion of nobles occurred, and William with the aid of Henry, King of France, gained a great victory at Val-ès-Dunes, near Caen, which led, the following year, to the capture of the two strong castles of Alençon and Domfront. Using this as his base of operations, the young duke, in 1054 and the following years, made himself master of the province of Maine and thus became the most powerful vassal of the French Crown, able on occasion to bid defiance to the king himself. Finally, in 1054 the Battle of Mortemer, he had succeeded in crushing all his enemies. Never again was his position in Normandy challenged. But William had also begun to take a great interest in English affairs. How far his visit to England in 1051 was directly prompted by designs upon the throne, it is impossible to say. It is in any case likely that his marriage, in spite of the papal prohibition, with Matilda, the daughter of the Earl of Flanders, in 1053, was intended as a check upon the influence exercised in that powerful quarter by Earl Godwin and his sons, especially Harold, who was chosen by Witan to become a king.
After the invasion and the decisive battle of Hastings in 1066, William at once marched on London, and there the best and wisest men of the kingdom came in and tendered submission. Before the end of the year the king was crowned by Aldred in the newly consecrated abbey-church of Westminster.
Six years of often brutal campaining, which included the notorious harrying of the North in the winter of 1069-1070, were needed to coplete the subjugation of the Wiliamm’s new kingdom.The whole country from York to Durham was laid waste, and we learn, for example, from the Domesday Book, that in the district of Amunderness, where there had been sixty-two villages in the Confessor's time, there were in 1087 but sixteen, and these with a vastly reduced population. After 1072 he visited England only infrequently, usually to deal with crises such as the revolt of the earls in 1075 or the threatened invasion from Denmark in 1085.
The last decade of his life was troubled by the revival of enemies in northern France, dissensions within the rulling group of Normans fomented by his eldest son Robetr Curthose, and threats of invasion of England from Scandinavia. On his death-bed, he divided his lands between Robert Curthose, who received Normandy, and his second surviving son Wiliam Rufus, who was given England. The reasons for this divisions are not definitely known and have been much discussed. It is probable that years of conflict had made him distrust Robert, whose claims to Normandy were none the less undeniable, and that he was influenced by a long-standing custom whereby territorial provision was often made for the younger sons of the Norman ducal kindred.He died as he had lived: an inveterate warrior. He died September 9, 1087 from complications of a wound he received in a siege on the town of Mantes. He was buried in St.Stephen’s church at Caen.
William’s achievement was based on a powerful personality, which appears to have overawed almost all who came into contact with him, and a strong physique which made him one of the most formidable warriors of his days. Like many other Normans, William was a talented ruler.
Having at last reduced the country to submission, William set to work with statesmanlike deliberation to establish his government on a firm and lasting basis. He rewarded his followers with large grants of land, but he was careful to distribute these grants in such a way that the concentration of great territorial power in the same hands was avoided. The new fiefs recorded in Domesday are vast, but scattered. Saxon institutions were as far as possible retained, especially when they might serve as a check upon the power of the great feudatories.In spite of heavy taxation, the new government was not altogether unpopular, for the Conqueror had confirmed "the laws of Edward", and the people looked to him as their natural protector against feudal oppression. As for William's ecclesiastical policy, he seems conscientiously to have carried out a programme of wise reform. His appointments of bishops mere on the whole excellent. To the pope, William was ever careful to show himself a considerate and respectful son, even on such occasions as when he firmly resisted the claim made by Gregory VII.
to feudal homage. On the other hand, St. Gregory himself commended the king for the zeal he had shown in securing the freedom of the Church, and he was content, while such a spirit prevailed, to leave the sovereign practically free in his appointments to English bishoprics. He reformed the English church, which he promised Alexander II he would do in exchange for papal sanction of his conquest.
He was mild to those good men who loved God, but severe beyond measure to those who withstood his will. He founded a noble monastery Battle Abbey on the spot where God permitted him to conquer England., and he established monks in it, and he made it very rich. In his days the great monastery at Canterbury was built, and many others also throughout England; moreover, this land was filled with monks who lived after the rule of St. Benedict; and such was the state of religion in his days that all who would, might observe that which was prescribed by their respective orders.He wore his crown three times every year when he was in England: at Easter he wore it at Winchester, at Pentecost at Westminster, and at Christmas at Gloucester
He achieved peace and stability primarily by replacing the old English aristocracy with his Norman vassals. The symbols of the security and order are the numerous castles and feudal estates which they established, the most famous being the White Tower of the Tower of London. He subdued the Scottish in the north and the Welsh in the west. He laid the foundations for the modern bureaucratic state in England by creating the Domesday book, a record of all the resources in the kingdom and the annual income of his subjects. While carrying on many of the Anglo-Saxons tradition, he imported continental feudalism to England. This way he could demand an oath of fealty from all the magnates in his realm and impose law and order on his subjects. Because of such measures as these William laid the foundations for successful medieval monarchy in England during the Middle Ages. For this reason the period between 1066 and 1154 is known as the age of Anglo-Norman institutions.
Amongst other things, the good order that William established is not to be forgotten. It was such that any man...might travel over the kingdom with a bosom full of gold unmolested; and no man durst kill another, however great the injury he might have received from him.
the land of Normandy was his by inheritance, and he possessed the earldom of Maine, and had he lived two years longer, he would have subdued Ireland by his prowess, and that without a battle.
This King William was a very wise and great man, and more honored and more powerful than any of his predecessors. His death was followed by a civil war between his sons over his inheritance, which was not finally resolved until Henry I’s reunification of Normandy and England in 1106. This struggle of testimony to the solidity of William’s achievements, since his sons were basically fightinig to continue them. Almost every aspect of the Norman Conquest is controversial. But there can be no doubt that it was William’s formidable abilities which laid the foundations for its success.
John Cannon: The Oxford Companion to British History -
J. P. Kennyon: Dictionary of British History -
http://www.newadvent.org/ - www.newadvent.org/
http://www.fordham.edu/ - www.fordham.edu/
http://http:/maxwell.syr.edu - http:/maxwell.syr.edu