Heritage > Rulers

"The Conqueror, The Bastard" 1066-1087

The second cousin of Edward the Confessor and upon Edward's bequest, the most justified claimant to the English crown upon Edward's death.

Although Harold II had fallen at Hastings Saxon-English hopes of retaining the throne had not and these hopes were placed upon the shoulders of Edgar Aetheling. William was in no mood to tolerate any further delay from what he saw as his rightful crown and in a systematic, devastating, act of attrition he ordered his troops to burn and kill in the shires of south and south eastern England. The Saxon generals had no moral option but to surrender to such an onslaught. William was duly crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

William was the illegitimate son of Robert the Devil, Duke of Normandy, and the daughter of a commoner. Protocol forbade a marriage between the two and branded thus William a bastard. He was not alone in being the son of his mother, Herleva, and indeed his two half-brothers, Odo and Robert supported him in single combat at the Battle of Hastings.

William's claim to the throne of England and his subsequent invasion were fully supported by noblemen of not only Normandy but also Brittany and Flanders. These allies were as equally well rewarded upon his victory by gifts of land and titles. These and all other lands within the English realm were recorded in the famous Domesday Book in 1085.

William was not loved by the Saxons and it is not surprising when one considers the freedoms and basic human rights they lost under the Norman rule. There were many rebellions but they were generally poorly co-ordinated and were easily stamped out by William. Invasions by the Welsh and the Danish were just as smartly defeated and for the 21 years of his reign there was only one master of England, William the Conqueror.

William was married to Matilda of Flanders and had no less than 10 children; Robert, Richard, Cecily, William, Adeliza, Constance, Adela, Agatha, Matilda and Henry. In a death fit for a warrior king, William died whilst in combat against the French near the town of Rouen. His body lies in the Normandy town of Caen.

The Battle of Hastings

William Duke of Normandy felt that he had the strongest claim to the English throne. Not only because of Edward's promise, but in 1064 Harold had sworn on oath guaranteeing the succession to him.

As depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, William prepared a fleet of ships to carry his army across the English Channel to face Harold in battle. They landed at Pevensey Bay. Harold's army was still in Northern England. William's soldiers constructed a simple earth and timber castle and lay in wait for the English. There are varying accounts of how many men took part in the Battle of Hastings, but it is safe to assume that there were at least five thousand men on each side. The Norman force included two thousand knights who fought on horseback. The battle took place on the 14th October 1066. The English army occupied a ridge where Harold's elite soldiers, the house-carls formed a wall of shields and repulsed the first charges by Norman knights. Bitter fighting took place between the armies. The English soldiers fought on foot and many were armed with battleaxes.

In the afternoon the battle swayed in William's favour, his troops pretended to retreat, drawing some of the English out from their ranks. The Normans then turned around and catching them by surprise, slaughtered as many of Harold's men as they could. William's troops finally won the day when he ordered his archers to concentrate their fire on the house-carls. This was followed by a cavalry charge during which Harold was killed.

The High Altar of Battle Abbey stands on the exact spot where he fell. He himself is buried in Waltham Abbey which he founded.

In some areas English resistance to the Normans continued after Harold's death. It was mercilessly dealt with by The Harrying of the North in 1069 and the campaign against Hereward the Wake, 1070-1072.

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