William the Conqueror

Eyridiki Sellou | Apr 6, 2023

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William the Conqueror (in Norman Williame or Willalme li Conquereor, in English William the Conqueror), also called William the Bastard or William of Normandy, was born in Falaise in 1027 or 1028 and died in Rouen on 9 September 1087. He was duke of Normandy, under the name of William II, from 1035 to his death, and king of England, under the name of William I, from 1066 to his death.

Son of Robert the Magnificent and his frilla, Arlette de Falaise (Herleva), William became duke of Normandy at the death of his father, at the age of eight. After a period of great instability, he managed to regain the domination of the duchy from the battle of Val-ès-Dunes, in 1047. He married Mathilde of Flanders around 1050, and made Normandy a powerful duchy, feared by the kings of France, Henry I (1031-1060) and Philip I (1060-1108).

Following the death of King Edward the Confessor, he took advantage of a succession crisis to seize the English crown after his victory at the Battle of Hastings (1066). This conquest made him one of the most powerful monarchs in Western Europe and led to profound changes in English society, including the disappearance of the Anglo-Saxon elite in favor of the Normans.

From then on, he spent the rest of his reign defending himself against his many enemies, whether in England (the Anglo-Saxon rebels gathered behind Edgar Atheling, the Danes and the Scots) or on the continent (the Count of Anjou Foulques le Réchin, the Count of Flanders Robert I, and above all the King of France Philip I). He died in Rouen in 1087, after the sacking of Mantes, during a campaign of reprisals in the French Vexin against King Philip I. He is buried in the Men's Abbey in Caen.

Historical context

Robert the Magnificent became Duke of Normandy on August 6, 1027, upon the death of his older brother, Richard III, only 20 years old. The latter had just succeeded their father, Richard II, who had died a year earlier. This episode had been the occasion of a rebellion of Robert, quickly repressed by the ducal army. The brutal and mysterious death of Richard III benefited Robert, who was later accused by writers such as Wace of having had his brother poisoned. Richard left a young bastard son, Nicolas, who was excluded from the court.

Duke Robert quickly had to face rebellions against the ducal power: Guillaume I of Bellême was besieged in Alençon, then the bishop Hugues de Bayeux was chased from his castle of Ivry-la-Bataille. Count of Evreux and Archbishop of Rouen, Robert the Dane opposed Duke Robert (also his nephew) who, at the beginning of his principate, took away lands from abbeys and great churches, to distribute them to young nobles, such as Roger I of Montgommery, to reward them at a lower cost.

Duke Robert left in 1028 to lead the siege of Évreux. After having defended the city, Archbishop Robert the Dane negotiated with the king of France, Robert the Pious, his exile in France, from where he launched the anathema on Normandy. The ecclesiastical sanction made its effect felt: the duke recalled the archbishop and re-established him in his county and archiepiscopal offices.

Finally, Duke Alain III of Brittany (son of Geoffrey I of Brittany and Havoise of Normandy - aunt of the Duke of Normandy), now an adult, refused allegiance to Robert the Magnificent (his cousin). Around 1030, Robert sends his fleet to ravage the surroundings of Dol. Alfred the Giant and Néel II of Saint-Sauveur soon crushed the Bretons. Through the intermediary of the archbishop Robert the Dane, the duke of Brittany was reconciled with Robert the Magnificent and recognized himself as his vassal. Robert the Dane then became a strong man of the duchy, around which a certain number of nobles like Osbern de Crépon, seneschal of the duke, and Gilbert de Brionne joined.

Childhood and adolescence

William was born in 1027 or 1028 in Falaise, Normandy, probably in the autumn, not at the castle of Falaise, but at the home of his mother, Arlette, probably in the "bourg" of Falaise. The date of October 14, 1024, frequently encountered, is probably false: it is due to Thomas Roscoe, who indicates it in the biography of William that he wrote in 1846, based on William's alleged confession to Orderic Vital on his deathbed, the date and month being copied from those of the battle of Hastings. The exact date of birth is the subject of contradictory writings: Orderic Vital affirms that William would have indicated that he was 64 years old at his death, which would date his birth to the year 1023. But the same author also states that William was eight years old when, in 1035, his father left for Jerusalem, which would move his year of birth to 1027. For his part, William of Malmesbury affirms that William was seven years old when his father left, so he would have been born in 1028. Finally, in De obitu Willelmi (en), it is said that William was only 59 years old when he died, which would place his birth in 1027 or 1028.

According to David Bates, former director of the Institute of Research in London, historians, especially French historians, apply the nickname "bastard", but he was rarely called that in his lifetime and never in Normandy. The origin of this nickname comes from Orderic Vital, a twelfth-century monk-historian whose theology centered on the respect of divine laws encouraged him to chronicle his time without always taking into account Norman propaganda, which made William's bastardy the explanatory factor of all the disorders and revolts that took place during his reign.

William is the only son of Robert I of Normandy. His mother, Arlette, was the daughter of Fulbert de Falaise, a mortuary attendant of the city. The nature of the relationship between Arlette and Duke Robert is uncertain: simple concubinage or more danico union. At an uncertain date (before 1035?), Arlette was married to Herluin de Conteville, with whom she had two sons: Odon de Bayeux and Robert de Mortain. William had a sister, Adélaïde de Normandie, born in 1026, of whom it is not known exactly if she was the daughter of Robert and

In 1034, the duke decided to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, although his supporters tried to dissuade him, arguing that he had no heir of age to rule. Before his departure, Robert gathered a council of powerful Normans to make them swear loyalty to William, his heir. Robert died in July 1035 in Nicaea, on the way back. William then became duke of Normandy.

The authority of the new duke was all the more fragile because William was only seven years old. As a result, the duchy of Normandy went through a decade of troubles, fueled by the death of his great-uncle, Archbishop Robert the Dane, his first and powerful protector, in March 1037. Wars broke out between the main baronial families; castles were built in the duchy.

Conspiracies hit even the ducal entourage and William lost several of his guardians or protectors by assassination: Alain III of Brittany, who had proclaimed himself William's protector, but claimed the duchy for himself as the grandson of Duke Richard I, died in Vimoutiers in October 1040; Gilbert de Brionne, later named William's guardian, was murdered a few months later at the instigation of Raoul de Gacé; Turquetil de Neuf-Marché was murdered in late 1040-early 1041; finally, the seneschal Osbern de Crépon was killed in the duke's own room by the son of Roger I of Montgommery. The Richardides, descendants of the former dukes, seem to be involved in these murders. Walter, William's uncle through his mother, had to hide the young duke with peasants. To the troubles of William's minority is added the scourge of famine, which weighs seven years on Normandy. It was accompanied by a very deadly epidemic.

Although many Norman nobles were involved in local quarrels, such as Hugues I de Montfort who fought with Gauchelin (or Vauquelin) de Ferrières, the main lords and the Church remained loyal to the ducal power, as did King Henry I of France.

William's close friends, almost all of whom were his relatives to varying degrees, decided to make him live in hiding and change lodgings every night. In 1046, William was about nineteen years old. This time, a conspiracy targeted his person, who had been spared until then. Some of the lords formed a coalition to remove him from the ducal throne in favor of Gui de Brionne (c. 1025-1069), a cousin of William, son of Renaud I of Burgundy and Adelaide, daughter of Richard II. This rebellion brought together mainly "old Normans" from the West (Bessin, Cotentin, Cinglais), traditionally unsociable and hostile to the policy of assimilation carried out by the dukes. In particular, Hamon le Dentu, lord of Creully, the viscounts Néel de Saint-Sauveur and Renouf de Bessin, known as Briquessart, Grimoult, lord of Plessis and Raoul Tesson, lord of Thury-Harcourt, who quickly changed sides, took part in the plot. Gollet, William's faithful jester, overheard the words of the conspirators, gathered in Bayeux, and warned his master, who was sleeping in Valognes. William thus narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the followers of Néel de Saint-Sauveur. He fled in the night across the Bay of Veys, and was welcomed by Hubert de Ryes, who had him escorted to safety to Falaise. This escape from Valognes, recounted by the chroniclers who served Norman propaganda by using the rhetorical art of amplification, as a ride alone and without escort, partly forged the myth of William, a courageous, bastard and lonely young man. With the help of King Henry I of France, the young duke set out on a campaign against the Norman rebels, whom he succeeded in defeating at the battle of Val-ès-Dunes, near Caen, in 1047, thanks, among other things, to the last-minute rallying of one of the rebel lords, Raoul Tesson.

Growth of the ducal power

The victory of Val-ès-Dunes in 1047 was the first turning point of the reign. William took the duchy firmly in hand. During a council held in Caen the same year, he imposed peace and the truce of God. Gui de Brionne, who had taken refuge in his castle of Brionne with an important armed troop, was dislodged around 1050. He had to separate from his counties of Brionne and Vernon and go into exile.

At the same time, William obtained his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders and niece of King Henry I of France. The union was arranged as early as 1049, but Pope Leo IX forbade it at the Council of Reims held in October 1049, because of their degree of consanguinity. In spite of this, the marriage was pronounced at the beginning of the 1050s, certainly before 1053, in Eu.

The hypothesis of a papal sanction is not certain, even though it was not until the pontificate of Nicholas II that the couple was definitively absolved, at the price of a penance: that of founding four hospitals and two monasteries. The abbey called "aux Hommes", dedicated to Saint Stephen, and the abbey called "aux Dames", dedicated to the Holy Trinity, were built in Caen from 1059. These constructions created the city. The marriage welded an alliance between the two most powerful principalities of northern France: the County of Flanders was then a very powerful principality, in conflict with the Holy Roman Empire.

Duke William had to face the growing ambitions of Geoffroy Martel, Count of Anjou, to whom Gui de Brionne had taken refuge.

After the death of Hugues IV of Maine in 1051, the Angevin seized Le Mans, Domfront and Alençon at the expense of the lord of Bellême who held them from the king of France. Allied with King Henry I of France, William went on a campaign against him. While the king was threatening Geoffroy Martel's rear, Duke William of Normandy laid siege to Domfront, and took Alençon, setting fire to the redoubt. The garrison of Domfront surrendered with the promise of being spared, while that of Alençon was punished, the episode mentioned by Orderic recalling the cruelty of the duke, like all the lords at war at that time. William and King Henry managed to drive Geoffroy out of Maine, thus securing the duchy by strengthening the positions of Alençon and Domfront.

In 1052, however, King Henry I changed his alliance: he reversed his policy to limit the expansion of his Norman vassal, whose marriage to Matilda of Flanders made him appear too powerful in his eyes, and took the side of Geoffrey and Thibaud III of Blois.

At the same time, the duke had to deal with the hostility of the Richardides, a part of his kin who openly contested his position and took the lead of a group of Norman barons rebelling against William.

In 1053, Duke William had to fight within Normandy to establish his authority, especially with his uncles, Archbishop Mauger of Rouen, who had succeeded Robert the Dane in 1037, and William of Arques, whom he besieged in his castle at Arques and to whom King Henry I of France sent an army to help. William finally obtained his surrender at the end of 1053. Beaten, Guillaume d'Arques went into exile after the failure of his revolt against the duke in 1054, his fiefs being confiscated and redistributed.

The king of France, Henry I, and the count of Anjou, Geoffroy II of Anjou, formed a great coalition including the dukes of Aquitaine, Burgundy, the guardians of the duke of Brittany, Conan II of Brittany, son of Alain III, the counts of Champagne and Chartres. Each of these lords having provided his contingent, the army is divided into two according to the plan of Geoffroy Martel, having to meet in front of Rouen, the capital of the duchy of Normandy. In February 1054, two Franco-Angevin armies invaded Normandy: a corps composed of Champenois and Burgundians under the orders of Eudes, brother of King Henry I, crossed the Bresle to reach the country of Bray, while the knights of Outre-Seine and Garonne, commanded by the king and Geoffroy, crossed the Avre and attacked the county of Évreux. William chose a defensive attitude: he also formed two armies, one led by himself against the king's army and the other commanded by loyalists (Gautier I Giffard, Robert d'Eu, Hugues de Gournay, Hugues II de Montfort...) in the country of Bray, whose orders were to avoid confrontation and to keep an eye on the opposing bodies, in order to act only at the most propitious moment. Taking advantage of the negligence of the French, the Normans led by Gautier I Giffard and Robert d'Eu attacked their camp during the night, which was destroyed. Guy I of Ponthieu, among others, was taken prisoner. Informed, the king of France abandoned the coalition of which he was the leader and made peace with William, in exchange for prisoners and the right for William to keep the lands conquered on the count of Anjou Geoffroy Martel.

In May 1055, shortly after the banishment of his brother Guillaume de Talou, Count of Arques, Mauger was deposed at the Council of Lisieux and sent to the island of Guernsey.

In February 1057, pushed by his ally Geoffroy d'Anjou, King Henry I of France attempted a new offensive in Normandy. The Franco-Angevin army entered the country of Himes, stormed Exmes, arrived in the Bessin, crossed the Dives, then headed for Bayeux, turned back before the Seulles, and crossed the Orne at Caen (which was then an open city without a castle). The expedition was swift and met with no resistance, as William, who was in Falaise, simply mobilized his army and reinforced his castles. From Caen, the Franco-Angelan army took the road to Varaville. William, at the head of a modest army, decided to wait for his enemies in the wood of Bavent, near the marshes of the Dives. While the enemy army, slowed down by the booty it brought back, engaged in tight ranks on the narrow road of Varaville, and that its vanguard, led by king Henri I, crossed the Dives, William came out of his retreat and fell on the rear guard. With the help of the local villains, the Norman army took the Franco-Angevins in a pincer movement, killing their commander, the Count of Berry. Pressed towards the Dives, the Franco-Angevins were largely drowned, killed or taken prisoner without being able to be rescued by the king, who watched helplessly from the hillock of Basbourg the disaster. Heavily pursued by William, King Henry retreated as quickly as possible to his own country.

The battle of Varaville (1057) was a decisive turning point for the political future of Duke William: the Duchy of Normandy escaped for a long time from the influence of France which was no longer a threat. From then on, the king no longer tried to interfere in Norman affairs, even concluding a peace with William the following year by ceding him the castle of Tillières.

In 1058, the Count of Maine Herbert II escaped from Le Mans, occupied by the Count of Anjou, and took refuge in Rouen. Childless, he bequeathed to William the Maine and betrothed his sister Marguerite to the young Robert Courteheuse.

In 1059, the king of France, Henry I, who was only 51 years old, but felt his death approaching, crowned his son Philip, who was only 7 years old, and died the following year, in 1060. Philip was too young to reign, so Philip's mother, Anne of Kiev, assumed the regency until her remarriage in 1063 to the Count of Valois, Raoul de Crépy. Philip's uncle, Baldwin V of Flanders, was regent until Philip's 14th birthday in 1066.

With the death of Henry I and Geoffrey Martel, in 1060, Duke William was rid of the threats to his duchy. In turn, William Guerlenc, Count of Mortain, was banished. According to Orderic Vital, he was involved in a rebellion plot against the duke; banished, he went into exile in Puglia within the Italo-Norman barony.

William re-established order through a skilful policy of land distribution and controlled more firmly the agents of power that were the viscounts. The power of the young duke relies finally on a group of faithful people among whom are his half-brothers Odon de Conteville, bishop of Bayeux, and Robert, count of Mortain, a group of barons (Guillaume Fitz Osbern, Roger II de Montgommery, Guillaume I de Warenne, Roger de Beaumont...) and some ecclesiastics among which Lanfranc. They were appointed to important functions or installed in strategic territories.

In 1060, Duke William launched the construction of the castle of Caen, which was to provide him with a stronghold near the Cotentin, and made the city his political capital.

After the death of Herbert II of Maine in 1062, William claimed the county of Maine. Despite local resistance, William occupied Le Mans and enthroned his son in 1063. The latter being only a dozen years old, the Duke of Normandy was the true master of Maine. As a buffer state between Anjou and Normandy, Maine under Norman rule guaranteed the protection of the south of the duchy.

After securing the border with Anjou, William became concerned about the border with the duchy of Brittany. In 1064, his army entered Brittany to support the rebellion of Riwallon de Dol against Conan II of Brittany, thus feeding the instability of the neighboring duchy and forcing Conan to focus on his internal problems. However, he soon sought to take advantage of the temporary weakening of the counts of Anjou to strengthen his border on the Maine side. On December 11, 1066, the Breton prince, after having conquered Pouancé and Segré, died while taking Château-Gontier. He was poisoned, it is said, by a traitor on the orders of William, who was suspected of having ordered the assassination.

Accession to the throne of England

In the middle of the 11th century, England was ruled by the Normanophile king Edward the Confessor. The latter had found refuge at the Norman court in 1013, when his father Æthelred the Unwise and his mother Emma of Normandy, William's paternal great-aunt, had been driven from the English throne by Sven I of Denmark. He stayed there for almost thirty years before returning to England to be crowned king in 1042. In his new kingdom, Edward surrounded himself with Normans, but he had no descendants.

It seems that in 1051 or 1052, King Edward the Confessor encouraged William's views on his succession. Manuscript D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle indicates that William visited England in late 1051. The purpose of this visit would have been to secure the succession of Edward the Confessor, or to obtain assistance in the face of the troubles he was then encountering in Normandy. This trip would have taken place during the brief period of exile of Godwin of Wessex, whose family was then the most powerful in England and whose daughter Edith had been married to Edward the Confessor since 1043. The existence of this journey seems uncertain, however, given the ongoing clashes with the Earl of Anjou at that time. Opposed to the appointment in 1051 of the Norman Robert de Jumièges, an old friend of the king, as archbishop of Canterbury (the highest position of the primate clergy in all of England), Godwin obtained on his return from exile in 1052 his replacement by Stigand, the bishop of Winchester. On the other hand, according to William of Jumièges and William of Poitiers, Edward the Confessor sent Robert of Jumièges to the duke to warn him that he was making him his heir, but this is not confirmed by English authors. Finally, it seems that Edward the Confessor, a weakened sovereign, made identical promises to other large neighbouring feudal lords, in order to ensure their neutrality, as he could not contain them by force.

When Godwin of Wessex died in 1053, his sons gained influence: Harold Godwinson (who would become Harold II of England) succeeded him as Earl of Essex and Tostig as Earl of Northumbria, Gyrth became Earl of East Anglia in 1057 and Leofwine Earl of Kent. In addition to the family of Essex, another contender to the succession of Edward the Confessor appeared: Edward the Exiled, son of King Edmund the Iron-coated and grandson of Æthelred the Unwise. Sent into exile after his father's death in 1016, when he was only six years old, he was recalled to Edward in 1057 with his family (his daughters Margaret and Christine, his son Edgar Atheling), but died only a few weeks after his return.

The subject of succession came to the forefront again when Harold, leaving England, went to Normandy in 1064. The circumstances of this visit remain uncertain. The Bayeux Tapestry, whose bias may be suspected, shows Harold swearing loyalty to William and renouncing the succession to the English throne in favor of the duke of Normandy. William is said to have extorted this promise from Harold when, thrown by a storm on the French coast in the spring of 1064, he was taken prisoner by Count Guy I of Ponthieu, then released under pressure from the Duke. During this stay in Normandy, Harold would have participated alongside William in the campaign against Duke Conan II of Brittany, where he distinguished himself by his bravery. On his return to Bayeux, Harold is said to have sworn an oath to William, thus officially placing himself at the service of the Duke of Normandy. As a token of friendship, Harold returned to England taking with him his nephew Hakon, held hostage in Normandy since 1051. However, no English source confirms this trip, which could have been invented by the Normans to justify William's claims.

In 1065, Northumbria revolts against Tostig, who is not supported by his brother Harold. He was replaced by Morcar, brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercy, whose support Harold sought. Forced into exile, Tostig left for Flanders, from which his wife Judith came, then joined Duke William in Normandy, to whom he in turn gave his support. Edward the Confessor finally died on January 5, 1066. According to the Vita Ædwardi Regis, written in 1067 under the direction of his wife Edith, he was surrounded by Edith, Stigand, Robert FitzWimarc and Harold, whom the king named as his successor. His coronation, approved by the Witenagemot (or Witan), took place on 6 January 1066.

Faced with the protests of the Duke of Normandy, Harold argues that he was deceived about the value of the Bayeux oath, which would have been a vague promise on a simple missal placed on a chest that concealed the relics of a saint. William considered this a crime of perjury and prepared for an invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

Upon learning that Harold had ascended to the throne, William summoned the main Norman barons and convinced them to set out to conquer the kingdom, with the help of Pope Alexander II who threatened the rebellious with excommunication and sent him a papal standard. In less than ten months, he gathered in the estuary of the Dives an invasion fleet of about 600 ships and an army estimated at 7,000 men. Among them were mainly Normans: Bertrand de Bricquebec, Robert de Brix, Roger de Carteret, Anquetil de Cherbourg, L'Estourmy de Valognes, Eudes au Capel de la Haye-du-Puits, the Sire of Orglandes, the brothers of Pierrepont, the Chevalier de Pirou, Raoul de Tourlaville, Pierre de Valognes, Guillaume de Vauville, Raoul de Vesly, etc. but also Bretons, Flemings, Manceaux, Boulonnais. Because of his support for Riwallon de Dol a few years earlier, William the Conqueror had no trouble attracting the vassals of Brittany to his conquest project.

The preparations also included important diplomatic negotiations. It is a question of finding allies and of avoiding that the neighbouring principalities (Brittany, Flanders, Anjou, etc.) do not take advantage of the campaign to seize Normandy. William appointed great vassals. His wife, Matilda of Flanders, was regent of the duchy during this period, assisted by Roger de Beaumont and Roger II of Montgomery.

Many of the soldiers in his army were first-borns who had little chance of inheriting a fief. William promises them, if they join him by bringing their own horse, armor and weapons, that he will reward them with lands and titles in his new kingdom.

Delayed for several weeks by unfavorable winds and adverse weather conditions, the Norman army waited in the bay of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme for the right moment to embark, while the north of England was invaded in September by the Norwegian king Harald Hardraada, whom Tostig had joined. He found allies of circumstance (Morcar of Northumbria, the Scots, etc.) and conquered York on September 20. Harold II of England, whose forces were gathered in a hurry, marched north and, on September 25, surprised the Vikings at Stamford Bridge. The battle is bloody, it ends on a victory for the Anglo-Saxon king, the Norwegian king and Tostig are killed with the majority of their troop. This defeat puts an end to the Viking era in England.

Driven by a favorable wind, the Norman armada landed on September 28, 1066 in Pevensey Bay, in East Sussex, just a few days after Harold's victory over the Norwegians. This conjunction proves to be crucial: Harold's army, exhausted by the battles against Harald, must cross all of England by forced march and fight against an enemy that is rested and has had time to entrench itself. William took as his base the town of Hastings where he set up a castle of land and wood. The choice of Sussex as a landing place was a provocation for Harold, whose region was his personal domain.

On the morning of October 14, the battle of Hastings began: it lasted a whole day, an exceptional duration for the time. After a duel of archers which did not allow to separate the armies, Norman soldiers left to the attack on foot, followed by the cavalry. The Saxons held their ground and the Normans had to retreat. As the Normans were close to a stampede and rumors of the duke's death spread, William (whose horse had been killed by a javelin) had to remove his helmet to be recognized. On the left wing, the Breton army was overwhelmed by a Saxon counter-attack, which required the help of William's cavalry. At the end of this first assault, the losses are great on both sides and Harold lost his two brothers Gyrth and Leofwine. After another unsuccessful assault, the Normans pretended to retreat: the Saxons who left their ranks were massacred by the Norman cavalry. The maneuver was repeated, without weakening the elite Saxon troops. According to a tradition that wants to see a divine manifestation, a second assault of Norman archers would have hit Harold in the eye. William then sent in the cavalry. According to the Bayeux tapestry, four trusted men (Eustace II of Boulogne, Hugues II of Montfort, Hugues de Ponthieu, son of Hugues II of Ponthieu, and Gautier Giffard) detached themselves to reach Harold, who fell under their blows. According to another tradition, it was William himself who finished off the Saxon king. The actual cause of death remains undetermined. In any case, without a leader, the Anglo-Saxon army was routed.

Despite the defeat, the English did not capitulate. On the contrary, the clergy and some lords named the young Edgar Ætheling as the new king. William had to continue his armed conquest; he secured Dover and part of Kent, took Canterbury and Winchester, where the royal treasury was located. With his back assured, William left for Southwark, and reached the Thames at the end of November. The Normans surrounded London from the south and west, burning everything in their path. They crossed the Thames at Wallingford in early December, where Archbishop Stigand submitted, soon followed by Edgar, Morcar, Edwin and Archbishop Ealdred, while William took Berkhamsted. Without resistance, he returned to London, where he immediately launched the construction of a new castle (which would become the Tower of London), and received the Anglo-Saxon crown on December 25, 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

The affirmation of the new king

William remained in England after his coronation to consolidate his power and to secure local support. Edwin of Mercy, Morcar of Northumbria and Waltheof of Northumbria retained their lands and titles. Edwin was promised a marriage with a daughter of William. Lands are also given to Edgar Ætheling and the clergy is not changed, including Stigand who is however in opposition to the pope. Others who had fought at Hastings had their lands confiscated, including Harold and his slain brothers. In March, William was able to return to Normandy, accompanied by Stigand, Morcar, Edwin, Edgar and Waltheof, in the position of hostages. He entrusted his half-brother Odon of Bayeux, and William Fitz Osbern, the son of the former protector of the young Duke Osbern of Crepon, with the management of the kingdom. These two loyalists played a decisive role in the conquest of the country, both in the preparations and in the fighting. William Fitz Osbern was rewarded with vast territories (Isle of Wight, the royal estates of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire and many lordships across the country), as well as the title of Earl. Odon was made Earl of Kent, put in charge of Dover and its castle, and replaced Leofwine Godwinson in most of his possessions. His vast lands throughout England earned him, according to the Domesday Book in 1086, more than £3,240 a year, making him the richest lord (tenants-in-chief, "granting lords") in the kingdom.

The duke counted on them to dominate an England that rebelled against the authority of the new occupiers. By their refusal to give justice to the English oppressed by the Norman officers, they incited revolts that were difficult to suppress. The first acts of resistance appeared in England: Eadric the Savage attacked Hereford and revolts broke out in Exeter, where Gytha of Wessex, Harold's mother, was based. FitzOsbern and Odon struggled to control the population and in response launched a program of building castles across the kingdom, from which other Normans pacified the surrounding region. In addition, Eustace of Boulogne, an ally of William at the battle of Hastings, attempted to take the castle of Dover but was repelled. He had to give up his English lands before being reconciled with William some time later. Finally, Harold's sons launched a raid from Ireland in the southwest of the country, near Bristol. They were finally defeated by Eadnoth the Constable (en) in 1068.

William returned to England in December 1067. He marched on Exeter, which he brought down after a siege. By Easter, William was in Winchester, where he was joined by Matilda, who was crowned queen in May 1068.

After the submission of Edgar Ætheling and the accession of William the Conqueror to the throne in December 1066, the population of northern England, traditionally rebellious to the authority of the king of England, was out of control and the Anglo-Saxon adversaries of the Normans took refuge there. Edwin of Mercy, angry that he had still not received the promised daughter of the king in marriage and worried about the growing power of William Fitz Osbern in Herefordshire, fled from the court in the early summer of 1068 and took refuge in the north with his brother Morcar. The arrival of the two counts allowed the rebels to regroup to William: Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, king of Gwynedd, and Gospatrick of Northumbria joined their camp. The army thus gathered launched a march on York and then headed south. The movement soon disintegrated as the Conqueror took the road north with his ost. The Normans built mottes and garrisons everywhere. After starting the construction of the castles of Warwick and Nottingham, he arrived unopposed at York and received the submission of Edwin and Morcar, as well as that of Bishop Æthelwine of Durham and many Yorkshire barons. He built a motte castrale to protect the city, and negotiated with Malcolm III of Scotland so that he would not assist Egdar Ætheling, who had taken refuge at his court with Gospatrick. Then he went back down south, building new castles in Lincoln, Huntingdon, Cambridge. The deployment of power was impressive, but little was done to diminish the northern capacity for rebellion. William returned to Normandy in late 1068.

The Conqueror decides to send Robert de Comines to take over the county of Northumbria to replace Gospatrick. Comines left with an army. As he approached Durham, Bishop Æthelwine warned him that an Anglo-Saxon army had formed, but he ignored the warning and entered the city. On January 28, 1069, Edgar Ætheling's followers attacked the city, killing the Normans and burning Comines. They then set out to attack York, the main northern city, which was soon subdued. York Castle held out, however, and the occupants sent word to the Conqueror, who soon arrived with reinforcements and drove off the rebels. He launched the construction of a second castle, on the right bank of the Ouse, which he entrusted to William Fitz Osbern. He returned to Winchester to attend the Easter celebrations, while Fitz Osbern defeated the Anglo-Saxons.

The north remained calm for five months: in August 1069, a Danish fleet landed on the English coast. The English leaders offered the crown to the Danish king Sven Estridsen, the nephew of Knut the Great who ruled England from 1016 to 1035. He sent a fleet estimated at 240 ships, composed of Danes and Norwegians, led by three of his sons and his brother. It sailed up the English coast from Kent to Northumbria, and finally landed in the Humber, where it joined forces with the English around Edgar Ætheling, Gospatrick and Waltheof, the Earl of Huntingdon. They then set out for York. At the end of September, the men garrisoned in the two York castles held by William Malet set fire to the city before the English arrived. Too few in number, they were massacred - it was the heaviest defeat the Normans would suffer in England. However, the attack stopped there: at the rumor of the approach of the king, who had to deal at the same time with the attack of Maine on the continent, the allies fled, avoiding a direct confrontation. However, the arrival of the Danes led to uprisings throughout the country: Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. In Herefordshire, Eadric the Wild, an Anglo-Saxon baron, allied himself with Welsh princes and launched a great revolt, which spread to Cheshire in the north and Staffordshire in the east.

The Norman lords being unable to suppress this revolt, the Conqueror decided to take charge of the repression himself. While Robert de Mortain and his cousin Robert d'Eu watched over the Danes on the Humber, he defeated the insurgents concentrated at Stafford and returned to Lindsey at the end of November. Informed that the Danes were preparing to attack York, he tried to catch up with them, but to no avail; he isolated the city by devastating a wide belt of territory to the north and west. Paid to abandon and return, the Danes returned to their ships.

To solve the Northumbrian problem once and for all and prevent a new rebellion, William decided to continue his campaign of devastation. After the Christmas celebrations spent in the ruins of York, he leaves in campaign, burning the villages, massacring the inhabitants, destroying the food reserves and the herds: the survivors, starving, succumb en masse. When he arrived at the Tees, he received the submission of Waltheof and Gospatrick, who finally kept their lands. Edgar fled to Scotland. He finally made his way through the Pennines to Cheshire in Mercy, where the last pocket of resistance remained. Although exhausted, his army crushed the Mercian revolt. William built new castles in Chester and Stafford, returned to Salisbury shortly before Easter 1070, and freed his men.

The destruction of the land between the Humber and the Tees, in Yorkshire in particular, was total and very cruel. In the Domesday Book, written seventeen years later, a large part of the land was still abandoned. Already poor and depopulated before the revolt, the north sank into an economic predicament that lasted until the end of the Middle Ages.

Arriving in Winchester for Easter 1070, William received three legates from Pope Alexander II, who officially crowned him as King of England, thus giving the papal seal of approval. The legates and the king then organized a series of councils dedicated to the reform and reorganization of the English clergy. Stigand and his brother Æthelmær, bishop of Elmham, were deposed under the pretext of simony, as were other native abbots.

The king of England and duke of Normandy made an agreement with the papacy. From 1066 onwards, he committed himself to promoting the Gregorian reform. In exchange, he obtained from Pope Gregory VII to proceed, contrary to canon law, to the nominations of prelates (lay investiture of abbots, archbishops).

The Council of Whitsun saw the appointment of Lanfranc as the new archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas of Bayeux as archbishop of York, replacing Aldred, who had died in September 1069. At the end of the councils, only two English bishops remained in office, the others having been replaced by Normans.

In 1070, William founded Battle Abbey, a new monastery located near the site of the Battle of Hastings, as a place of penance and remembrance.

The difficulties of the second part of the reign

In 1066, William the Conqueror benefited from a fortunate political and diplomatic situation that allowed him to conquer England without being threatened or attacked on his rear. This exceptional situation changed after his return to Normandy in March 1067. During the last twenty years of his reign, William had to face several internal revolts and the revival of neighboring principalities. His difficulties were increased by the extension of his territory: he could not intervene everywhere, directly and quickly.

At first, England did not submit easily: despite the severe repression following the revolts of 1067 and 1069, William had to intervene again in 1070 in the north of the kingdom to face Danish raids and new rebellions. While Sven II of Denmark had promised William to leave the island, he returned in the spring of 1070, allied himself with Hereward the Exile and led raids against the Humber and East Anglia from the Isle of Eley, whose strategic location made it a refuge for English rebels. Hereward's army attacked the cathedral of Peterborough, which was sacked. William managed to secure Sweyn's departure without having to confront him.

On the continent, William suffered several setbacks: Flanders plunged into a succession crisis after the death of Count Baldwin VI in July 1070 and, despite a military intervention, the Duke of Normandy was unable to impose the party of his widow, Richilde, his sister-in-law, on that of Robert, Baldwin's brother. William Fitz Osbern, who returned to Normandy in early 1071 to assist Queen Matilda, was killed in February 1071 at the battle of Cassel, while leading a small force to help Arnoul III, the minor heir of the county of Flanders, alongside the French army against his uncle Robert. William the Conqueror lost one of his best barons but also, according to the historian François Neveux, his most loyal and faithful collaborator. According to William of Malmesbury, a marriage was planned between him and Richilde of Hainaut. Robert's victory at Cassel reversed the relationships of domination in the north of France.

In 1071, William crushed a rebellion in the north of England: Earl Edwin was betrayed by his own men and killed, while the island was taken by William after a fierce battle. Hereward managed to escape but Morcar was captured and deposed. The following year, William invaded Scotland, in reaction to Malcolm III's attack on the north of the kingdom. The two men signed peace with the treaty of Abernethy, with Malcolm's eldest son Duncan II joining William's court as a guarantee. Edgar Ætheling must also leave Malcolm's court, but the latter finds refuge at the court of the new count of Flanders...

William could deal with the affairs of the duchy. Although nominally possessed by the son of the Conqueror, Maine was indeed detached from Norman influence. Led by Hubert de Sainte-Suzanne, the inhabitants of Le Mans revolted in 1069. After a brief military campaign, William reoccupied the region upon his return in 1073, but the situation calmed down only temporarily. Behind the difficulties of the duke-king in Maine and Brittany, are the actions of his two main enemies, namely the Count of Anjou, Foulque le Réchin, and the King of France, Philippe I. They all support the rebels against the king. They all supported the rebels against the Norman. Symbolically, Robert of Flanders married his half-sister Berthe to the king of France in 1072.

William had to spend all of 1074 in Normandy, and entrusted England, which he considered to be pacified, to a few loyal followers, among them Richard Fitz Gilbert (or Richard de Bienfaite), William I of Warenne. Edgar Ætheling took the opportunity to return to Scotland, from where he responded to the proposal of King Philip I of France to be entrusted with the castle of the port of Montreuil, from which he could take advantage of a threatening position on William's territory. Unfortunately, his fleet was blown off the English coast by a storm: most of his men were captured, but he managed to reach Scotland. He then convinced himself to abandon his ambitions for the English throne and to make peace with William, whose court he joined.

However, William was not finished with England, since the following year, a new rebellion broke out. The reasons for this revolt are obscure. The conspiracy began with the marriage of Ralph de Gaël (also known as Raoul de Gaël), an Anglo-Breton earl, and Emma, daughter of William Fitz Osbern. Ralph convinces his new brother-in-law Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford, to join him. The conspiracy was strengthened when Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon and Northumbria, nephew by marriage of the Conqueror, joined it, more or less voluntarily.

An influential member of the Bretons who came with the Conqueror in 1066, Ralph easily obtained their support in his rebellion; he also asked the Danes for help, in vain. While he organized his revolt in England, his allies in Brittany prepared to revolt against Hoël II of Brittany and attack Normandy. But finally Waltheof was discouraged and confessed the conspiracy to Lanfranc, administrator of the kingdom in William's absence. The rebellion started, but it was quickly suppressed without much fighting: the Anglo-Saxons Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester, and Æthelwig, abbot of Evesham, helped by the Norman barons Urse d'Abbetot and Gautier de Lacy, contained in Herefordshire Roger de Breteuil, who could not join his forces to that of Ralph de Gaël. At the same time, Guillaume de Warenne and Richard de Bienfaite, whom the king had established as Chief Justiciars during his absence, as well as the warrior bishops Odon de Bayeux and Geoffroy de Montbray blocked Ralph de Gaël's path in Cambridgeshire.

Ralph retreats to Norwich, with the royal forces at his heels. Leaving his wife to defend Norwich Castle, he returned to Brittany. The Countess was besieged in her castle until she and her followers were granted safe conduct. Their lands are confiscated, and they are given 40 days to leave the kingdom. Ralph de Gaël is stripped of his English lands and his title of count. Roger de Breteuil is arrested in his turn, dispossessed, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Waltheof, back in England with Guillaume, is finally arrested and soon condemned to death, in spite of the opposition of Lanfranc and others (Waltheof would have been only an involuntary accomplice, who moreover had revealed the plot). The king did not change his mind, probably encouraged by his niece Judith, who had testified against her husband: Waltheof was beheaded on 31 May 1076, near Winchester. He is the last Anglo-Saxon count of England.

Back in Brittany and allied with Geoffroy Granon, Ralph de Gaël continued his rebellion from his fief of Gaël, both against the Conqueror and against Hoël II, the Duke of Brittany. In September 1076, William besieged him in the castle of Dol, near the duchy of Normandy, in vain. King Philip I of France, seeing an opportunity to weaken William, came to the rescue of Dol with success. The Conqueror had to lift the siege and flee quickly, his losses in men and equipment were very heavy.

William's defeat at Dol was the first serious setback he suffered on the continent: it damaged his reputation, and his opponents were given the opportunity to push their advantage further. Ralph de Gaël remained a powerful and well established lord. At the end of 1076, Jean de la Flèche, one of William the Conqueror's strongest supporters in Maine, was attacked by Foulque le Réchin, Count of Anjou. William had to come to his aid. In 1077, Simon de Crépy, Count of Amiens, Vexin and Valois, retired to the monastery of Condat. Philip I consolidates his position in the French Vexin without serious opposition, opposite the duchy. William and king Philip I ratify the peace between them, the Epte being recalled as border between France and Normandy. In the same way, a peace is signed with Foulques of Anjou before the beginning of 1078.

King Philip I hoped by all means to bring down the excessive Norman power. William's reign marked the beginning of a recurring war between the king of England and the king of France.

William saw his eldest son Robert, known as Courteheuse, enter into rebellion in his turn. Inducted as Count of Maine by his father in 1063, when he was only a dozen years old, and officially recognized by William as his heir, Robert had no power. When William reconquered Maine in 1073, Robert was not part of the expedition. The chronicler Orderic Vital describes an argument between Robert and his two younger brothers William the Red and Henry, which would have decided the elder to leave Normandy in secret the next day. It seems that Robert could no longer bear the fact that his father did not entrust him with any territory, thus preventing him from providing for his own financial needs. William did not want to share his authority and probably had little confidence in the governing qualities of his eldest son. Moreover, the Courteheuse revolt can be analyzed as a "classic generation conflict" between a father representing an austere era and a lavish son, witness of an ebullient youth.

Robert and his followers (among them several sons of William's supporters: Robert II of Bellême, Guillaume de Breteuil and Roger Fitz Richard) found refuge with Hugues I of Châteauneuf, lord of Thymerais, and settled in his castle of Rémalard. William the Conqueror, assisted by Rotrou II du Perche, besieged and seized the castle. Robert found refuge with his uncle Robert le Frison and then at the court of King Philip I of France, two of the main enemies of the Duke of Normandy. The latter helped Robert to raise a powerful army in 1078 and entrusted him with the fortress of Gerberoy facing the Norman border, where new rebels joined them.

William the Conqueror laid siege to the castle in January 1079, but Robert held his father in check. The besieged troops came out of the castle by surprise and attacked the attackers: According to a chronicle, Robert would even make his father fall from his horse in single combat. William's army had to retreat to Rouen. Finally the two men signed on April 12, 1080, William confirming Robert as his heir. Robert was given responsibilities in England alongside his uncle Odon of Bayeux.

This new military defeat encouraged William's opponents to attack his lands. In August and September 1079, the Scottish king Malcolm III attacked the north of England. He plundered Northumberland for three weeks without opposition, and returned home with heavy booty and many slaves. The lack of armed resistance shocked the inhabitants of Northumbria, who in turn rebelled in the spring of 1080 against William Walcher, bishop of Durham, who had become Earl of Northumbria in 1075. The murder of Earl Ligulf de Lumley, a Northumbrian, by Archdeacon Leobwin served as a spark: Walcher and several of his men, who came to meet the inhabitants, were killed. William sent his half-brother Odon de Bayeux to quell the revolt: most of the native nobility had to go into exile and the power of the Anglo-Saxon nobility in Northumbria was shattered.

William left Normandy in July 1080, and in the autumn his son Robert was sent on a campaign against the Scots. Robert took Lothian, forcing Malcolm to negotiate, and built a new castle at Newcastle-on-Tyne on the way home. The king was in Gloucester for Christmas and in Winchester for Whitsunday in 1081; he also visited Wales, where he brought the relics of St. David of Menevia to St. David's Cathedral. A papal embassy was received at this time, coming to ask for England's loyalty to the Pope, which William refused.

At the end of 1081, William was back on the continent, to intervene again in Maine. His expedition ended with an agreement negotiated through a papal legate. William ordered the arrest of his half-brother Odo in 1082, for reasons that are not certain: Orderic Vital explained it by Odo's ambitions to become pope and by his plan to invade southern Italy with the help of some of William's vassals, which he would have hidden from the duke-king. Odon was imprisoned but his lands were kept for him. Shortly afterwards, his son Robert rebelled again and joined forces with Philip I, King of France.

Finally, Queen Matilda, with whom William formed a solid and faithful couple, fell ill in the summer of 1083. She was an active queen and regent of the duchy during William's stays in Normandy. Her numerous lands in England were bequeathed to her youngest son Henry, while her crown and scepter went to the nuns of the Holy Trinity. According to her will, she was buried in the church of the Holy Trinity in Caen. Her tomb still stands today, but was looted by Protestants in 1562.

William seemed to manage his duchy during these years without intervening militarily. The situation in Maine was not pacified, Hubert de Beaumont-au-Maine being besieged from 1083 in his castle of Sainte-Suzanne, in vain, for about three years. The Norman troops, based at the Camp de Beugy and commanded for a time by Alain le Roux, were defeated several times. William, discouraged by the death of many knights, finally signed a peace agreement with Hubert, who was restored to his lands.

In the north of England, the Norman army was preparing for an invasion by King Knut IV of Denmark. While he was in Normandy at Easter 1084, William left for England to supervise the maintenance of his troops on alert and the collection of the danegeld, a tax established to pay the troops. During his stay, he started writing the Domesday Book, an inventory of all the possessions in his kingdom, probably in order to collect more money from his taxes. The Danish invasion did not come in the end, the king dying in July 1086.

William returned to Normandy in the fall of 1086. He married his daughter Constance to Alan Fergant, Duke of Brittany, in order to strengthen his alliances with King Philip I of France. Faced with the latter's ambitions, William launched an expedition to the French Vexin in July 1087. He led his army to Mantes which he burned. Tradition has it that it was in the rue de la Chaussetterie, in Mantes, near the square of Notre-Dame that the victor died in his triumph. While the duke-king was handicapped at the end of his life by obesity, an injury or illness forced him, according to Orderic Vital, to return to his capital, Rouen.

William agonized for a few days in the priory of Saint-Gervais, at the gates of the city. Before his death on September 9, 1087, the duke-king settled his succession: he entrusted his eldest son Robert Courteheuse with the duchy of Normandy, while his second son William the Red received the crown of England. His third son, Henry, received money. Finally, he asked that all prisoners who promised not to disturb public order be released, which was notably the case of his half-brother Odon.


His body was then transported by sea to Caen, to be buried in the abbey church of Saint-Etienne. In recounting William's sad end, the chronicler Orderic Vital explains that during the burial, his body had to be forced into the sarcophagus, so that the ox skin in which he was wrapped tore, causing his belly to burst, which exhaled an unbearable smell of putrefaction. This point seems to contradict a previous paragraph where the monk mentions "embalmers and morticians" who prepared the body, but Egyptian embalming techniques were lost at that time and the empirical means used did not guarantee the preservation of the bodies.

His tomb has been visited several times since his burial. In 1522, the mausoleum was opened for the first time by papal order. In 1562, during the Wars of Religion, the Protestants desecrated his tomb. His remains were exhumed, torn to pieces, and his bones scattered; only his left femur was saved by the poet Charles Toustain de La Mazurie. The relic was placed in a new tomb in 1642, which was replaced in the 18th century by a more elaborate monument, which was destroyed in 1793, during the French Revolution. The casket containing the femur was placed under a white marble slab in 1801. The Latin epitaph reads: "Hic sepultus est invictissimus Guillelmus Conquestor, Normanniæ Dux, et Angliæ Rex, hujus ce Domus, CONDITOR, qui obiit anno M . LXXXVII .

The opening of the masonry vault in the choir of the abbey church, on August 22, 1983, made it possible to study the femur attributed to the duke: the analysis of the bone reveals that it is that of a horseman of habit, of great stature (1,73 m.

The conquest of 1066 did not establish a single Anglo-Norman kingdom. Normandy and England kept their specificities through their administration or their customs. Indeed, they are two crowns, one ducal and one royal, held by the same holder, the duke of Normandy, within the framework of a personal union.


During the reign of William the Conqueror, "the organization of Norman society was feudal. Indeed, the duchy had fiefs, peasant tenures, military service and justice entrusted to feudatories. The government of the duchy differed little from that of previous reigns: feudalism was tempered by a strong central power, materialized by a duke who constantly crossed his lands, visited the lords and collected the tax money. He held a monopoly on coinage and was able to collect a considerable part of his income in money. The administration relies on public officers, the viscounts.

The barons, both lay and ecclesiastical, had to provide the duke with a military contingent when he needed it. In Normandy, castles could only be built with the permission of the duke and could be handed over to him at his request. Private wars were restricted and private justice was limited by the cases reserved for the duke and by the maintenance of a public local administration.

The duke retained control over the Church, appointing bishops and some abbots and directing the councils of the ecclesiastical province of Normandy. William maintained close relations with the clergy, taking part in councils and meeting regularly with the episcopate, notably Maurille, who replaced Mauger as archbishop of Rouen from 1055, and Lanfranc de Pavie, prior of the abbey of Notre-Dame du Bec, who was appointed abbot of Saint-Etienne de Caen in 1063. Beyond the foundation of the two monasteries of Caen, William was generally generous with the Church. Between 1035 and 1066, some twenty new monasteries were founded throughout the duchy, representing a remarkable development of its religious life.


In his new kingdom, William introduced profound changes, including the integration of Norman law into the Anglo-Saxon legal system. In 1085, he commissioned what can be called a census in the modern sense, the "Domesday Book", an inventory of the men and wealth of the kingdom. He also built many buildings and castles, including the Tower of London.

In order to secure his kingdom, William ordered the construction of numerous castles, dungeons and other mottes throughout England. The most emblematic of these constructions is the Tower of London, and its keep the White Tower, built of Caen stone and soon seen as a symbol of the oppression inflicted on London by the Norman ruling class. These fortifications allowed the Normans to secure a place of retreat in case of Saxon revolt, and provided troops with bases to occupy and defend the territory. Initially made of wood and earth, these constructions were gradually replaced by stone structures.

In addition to these castles, William undertook the military reorganization of the kingdom: the new king redistributed to his comrades-in-arms the lands confiscated from the Anglo-Saxon lords killed during the conquest of England. The feudal organization of society encouraged the new Norman barons to "sub-influence" their lands to the knights: themselves vassals and therefore subservient to the king, they replicated this hierarchical relationship at the local level. William demanded from the vassals their contribution in terms of quotas of knights dedicated to military campaigns and the guarding of castles. This mode of organization of military forces was based on the division into territorial units, the hides.

When William died, most of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy had been decimated as a result of the various rebellions crushed by the duke-king, and replaced by lords from the continent, notably Normans and Bretons, whose loyalty William thus rewarded. Not all of William's companions at Hastings obtained land: some seem to have been particularly reluctant to accept land in a country that did not seem entirely pacified. Consequently, if the greatest Norman lords in England were close to William (Odon of Bayeux, Robert of Mortain, etc.), the others sometimes came from relatively humble lineages.

Finally, William, whose favorite pastime was hunting, established in 1079 a large area of land (covering 36 parishes) as a royal hunting ground, called the New Forest. The inhabitants, relatively rare in this area, had to abandon their lands. William also devised the Forest Law, which legislated what could and could not be done in the forests, particularly with regard to hunting.

While in Normandy, William, duke of Normandy, vassal of the king of France (Henry I (1031-1060) then Philip I (1060-1108)), owed him loyalty, on the other hand, in England, king William owed him no tribute. Because of the different place he occupies in the vassal pyramid in France and in England, William does not try to merge the administration and the laws of his territories.

The government of the kingdom of England was in fact more complex than that of the duchy of Normandy: England was divided into shires, themselves composed of hundreds (or wapentakes, a term coming from the Old Norse vápnatak). Each shire was governed by a shire-reeve (later sheriff), a royal officer with a status comparable to that of viscounts in Normandy, who was responsible for administrative, military and judicial matters according to the common law. The sheriff was also responsible for the collection of royal taxes.

In order to supervise his territory, William had to move around constantly. After the conquest, he first resided mainly in England, but from 1072 he spent most of his time on the continent. However, he travelled back and forth a lot, crossing the English Channel at least 19 times between 1067 and his death. The fact that he was on the other side of the sea did not prevent him from being kept informed and from making decisions, which were transmitted by letters from one end of his possessions to the other. William was also assisted by people he trusted: his wife Mathilde, his half-brother Odon de Bayeux and Lanfranc.

In England, William perpetuated the collection of the danegeld (literally "tribute to the Danes"), a land tribute paid by the populations threatened by the Vikings in order to buy their departure or to pay the troops intended to repel them. At the time, England was the only country in Western Europe where this type of tax was universally collected. Based on the value of the land, the danegeld classically amounted to two shillings per hide, but could be as high as six shillings in times of crisis.

In addition to taxes, the king's holdings are augmented by the large estates he owns throughout England. As heir to King Edward, he controlled all the royal estates and added to them a large portion of the lands of Harold and his family, making him by far the largest landowner in the kingdom: by the end of his reign, his lands in England were four times larger than those of his half-brother Odon, the largest landowner after him, and seven times larger than those of Roger of Montgommery. A recent study makes William the 7th richest man who ever lived, his fortune being estimated at 229.5 billion dollars or 167.6 billion euros today.

At Christmas 1085, William ordered a census of the landed property of the kingdom, both his own and that of his vassals, county by county. This work, known today as the Domesday Book, was largely completed in only a few months. The book records for all the counties south of the Tees and Ribble the existing properties, their respective owners and pre-conquest owners, the value of the land and the corresponding amount of tax, as well as the number of peasants, plows and other valuable resources.

On August 1, 1086, William gathered his vassals in Salisbury for an assembly, where, on the basis of the just-completed census, they had to swear fealty to the king on condition that they were not harmed.

The objectives sought by William are not certain, but it seems that the need to increase taxes - due to the numerous military campaigns and the fall of the kingdom's economy, due in particular to the devastation of the north of England fifteen years earlier - pushed the king to want to establish with precision the distribution of wealth in the kingdom. The Salisbury Oath also reminded his vassals of their obligations of loyalty and direct allegiance to the king.

David Bates, former director of the Institute of Research in London and author of several books on the Normans and the duke-king, explains that the absence of a marriage between Duke Robert and Herlève led historians, particularly French ones, to give William the nickname "bastard", but that he was rarely called that during his lifetime and never in Normandy. In the first half of the eleventh century, canon law was only beginning to consolidate its position on marriage. It was not imposed as a sacrament until the beginning of the 13th century (Lateran Council).

According to David Bates, the origin of this nickname comes from Orderic Vital, a monk historian of the twelfth century, on whom we would still rely too much today to write the history of William. Orderic Vital makes William's bastardry the explanatory factor of all the disorders and revolts that took place during his reign. This monk writes at a time when the Church advocates marriage and condemns concubinage very severely, which was still very different a century earlier.

For Bates, this nickname of William the Bastard must be abandoned. It is a legend that historians of the nineteenth century, then of the twentieth century, would have largely taken up, even amplified, with a few exceptions such as Michel de Boüard.

There is no authentic portrait of William, his representations on the Bayeux tapestry or on coins being staged to assert his authority. However, the known descriptions of his appearance draw a character of strong build, robust, with a throaty voice. Like all the Normans of his time, he wore a bowl cut and enjoyed excellent health until an advanced age, even if he seemed to be overweight at the end of his life. He is particularly strong, able to shoot with a bow better than many others and has a good endurance. Examination of his femur, the only bone to have survived the destruction of his remains, indicates that he was about 1.73 m tall, 10 cm taller than the average man of his time.

While he seems to have been educated by two tutors in the late 1030s and early 1040s, little is known of William's literary education, except that he does not seem to have been particularly encouraged to any form of scholarship, his main hobby being hunting. He did, however, contribute to the development of the clergy during his reign, and to the monasteries, which were centers of learning and knowledge. If his piety is praised by medieval chroniclers, some criticize his greed and cruelty. He is capable of both discernment and angry outbursts.

His marriage to Matilda was an affectionate and trusting union; he was not known to have had a mistress or an illegitimate child, and there is no evidence that he was unfaithful to her, which was not common for a ruler at that time.


Around 1050, he married Mathilde of Flanders, daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, in Eu. They will have at least ten children, including four sons:



William the Conqueror is featured on a 10 € silver coin issued in 2012 by the Monnaie de Paris to represent his native region, Basse-Normandie.


: document used as a source for the writing of this article.


  1. William the Conqueror
  2. Guillaume le Conquérant
  3. L’année 1027 est celle retenue par Michel de Boüard (Guillaume le Conquérant), François Neveux (L'Aventure des Normands VIIIe – XIIIe siècle et La Normandie des ducs aux rois Xe – XIIe siècle) et Guillaume de Malmesbury, mais pour Orderic Vital il serait né en 1028.
  4. La souscription non autographe (consignation des noms, titres et qualités du signataire) accompagne le signum, seing manuel à l'aspect fruste et tremblé, qui affecte la forme d'une croix latine pattée, sauf à la branche du bas.
  5. Depuis Guillaume Longue-Épée (933-942), on ne parlait déjà plus norrois à la cour, et le duc devait envoyer son fils l’apprendre à Bayeux où la francisation était moins avancée.
  6. Le pape prend le prétexte juridique qu'ils descendent l'un et l'autre de Rollon et sont cousins au cinquième degré mais, pour des raisons d'équilibre politique dans la chrétienté, il veut en fait éviter cette alliance entre Baudouin et Guillaume dont des mercenaires du duché de Normandie conquièrent des principautés en Italie méridionale, aux portes de Rome. Source : Gilles Henry, Guillaume le Conquérant, Impr. C. Corlet, 1986, p. 79.
  7. Aucun historien normand n’a jugé à propos d’indiquer l’année du mariage du duc.
  8. ^ Old Norman: Williame I; Old English: Willelm I
  9. Ele só foi descrito como "o Bastardo" em fontes escritas por não-normandos.[2]
  10. Embora o cronista Guilherme de Poitiers tenha alegado que a sucessão de Eduardo devia-se aos esforços do duque Guilherme, isso é altamente improvável, já que naquele tempo ele era praticamente impotente em seu próprio ducado.[2]
  11. A data exata do nascimento de Guilherme é confundida por declarações contraditórias por parte dos cronistas normandos. Orderico Vital o descreve em seu leito de morte alegando que ele tinha 64 anos de idade, o que colocaria o seu nascimento em torno de 1023. Mas em outras partes, Orderico afirma que o duque tinha 8 anos quando o pai partiu para Jerusalém, em 1035, colocando seu ano de nascimento em 1027. Guilherme de Malmesbury citou que tinha 7 anos quando seu pai o deixou, indicando 1028. Outra fonte, De Obitu Willelmi, afirma que Guilherme tinha 59 anos quando morreu em 1087, alegando ser 1028 ou 1029.[9]
  12. Isso fez com que Ema da Normandia fosse sua tia-avó e Eduardo, o Confessor, seu primo.[10][11]
  13. Esta filha mais tarde se casou com Guilherme, senhor de La Ferté-Macé.[9]
  14. También se le llama «Guillermo el Bastardo» en fuentes escritas por no normandos.[2]​
  15. No se conoce la fecha exacta del nacimiento de Guillermo I. El cronista Orderico Vital afirma que tenía 64 años cuando murió, lo que situaría su nacimiento hacia 1023, pero este mismo cronista dice en otra ocasión que Guillermo tenía 8 años cuando su padre marchó a Tierra Santa en 1035, lo que sitúa su nacimiento en 1027. Guillermo de Malmesbury afirma que tenía 7 años cuando su padre partió, por lo que su nacimiento se produciría en 1028. Otra fuente, De Obitu Willelmi, deja constancia de que Guillermo tenía 59 años cuando falleció en 1087, lo que lleva su nacimiento hacia 1028 o 1029.[9]​
  16. Las razones para esta desaprobación papal no se aclaran en ninguna fuente. Tan solo el cronista Orderico Vital deja entrever que los contrayentes tenían un parentesco demasiado cercano, pero no da más detalles.[37]​

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