Wilhelm I Conqueror also known as “William the Bastard”, (ca. 1028 -1087), was king of England and Duke of Normandy.
Although, he was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy Robert the Magnificent (also called “Robert the Devil”), after his father’s death in 1035, William was named his successor at only 8 years of age. Under the name of William II (in French: Guilaume II), the boy became the new duke of Normandy in very difficult period of time.
Corruption, violence and strong opposition of powerful Norman barons, who were his bitter rivals, plagued his early reign. Three of his guardians and his tutor died violent deaths during his childhood, and William personally witnessed death of his steward, Osbern, whose throat was cut by a Norman rebel while sleeping in William’s bedchamber.
William managed to survive the early years of chaos, both in his own life and Normandy, with the help of King Henry I of France. From 1046 onwards, he successfully dealt with rebels, troublesome Norman barons, all those who questioned the right of a bastard to succeed. Then with the support of Henry I he began to expand his territory.
In 1051 the king of England, Edward the Confessor, appointed William as his successor, but Edward died in 1066 leaving no direct heirs and the country threatened with invasion by two rival claimants, Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, and William, Duke of Normandy.
The English nobles elected to the throne their own candidate — Harold Godwin (also called Harold Godwineson or Godwinson), most powerful of the English lords.
William gathered his army and landed on the island. He was angry; Harold claimed the throne of England for himself, despite that he made an oath to William to support his claim, instead.
On October 14, 1066, the two armies met in the famous Battle of Hastings. According to modern scholars’ estimation, each of sides had between 5,000 and 7,000 men.
King Harold and his two brothers were killed in the battle. William I was victorious and from there, he took London without further resistance. He was crowned king of England on Christmas Day, 1066 and ruled until his death in 1087.
However, the conquest of England had not yet ended. The next five years were marked by several revolts and William used them as an excuse to confiscate English land and declare it his own property. Subsequently, he distributed the land to his Norman knights, who imposed their unique feudal system.
Eventually, Normans replaced the entire Anglo-Saxon aristocracy.
He also conducted a nationwide inventory of property landlords and property of the people. The aim was to determine the taxes that had to pay all his subjects. Once an entire picture of England was collated in the Domesday Book, William could send his tax gatherers out.
His famous “The Domesday Book” was a detailed register of the population and property of England, (now an invaluable source of historical information and still in the Public Record Office in London).
William died on September 9, 1087, in Rouen, France. He had four sons and five daughters, and every monarch of England since has been his direct descendant.
He never spoke English and was illiterate, but his influence on England and the English language was enormous.
Written by – A. Sutherland AncientPages.com Staff Writer
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