William the Conquerer was the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy. William was born at Falaise in the year 1027. He was raised at the court of the King of France, and succeeded to the duchy at the age of only eight. William, while Duke of Normandy, was married to his cousin Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders, by whom he had four sons and several daughters.
Upon the death of Edward the Confessor, , William made a formal claim for the crown of England, alleging that he was the chosen heir of Edward. When his claim was denied, William set out to invade England to take the thrown by force. September 28th, 1066, William crossed the channel and landed at Pevensey while Harold was occupied in defending England in the north against the Norwegian invaders. Thus, William took advantage of this time to establish a fortified a camp near Hastings.
Harold eventually marched south to confront this new Norman threat. The two forces met in what has now become known as the famous and decisive battle of Hastings fought on Saturday, October 14th, 1066. Harold was defeated and slain in battle thus beginning the famous Norman Conquest.
After the defeat of Harold, England was still not completely under William’s control. For a period, William’s chief rival was Edgar Atheling, who was supported by a group of prominent English nobles. However, Edgar’s supporters eventually submitted to William at Berkhampstead, and on the following Christmas-day, William was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey by Aldred, Archbishop of York.
At first, William was quite conciliatory toward his new subjects. However, this period of good will lasted for only a brief time. William departed his new realm in early 1067 and set sail for his homeland Normandy. The government of England was left in the hands of Odo, bishop of Bayeux, and William Fitz-Osbern. With the king gone, resistance began to emerge and William was forced to return to England in order to secure his realm. Through much of his reign, William was forced to continue his conquest of the England, which proved to be a bloody one indeed.
In 1069, William’s campaign against the north laid waste to the whole district beyond the Humber with fire, slaughter and plunder. The devastation was great that from York to Durham not a single inhabited village was left standing. Worse still, the once fertile ground in the region was destroyed and for nearly 50 years it remained uncultivated and virtually uninhabited.
William the Conquerer would indeed be remembered for his deeds. Besides the merciless bloodshed and cruelity, William also dispossessed the English of their lands, titles and offices both in church and state. William instituted a feudal proprietorship over all the lands and redistributed them among his own supporters. He also introduced the ‘Curfew Bell’ in an attempt to control the people. He then militarized England and established garrisons at all the primary towns. William also ordered the construction of numerous fortresses including the White Tower of London in 1080.
Willian also converted many districts throughout the country into deer parks and forests. He then ordered a complete survey of all the land in 1085, and the records of which were carefully recorded in what has become known as the ‘Domesday Book’.
While William succeeded in most endeavors, he did fail in his attempt to introduce the Norman French language in an effort to wipe out the English language. During his later years, William found himself at war with his own sons. It was in August, 1087, when he burnt the town of Mantes, that William was injured when his horse stumbled amid the burning ruins. William was carried to the abbey of St. Gervas in Rouen where he died on the 9th of September. William was buried in the cathedral of Caen.
William was succeeded by his favorite son William II who in turn was succeeded by his brother in 1100 Henry.
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