William The Conqueror
William the Conqueror was born in 1028 at Falaise, Duchy of Normandy.
He was the son of the unmarried Robert I, Duke of Normandy, by his mistress Herleva.
His illegitimate status and his youth caused some difficulties for him after he succeeded his father.
In 1047, William was able to quash a rebellion and begin to establish his authority over the duchy.
Contender to English Thrones
William became a contender for the throne of England held by the childless Edward the Confessor, his first cousin once removed.
When Edward took refuge in Normandy after the Danes conquered England, he stayed at the palace of William.
William treated him very kindly.
Later, William said that Edward had promised in gratitude that William should succeed him as king of England.
Invasion of England
In the year 1066 King Edward died and Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, has been placed on the English throne.
William at once called his nobles together and said to them, “I must have your consent that I enforce my claim to England’s throne by arms.”
The barons gave their consent. So William collected an army of sixty thousand men and built a large fleet of ships to carry this force across the channel.
During the months of preparation William sent an embassy to the English court to demand of Harold that he give up the throne. Harold refused.
Soon the news that William had landed on the English coast at the port of Hastings with a large force startled England.
Harold immediately marched as quickly as possible from the north to the southern coast. In a week or so he arrived at a place about nine miles from Hastings.
He took his position on a low range of hills and awaited the attack of William.
His men were tired with their march, but he encouraged them and bade them prepare for battle.
Battle of Hasting
On the morning of October 14, 1066, the two armies met.
The Norman foot-soldiers opened the battle by charging on the English stockades.
They ran over the plain to the low hills, singing a war-song at the top of their voices; but they could not carry the stockades although they tried again and again.
They therefore attacked another part of the English forces.
William, clad in complete armor, led the fight, urging on his troops.
At one time a cry arose in his army that English killed him and Norman began to panic.
William drew off his helmet and rode along the lines, shouting, “I live! I live! Fight on! We shall conquer yet!”
The battle raged from morning till night. Harold himself fought on foot at the head of his army and behaved most valiantly.
His men, tired from forced march, bravely struggled on hour after hour.
But at last William turned their lines and threw them into confusion. As the sun went down Norman killed Harold and his men gave up the fight.
William the Conqueror Coronation
From Hastings William marched toward London.
On the way he received the surrender of some towns and burned others that would not surrender.
London submitted and some of the nobles and citizens came forth and offered the English crown to the Norman duke.
On the 25th of December, 1066, the “Conqueror,” as his follower called him, Archbishop Ealdred crowned him in Westminster Abbey.
Both English and Norman people attended the coronation.
When the question was asked by the Archbishop, “Will you have William, Duke of Normandy, for your king?” all present answered, “We will.”
William the Conqueror Rule
At first William ruled England with moderation.
William the Conqueror didn’t change the laws and customs of England.
In a few months,William left England to visit Normandy as peace return to England.
While he was gone many of the English nobles rebelled against him, and on his return he made very severe laws and did some very harsh things.
He laid waste an extensive territory, destroying all the houses upon it and causing thousands of persons to die from lack of food and shelter, because the people there had not sworn allegiance to him.
He made a law that all lights should be put out and fires covered with ashes at eight o’clock every evening, so that the people would have to go to bed then.
A bell was rung in all cities and towns throughout England to warn the people of the hour. The bell was called the “curfew,” from the French words “couvre feu,” meaning to cover fire.
He appointed officer to find out about the lands of England and their owners.
So, that everybody might be made to pay taxes.
He appointed officers in all the towns to report number of estate, ownership and worth of these estate.
The officer copies of report in two volumes, called the “Domesday Book.”
This book showed that England at that time had a population of a little more than a million.
William made war on Scotland, and conquered it.
Last days of William the Conqueror
During a war with the king of France, William soldiers burned the city of Mantes (mont).
As William rode over the ruins his horse stumbled and throw the king to the ground and injured him.
His soldier carried him to Rouen, where he lay ill for six weeks. His sons and even his attendants abandoned him in his last hours.
It is said that in his death struggle he fell from his bed to the floor, where his servant found his body.
He died on 9 September 1087