William the Conqueror Biography

(Former King of England (1066 - 1087))

Born: 1028

Born In: Falaise, France

William the Conqueror was the Duke of Normandy, who later became the King of England. He was crowned the Duke in 1035 and over the years made himself the mightiest noble in France, later seizing the English throne in 1066. Born in France, William was an illegitimate child of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, who died abruptly while returning from a pilgrimage and thus, at the age of 8, William inherited his father’s throne. His early reign was plagued with violence as the feudal barons fought for the control of his fragile dukedom but William managed to survive them and grew up to become a great warrior, crushing the rebels and restoring his kingdom. Subsequently, childless King Edward the Confessor promised William succession to the English throne but upon Edward’s death, one of Edward’s relatives succeeded him as the King. Unsurprisingly, William felt betrayed and attacked England, which came to be known as the Battle of Hastings. Successful in his conquest of the English throne, William was crowned King and ruled England for 21 years (1066–1087) until his death. This conquest changed the course of English history, transforming almost every aspect of the nation, eventually making England the most powerful nation in Europe. One of the most significant figures of medieval English history, William left a profound mark on both Normandy and England

Quick Facts

Nick Name: William the Bastard

Also Known As: William I, William the Bastard

Died At Age: 59


Spouse/Ex-: Matilda of Flanders (m. 1051–1083)

father: Robert I, Duke of Normandy

mother: Herleva of Falaise

siblings: Adelaide of Normandy, Earl of Kent, Odo of Bayeux, Robert, Count of Mortain

children: Adela of Normandy, Adeliza, Agatha of Normandy, Cecilia of Normandy, Constance of Normandy, Henry I of England, Matilda, Richard of Normandy, Robert Curthose, William II of England

Born Country: France

Emperors & Kings British Men

Died on: September 9, 1087

place of death: Rouen, France

Founder/Co-Founder: Norwich Castle

Childhood & Early Life

William the Conqueror was born William I around 1028 in Falaise, Duchy of Normandy, to Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and his mistress Herleva. Hence, he was an illegitimate child.

In 1035, before leaving for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Robert declared William as his heir to the throne of Normandy. On his way back, Robert died abruptly and William, aged eight, inherited the dukedom.

The early years of William’s reign were afflicted with violence and corruption as the barons constantly rebelled and conspired to gain control of the kingdom. However, with good fortune and some help from Robert’s loyal men, William survived. He grew up to become a dominating ruler with an aversion towards lawlessness.

By 1042, William was knighted. From 1046 to 1055, he dealt with a series of baronial rebellions. He returned to Normandy and asserted his authority, defeating the insurgents after which he began to restore order in his dukedom.

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Accession & Reign
Upon gaining a firm control over his duchy, William started expanding the territories under his kingdom. By 1064, he was successful in conquering two neighboring provinces, Brittany and Maine.

Meanwhile, the King of England Edward the Confessor, who had no heir to his throne, promised William succession to the English throne. Edward the Confessor was a distant relative of William.

However, upon Edward’s death in 1066, his brother-in-law Harold Godwin claimed the throne of England for himself despite having made an oath earlier to support William in his claim. As a consequence of this betrayal, William decided to invade England and enforce his claim.

William assembled his troops, but due to bad weather their plan of attack was delayed for several weeks. Meanwhile, Harold’s exiled brother Tostig joined hands with the king of Norway and together they invaded England from the North Sea.

Harold, who was preparing for William's invasion from the south, quickly moved his army northwards to defend England from Norway. Although Tostig and his allies were ultimately defeated in the battle, their sudden attack proved to be beneficial for William.

After defeating the Norwegians, Harold’s troops marched back down to fight William’s army. In October 1066, Harold’s troops and William’s army met in the ‘Battle of Hastings.’ King Harold, along with his two brothers, was killed in the battle and William's army emerged victorious.

On Christmas Day, 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned the king of England in Westminster Abbey. Upon ascending the throne, William introduced the Norman practice of building castles in England, including the Tower of London.

During the next few years, there occurred several rebellions under his reign, which William cleverly manipulated to confiscate English land. Subsequently, he declared the confiscated land as his personal property, later giving it to Norman barons.

William’s conquest played a significant role in shaping the history of England by transforming its language and literature as well as art and architecture. Due to his policies and efforts, Britain emerged as the most powerful nation in Europe.

During the last 15 years of his life, William mostly remained in Normandy, retaining many of the greatest Anglo-Norman barons with him. He effectively confided the English government to his loyal bishops.

Major Works

After seizing the English throne, William retained most of the country’s institutions and was eager to learn about his new territory. He ordered a detailed and economic survey of the population and property of England, the results of which are compiled as two volumes of ‘The Domesday Book.’ Viewed as one of the greatest administrative accomplishments of the Middle Ages, the book currently rests in the ‘Public Record Office’ in London.

Personal Life & Legacy

William the Conqueror was married to Matilda of Flanders, the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders. The couple had four sons and five or six daughters.

William died on September 9, 1087, in Priory of Saint Gervase, Rouen, Normandy, after sustaining injuries in a horse riding accident. His mortal remains were buried in the monastery of Saint-Étienne de Caen, France.

William’s son Robert Curthose succeeded his father as Duke of Normandy in 1087. His third son William II was crowned the king of England on 26 September 1087. His fourth son Henry I received money upon his father's death. He later became the king of England and reigned from 1100 until his death in 1135.

See the events in life of William The Conqueror in Chronological Order

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