William the First
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King William I
Born c.1028
Reigned 1066 - 1087
Died 1087

William Of Normandy

onsiderable amounts of time have been spent in discussing the attributes and failings of the Kings of England from the time of Alfred the Great. The final King of England will be William. The next few chapters will include his family history, how he became Duke of Normandy and the events that lead up to his meeting with Harold II.

 

  The Origins Of Normandy

he founding of Normandy bears a similarity to the way Danelaw came into existence in England some years earlier. The possible founding of Normandy may have been a direct result of the difficulty they found themselves in when invading England, now that it was becoming more organized in resisting them. By the early 900s, Viking raids were common place in northern Europe, including France. To allay these attacks, Charles the Simple, in 911 made a pact with the leader of the Vikings. This Dane was known as Rollo. As a condition of the peace, he accepted baptism. In return he was given an area off the north eastern cost of France which later became known as Normandy, which loosely translates as North man. He was renamed Robert and married princess Gisele, who was the daughter of Charles the Simple. When she died a few years later, he returned to a former mistress by the name of Poppa. Poppa's father was Count Beranger of Bayeux who he had killed in battle.

 

 

The Norman Line

ollo and Poppa had a son name William Longsword who later became William I Duke of Normandy. William married a woman named Luitgard and together had a son and heir who later inherited his fathers title. Richard I or the fearless as he became known, married a French princess but maintained a mistress on the side. She was known as Gunnor. Gunnor bore all of Richard's children. Gunnor was from an important Danish family and eventually married him on the princess's death. This meeting with Gunnor is steeped in French folklore. When Richard was out hunting, he stayed on the property of one of his subjects. It was normal in that period for the husband to offer his wife for the lords comfort. His quick thinking wife introduced her sister Gunnor to Richard. They immediately fell in love and were soon meeting on a regular basis. From this liaison came all Richard's children. How many children there were is uncertain but at least four are known. Richard II who followed his father and was known as the Good. Emma, who eventually married Aethelred the Unready and Canute, who in turn became kings of England. Grandson's to Richard I and Gunnor were Richard III who followed his father as Duke of Normandy then by his younger brother Robert I the magnificent.

 

The meeting of Robert I And Arletta

ven more folklore surrounds how Robert met and fell in love with Arletta. Her real name was Herleva but became known as Arletta later. The story goes that in 1027 Robert was returning to his castle in Falaise when he set eyes upon a girl washing her clothes in the river nearby. When Robert saw her, he was immediately attracted by her beauty. Both would have been about 17 or 18 at the time. Unable to get her out of his mind, he sent a messenger to her to arrange a meeting. Expecting her to readily agree, it must of come as a shock when she refused unless she came in broad daylight, mounted, and through the main gate. When Robert was informed, he agreed. Within one year a baby boy was born and was named William. The William who would later be known as the Conqueror and King William of England. Never would the father named Fulbert, a leather Tanner, have thought that he would have a daughter who would bear a son that would later become the King of England.

 

 

William The Bastard

or some strange reason better known to himself, Robert decided that he needed to go to the Holy Land to do penance. He left the 8 year old William with trusted guardians until his return. In his own mind he knew he was not going to return. When the death of Robert became known, the power struggle began. William had to be removed one way or another. It began with the murder of his guardian, Gilbert of Brionne followed by his tutor, Thurold. Osbern, his seneschal was the next to die. He was murdered with a knife in Le Vaundreuil castle while he slept. What the murderer didn't realize was that the boy William was sleeping in the same bed next to him. William mysteriously disappeared for his own safety for five or six years. He possibly was entrusted to a common loyal family who brought him up as a their son so as not to allow his identity to become known. William never lost site of his position however, which seems to indicate he was still being kept in touch with events at court.

 

 

William Returns

round 1045, William now 17 was ready to recapture his birthright. With a band of loyal followers he returned to his home in Falaise. Here he appealed for the townsfolk's help to regain the castle. Reminding them of his origin and of his father, managed to rally their support. The castle was captured from the Dane, Toustain, who managed to escape with his life. The first stage of William's return was complete. William's position was still not secure. The re-emergence of William sent shock waves through Normandy. Illegitimacy was the rule rather than the exception at this time in Normandy from William Longsword down. Family ties were not as strong as they were in England. Bearing this in mind it is no wonder that in 1046, his own cousin, Guy of Brionne plotted William's death. Unfortunately for Guy, the plot was discovered by William's jester named Gollet. Gollet was possibly performing in Bayeux when he overheard their plans. He immediately left and rode to William in Valognes. Here William was intending to spend the night. When informed, he immediately rode to Bayeux, and passed the execution squad riding in the other direction. Passing straight through Bayeux, he met a knight who directed him home to Falaise. William learnt a lesson from this near miss that would make him much harder and less forgiving in the future. He appealed to King Henry I for support as the king had promised to care for the boy during Robert's penance.

 

 

Strength To Strength

illiam was now 20 years old and the struggle for power came to a head. Whoever won this battle would be unchallenged as the Duke of Normandy. William and the Kings men on one side and an Armada of his opponents on the other. The battle took place at Val-es-Dunes and William was victorious. He was immediately knighted by the king. Guy of Brionne was captured but later released and exiled to Burgundy. Normandy was again a strong force to be reckoned with.

 

Exchange Visit

th year of 1051 heralded a strange period. During this year, it is thought, William used the exiling of Godwin to Flanders to visit Edward the Confessor in England. Edward spent most of his youth in France, so probably welcomed this visit. Why William chose to visit Edward at all is open to question. Did he have eyes on the English throne by appealing to a kinsman. Whatever happened on this trip, words were exchanged that gave William the impression that when Edward died , he would automatically become the new king of England. If that was his plan, he could not have picked a better time with the Godwins in disgrace.

 

 

Happy Families

illiam decided to get married and approached The amiable Count Balduin of Flanders, for the hand of his daughter, Matilda. Matilda flatly refused, saying that she would rather be a nun than to marry a bastard. On hearing this, William immediately rode to the Counts castle in Lille and a meeting with her. When she again refused, legend has it that he gave her a good beating. She seemed to respond to this. They were married and remained faithful to each other until William's death in 1087. If William and Matilda were happily married, the Pope was not happy about it. It was seen as a sin if there was any intermarrying of cousins. The relationship was so distant that there must have been other reasons for Pope Leo IX's action. The result was excommunication for them along with the whole of Normandy. This must have been very disturbing to William and his subjects. William flatly refused to annul the marriage, so the ban stayed in force. William had a loyal friend named Lanfranc, who became the prior of Bec in 1045 and later, following the Norman Conquest, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070. Lanfranc managed to persuade the new Pope named Nicholas II to rescind the order on the grounds that it would be politically unwise to return Matilda to her father, as it would be seen as a gross insult, and could possibly lead to war. It was not agreed to without cost. For absolution, William was ordered to build a monastery and nunnery in Caen. These still stand today and are known as the Abbaye-aux-Hommes and the Abbaye-aux-Dames. He was also ordered to build a number of hospitals in various locations. William and Matilda had 4 sons and 4 daughters. Robert Shorthose, William Rufus, Henry Beauclerc, Richard, Constance, Adelisa, Adelaide and Adela.

 

 

The Fight Goes On

t was not all plain sailing for William. Normandy was always the subject of attack from neighbours. William's leadership reigned supreme. He was not adverse to crossing over his own borders himself. When in 1054, King Henry I, who had so willingly supported him against Guy of Brionne, suddenly annulled the treaty made between Charles the Simple and Rollo in 911. William prepared for an attack. The king supported by Angevins and Gauls invaded Normandy and inflicted many casualties. William refused to admit defeat by going on the offensive. he crossed his border and captured those responsible. He was now possibly the most powerful man in France beneath the king. By 1062 he had increased the size of his kingdom by capturing the area known as Maine to the south. In 1064 news came from Guy of Ponthieu that he had captured someone that William might be interested to meet at the right price. That someone was Duke Harold Godwinson the future king of England. William would not pay Guy a ransom for Harold but used disguised threats which seemed to work, as Harold was handed over to him.

 

To Be Continued .......

he completion of the story of Harold and William are continued in the sections on the ( Build-up to the Battle ) ( The Battle ) and ( The Aftermath ).

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© copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom .
Submitted 10th January 1998 .
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