Natural son of the Duke of Normandy, Robert the Devil(1) and Arlette, his "frilla"(2), the daughter of Fulbert, a tanner of Falaise, he was born in this city in 1027.
In 1034, Robert 1st had William acknowledged as his successor to the Duchy of Normandy, just before boarding a ship for a pilgrimage in the Holy land.
The death of Robert 1st in 1035 in Nicea on his return from pilgrimage makes William, age 8 at that time, the new Duke of Normandy.
A coalition of Norman barons revolt against the new Duke. William only kept his throne thanks to a few barons who remained faithful, but mostly thanks to the help given by Henri 1st, King of France.
In 1047, with the help of French lords, he defeats the rebellious lords from Bessin and Cotentin at Val-ès-Dunes.
After long negociations, , he seals an alliance with Flanders by marrying at Eu in 1050, Mathilde, daughter of the Count of Flanders Baldwin V.
Pope Leon IX opposes this marriage because of a distant family connection that may exist between the two young people, also mainly because the Pope fears seeing these two powers united(3). In exchange of the promise to build two churches in Caen, Leon IX grants William his forgiveness.
In 1060, William and Mathilde establish two abbeys in Caen, the Abbey for Men dedicated to St Stephen and the Abbey for Women dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
Concerned with expanding his possessions and domains, William also forges an alliance with Eustace, Count of Boulogne(4) and sets his sights on the English throne, whose king Edward the Confessor also his cousin is without issue.
In 1064, Harold Godwinson Earl of Wessex, brother in law to Edward the Confessor is shipwrecked on Norman Coast and is taken to William. This latter dubs Harold, and makes him swear he’ll help conquer the English throne. William purportedly forced Harold declare his fealty, but only revealed after the fact that the box, upon which this oath had been taken, contained holy relics.
But upon the death of Edward the Confessor in the beginning of January 1066, Harold breaks his word given to William and seizes the English throne.
William then prepares his armies and gathers a fleet in the various ports along the coast. To give his military action more weight, he obtains the blessing of the pope Alexander II, as well as the excommunication of Harold.
After waiting on the continent a few weeks, Guillaume lands in England in Sussex on September 28th with nearly 7000 men.
Meanwhile Guillaume managed to isolate Harold in alliance with his brother Tostig(5) and Harald III, King of Norway. Both had also planned to attack England, disembarking in Yorkshire a few days before the Norman landing. After a first victory against the armies of Harold, Tostig and Harald of Norway are defeated and killed at during the battle of Stamford Bridge(6) on September 25th.
Alerted to the Norman landing, Harold has his entire army cross part of England and set up garrison at Hastings(7). The confrontation takes place on October 14th. Harold is killed and his army is routed.
The council of Saxon nobles then appoints as King of England Edgard Ætheling, who with no means to fight William, takes refuge at the court of Scotland, where he will foment the revolts against the Normans.
After his victory in Hastings, William heads toward London across Kent. He goes to the village of Berkhampstead after crossing Southwark and Wallingford, where the heads of the Saxon nobility and the bishops came to pledge fealty and to offer him the crown of England.
In Christmas 1066, William is crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey by Alfred, Archbishop of York and in 1068, Mathilde is crowned queen in turn.
In 1071, Guillaume receives the homage of king Malcom of Scotland.
In 1072, Herewath, one of last defenders of Saxon independence who held the Normans at bay near the Wash, between Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, is killed.
In 1077, Robert Curthose, oldest son of William, foments an insurrection against his father. After several defeats, Robert wanders several years before reconciling with his father.
In 1083, Queen Matilda dies in Caen at the age of 51.
In 1085, William orders a complete census of all the domains of his kingdom. The whole report thus gathered will form the “Domesday Book”, which helped establish that at the time England counted nearly 5 million inhabitants.
En 1087, William’s England goes to war against Philip the First‘s France. During his march on Paris, William is mortally wounded by his horse during the sacking of the town of Mantes. He will die on September 9th of the same year at the priory of Saint-Gervais in Rouen.
Guillaume will be buried in the church of the Abbey Saint Stephen of Caen.
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(1)Also known as Robert "the Liberal" or Robert "the Magnificent". He was born around 1010 and Duke of Normandy in 1027. He succeeded his elder brother Richard III. He died in Nicéa in 1035, on his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
(2)The term " Frilla " designates the second wife in Norman and Viking mores.
(3)Indeed, at that time, the Normans of Robert Guiscard were busy settling in the south of Italy.
(4)Eustache II de Boulogne, né vers 1015, est le fils de Eustache 1er de Boulogne et de Mathilde de Louvain. Il est comte de Boulogne de 1047 à 1087 et sera parmi les fidèles compagnons de Guillaume le Conquérant. Il est un lointain descendant de Charlemagne et aussi un lointain cousin d'Edouard le Confesseur.
(5)Tostig was the third son of Godwin, earl of Wessex. He was born around 1026 and died on September 25th 1066 during the battle of Stamford Bridge. In 1051, he maried Judith, daughter of Count of Flander Baldwin IV, who is also the aunt of Matilda, the future wife of William I.
(6)Harold is in the southeast of England because of the Norman threat when he learns on November 20th the landing of the Norwegian army near York. A forced march, he crosses the country in four days to arrive at Tadcaster, about fifteen km southwest of York on septembre 24th. He learns then that the city fell to Harald and Tostig and he also learns that they left the city by dividing their forces. On September 25th, Harold makes a move his troops bypassing York, and surprises Harald and Tostig settled with part of their army near Stamford Bridge, about 15 km northeast of York. After a conciliation attempt that fail, the battle takes place and during the fighting, King Harald and Tostig die. The survivors then join the Norwegian in Riccall and board their ships to return to Norway. Harold can then take the southern route, to meet the Normans who just landed in to head for Hasitngs.
(7)Small city of East Sussex located on the Channel Coasts, around 80 km south-west of Dover.