Early LifeWilliam was born in 1027 in Falaise, France. His parents were Duke Robert I of Normandy and Arletta, a tanner?s daughter. William was illegitimate, he was also called ?William the Bastard? and because of this he was an outcast. His father went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and left William as his successor with twelve barons to advise and take care of young William. When the news reached Normandy that his father was killed, violence broke out in the country.
In 1047 William gained control of Normandy. He dealt with rebellion inside Normandy and became a very experienced and ruthless military commander. The people of Normandy liked to fight, when at peace William had to find a new place to conquer. William married Mathilda, daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders. William had three reasons to be king of England: he was promised by Edward the Confessor, he was the closest relative to Harold II, and promised by Edwards brother in-law, Harold Goodwin, on his deathbed. But Harold became King of England.
Battle of HastingsWhen William did not get the throne of England he held a council of war. He had a fleet of ships built in the port of Dives, building the boats took seven months. William was not the only person invading England, Norway had landed in northern England and Harold had rushed to defeat them. On September 28, 1066 William landed in Pevensey with no opposition except for the townspeople because Harold was in the north. Harold quickly moved his troops to the south of England
The armies matched in size and Harold had the battlefield advantage but William had skillfully co-ordinate his armies, which Harold had not. The first assault by the Normans failed and a rumor had started that William had died. ? The battle was close-fought: a chronicler described the Norman counter-attacks and the Saxon defense as ‘one side attacking with all mobility, the other withstanding as though rooted to the soil’.? Harold died in The Battle of Hastings and lost the battle by and arrow shot through his eye. Historians say the reasons he lost are the battle were: ?he was weaker because of perjury and moral lapses, his soldiers were tired from walk from London, they spent the night carousing instead of prayer, the solders were armed with stones and bill-hooks, and he needed horsemen and archers.? The Battle of Hasting became a battle of such significance because with this victory William won the battle and England.
CastlesTo start his campaign of protection and control William built castles in strategic areas. At first they were built with wood and were built on mounds or hills, but they were later built with stone. The most famous is the Tower of London, which protected the River Thames so invaders could not get in to England and protected the trading ships.
FeudalismWilliam brought feudalism to England. It began between the 8th and 9th centuries in Europe. It was first recognized in France, and later spread to most countries of Western Europe. William rewarded faithful subjects, loyal military leaders and lords from Normandy with estates in England. People who continued to oppose William had their land taken away. ?William created up to 180 honours (lands scattered through shires, with a castle a governing central), and in return had some 5,00 knights at his disposal to repress rebellions and pursue campaigns.? By the end of Williams reign a small group of tenants got about half of England?s land and wealth, and a foreign aristocracy had been brought in.
People could no longer look to a central ruler for protection. English peasants had to seek the protection of the lords. To expand ones power and wealth, lords would make alliances with other nobles. A lord would grant land to another noble in exchange for protection and military services. This grant was called a fief.
The Church and Legal SystemWilliam?s power affected the Church and the legal system. The French language took the place of Anglo-Saxon). William appointed his own bishops and replaced English bishops and abbots. William also had Canterbury and Durham Cathedrals rebuilt. William promised to uphold existing laws and customs. He relied on sheriffs to supervise the administration and he sent members of his own court to conduct important trials.
The Later Years.William died on September 9, 1087. But before his death he gave Normandy to his oldest son Robert and gave England to William Rufus.
Matthew, Donald. The Norman Conquest. New York: Schocken Books, 1966. pp. 81-84, 227-229.