William the Conqueror
Ruler of England and Normandyby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
William the Conqueror, born in 1024, worked hard to achieve his goal of ruling England and Normandy, but he never gained the respect of the people in this area. His story begins in Normandy, where Richard II, 5th Duke of Normandy, and his brother Robert lived. Richard II suddenly and mysteriously died two years after his succession to dukedom. Robert, brother to Richard II, took his brother’s place as Duke of Normandy. Robert had no legitimate children, but he did have one son, William, by a peasant girl. Considering there was no one directly in line to succeed Robert, he named William as his successor. Since William was only 11 years old when Robert died, there were lots of arguments and fights within the family over who should take Robert’s place as Duke of Normandy. Mainly, the knights and nobles believed William should take over his father’s place. The Earl of Arques, who had the support of King Henry of France, strongly believed he was the rightful heir to the throne. William was victorious over the Earl of Arques and took his rightful place as Duke of Normandy. However, he always had to deal with uprisings by unruly nobles.
Unsatisfied with only being Duke of Normandy, William believed that, based on his ancestry, he had a rightful claim to the English throne. His aunt, Emma, was the daughter of Richard I, 3rd Duke of Normandy. Emma married the King of England, Ethelred. After Ethelred’s death, in approximately 1016, Canute of Denmark invaded England and became King. Canute then married Emma as well. Since Emma, William’s great aunt, was married to two English Kings, William believed this gave him a hereditary claim to the English throne. Typically, England chooses the heir to the throne hereditarily, but it was a group of nobles and church officials called witena gemot that had the final say.
After Canute’s death, the witena gemot choose Edward the Confessor, the last surviving son of the previous King, Ethelred, as the next King of England. Edward, who had no children, died in 1066. Following his death, the witena gemot selected Harold Godwinssor, the son of a powerful noble, to succeed him. Considering he believed he had two legitimite claims to the English throne (his hereditary claim through his Aunt and he also claimed that Edward promised him the Kingship), William was very displeased that he was not chosen as King.
After Harold became King, both the Norman’s and the English began preparing for war. Both sides began to raise their navy, and the English moved a large number of their troops to the South so that they were directly across the English Channel from Normandy. William, claiming that his purpose in this war was a crusade to reform the English church, appealed to the Pope for his approval. Considering the Church’s position in those days, this move gave William a lot more power when he invaded.
At summer’s end in 1066, William gave the command for his ships to head for England. Interestingly, William was not the only person that was, at this time, headed to England to fight for the crown. Tostig, Harold’s brother, and King Harold Hardroda of Norway decided to join forces and attack England. Neither attacking army had any idea of the other’s existence. Harold of England managed to defeat the combined forces of Tostig and Harald Hardrada. Just as they believed they were in the clear, the English received word that William and his ships had landed at the town of Pevensey. William and his army marched onward to the town of Hastings. England, severely weakened from their previous battle with Norway, was defeated during The Battle of Hastings. Harold died during this battle.
William became ruler over England and Normandy. The people of England were very displeased with the fact that William tricked the Pope into giving his blessing to the invasion. Because of this, he never gained any support or acceptance from the English people. One great thing William did, as King, was organize a census. This was recorded in two volumes: the Great Domesday Book and the Little Domesday Book. William had three sons: William Rufus, Robert, and Henry. Surprisingly, William said that his sons must fight over the throne, after his death. However, William expressed his desire for William Rufus to succeed him. Without much of a fight, the brothers decided that William Rufus would rule England, while Robert would rule Normandy. In 1087, following an exhausting, unstable rule, William the Conqueror passed away. Though he never gained respect for it, he did act on and achieve his desire to be King of England.
Abbott, Jacob. William the Conqueror. Pensacola, Florida: Pensacola Christian College 1999
Howarth, David.1066: The Year of the Conquest. Barnes & Noble Books 1993.
Thompson, George and Combee, Jerry. World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective Second Edition. Pensacola, Florida: Pensacola Christian College 1997.