Saturday, 30 November 2013

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror
When William the Conqueror was aged 8 years, he became the duke Of Normandy. His first years of reign were plagued by violence but with the assistance he received from King Henry I from France, he was able to survive the turbulent early years. In 1606, William triumphed at the well known Battle of Hastings which led to his crowning as king of England. William the Conqueror was illiterate and never spoke English but he influenced English evolution in a bigger way than anyone else. He ruled England until September 9, 1087 when he died in Rouen, France. 

Birth and early life
William the Conqueror was born in Falaise, France in 1028 and he was the illegitimate son of duke of Normandy, Robert 1 who died while he returned home from Jerusalem where he had gone for a pilgrimage in 1035. This led to William becoming the new duke but had to deal with corruption and violence in his initial years as feudal barons were constantly fighting in efforts of controlling the rather fragile dukedom. Some of his guards died during the fighting and this era of severe anarchy as show his teacher get murdered as well and had to seek help from King Henry 1 to calm the storm. 

In 1042, William was knighted by the king while still in his teenage. This show him change his stand on political events and sooner, he had gained firm control over his duchy. However, he was commonly referred to as ‘the bastard’ by his enemies considering that he was an illegitimate child. By 1064, William had successfully conquered and won Maine and Brittany, two of his neighboring provinces. At the same time, Edward the Confessor, the king of England who was still childless promised him succession to English throne. The mother of King Edward was the sister of the grandfather of William. 

William invades England
However, Edward died later in 1066 and his brother in law, Harold Goodwin who was by then the most powerful English lord claimed taking the throne for himself. This was despite having taken an oath where he promised to support William claim the throne. The council of the English lords, the Witan was required to take part and come up with a decision regarding the succession and they supported Harold on his claim. Angered by the kind of betrayal that Witan had shown, William invaded England to enforce his claim on the throne. 

For the invasion, William gathered a strong army and a fleet on French coast ready for the attack. However, their advance to England would be delayed for a number of weeks due to the unrelenting northern winds. In the meantime, England was invaded by Norwegian army from North Sea. By that time, Harold was just preparing for the expected invasion by William from south and was forced to move his army to the north rapidly to protect England from the invading Norway. Harold succeeded in defeating Norwegians but made an unwise decision when he immediately ordered his army to match south to meet William and never had any rest. 

The Battle of Hastings
The two armies would meet on 14 October 1066 in the well renowned Battle of Hastings where king Harold together with his two brothers who were in the army died in the battle. After their death, there was no person of stature remaining to organize a new army and thus William had a clear path to claiming his throne. William was crowned as England’s king on the Christmas Day of the same year. 

During the battle, William wore complete armor, ready for the war and he fought at the front where the battle was fierce and urged on his troops to fight. History records that at one time when the battle was hot, there was a cry in his army claiming that he had been slain and there was panic. It is said that William then removed his helmet riding along the lines and shouted that he is alive and they must conquer. 

For the next few years after becoming king, William had to deal with several revolts and he took advantage of this to declare the English land as his personal property after confiscating it.  Later, he distributed this land to his loyal Norman followers and soon imposed a unique feudal system. Later, Normans succeeded in replacing the whole Anglo- Saxon aristocracy.  

The mother of King Harold first led English rebellions against Norman Conquest in 1067 but her forces were not strong enough and were defeated. King William exerted a very terrible punishment in 1068 on rebels in North of England where were known as ‘Harrying of North’. Thousands of people, including men, children and women were starved to death after all the land was laid to waste. Hereward the Wake together with Earl Morcar, the half brother of Harold led the last known rebellion against the conqueror. Once again, William defeated the rebellions and Norman Conquest was established completely.
The Reign of King William
After becoming king, William opted to retain most of the institutions that already existed in England. He developed a great interest of learning more about his newly acquired property. He would later order the making of a very detailed consensus of the property and population of England and this was compiled in Domesday Book. 

During his reign, William ruled England like a real conqueror and reduced the Saxons to nearly a state of pure slavery everywhere. The higher classes who existed in England were all deprived of any office of state and church while he grounded down people with the introduction of new oppressive taxes. He also erected many fortresses all over the country and then garrisoned to overawe Saxon inhabitants. By 1072, he had reduced the Saxons to a state of submission and William took advantage of this to lead his army to cross the border and enter Scotland. He did this in order to punish Scotland’s king, Malcom Canmore as he had protected and received Edgar Atheling. 

Together with his army, William marched northwards to Tay where Malcore submitted to the conqueror nominally. The king of Denmark, Canute in 1085 attempted to overturn power in England and tried to remove William from the throne. He prepared a great armament naval to invade England but later abandoned the entire enterprise partly because of ill luck and also due to the skills of William. The conqueror spent most of his latter part of life in Normandy and entrusted the government of England majorly to the Bishop of Bayeux, Odo, who was his half brother.

Due to the corpulent habit of William body, Philip 1 of France pointed some kind of sarcasm from the conqueror. As a result of his wrath, William gathered an army and prepared to invade France where he set on fire City of Mantes. However, due to the great joy that he enjoyed from this success, his horse accidentally stumbled on hot embers and threw him where he sustained fatal injuries. That marked the last battle that the conqueror fought as he was later infected due to the injuries he received and died. 

On September 9 1087, William died while in Rouen, France. By then, he had five daughters and four sons and every England monarch has since been a direct descendant of William. It is said that his body exploded apparently at his funeral. This happened when the priests tried stuffing the body of the fallen king to a coffin made of stone. The coffin couldn’t accommodate his bulk and his abdomen burst. Even though he was illiterate and never spoke English, he amicably contributed to evolution of English language and added a slew of Latin and French words to English dictionary. William is credited for making England Europe’s most powerful government due to the introduction of the skilled Norman administrators. 

William was undoubtedly a ruthless and stern king but one thing for sure is that he was very skillful when it came to governing the nation. The conqueror was able to shield England from the many foreign aggressions and invasions. England had been harassed frequently by the many descendants of the piratical hordes and he was able to bring this to an ultimate end. During his reign as the king, there was no one time that any Norse rover venture stepped on English coast which was a remarkable legacy for him to leave behind. 

As far as administration of justice is concerned, William was impartial to the royals. Most of his severities proved that he hated anarchy and had an admirable attitude towards the church. As a king, he defined clearly limits of the ecclesiastical judicature. Formidable Hildebrand had a desire that that William should do homage for the England Kingdom to him but William refused. Millions of people today are believed to be descendants of William the conqueror. This more so includes the English Monarchy like Queen Elizabeth II and genealogists say that about 25 percent of the population of England is related to the conqueror, albeit distantly which also includes countless of Americans having British ancestry.

Information sources

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