William The Conquerer Essay, Research Paper
Jennifer Spinner 5/19/99
Medieval England Period 3
“William the Conqueror”
William I, also known as “William the Conqueror,” or “William the Bastard,” was born the illegitimate of Robert, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva, daughter of a wealthy Falasian in about 1027 A.D. When he was just seven years of age he became the Duke of Normandy, which put him in a vulnerable position as far as his physical well being was concerned, for several of his relatives felt that they should be duke rather than young William. He persevered, however, and became one of the most influential leaders of Medieval times with his Battle of Hastings and his glorious ascension to the English throne on Christmas Day, 1066. His twenty-one years as king, however, were not without toil. Several rebellions and uprisings threatened his control and leadership throughout his reign. Revered by some, yet despised by others, he asserted his authority throughout the realm. “ A brave fighter, a good general, a superior administrator, he gave a reasonably well-ordered and peaceful government” (Adair,492).
Perhaps William’s difficult childhood prepared him for the problems he would face as king. Confronted with animosity at age seven when he became Duke of Normandy, he was a born fighter. His father’s death during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land resulted in him becoming Duke of Normandy. It was also the start of several attempts by jealous relatives to take his life. Amazingly enough, William survived his arduous youth, although some people, who tried to protect him, did not. His enemies killed three guardians and tutors. A friend of his even inadvertently saved his life. “The two were both sleeping in a very dark room, when the murderer entered. All he could see was the vague outline of a child, whom he then killed. The killer, however, had murdered William’s friend, instead, allowing his uncle to whisk him away to safety”(Costain,24). He therefore lived through several homicide attempts that could easily have changed the history of England.
Perhaps what William is most known for, however, is the Battle of Hastings. This entire incident began with a promise given to him in 1051 by King Edward stating that William could succeed him as King of England. However, on his deathbed, Edward and Earl Godwin made up for past grievances, and Edward proceeded to promise the English throne to Earl Godwin’s son, Harold. William, angered that his promise of the throne was not obliged, decided he would take England by force. On October 14, 1066, William and his army of 25,000 to 30,000 men defeated England in the Battle of Hastings. They then marched to London leaving a trail of devastation. Finally, on December 25, 1066, his goal was realized when he was crowned king.
“This King William…was a very wise and great man, more honored and more powerful than any of his predecessors. He was mild to those men who loved God, but severe beyond measure to those who withstood his will”(Halsall). His many accomplishments as king can attest to this. Under his rule, Norman feudalism became prevalent throughout England, and England became a near perfect properly balanced feudal government. He also appointed Lanfranc as Archbishop who played a large role in centralizing the Church. Perhaps one of his most amazing accomplishments, however, was the commissioning of the Domesday Book, a survey of English land and property. His severity and sternness can also be seen throughout his reign, though. He imprisoned anyone who did not act as he wanted them to, blinded those who killed deer or boars, and used his force to put down rebellions. “He was certainly cruel by modern standards, but he laid the foundation for the building of English history”(Monarchs).
Finally, at the age of 60, King William I died when he fell off his horse into the flaming ruins of Mantes. Thus ended his amazing twenty-one year reign as King of England. He, however, would not be forgotten, for he played an important role in the formation of England and culturally changed it forever.