Family tree for William I showing:
King William I was born in 1027 or 1028 and died on 9th September 1087. He was the illegitimate son of Duke Robert of Normandy by his mistress Herleva. William’s mother married Herluin de Conteville in 1031 and had two sons, Robert and Odo.
William became Duke of Normandy in 1035 after his father died in Nicea, returning from a pilgrimage. He had a turbulent childhood becoming the ward of a number of prominent men and a target for those who wanted to take the Duchy of Normandy from him. In 1040, his protector, Osbern, was murdered while watching over the sleeping Duke. In 1046 William secured the backing of the King of France and managed to defeat his enemy Guy of Burgundy at the Battle of Val-es-Dunes.
Marriage and Family
The young Duke decided he wanted to marry Matilda of Flanders. She initially rejected his proposal but later changed her mind. The couple married in 1050 despite being forbidden to do so by the Pope on the grounds of being too closely related. The couple had ten children including Robert Duke of Normandy, King William II of England, King Henry I of England and Adela, mother of King Stephen.
In 1051 William paid a visit to his kinsman, King Edward the Confessor of England. It is believed that he was hoping to secure Edward’s backing for his marriage. During this visit Edward may have suggested that William would succeed to the English throne if Edward remained childless. In 1064, Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex was shipwrecked off the coast of Ponthieu and brought to William’s court. Some sources claim that Harold was kept under house arrest but it may have been that his ship was badly damaged and needed extensive repairs or he may have remained in Normandy to secure the release of his brother and nephew who had been taken as hostages 10 years earlier. William later claimed that before he left, Harold swore an oath to uphold William’s claim to the English throne.
At the end of January 1066, William was dismayed to discover that King Edward the Confessor had died on 5th January and Harold Godwinson had been crowned King the next day. William began planning an invasion, amassing a huge fleet of ships. He also secured the backing of the Pope who sent a papal banner to be carried into battle.
William landed in England at Pevensey on 28th September 1066 and was surprised to meet no resistance. He soon learned that Harold was in the north dealing with an invasion by Harald Hardrada. He made his camp in Hastings and waited for the Saxons to return south. The two sides met in battle on 14th October and Harold was killed in the fighting. However, the Saxons did not submit to Wiliam and it took him until December to subdue the south and receive the submission of the Witan.
King William I
William was crowned King of England on 25th December 1066 at Westminster cathedral. For the first five years of his reign he faced repeated uprisings against his rule by the Anglo-Saxons. They were all ruthlessly suppressed. William also faced repeated rebellions and conflicts in Normandy and was frequently recalled to Normandy.
In 1078 William ordered construction of a fortified tower in London. Made of white stone it became known as the White Tower and now forms the inner part of the Tower of London.
In 1085 William ordered commissioners to visit every town in England and make a detailed inventory of the holdings of everyone in the land. It took a year to complete and the findings were published in the Domesday Book.
William had to return to Normandy at the end of 1086 to deal with another dispute. In July 1087 he was injured during a raid and died from his injuries two months later. His son, Robert succeeded as Duke of Normandy while William succeeded as King of England.
First published 2017; Updated and re-published Aug 17 2020 @ 3:00 pm – Updated –
Harvard Reference for this page:
Heather Y Wheeler. (2017 – 2020). King William I, Conqueror 1028 – 1087. Available: https://www.treesofblue.com/king-william-i-conqueror-1028-1087. Last accessed September 30th, 2021