Had the Norman rebels coordinated their attacks with king and count, it would have meant the end for William, but his own skill and some luck allowed him to prevail. After suppressing the rebels, William decisively defeated the invading forces of Henry and Geoffrey at the Battle of Mortemer in After a second victory, at Varaville in , the duke was in firm control of Normandy.
His position was secured even further when both Henry and Geoffrey died in and were succeeded by weaker rulers. Finally conquering Maine in , William became the most powerful ruler in northern France.
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He was ransomed by William, who then took him on a campaign into Brittany. When Edward died childless on January 5, , Harold was accepted as king by the English magnates, and William decided on war. He proceeded carefully, however, first taking steps to secure his duchy and to obtain international support for his venture.
He took council with his leading nobles, bestowed special authority on his wife, Matilda, and his son Robert, and appointed key supporters to important positions in the ducal administration. He also appealed to volunteers to join his army of invasion and won numerous recruits from outside Normandy. Events outpaced William, however, as others moved more quickly. By August William had gathered his army and his fleet at the mouth of the Dives River. At this point he probably intended to sail due north and invade England by way of the Isle of Wight and Southampton Water.
But adverse winds held up his fleet, and in September a westerly gale drove his ships up-Channel. He had suffered a costly delay, some naval losses, and a drop in the morale of his troops.
The delay, however, yielded a very important benefit for William: on September 8 Harold was forced to release the peasant army he had summoned to defend the southern and eastern coastlines, leaving them without adequate protection. William embarked his army and set sail for the southeastern coast of England. The following morning he landed, took the unresisting towns of Pevensey and Hastings, and began to organize a bridgehead with 4, to 7, cavalry and infantry.
The campaigning season was almost past, and, when William received news of his opponent, it was not reassuring. On September 25 Harold had defeated and slain Tostig and Harald at Stamford Bridge, near York , in a bloody battle with great losses on both sides, and he was retracing his steps to meet the new invader at Hastings. On October 13, Harold emerged from the forest, but the hour was too late to push on to Hastings, and he took up a defensive position instead. Early the next day, before Harold had prepared his exhausted troops for battle, William attacked.
The failure to break the English lines caused disarray in the Norman army. William rallied the fleeing horsemen, however, and they turned and slaughtered the foot soldiers chasing them. Toward nightfall the king himself fell, struck in the eye by an arrow according to Norman accounts, and the English gave up.
He then moved quickly against possible centres of resistance to prevent a new leader from emerging. On Christmas Day, , he was crowned king in Westminster Abbey. In a formal sense, the Norman Conquest of England had taken place. William was already an experienced ruler. In Normandy he had replaced disloyal nobles and ducal servants with his friends, limited private warfare, and recovered usurped ducal rights, defining the duties of his vassals. The Norman church flourished under his reign, as he adapted its structures to English traditions.
Like many contemporary rulers, he wanted the church in England to be free of corruption but also subordinate to him. Thus, he condemned simony and disapproved of clerical marriage. He would not tolerate opposition from bishops or abbots or interference from the papacy, but he remained on good terms with Popes Alexander II and Gregory VII—though tensions arose on occasion. During his reign, church synods were held much more frequently, and he also presided over several episcopal councils.
He was ably supported in this by his close adviser Lanfranc, whom he made archbishop of Canterbury , replacing Stigand ; William replaced all other Anglo-Saxon bishops of England—except Wulfstan of Dorchester—with Normans. He also promoted monastic reform by importing Norman monks and abbots, thus quickening the pace of monastic life in England and bringing it into line with Continental developments. William left England early in but had to return in December to deal with unrest.
The rebellions that began that year reached their peak in , when William resorted to such violent measures that even contemporaries were shocked. To secure his hold on the country, he introduced the Norman practice of building castles, including the Tower of London. The rebellions, which were crushed by , completed the ruin of the English higher aristocracy and secured its replacement by an aristocracy of Norman lords, who introduced patterns of landholding and military service that had been developed in Normandy.
During the last 15 years of his life, William was more often in Normandy than in England, and there were five years, possibly seven, in which he did not visit the kingdom at all. He retained most of the greatest Anglo-Norman barons with him in Normandy and confided the government of England to bishops, trusting especially his old friend Lanfranc. He returned to England only when it was absolutely necessary: in to deal with the aftermath of a rebellion by Roger, earl of Hereford , and Ralf, earl of Norfolk, which was made more dangerous by the intervention of a Danish fleet; and in to arrest and imprison his half brother Odo, who was planning to take an army to Italy, perhaps to make himself pope.
In the spring of William had his son Henry knighted, and in August at Salisbury he took oaths of fealty from all the important landowners in England.
Despite his duties as king, William remained preoccupied with the frontiers of Normandy even after the conquest. The danger spots were in Maine and the Vexin on the Seine, where Normandy bordered on the French royal demesne. In William reached agreement with Fulk in the treaty of Blancheland: Robert Curthose was to be count of Maine but only as a vassal of Fulk. In July he entered Mantes by surprise, but, while the town burned, he either suffered an injury from which he never recovered or he fell fatally ill sources differ. He was thwarted at the very moment when he seemed about to enforce his last outstanding territorial claim.
William was taken to the priory of St.
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Gervais just outside Rouen , where he lay dying for five weeks. He had the assistance of some of his bishops and doctors, and in attendance were his half brother Robert, count of Mortain, and his younger sons, William Rufus and Henry. Robert Curthose was with the king of France. Although William was tempted to make the loyal Rufus his sole heir, in the end he compromised: Normandy and Maine went to Robert and England to Rufus. Henry was given great treasure with which to purchase an appanage. William died at daybreak on September 9, in his 60th year. His burial in St. The tomb itself was desecrated by Calvinists in the 16th century and by revolutionaries in the 18th.
William left a profound mark on both Normandy and England and is one of the most important figures of medieval English history. His personal resolve and good fortune allowed him to survive the anarchy of Normandy in his youth, and he gradually transformed the duchy into the leading political and military power of northern France. His support for monastic reform and improved episcopal organization earned him respect from church leaders and further strengthened his hand in the duchy. His conquest of England in altered the course of English history, even though he adopted a number of Anglo-Saxon institutions and continued various social and economic trends that had begun before The English church was Normanized by William and brought more fully into line with developments on the Continent.
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The new king and his nobility were also very much involved with affairs in Normandy and France, and, therefore, the orientation of English royal policy shifted toward Continental affairs. New forms of land tenure and military service were established after the conquest, and castles dotted the landscape as a symbol of the new regime. As conqueror and king, William significantly shaped the history of England. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.
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Written By: Frank Barlow. Top Questions. Read More on This Topic. The Norman Conquest has long been argued about. The question has been whether William I introduced fundamental changes…. Facts Matter. On March 30, , Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Hussein Aidid formed a peace plan which shared power over Mogadishu, ending a period of seven years of fighting after the ouster of Siad Barre. On February 23, , militiamen loyal to Aidid murdered 60 civilians in Baidoa and Daynunay. Hussein Aidid refused to recognize the newly forming Djibouti-backed Mogadishu-based Transitional Federal Government TFG ,  accusing it of "harboring militant Islamist sympathizers.
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