William I

Who was William the Conqueror?
William was the Duke of Normandy, and became King of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. By the time William conquered England, he had survived numerous assassination attempts as a boy and had years of military experience.
Why did William I think he should be king?
There were a number of reasons why William felt he had a strong claim to the throne.
  • He was related to Edward the Confessor through his great-aunt, Emma of Normandy, who was Edward's mother.
  • Before becoming king, Edward had spent over twenty years in exile in Normandy. So there was an established relationship between them.
  • William had helped Edward in 1051, when Earl Godwin rebelled. William claimed that, in return, Edward had promised him the throne.
  • William was an experienced ruler, and an experienced and successful warrior.
  • William claimed that Harold Godwinson had sworn an oath to support his claim, in 1064.
What were the weaknesses of William I's claim to the throne?
Although William felt he had a strong claim to the throne, there were arguments against it.
  • William's blood relationship to Edward was not strong.
  • Many of the Saxons disliked the idea of a foreign king. They had objected to the number of Normans that Edward had invited to England in the 1050s.
  • Edward had nominated Harold Godwinson on his deathbed, and the Saxons believed that deathbed promises held more weight than earlier promises.
  • Although Harold Godwinson did not deny swearing an oath to William in 1064, he denied that he had sworn the oath to support William's claim.
How effective was William I's leadership in the Battle of Hastings?
Although the outcome of the Battle of Hastings was partly determined by luck, William's leadership made the Norman chances of victory stronger. His strengths included discipline, timing, preparation, brutality, and intelligence.
How did William I use discipline at the Battle of Hastings?
William demonstrated a good ability to discipline his troops before and during the Battle of Hastings.
  • William had to keep his army and fleet ready and waiting on the French coast for the entire summer.
  • The Norman troops did not loot or steal food from the surrounding Norman countryside during the long summer.
Did William I time his attack on England well?
William knew that eventually Harold Godwinson would have to disband the fyrd to gather the harvest. He prepared to sail as soon as he heard that this had happened, and caught Harold unawares.
Was William I's attack on England in 1066 ambitious?
William's plans for the invasion of England were very ambitious and included the transport of hundreds of destriers by ship.
How much preparation did William I make for the invasion of England?
William demonstrated thorough preparation for the invasion of England in a number of ways.
  • The Normans took pieces of a castle over the Channel with them, and used it to transform an old Iron Age fort in Hastings into a simple defence.
  • William organised for the transport of the Norman destriers using flat-bottomed ships, as the Norman horses had been especially bred for battle.
  • William had excellent information from his spies, who told him what Harold was doing in England, and allowed him to meet the Anglo-Saxons at Hastings.
Were William I's troops brutal to the Anglo-Saxons in 1066?
Although the Norman troops had been well-disciplined in Normandy, William allowed them to loot and destroy English villages. This tactic enraged Harold and encouraged him to leave London.
How did intelligence help William I's invasion?
William had good information from his spies (known as intelligence) about the actions of Harold and the Anglo-Saxon army, and used it to make good leadership decisions.
  • The Normans were not surprised by Harold's Anglo-Saxon troops, as he had hoped, and were instead able to sneak up on them early on the morning of the battle.
  • William's knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons before the invasion allowed him to time the voyage after Harold had disbanded the fyrd.
What were William I's tactics in the Battle of Hastings?
Because he had different types of soldiers, William was able to employ a variety of tactics in the Battle of Hastings.
  • Feigning retreat.
  • Using a combination of infantry, archers and cavalry.
Why did William I have an advantage at the Battle of Hastings?
Although Harold held the top of the hill, with his shield wall in a strong defensive position, William was able to make use of some tactical advantages. These included:
  • Soldiers with a variety of fighting styles.
  • His cavalry.
  • Archers.
  • Well-disciplined troops.
When was William I crowned king of England?
William was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Ealdred of York, on Christmas Day 1066.
What powers did William I have?
As the first Norman king of England, William had economic, legal, military, social and religious powers.
  • He controlled coins and the currency.
  • He made all the laws.
  • He could raise taxes - this was called 'levying the geld'.
  • He owned all the land, and could grant it and take it away.
  • He had military power, made up of knights provided by the tenants-in-chief.
  • He could appoint important churchmen.
  • He would call a meeting of the Witan to advise him.
  • He issued laws and instructions by using royal writs.
  • He held oath-taking ceremonies to gain the loyalty of his landholders.
  • He wore the crown to show his power and position to the people.
How did William I's military power help him?
William was a strong, skilful and ruthless military leader, and this helped him to claim the crown in England.
  • He was able to win the Battle of Hastings and crush rebellions.
  • It won the respect of the Anglo-Saxons, who admired great warriors. Many joined his side against the rebels.
  • People at the time believed that his victories were a sign that he was favoured by God.
How did William I prove his legitimacy as king?
It was important to William that the Anglo-Saxons saw him as the rightful - or legitimate - king.
  • He stressed that he was the rightful heir to Edward the Confessor's throne because Edward had promised it to him, because he was related to Edward, and because Harold had broken his oath.
  • At his coronation he promised to uphold Edward's laws, and protect the Church.
  • He made sure that he was seen wearing the crown in public at least three times a year. These included at religious festivals and in important places.
  • He was crowned by Ealdred, the Archbishop of York. Normally the Archbishop of Canterbury crowned the king, but Archbishop Stigand was corrupt, and therefore was not considered appropriate.
  • He made sure that images of his portrait were put onto coins so that everyone could see he was the king.
How did William I use ceremonies to show his power?
During ceremonies, William made sure that he appeared as the true and rightful king, wearing his crown at important times and places.
How did William I control money?
William took control of the minting of coins, which had his portrait on them.
How did royal writs give William I power?
Royal writs were official documents and proclamations from the king, affixed with his seal. William used them to spread his commands across the country. To begin with he issued writs in English, to show continuity from Edward's reign.
How did William I travel to maintain his power?
William travelled England frequently with his court and met with officials and important families. It made him more familiar to the people and allowed him to see what was happening throughout his kingdom.
Why did the land make William I powerful?
Owning land directly made William more powerful, as it meant that everyone ultimately relied on loyalty to him to keep their land. The link between king and landholding was much stronger than in Anglo-Saxon times.
How did oath-taking increase William I's power?
Oath-taking was making a solemn promise, and was taken very seriously by the Anglo-Saxons. William held huge oath-taking ceremonies in which men would swear to serve him faithfully.
What sort of person was William I?
William's personality seems full of contradictions, but this may have been the effect of his reputation as the conqueror and ruler of England.
  • He was clearly tough and determined.
  • He was the illegitimate son of Robert, duke of Normandy, and survived many assassination attempts while a boy.
  • He was warlike and ruthless, showing excellent leadership and strategy.
  • He was very religious, and apparently repented on his deathbed the violence he had caused.
  • He focused very strongly on being accepted as the legitimate heir of Edward the Confessor, rather than merely an invader in England.
  • He loved his wife Matilda very much, and wept for days when she died in 1083.
How many children did William I have?
William and Matilda had at least nine children.
What was William I's relationship with his children?
William had a difficult relationship with his eldest son, Robert, partly because Robert wanted more power than William was prepared to give him.
When did William I die?
William died in 1087.
  • In July 1087, William led a raid in France but was thrown from the saddle of his horse. By this time he was very fat, and it caused serious internal injuries.
  • He died after several weeks of suffering.
  • On his death, the nobility fled to secure their castles from attack while the servants stole everything they could.
What happened at William I's funeral?
At William's funeral his servants tried to squeeze his body into a stone tomb, but it burst and smelled so bad everyone had to leave the cathedral. This was seen as a bad omen, indicating God's anger against him.
Who succeeded William I?
Because William was on his death-bed for a while, he had time to decide who should take the throne after him.
  • He decided that his eldest son, Robert, should inherit the dukedom of Normandy.
  • He wanted his favourite son, William Rufus, to be king of England, but decided to leave it in the hands of God.
  • William Rufus left for England before his father died, with a letter from William to Lanfranc. Lanfranc crowned him William II in September 1087.
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