Ancient history

William I the Conqueror


(Cliff, circa 1027 - Rouen, 1087.) Duke of Normandy (1035-1087) and King of England (1066-1087). Illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy Robert* le Diable and Arlette, daughter of a skinmaker from Falaise.
Before his departure for the Holy Land (1034), Duke Robert had him recognized as his legitimate heir by the Norman barons and, on his death in 1035, Guillaume effectively took over from him. But his minority is marked by serious troubles. Disadvantaged by his condition as a bastard, which his enemies exploited, the young duke saw his authority flouted by the Norman barons. A period of bloody anarchy begins. It will last twelve years. The young prince's guardians, in particular the energetic Gilbert de Brionne, were successively assassinated while the descendants of Richard Pr and Richard II, who did not hide their contempt for the new duke, maintained a spirit of sedition to which the Bretons and especially the King Henry I of France are no strangers. The paralysis of power is practically total.
Henri 1er at the same time to recover the
Vexin. He even ravaged the Hiesmois in the heart of the duchy. But when a particularly serious revolt, led by Gui de Brionne, broke out in Lower Normandy in 1046, Henry I gave his support to Guillaume for fear that Gui de Brionne's success would lead to the constitution of a principality. Norman-Burgundian fatal to the royal domain (Gui de Brionne is son of Renaud I of Burgundy and grandson by his mother of the Duke of Normandy Richard II).

Winner of the rebels, thanks to the help of his suzerain, at Val-des-Dunes, between Orne and Dives, in 1047, Guillaume was able to reestablish his authority. He confiscated part of the property of the rebels, such as that of the Viscounts of Bessin and Cotentin, forced a large number of them to receive ducal garrisons in their castles, finally imposed on all respect for the peace of God which he proclaimed in Caen in 1047.
Until 1060, his activity was directed towards the establishment in Normandy of a strict feudal regime which left him with extensive and real authority. He soon had a large army thanks to the institution of hauberk fiefs” in favor of knights forced to a very strict 40-day host service. Its dynamic policy also aims to cover its borders by conquering places and lands. In particular, he came up against the powerful and dangerous Count of Anjou, Geoffroi* Martel, from whom he succeeded in retaking Alençon and Domfront before imposing his suzerainty in 1052 on the lord of Bellême, former owner of these two strongholds and master of the accesses to Southern Normandy. Its expansion movement ended with the annexation of Mayenne. The ducal administration was renovated and Guillaume transferred his capital from Falaise to Caen*, further to the center of the duchy. He built the ducal castle there, encouraged the spiritual renewal of the Norman Church, carefully choosing his dignitaries, founding many monasteries and appointing at their head only followers of the Cluniac reform. The duke thus acquired the support of the Holy See but married, in 1050, despite the pope and despite Lanfranc, his adviser and one of the main architects of religious reform in Normandy, his cousin Mathilde*, daughter of the count of Flanders. . Excommunicated, they had to, as penance, build two churches in Caen, the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames.
After making Normandy a model feudal state, Guillaume matured a project ambitious. Thanks no doubt to the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Norman Robert de Jumièges, he succeeded in persuading his first cousin Edward the Confessor, Anglo-Saxon king of England, who had no children, to appoint as heir. But when Edward dies, the assembly of Anglo-Saxon chiefs appoints Harold, Earl of Sussex, as his successor. Guillaume however obtained from the latter an oath of loyalty when an unfortunate storm threw him on the coast of Ponthieu. Exploiting what he declares to be perjury, he obtains the support of Pope Alexander II in his plan to invade England. The expedition, which left Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, landed at Pevensey (Sussex) on September 29, 1066 and, on the following October 14, William defeated his rival at Hastings. Through this single battle, where the good organization of his host and the efficiency of his archers are a marvel, William makes himself master of England. This vassal of the King of France was crowned King of England at Westminster on Christmas Day 1066.
All his propaganda was based on the idea of ​​legitimacy and he first showed greater moderation vis-à-vis the Saxons confiscating only the property of those whom they consider traitors. In February 1067, he was able to return, triumphant, to Normandy, leaving the administration of England to his seneschal Guillaume Fils-Osbern and his half-brother Eudes, bishop of Bayeux.
But he was only master of the south and west of England which, moreover, was still under threat from a Scandinavian invasion.
Finally, a number of Norman vassals in whom he distributed lands are of uncertain loyalty and, very quickly, he is recalled to England by a revolt inspired by Eustache of Boulogne. His prestige was then such that it was the Anglo-Saxons who gave him their support and helped him repel an invasion led by three sons of Harold.
A revolt of two Saxon lords, the counts Edwin and Corcar, gives him the opportunity to subjugate the northern counties. This
first alert did not change his policy of leniency and tolerance, but when uprisings began to follow one another, Guillaume abruptly changed his method. In 1069, he brutally crushed the revolt of the Northern English who recognized Edgar Atheling (or Aetheling) as king. He forced a Danish fleet, which had come to their aid, to re-embark and practiced a scorched-earth policy in the counties of the Humber and the Tyne which ensured his domination. In 1072, he can dismiss his mercenaries. In 1075, a new conspiracy of great Norman and Breton barons (Raoul de Gaël and Roger de Hereford, sons of the faithful Guillaume Fils-Osbern) was defeated by Eudes de Bayeux. The Saxon count Walthoof, who did not take part in the plot, but did not denounce it, is beheaded. From then on, the Saxons were systematically removed from all power and almost completely dispossessed. A tiny number of large Saxon landowners can keep their land. Sheriffs are now Norman barons and most Saxon prelates are ousted in favor of Normans. In 1070, William had his friend Lanfranc elected Archbishop of Canterbury, replacing the Saxon Stigand. For the Norman barons, it formed large groups of fiefs*, honours, never in one piece, but comprising lands in the various regions of the kingdom. On both sides of the Channel, the feudal regime, emanating from the sovereign, was soon the same. In England, it is superimposed on the old Saxon organization of the "manor". Its cadres include the prince's "holders-in-chief" or direct vassals, responsible to him for the service of their knights who hold "knight's fiefdoms". The Domesday Book, which was written in 1086 and which draws up an inventory of the landed domains of the kingdom of England, translates the results of this territorial upheaval and shows that the population is now divided in England into two well-separated elements:the nobles , almost all Norman or French, and the Saxon people who are subject to them and see the status of their free men degraded to semi-servitude. Finally, William demands an oath of loyalty from his subjects:this is the meaning of the famous Salisbury Oath, by which the main nobles must bind themselves to him. Relying on this efficient organization, he was able to spend half his time in Normandy. conflict between its monarchy, half-continental half-island, and the Capetian monarchy to which everything opposes it. At the end of his reign, Guillaume must fight several times against treason. In 1078, the King of France gave his support to his son, Robert* Courteheuse, in revolt against his authority, while Eudes de Bayeux, his half-brother, who was also intriguing, was arrested and locked up in the tower of the castle of Rouen in 1082. He himself died on September 9, 1087 while carrying out a reprisal raid against the French city of Mantes.

He thought that the union of the two crowns was temporary and, on his deathbed, shared his States as a heritage, following the example of the Carolingians. Normandy, considered his own property, will go to his eldest son Robert Courteheuse. England, treated in acquet, will be attributed to Guillaume le Roux. His third son, the future Henri 1e.’ Beauclerc, had to settle for a sum of money and the county of Mortain. Yet it will be he who will complete and perpetuate the paternal work. Broken in 1087, the union of Normandy and England will be restored in 1106 by this clever prince who will take advantage of the death of Guillaume le Roux and the incapacity of Robert Courteheuse. After defeating the latter at Tinchebray, he will keep him captive for his entire life. The Anglo-Norman state will increase further in the 12th century in Anjou and Aquitaine, to the point of constituting a serious danger for France until 1204, the date on which Philippe Auguste will succeed in averting it.

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