William the Conqueror - Biography

William the Conqueror - Biography

William the Conqueror is the most famous of Dukes of Normandy. On September 28, 1066, William, who was still only "the Bastard", landed in England with his army, determined to ensure his rights over the crown prevail. A brilliant strategist seasoned by his victories over the troops of King Henry I of France in 1054 and 1058, William emerged victorious from the Battle of Hastings and seized thekingdom of england. A famous embroidery seventy meters long, the "Bayeux Tapestry"will tell this fabulous epic. As beautiful work of art as it is a primitive instrument of political communication, this tapestry will guarantee the posterity of this great-great-grandson of a Viking.

The origins of William the Conqueror

Guillaume was born in 1027 in Falaise. His father Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, had a moment of bewilderment with the daughter of a tanner from Falaise, outside of his marriage, and a son was born. Whatever, Robert marries Guillaume's mother, according to the viking tradition which allows polygamy. The father and the son are the direct descendants of Rollo, an illustrious Viking leader who settled one fine day in Normandy. The young Norman aristocrat resulting from an illegitimate connection will have to thwart many traps before acceding to posterity.

In 1034, Duke Robert went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Before leaving, he gathered in Fécamp all the great Norman lords and asked them to recognize Guillaume, his only son, as his heir. Duke Robert made it to Jerusalem, but fell ill on the way back and died in July 1035 in Nicea. Guillaume then becomes Duke of Normandy. He is only 7 or 8 years old.

Anarchy wins the duchy

It is undoubtedly the archbishop of Rouen Robert the Danish, the uncle of the duke, who ensures the government of Normandy in the absence of Robert the Magnificent, then becomes guardian of the young Guillaume on the death of his father. He is assisted in this task in particular by Seneschal Osbern of Crépon whose father Herfast was the brother of Gunnor, the concubine of Duke Richard I and by Gilbert de Brionne, grandson of Richard I. The archbishop died on March 1, 1037; Mauger, son of Duke Richard II and his concubine Papia, succeeded him. But, he does not have the authority of his predecessor and very quickly, the rivalries between the great lords of Normandy manifest themselves with vigor.

These, counts, viscounts and smaller lords, held with an iron fist in particular by Duke Richard I and Richard II, immediately take advantage of the vacancy of the seigniorial authority to give free rein to their desire for power and reject the bonds of feudalism that they find it difficult to accept. The rivalries and antagonisms between the Norman lords, whose statutes and origins are quite heterogeneous (to the Scandinavians of origin joined over time men from all regions, especially Bretons and Angevins), burst into broad daylight and the absence of punishment rapidly increases their daring. Each one erects castle clods, to establish its power and facilitate the attack of its neighbors.

In the time of the Richard Dukes, these home violations by armed force (which in Scandinavian law are called “Hamfara”) were immediately punished by the Duke who had exclusive jurisdiction for serious breaches of public order. There, no punishment emanates from the duke. With complete impunity, revenge succeeds revenge.

The conspiracy against Duke William

In these years 1042, the young Duke Guillaume reached his fifteenth birthday. The rebellion then turns into a conspiracy, aiming to directly reach the young boy and, for the first time, complaints of bastardy are mentioned. Until now, none of the lords close to William had noted this fact, the greatest being all or almost all sons of Frilla, they could hardly be moved beyond measure by the fact that Herleue had never been the Christian wife of Duke Robert.

The conspiracy is cleverly hatched and it aims to replace the duke by Guy de Bourgogne or de Brionne, grandson by his mother Adelaide of Duke Richard II. Son of Count Renaud of Burgundy, he is familiar with Duke Guillaume and was brought up with him. After the death of Gilbert de Brionne, he received from Guillaume, the important castles of Brionne and Vernon. Among the conspirators are also Raoul II Taisson, Lord of Cinglais, another familiar with the Duke, Grimout de Plessis who is at the head of a 10,000 ha estate, Hamon de Creully dit le Dentu and Viscounts Renouf de Bricquessart and Néel of Saint-Sauveur. The men take an oath to "fury Guillaume".

What we know of these events comes mainly from the Roman de Rou, written around 1170, by Wace. Guillaume de Jumièges remains more evasive, because when he wrote in 1070, most of the instigators of this plot returned to favor with the duke. "I would mark them by name in this writing, if I did not want to take care to escape their inexorable hatred. However, I whisper it to you, all of you who surround me, it was precisely these same men who now profess to be the most faithful, and whom the Duke has showered with the greatest honors ”, writes Guillaume de Jumièges.

The conspirators plan to seize the person of the Duke and kill him. In 1046, the Duke, then aged 19, stayed in his castle at Valognes and devoted himself to hunting. One evening, while the duke and his relatives are in bed, Golet, the duke's madman, comes into his master's room. He heard the conspirators announce that they were about to attack him. The duke, frightened, jumps up. Without taking the time to put on his shoes, he only throws a screed at him and he runs away on horseback. The conspirators launch in pursuit.

In his flight, Guillaume follows the route of the Grand Vey; it passes through Montebourg, Turqueville and enters the bay of Veys at night in Brucheville when the sea is low and the fords passable. In Saint-Clément, after having crossed "in a great fear and great anger at night the fords of the Vire (Roman de Rou)", he enters the church, recollects himself and asks God to allow him to go healthy. and except. Then, he resumes his ride, heading north, following a path halfway between the sea and Bayeux, which he avoids. In the morning, he arrives at the village of Ryes. He is exhausted; his horse is sweaty. Lord Hubert de Ryes leads the Duke to his mansion, he gives him a new horse and he orders his three sons to escort him to Falaise. The four men set off and Hubert takes it upon himself to send the pursuers down a wrong path.

The battle of Val-ès-Dunes

William the Conqueror, detail of the Bayeux tapestry "/> The Duke William arrived safe and sound in his castle of Falaise. He then decided to call for the help of his suzerain, King Henry I (1008, † 1060 King Henry did not intervene in favor of the duke during the disturbances which shook Normandy; he even welcomed to his court some of the Norman lords driven out for their perfidy. Perhaps pushed by them, around 1040 he undertook to recover the castle of Tillières-sur-Avre on his own account, which posed a strong threat to the Capetian domain. This castle was built by King Richard II on the border of his state to protect himself from the count of Blois. Then the count of Blois ceded Dreux and his territory to the king and thus, the castle of Tillières became a neighbor of the Capetian territory. The king, therefore, raised troops, presented himself in front of the castle and demanded from the squire Gilbert Crespin de hand over the fortress to him. Crespin, close to Robert le Magnifi which, familiar with the ducal court, refused. But Raoul Gacé and Duke Guillaume, having obtained from the king the promise that he would destroy the fortress and not have it rebuilt on his behalf, summon him to obey. Gilbert gives in; the king burns down the castle, then he enters Normandy, plunder Argentan, return to Tillières. There, he had the castle restored and despite his promise, set up a garrison there.

Nevertheless, in 1047, Henri did not refuse his support. No doubt he has no interest in a weakening of Normandy which could work in favor of the Counts of Blois and Chartres whose domains take hold of the Capetian lands. In the summer of 1047, the troops of King Henry I arrived in the vicinity of Caen, on the banks of the Muance river. The king attends the mass celebrated in the Saint-Brice church of Valmeray. That same morning, Duke William's troops joined those of the king. The rebels, meanwhile, are gathered a league away.

The troops advance on both sides and meet halfway to their respective departure, around the village of Billy, in a place then called Val-ès-Dunes. Among the conspirators, Raoul II Taisson hesitates. His knights encourage him to go back on his word to "make Duke William angry" and not to go any further in treason. As the fight begins, he orders his men not to move and gallops to the duke. Arrived near him, he strikes him with his glove and exclaims, laughing: "I do what I swore." I swore I'd hit you as soon as I found you. It is to fulfill my oath, which I do not want to perjure myself, that I struck you. But don't worry: I don't act like this on the spur of the moment! (Roman de Rou) ”. The duke thanks him; Raoul Taisson rejoins his men and his troops withdraw.

The fight begins. King Henry I is thrown off by an infantryman from Néel de Saint-Sauveur and he owes his life only to the quality of his hauberk which prevents the lance from piercing him. Hamon Dentu is killed; Duke Guillaume achieves feats of bravery. So the fight turns to his advantage. Renouf de Briquessart fled; the rebels turn back and many drown while crossing the Orne at the ford of Athis, so great is the stampede.

The restoration of peace in the duchy

The duke's victory soon stopped the wave of insubordination which had shaken the duchy for many years. The Duke's authority is no longer in dispute. The rebels are punished. Thus, Grimoult de Plessis was arrested before having been able to reach his fortress; he was imprisoned in Rouen, shackles on his feet, and was found dead the same day. Néel de Saint-Sauveur was deprived of his fiefdoms; banished, he takes refuge in Brittany. As for Guy de Bourgogne, he manages to shut himself up in his castle at Brionne. Duke William comes to besiege it, without trying to take the fortress which is impregnable. Three years pass; Guy surrenders as the Duke offers him his forgiveness in exchange for the destruction of the castle. But Guy de Brionne prefers to leave Normandy and return to his native Burgundy.

William the Conqueror in Falaise (Normandy) "/> In 1047, the Duke, supported by his close relatives, Archbishop Mauger and Nicolas Abbot of Saint-Ouen, convened a Council of Peace and the Truce of God in the city news from Caen, two places at most from the battlefield of Val-ès-Dunes. The assembly brings together bishops, clerics and monks as well as the lords of Normandy. All violence is prohibited from Wednesday evening to Monday morning as well as during the great religious festivals. Only the duke can raise his army during these periods. Excommunication and exile are the punishments incurred in the event of non-observance of this truce. The "unarmed", that is to say - ie the defenseless, women clerics and children, are declared out of reach. William's vassals swear on the relics of Saint Ouen brought for the occasion from Rouen to respect the Peace of God. Thus, the duke can- he hope to control the disorders linked to private wars and, by imposing the Pai x of God, to fight against the still stubborn customs of "hamfara" and private vengeance.

However, disorders persist. Thus, in 1048, Yves de Bellême, Lord of Bellême and bishop of Sées, fought enemies of his family who took refuge in his own cathedral. Unimpressed, Yves de Bellême sets fire to his own church in order to dislodge them! In 1049, Guillaume received the homage of all his lords. He is now assisted by his half-brother Odon to whom he gave the episcopal see of Bayeux ...

William's power now equals that of the King of France, and rivalry quickly sets in between the two men. Fortunately for the Capetian, Guillaume's attention was diverted in 1066 across the Channel. The king of england Edward the Confessor, a relative of Guillaume, died without direct descendants. However, Edward had promised his crown to William a few years before. The latter asserts his rights which are immediately contested by a local aristocrat, Harold, which seizes the throne with the approval of the old Anglo-Saxon parliament.

Conquering the Kingdom of England

The Norman does not intend to let it go. Rediscovering the warlike airs and the spirit of conquest of his Viking ancestors, he embarked at the end of September 1066 with his army on drakkars and crossed the channel to recover his due manu militari. Harold, who has just repelled yet another invasion from Scandinavia, runs to meet the Duke of Normandy. This is the battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066, long undecided before turning to the advantage of the Normans, Harold losing his life. William triumphant, and on his way to London earns the nickname "Conqueror"Although more flattering than the nickname bastard, the now ruler of England will stubbornly refute the title of conqueror, considering himself a legitimate heir and not an invader or usurper. Viking but not too much.

1066 is considered to be a founding date for England as a European nation and power. Long isolated from the rest of Europe, battered by centuries of civil wars and invasions, the kingdom of England is radically transformed under the leadership of the new king. The island now secured by many fortified castles built during his reign, including the Tower of London, William is working to establish his authority and strengthen royal authority.

After having overcome the resistance of the old Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, he will gradually replace them by Normans committed to his cause. In 1070, the Norman conquest was completed. Two years later, William invaded Scotland and forced King Malcolm III Canmore to pay him homage.

William the Conqueror, skilful administrator

Important Norman legislation that it merges with old local practices, it imposes a census of goods and people, the "domesday book", which fixes the rights and duties of each. He took with him the (almost) French language which gave birth to the contemporary English language (the English monarchy still has the motto in French" Dieu et mon droit "). In addition, he dismembered the great counties which benefited from a quasi-independence under his predecessors, and distributed the confiscated lands to his faithful Norman servants. A powerful kingdom was born, with a Norman at its head and his spouse, Queen Mathilde. .

Guillaume introduced the feudal system in force on the continent. By the oath of Salisbury (1086), all the lords swear fidelity to him, thus devoting the principle of the direct allegiance of each lord to the royal power. The lords must recognize the jurisdictional competence of the local courts that William I maintains in place with many other Anglo-Saxon institutions. Ecclesiastical and secular courts are separate and pontifical power over the affairs of England is severely limited.

There is not only a language and a law that Guillaume took in his drakkars while crossing the Channel. Always suzerain of a piece of France, he also came with a rivalry tenacious which opposes him to the King of France on the subject of his Duchy of Normandy. From 1075, William I the Conqueror had to face a revolt in Normandy, fomented by his eldest son Robert Courteheuse, with the support of the new king Philippe I of France. Guillaume then travels frequently to the continent in order to fight them. In 1087, Guillaume responded to the looting of Évreux by burning down the town of Mantes (today Mantes-la-Jolie).

Victim of a fall from his horse, he died in Rouen, where he was transported on September 9, 1087. He was buried in Caen, in the Saint-Étienne abbey. His son Guillaume II succeeded him at the head of his immense domain.

Bibliography

- François Neveux, Claire Ruelle, William the Conqueror, the bastard who seized England, Editions Ouest France.

- William the Conqueror, biography of Michel de Boüard. Fayard, 1984.

- By Paul Zumthor, William the Conqueror, Editions Point Histoire, 2000.


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