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Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
William the Conqueror
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|King from 1066-1087
On the death of Edward the Confessor the throne of England was
claimed by William, Duke of Normandy.
When Edward took refuge in Normandy after the Danes conquered
England, he stayed at the palace of William. He was very kindly
treated there, and William said that Edward had promised in gratitude
that William should succeed him as king of England.
One day in the year 1066 when William was hunting with a party of
his courtiers in the woods near Rouen, a noble came riding rapidly
toward him shouting, "Your Highness, a messenger has just arrived
from England, bearing the news that King Edward is dead and that
Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, has been placed on the English
William at once called his nobles together and said to them, "I
must have your consent that I enforce my claim to England's throne
The barons gave their consent. So an army of sixty thousand men
was collected and a large fleet of ships was built to carry this
force across the channel.
During the months of preparation William sent an embassy to
the English court to demand of Harold that he give up the throne.
Soon all England was startled by the news that William had landed
on the English coast at the port of Hastings with a large force.
Harold immediately marched as quickly as possible from the north to
the southern coast. In a week or so he arrived at a place called
Senlac nine miles from Hastings, in the neighborhood of which town
the Norman army was encamped. He took his position on a low range
of hills and awaited the attack of William. His men were tired
with their march, but he encouraged them and bade them prepare for
On the morning of October 14, 1066, the two armies met. The
Norman foot-soldiers opened the battle by charging on the English
stockades. They ran over the plain to the low hills, singing a
war-song at the top of their voices; but they could not carry the
stockades although they tried again and again. They therefore
attacked another part of the English forces.
William, clad in complete armor, was in the very front of the
fight, urging on his troops. At one time a cry arose in his army
that he was slain and a panic began. William drew off his helmet
and rode along the lines, shouting, "I live! I live! Fight on!
We shall conquer yet!"
The battle raged from morning till night. Harold himself fought
on foot at the head of his army and behaved most valiantly. His
men, tired as they were from their forced march, bravely struggled
on hour after hour.
But at last William turned their lines and threw them into confusion.
As the sun went down Harold was killed and his men gave up the
From Hastings William marched toward London. On the way he
received the surrender of some towns and burned others that would
not surrender. London submitted and some of the nobles and citizens
came forth and offered the English crown to the Norman duke. On
the 25th of December, 1066, the "Conqueror," as he is always
called, was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Ealdred.
Both English and Norman people were present. When the question was
asked by the Archbishop, "Will you have William, Duke of Normandy,
for your king?" all present answered, "We will."
At first William ruled England with moderation. The laws and
customs were not changed, and in a few months after the battle of
Hastings the kingdom was so peaceful that William left it in charge
of his brother and went to Normandy for a visit.
While he was gone many of the English nobles rebelled against him,
and on his return he made very severe laws and did some very harsh
things. He laid waste an extensive territory, destroying all the
houses upon it and causing thousands of persons to die from lack of
food and shelter, because the people there had not sworn allegiance
He made a law that all lights should be put out and fires covered
with ashes at eight o'clock every evening, so that the people would
have to go to bed then. A bell was rung in all cities and towns
throughout England to warn the people of the hour. The bell was
called the "curfew," from the French words "couvre feu," meaning
"to cover fire."
To find out about the lands of England and their owners, so that
everybody might be made to pay taxes, he appointed officers in all
the towns to report what estates there were, who owned them, and
what they were worth. The reports were copied into two volumes,
called the "Domesday Book." This book showed that England at that
time had a population of a little more than a million.
William made war on Scotland, and conquered it. During a war with
the king of France the city of Mantes (mont) was burned by William's
soldiers. As William rode over the ruins his horse stumbled and the
king was thrown to the ground and injured. He was borne to Rouen,
where he lay ill for six weeks. His sons and even his attendants
abandoned him in his last hours. It is said that in his death
struggle he fell from his bed to the floor, where his body was
found by his servants.