William I of England, better known as William the Conqueror, overcame a difficult childhood to become one of the most influential kings in British history. Here are 10 facts about the man and his rise to power.
1. He was also known as William the Bastard
Not, as we might imagine today, in a nod to his nasty behaviour, but because he was born in 1028 to unmarried parents — Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and his mistress, Herleva. This fact led to him being taunted as a child.
2. William’s childhood was marred by violence
After his father died, William inherited the duchy but Normandy was soon plunged into civil war with the region’s aristocrats battling each other for — among other things — control of the young duke. One rebel even cut the throat of William’s steward as he slept in the duke’s bedchamber.
3. He gained a reputation for brutality
After defeating a rebellion in Normandy led by his cousin, William lay the foundations for his reputation as a brutal leader, cutting off the hands and feet of the rebels as punishment.
4. William married Matilda of Flanders in the 1050s
The marriage secured the duke a powerful ally in the neighbouring county of Flanders. She would go on to bear him at least nine children who survived into adulthood, including two kings of England.
5. His friend and first cousin once removed was Edward the Confessor, King of England
In 1051, the childless Edward supposedly wrote to William, promising the French duke the English crown when he died.
6. William was betrayed by Edward
On his deathbed in January 1066, the king of England named the powerful English earl Harold Godwinson as his successor. This set into motion the events for which William would become best known hundreds of years later.
7. The French duke conquered England at the Battle of Hastings
Eight months after Edward’s death, William arrived on England’s Sussex coast with a fleet of hundreds of ships, determined to take the English crown he saw as rightfully his. William led his troops into bloody battle against King Harold’s forces near to the town of Hastings, eventually proving victorious.
8. The new king was responsible for the Domesday Book
During his subsequent rule of England, William ordered an unparalleled survey of all land and holdings in the country, the findings of which became known as the Domesday Book.
9. William left England in 1086
He spent much of the rest of his life engaging in two of his favourite pastimes — hunting and eating.
10. He died a year later, in 1087
It is believed William died either after falling ill or being injured by the pommel of his saddle. The monarch’s stomach is reported to have exploded at his funeral, prompting the priest to rush through the funeral rites.