William I of England
William I (c. 1028–9 September 1087), usually known as William the Conqueror and sometimes William the Bastard, was the first Norman monarch of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. He was a descendant of Rollo and was Duke of Normandy from 1035 onward. By 1060, following a long struggle to establish his throne, his hold on Normandy was secure. In 1066, following the death of Edward the Confessor, William invaded England, leading an army of Normans to victory over the Anglo-Saxon forces of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, and suppressed subsequent English revolts in what has become known as the Norman Conquest. The rest of his life was marked by struggles to consolidate his hold over England and his continental lands, and by difficulties with his eldest son, Robert Curthose.
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- See — I have taken England with both my hands.
- Remark after he stepped off his ship on the coast of England and fell into the sand (28 September 1066), as quoted in LIFE magazine, Vol. 40, No. 13 (26 March 1956), p. 85
- Most valiant of men, what availed the power of the Frank king, with all his people, from Lorraine to Spain, against Hastings, my predecessor? What he wanted of the territory of France he appropriated to himself; what he chose, only, was left to the king; what he had, he held during his pleasure; when he was satisfied, he relinquished it, and looked for something better. Did not Rollo, my ancestor, the founder of our nation, with your progenitors, conquer at Paris the king of the Franks in the heart of his dominions; nor could he obtain any respite until he humbly offered possession of the country which from you is called Normandy, with the hand of his daughter? Did not your fathers take prisoner the king of the French, and detain him at Rouen till he restored Normandy to your Duke Richard, then a boy; with this stipulation, that in every conference between the King of France and the Duke of Normandy, the duke should have his sword by his side, while the king should not be allowed so much as a dagger? This concession your fathers compelled the great king to submit to, as binding for ever.
- Ah! let any one of the English whom our predecessors, both Danes and Norwegians, have defeated in a hundred battles, come forth and show that the race of Rollo ever suffered a defeat from his time until now, and I will submit and retreat. Is it not shameful, then, that a people accustomed to be conquered, a people ignorant of the art of war, a people not even in possession of arrows, should make a show of being arrayed in order of battle against you, most valiant? Is it not a shame that this King Harold, perjured as he was in your presence, should dare to show his face to you? It is a wonder to me that you have been allowed to see those who by a horrible crime beheaded your relations and Alfred my kinsman, and that their own accursed heads are still on their shoulders. Raise, then, your standards, my brave men, and set no bounds to your merited rage. Let the lightning of your glory flash, and the thunders of your onset be heard from east to west, and be the avengers of the noble blood which has been spilled.
- Speech to his army before the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066), quoted in Henry of Huntingdon, The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, translated and edited by Thomas Forester (1853), p. 211
- I attacked the English of the Northern Shires like a lion. I ordered their houses and corn, with all their belongings, to be burnt without exception and large herds of cattle and beasts of burden to be destroyed wherever they were found. It was there I took revenge on masses of people by subjecting them to a cruel famine; and by doing so — alas!— I became the murderer of many thousands of that fine race.
- Part of a speech on his deathbed in 1087, referring to the Harrying of the North, written down by a monk named Ordericus Vitalis in 1123; as quoted in Empires and Citizens : The Roman Empire, Medieval Britain, African Empires (2003) by Ben Walsh, p. 60
Quotes about William I edit
- He must be judged by his acts, but his acts are sufficiently illuminating. They leave no doubt of his greatness, but they reveal also a man who was harsh and unlovable – perhaps even personally repellent. Most of his life was spent in war, and war brought out what was brutal in this burly warrior whose physical strength (until diminished by corpulence) was exceptional, and who may have looked something like Henry VIII of England. His savagery in war is well attested.
- David C. Douglas, 'William the Conqueror: Duke and King', in Whitelock, Douglas et al., The Norman Conquest, Its Setting and Impact: A Book Commemorating the Ninth Centenary of the Battle of Hastings (1966), pp. 73-74
- As a warrior, William was (perhaps inevitably) stained with blood. As a ruler, his avarice was notorious, and his taxation savage. He needed money for his government, and particularly for the numerous mercenaries he employed. The ruthlessness with which he extracted money from England must be set against the good administration he provided... Strong in rule, he was not a tyrant. Contemporaries found him a man to fear, but also a man to respect.
- David C. Douglas, 'William the Conqueror: Duke and King', in Whitelock, Douglas et al., The Norman Conquest, Its Setting and Impact: A Book Commemorating the Ninth Centenary of the Battle of Hastings (1966), pp. 74-75
- He was harsh and rapacious, personally pious, courageous in adversity, and indomitably tenacious of purpose. He could suit his policy to opportunity; but his will was inflexible, and his energy was untiring.
- David C. Douglas, 'William the Conqueror: Duke and King', in Whitelock, Douglas et al., The Norman Conquest, Its Setting and Impact: A Book Commemorating the Ninth Centenary of the Battle of Hastings (1966), p. 75
- It would, in truth, be difficult to deny to William the Conqueror a place among the greatest monarchs of the Middle Ages. He stands four-square, a dominant figure against the background of his own fascinating and tumultuous age. As a warrior he was widely renowned, and probably justly, for...his patience, his organization and his generalship were surely of the highest order. But it is above all for his constructive statesmanship that he commands attention; and here his achievement must appear all the more remarkable when it is recalled that his ceaseless preoccupation with the problems of government was coupled with ceaseless campaigning... To England he gave a new aristocracy and a reconstituted church. At the same time, he was concerned to respect the traditions of the country he conquered, and he revitalized many of its ancient institutions. He made his own contribution to the highly individual character of medieval England, and Anglo-Norman history in the eleventh century cannot be appraised without reference to his characteristic acts.
- David C. Douglas, 'William the Conqueror: Duke and King', in Whitelock, Douglas et al., The Norman Conquest, Its Setting and Impact: A Book Commemorating the Ninth Centenary of the Battle of Hastings (1966), p. 76
- As a mere constellation of talent in different fields Anselm, Gregory VII and William the Conqueror were the greatest men in Europe during this period... William and Gregory were men of action of a kind rare at any time, but almost unknown in the Middle Ages: they were creators who dealt intuitively with confused situations, having little in precedent or business routine or learned construction to guide them. Gregory had an energy of purpose and clarity of vision in practical affairs for which no parallel can be found in these centuries. William had an undaunted mastery of the problems of the secular world—that is to say, of other men's wills—in both fighting and ruling, unapproached in creative power by any other medieval ruler after Charlemagne.
- R. W. Southern, Saint Anselm and His Biographer: A Study of Monastic Life and Thought 1059–c.1130 (1963), p. 4
- Encyclopedic article on William I of England on Wikipedia