Who was William the Conqueror?

Who really was William the Conqueror and why was he able to dominate England

Who was William the Conqueror?

William the Conqueror was originally a Duke of Normandy, descending from one of the most famous Viking leaders, Rollo. William inherited the rule at a very early age and after consolidating his hold over Normandy, he eyed the throne of England.

Disputing the ascension of Harold Godwinson to the English throne, he launched an invasion of England in 1066 which was successful.

He would go on to become the first Norman king of England, effectively replacing the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with a Norman aristocracy. His victory and reign marked a new chapter in the history of British Isles.

Claim to English Throne

William the Conqueror was related to Edward the Confessor, the English king who had no heirs of his own. Edward ruled as king from 1042 to 1066. He was a distant cousin of William the Conqueror. As Edward had no heir of his own, his death in 1066 precipitated a dispute over the English throne.

Edward himself nominated Harold Godwinson, a powerful English noble, as the next king. However, William disputed this. He claimed that Edward had promised him the throne and that he had a rightful claim to it. Based on this, he made preparations to reach England and claim his right.

Preparations for the Invasion of England

Edward the Childless died as king of England in January 5, 1066. The next day, Harold Godwinson was crowned as the new king. Upon hearing of this, William immediately disputed the claim. He also called upon Harold to honor the purposed wish of Edward.

When Harold refused his claim, William set about preparations for an invasion of England. One of the most important parts of these preparations was to create a sizable fleet on which to carry his army. William had the fleet completed by August but it wasn’t until September that he decided to launch the attack.

Landing in England

In September, 1066, winds became favorable enough to launch an invasion. William and his fleet also had many other crucial advantages. Harold, King of England, had disbanded his army for the harvest season on September 8.

His brother Tostig Godwinson and the Viking leader Harald Hardrada, both took this opportunity to invade England from the north. Harold hastily called up his army once more and marched north. This allowed William to sail to England and land his fleet unopposed, while Harold was busy fighting in the north.

Norman Superiority – Cavalry and Archers

When William the Conqueror arrived in England, Harold Godwinson was busy warring in the north. Harold defeated the other claimants to the throne and then marched southwards to confront William. William, meanwhile, had established a castle at Hastings and waited for Harold to arrive. William’s army had a considerable advantage compared to Harold’s army.

The Anglo-Saxon army under Harold comprised almost entirely of infantry, with a small number of archers. William’s army, on the other hand, included a large number of cavalry and archers in addition to infantry. Although the overall strength on both sides was comparable, William’s cavalry and archers gave him a distinct advantage in the battle that followed.

Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings took place on October 14, 1066. Harold and his army took positions on top of a hill. They created a shield wall. William’s army marched uphill but was thrown back several times. When some soldiers in the Norman army retreated, Harold’s men broke ranks and pursued them.

This gave the Norman cavalry an opportunity to attack them. Seeing this, Normans then repeatedly used feigned retreats as a ruse to lure Anglo-Saxon soldiers. The battle raged for the whole day until King Harold was killed in the evening. With his death, the Anglo-Saxon resistance broke and the Normans carried the battle and the day.

Surrender of London and Crowning

Following victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror sought to overcome opposition in other parts of England as well. London was an important center in England, so he moved to capture it first. In early December, he reached near London and soon gained control of the city.

He then ordered a castle to be built in the city. On Christmas Day in 1066, he was formally crowned as the King of England. He became the first of many Norman monarchs of England, effectively ending the days of Anglo-Saxon monarchy.

Crushing the English Resistance

Even after he had killed King Harold and was crowned as the new king, William continued to face resistance by various English lords and nobles. To end this resistance, he fought a number of battles. He also laid siege to towns and cities to exact the surrender of the rebel nobles.

A key tactics in the Norman subduing of the English resistance was the use of motte-and-bailey castles. These castles became the points of Norman power all over England, subduing local lords and rebels.

Harrying of the North

From December 1069 to the winter of 1070, William the Conqueror launched a number of campaigns into the north of England. The north had put up a stiff resistance to William’s rule and refused to accept him as king.

William dealt very harshly with the north. In multiple campaigns, the lands and crops were destroyed, rebellions crushed and properties burnt. The actions of William’s soldiers caused a famine in the region, effectively causing the deaths of many more.

Summary

  • William the Conqueror was the Duke of Normandy. He had descended from the famous Viking leader, Rollo.
  • William the Conqueror was a cousin of the English king, Edward the Childless. When Edward died, he made a claim to the English throne.
  • William launched an invasion of England in 1066. Favorable winds at sea, an unopposed landing, and a simultaneous invasion from the north all counted in his favor.
  • At the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, William the Conqueror defeated Harold Godwinson’s army. Harold was killed in the battle.
  • After winning Battle of Hastings, William spent the next few years in subduing the rest of England. He crushed many rebellions, built castles to ensure a firm hold on the local lords and use scorched earth tactics to subdue the north.
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