William the Conqueror was the Duke of Normandy who launched the Norman invasion of England in 1066. His invasion of England brought an end to the Anglo-Saxon rule of England and ushered in a new era of Norman rule.
From 1035 to 1060, William consolidated his power base in Normandy by subduing all resistance. He invaded England on the pretext of a claim to English throne promised by his cousin, Edward the Confessor.
His reign continued from 1066 to 1087 during which William spent most of his time in Normandy rather than England.
William as Duke of Normandy
William inherited the duchy of Normandy at a young age and had to contend with many others who vied for the powerful seat of Normandy. William was supported in his claim by King Henry of France and it was largely thanks to Henry’s help that he was able to defeat a coalition of his opponents in 1047.
His victory proved indecisive as a coalition of Norman nobles and King Henry made common cause against William and launched an invasion of Normandy in 1054. William defeated this and another major French invasion of Normandy in 1057. These victories cemented his control over the duchy by 1060, allowing him to divert his attention elsewhere.
Dispute of English Succession
King Edward the Confessor of England died childless in 1066. His death led to a dispute over the succession to the English crown. William claimed that Edward had promised him the throne and chosen him as successor in 1051.
Harold Godwinson, the most powerful Anglo-Saxon baron in England at the time, opposed this claim. King Harald Hardrada of Norway also laid claim to the throne. Although Harold Godwinson was crowned the King of England in 1066, he had to face invasions from both Harald and William soon after his coronation.
Invasion of England
During the first few months of 1066, William marshaled resources to prepare for an invasion of England. To this end, he was able to gather a sizable fleet and army.
In England, Harold Godwinson had to deal with the invasion of Harald Hardrada in September, 1066. He was able to defeat the invaders but two days later, William landed with his Norman army at the south. Harold hurried from the north to meet William’s army at the fateful Battle of Hastings.
Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings was the single most important event in William’s invasion of England. The Anglo-Saxon army under Harold had just defeated a Danish invasion and rushed southwards to meet the Norman army.
William’s army comprised of cavalry, infantry as well as archers. The Anglo-Saxon army comprised mostly of foot soldiers who fought in traditional shield-wall formation.
The battle began on 14 October, 1066 and William’s army was initially unable to break through the Anglo-Saxon shield wall. Despite initial setbacks, he was able to rally the Norman army and made feign retreats to draw Anglo-Saxons away from their shield wall formation.
The tactic worked and the Norman cavalry repeatedly attacked the weakened the shield-wall. In the melee, Harold Godwinson was killed which effectively ended Anglo-Saxon resistance. William was consequently crowned the King of England in 1066.