Duke of Normandy
It was not until the mid 1040's that William was old enough to rule unaided and at once he began campaigns against rebel Normans and neighbouring enemies. He quickly gained a ruthless reputation. A revolt erupted in 1047, led by Guy of Brionne, the son of the Count of Burgundy, William's cousin. William sought help from other Lords and King Henry of France to put the rebelion down. At the battle of Val es Dunes William defeated the rebels, but was lenient allowing Guy to return to Burgundy, but he did destroy all of the rebels's castles. In October 1049, William married Matilda the daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders, one of his few allies. The marriage was against the wishes of the Pope who thought that Matilda and William were too closely related. William wanted the marriage for the important alliance with Flanders and also because he was in love with Matilda. The marriage was discussed by Pope Leo IX in Rheims. This caused some alarm, as it had not been for some time that a Pope had travelled to France to interfere with events.
In 1051 Edward the Confessor, now King of England was unable to restrain the Godwin family who were attempting to overthrow him. In the hope that the Normans would assist him, Edward offered William the right to claim the English throne after his death as Edward had no children and no direct heir. In 1066 just before his death, Edward changed his mind and offered the English throne to his wife's brother, Harold, Earl of Godwin. William had been visited by Harold earlier in 1064 and at a meeting it is suspected that Harold agreed to William's succession. When William learnt that Harold was to become king he was outraged and began invasion plans.
By August of 1066 the invasion fleet was ready but the winds in the English Channel were not suitable and William had to delay sailing. This delay was fortunate for William because in July another invasion led by Harold Hardrada had begun in the north of England. This drew King Harold away from the south coast. King Harold fought and defeated Hardrada on 25th September at Stamford Bridge. At the same time, the winds on the Channel became favourable and William crossed to land without opposition at Pevensey. King Harold then marched his exhausted army back south to fight William.
The Battle of Hastings
The battle began early in the morning of 14th of October. Harold's army had chosen a tactically defensive position at the top of a hill and a shield wall formed what should have been an impenetrable barrier. The Normans repeated attacks were beaten back and all looked lost until William himself rallied his army. The Normans again advanced then turned back as before, but this time some of the English sensing victory broke ranks and raced down the hill. This was a mistake as the Normans were able to pick them off. The same tactics by the Normans began to reduce the strength of the shield wall and finally the English morale was broken by repeated showers of Norman arrows. One of these arrows killed Harold, the English King.
William chosen as King
Winning the battle did not automatically give William the English throne. The Witan first looked for another Englishman to replace Harold. There were no remaining members of the Godwin family and the only living heir of Edward the Confessor was his great-nephew, Edgar the Aetheling. William then began a long march around the south east of England subduing any resistance he encountered and laying waste to the land as he went. By the time he reached Berkhamstead most of the English nobles had submitted to him.
As King of EnglandWilliam was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 25th December 1066 after which he discussed the organisation of the country. William spent the first few years of his reign both in Normandy and in England and while away he promoted his half brother Odo as his deputy in charge of English affairs. Not everyone in England was happy with the new Norman Kings and several revolts broke out. William was able to deal with each revolt in turn and soon began the construction of many castles to help subdue the rebels. William brought his Norman friends across the Channel with him and quickly began replacing the Bishops and Earls with his own men. The most famous Norman Bishop was Lanfranc who became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Defending his Empire
From 1071 onwards, William had to contend with threats of invasion both against England, but also against his lands of Normandy. Threats from Swein of Denmark, The King of France and the Counts of Anjou and Flanders were a constant problem. William also had to content with his eldest son Robert, who was involved with William's enemies.
The Domesday Book
In December of 1085, William the Conqueror ordered the survey of his lands in Britain. The survey was given the name Domesday Book possible because of its similarity to the Last Judgement of Christ, or Domesday. A detailed record of ownership of land, types of land, numbers of people and their status, numbers of animals was undertaken. Details were not just required for that moment in time, but at the time of Edward the Confessor (1065) and at the time when the land was granted by William himself. Each shire was required to obtain and collate the information and any disputes were heard in a court with a jury of equal numbers of English and Normans. The survey was written up into two volumes and was held at the Winchester Treasury.
Whether this was the first survey of its type is unknown, but it is the first recorded survey. The reason why the survey was taken is not known either. After the Conquest the allocation of land had probably been chaotic and the survey could have been a method of sorting out the confusion and to prevent further disputes. Knowing how much workable land and working people there were would have also been useful for taxation and military purposes.
While fighting the King of France in Vexin in July 1087, William was injured and died from his injuries on 9th September. He was buried in the church of St. Stephen in Caen.