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Middle Ages

William the Conqueror

History >> Biographies >> Middle Ages for Kids

Biography:

Early Life

William was born in 1028 in the city of Falaise which was part of the Duchy of Normandy. His father was the powerful Robert I, Duke of Normandy, but his mother was the daughter of a local tanner. His parents weren't married, making William an illegitimate child.

Despite being an illegitimate child, William grew up and was raised as the future Duke of Normandy. When William was seven years old, his father decided to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since William was his only son, Robert assembled his nobles and had them swear that William would be his heir should he die. When Robert died on his return trip from Jerusalem, William was made Duke of Normandy.

Duke of Normandy

William was crowned Duke of Normandy in 1035. Because he was only seven years old and an illegitimate child, many people challenged his right to rule as Duke. Over the next several years there were many attempts on William's life. For a time his great-uncle, the Archbishop Robert, looked after William. After the archbishop died, it was mostly King Henry I of France's support that helped William to keep his title.

It was when William was older, around twenty, that he nearly lost the title to his cousin, Guy of Burgundy. Guy had gathered the support of a number of nobles and formed an army to defeat William. William met Guy at the Battle of Val-es-Dunes in 1047. There he defeated Guy and began to establish his control over Normandy.

Over the next few years William would consolidate power across the region of Normandy. He fought down a revolt led by Geoffrey Martel (who would later be his ally) and by 1060 had firm control of Normandy.

Marriage

In 1050 William married Matilda of Flanders. This was a political marriage that allied William with the powerful duchy of Flanders. Matilda and William would have four sons and five daughters.

Invading England

The King of England, Edward the Confessor, died in 1066. He did not leave any heirs to the throne, but William was related to the king through Edward's uncle, Richard II. William also claimed that Edward had promised him the crown.

However, there were other men who also claimed the crown of England. One of them was the most powerful noble in England at the time, Harold Godwinson. The people of England wanted Harold to be king and crowned him King Harold II on January 6, 1066, the day after King Edward died. Another man who claimed the English throne was King Hardrada of Norway.

When King Hardrada of Norway invaded England and King Harold II went to meet him in battle, William saw his chance. He gathered an army and crossed the English Channel making camp near the city of Hastings.

Battle of Hastings

After King Harold II defeated the Norwegian invaders, he turned south to face William. William, however, was ready for battle. William had brought archers and heavily armored cavalry called knights. Harold's foot soldiers were no match for William's forces and William won the battle and King Harold II was killed by an arrow.

Becoming King of England

William continued to march across England and eventually captured the city of London. Shortly after, on December 25, 1066, William was crowned king of England.

Anglo-Saxon Revolts

William spent the first several years of his reign putting down revolts. At one point William became so angry with the revolts in Northern England that he ordered much of the countryside destroyed. His army burnt farms, destroyed food, and killed livestock throughout the area. This act became known as the "Harrying of the North" and caused the death of at least 100,000 people.

Building Castles

One of William's most lasting legacies was his castle building. He built castles throughout England in order to maintain control. Perhaps the most famous castle William built is the White Tower of the Tower of London.

Domesday Book

In 1085, William ordered a full survey of the landholdings of all of England. He had men go around the land and record who owned the land and all the property they had including such things as livestock, farm equipment, and mills. This information was all put into a single book called the Domesday Book.

Death

William died while leading a battle in Northern France in 1087. His oldest son Robert became Duke of Normandy and his second son William became king of England.

Interesting Facts about William the Conqueror

More subjects on the Middle Ages:

Overview
Timeline
Feudal System
Guilds
Medieval Monasteries
Glossary and Terms

Knights and Castles
Becoming a Knight
Castles
History of Knights
Knight's Armor and Weapons
Knight's coat of arms
Tournaments, Jousts, and Chivalry

Culture
Daily Life in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages Art and Literature
The Catholic Church and Cathedrals
Entertainment and Music
The King's Court

Major Events
The Black Death
The Crusades
Hundred Years War
Magna Carta
Norman Conquest of 1066
Reconquista of Spain
Wars of the Roses

Nations
Anglo-Saxons
Byzantine Empire
The Franks
Kievan Rus
Vikings for kids

People
Alfred the Great
Charlemagne
Genghis Khan
Joan of Arc
Justinian I
Marco Polo
Saint Francis of Assisi
William the Conqueror
Famous Queens



History >> Biographies >> Middle Ages for Kids






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