William I, King of England

views updated


Reigned 1066 to Sept. 9, 1087; the Conqueror, crowned first Norman king of England, Dec. 25, 1066; b. Falaise, probably 1028; d. Saint-Gervais, France. William, the illegitimate son of Robert II of Normandy and Herleve, became Duke of Normandy in 1035. In c. 105053 he married Matilda, daughter of Baldwin V of Flanders. William was the father of four sons, viz, Robert, Duke of Normandy; Richard; Kings william ii and henry i; and of six daughters. William's pre-Conquest Norman rule progressed through three main stages: his minority years of feudal disorder, ending in victory at Val-ès-Dunes in 1047; a phase of growing mastery and almost ceaseless warfare, with defeat for the French and Angevins at Mortemer in 1054 and Varaville in 1057; the years of consolidation to 1066, with Maine secured in 1063 and Brittany in 1064. Designated by edward the confessor in 1051 as heir to the English kingdom, a decision accepted by Harold Godwineson in 1064, William defeated the latter at Hastings, Oct. 14, 1066, and by five years of intermittent campaigning subjected the English kingdom to his will. The Scottish king submitted in 1072, Maine in 1073, and the disaffected earls in 1075. William's position was later weakened by the hostility of Robert, his son, and Odo of Bayeux, and by troubles in Brittany, from Scotland, and in his continental lands. A Danish threat led to "The Salisbury Oath" of 1086, binding the greater lords more closely to him. William died of a mortal injury received at Mantes in 1087; he was buried at Caen.

The Norman church early attained a distinguished reputation under William's guidance: a deeply penetrating monastic revival achieved its best expression at bec; canonical reform was made effective through conciliar legislation. William was master of the Norman church, but no province reflected more closely the reforming spirit of the time, or more justly enjoyed resulting papal favor. William's irregular marriage was legalized by nicholas ii in 1059; his invasion of England in 1066 was supported by alexander ii and Hildebrand (later gregory vii). The pre-Conquest English church was clearly touched by the same reforming spirit, and the Conquest coincided in time with the advance of the gregorian reform; but, with lanfranc at Canterbury from 1070, after the excommunicated Stigand's deposition, ecclesiastical, monastic, and canonical revival made decisive headway with crucial results for the future. William brought to England a tradition of effective secular control in church affairs: a barrier to the two-way traffic between England and the papal Curia was firmly erected, papal claims to feudal overlordship were unambiguously rejected; the investiture struggle found no expression in England in William's reign. Recognizing the merits and strength of William's policies, Gregory acted with prudence and circumspection.

William stressed his legality as Edward's successor. The legal and administrative achievements of the English kings were still further developed. But greater vitality and power of direction increased the monarchy's strength and resources; an alien feudal nobility now composed the ruling element in society; the domesday book provides a striking insight into the condition of England at and after William's conquest. A vigorous, ruthless, clear-sighted, severe ruler, temperate and pious according to his fashion, William effected a point of departure in Norman and English history, and by his influence helped to shape the history of the western church.

Bibliography: z. n. brooke, The English Church and the Papacy (Cambridge, Eng. 1931). f. m. stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (2d ed. Oxford 1947). d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 9431216 (2d ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1962). r. r. darlington, The Norman Conquest (London 1963). f. barlow, The English Church 10001066: A Constitutional History (Hamden, Conn. 1963). d. c. douglas, William the Conqueror (Berkeley, Calif. 1964). c. duggan, "From the Conquest to the Death of John," in The English Church and the Papacy in the Middle Ages, ed. c. h. lawrence (London 1965). s. kÖrner, The Battle of Hastings: England and Europe, 10351066 (Lund 1964). h. r. loyn, The Norman Conquest (London 1965).

[c. duggan]

About this article

William I, King of England

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article