Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/William the Conqueror
WILLIAM the Conqueror (1027?–1087), king of England, natural son of Robert II, duke of Normandy, by Herleva or Arlette, daughter of Fulbert, a tanner of Falaise, whence he was called ‘the Bastard,’ was born at Falaise in 1027 or 1028 (Will. of Jumièges, vi. 12, vii. 18, 44; Freeman, Norman Conquest, ii. 581–90). His mother also bore, probably to Robert, Adeliza, wife of Enguerrand of Ponthieu (ib.; Archæologia, xxvi. 349). After Robert's death she married Herlwin of Conteville, by whom she had Odo [q. v.], bishop of Bayeux, Robert of Mortain [see Mortain], and a daughter Muriel. When Robert was setting out on his pilgrimage he caused his lords to elect William as his successor, and to swear fealty to him. Accordingly on the news of his death, in 1035, William became duke, having as guardians Alan, count of Brittany, Osbern the seneschal, and Gilbert of Eu, and being under the charge of one Turold. Disturbances broke out immediately. Many of his lords were disloyal, for they despised him for his birth, they built themselves fortresses and committed acts of violence. Alan was poisoned, and Gilbert and Turold were murdered. An attempt was made to seize William's person at Vaudreuil; Osbern, who slept in his room, was slain, but William was carried off by his mother's brother Walter, who concealed him in the dwellings of some poor people.
As William grew older he proved himself brave and wise. By the advice of his lords he appointed as his guardian Ralph de Wacy, who had slain Gilbert of Eu, and gave him command of his forces. While the number of those who were loyal to him increased, many were secretly disloyal and intrigued against him with Henry I, the French king. Henry complained that the border fortress of Tillières was an annoyance to him, and the duke's counsellors ordered its destruction. The castellan, William Crispin, only yielded the place at William's express command. The French burnt it and made a raid in the Hiemois. The governor of the country revolted and garrisoned Falaise against the duke, but the castle was taken and he was banished. William and his counsellors advocated the adoption of the truce of God which was accepted by the Normans at the council of Caen in 1042. In 1047 Guy, the lord of Brionne and Vernon, son of the count of Burgundy by Adeliza, daughter of Richard II of Normandy, and the duke's companion in boyhood, hoping to gain the whole, or a good part, of his cousin's duchy, conspired against him with the lords of the Cotentin and Bessin, inciting them not to obey ‘a degenerate bastard.’ The eastern, or more French, portion of the duchy remained faithful to William; the western, or more Scandinavian, portion rebelled. An attempt was made to seize the duke at Valognes; he narrowly escaped, rode alone through the night to Rye, and thence reached Falaise. He went to Poissy to meet King Henry and obtained his help. The duke and the king joined forces and defeated the rebels at Val-ès-dunes, near Caen. William then took Brionne. He ordered Guy to remain in his court, and afterwards allowed him to go to Burgundy; the other rebel lords were punished by fines and by the destruction of the castles which they had built without license; the lord who had attempted to seize the duke was imprisoned at Rouen and died there. The duke's victory established his power throughout Normandy.
In return for Henry's help William in 1048 joined him in a war against Geoffrey Martel, count of Anjou. The duke was resolved to take his place as pre-eminent among his barons in battle, and showed so much daring that the king warned him to be less adventurous. Though, so far as the French were concerned, the campaign was short, it led to a war between William and Geoffrey, in which the duke regained Domfront and Alençon, fortresses on the border of Maine, then virtually under the rule of Geoffrey. While besieging Domfront he challenged Geoffrey to a personal combat, but the count, though he accepted the challenge, retreated without meeting him. At Alençon the inhabitants jeered at William by beating hides on their walls, and calling him ‘tanner.’ In revenge he cut off the hands and feet of thirty-two of them. At the end of the war he raised fortifications at Ambrières, in Maine itself. In 1051 William visited England, and must have found himself at home among the Normans and Frenchmen of the court of his cousin, Edward the Confessor [q. v.], who probably during his visit promised that he should succeed him. Meanwhile he was with the advice of his lords seeking to marry Matilda, daughter of the Count of Flanders, an alliance of great political importance, both on account of the count's power and the situation of his dominions. The marriage was forbidden by Leo IX at the council of Reims in 1049 [see under Matilda (d. 1083) and Lanfranc], and in consequence was not celebrated until 1053. Malger, archbishop of Rouen, the duke's uncle, threatened, and perhaps pronounced, excommunication against the duke; but William gained over Lanfranc to his side, and finally Nicolas II granted a dispensation for the marriage in 1059. In accordance with the pope's commands on this occasion William built the abbey of St. Stephen at Caen.
An unimportant revolt of the lord of Eu was followed in 1053 by the revolt of William of Arques, one of the duke's uncles and brother of Archbishop Malger. This William, who had constantly been disloyal to his nephew, was upheld by the French king, who marched to the relief of Arques when it was invested by the duke. To avoid fighting in person against his liege lord, the duke left the siege for a while to William Giffard. The French suffered in a skirmish at St. Aubin, and retired without relieving the place, which surrendered to the duke. The garrison made an abject submission, and William allowed his uncle to leave the duchy. Jealous of the almost kingly power of the duke, Henry of France formed a league against him with some of his great vassals and invaded the duchy on both sides of the Seine early in 1054. To meet this pressing danger, William also divided his force into two bodies, and himself led one of them to operate against the division commanded by the king on the left of the river, giving some of his lords the command of the force which was to oppose the army led by the king's brother Eudes and others on the right of the river. The army of Eudes was surprised and routed at Mortemer, and one of its leaders, Guy, count of Ponthieu, was taken prisoner. William, who was near the king's army when he heard of the victory of his lords, sent one of his followers to climb a tree or rock near the French camp by night and announce it to the king's army, and on hearing the news Henry hastily retreated into France.
Peace was made with France in 1055, and William, with the king's good-will, turned on the Count of Anjou. He ordered that the fortification of Ambrières should be pressed forward, and sent to tell Geoffrey that he would be there within forty days to meet him. Geoffrey of Mayenne, whose town lay near Ambrières, entreated the count's help against the Normans. The count promised that it should be given, but allowed the works to be completed. He then besieged the place in conjunction with the Count of Aquitaine and a force from Brittany. William at once prepared to go to its relief, and on hearing that he was coming Geoffrey raised the siege. Geoffrey of Mayenne, who had been taken prisoner by the Normans, renounced his fealty to the count and did homage to William. About this time also William received homage from Guy, count of Ponthieu, who, in return for his release from prison, bound himself to do the duke military service (Ord. Vit. p. 658).
William was highly displeased by the unseemly life and extravagance of Archbishop Malger, and often reproved him both publicly and in private. He was also angered by the line that his uncle had taken with reference to his marriage, and further suspected him of complicity in the revolt of his brother William of Arques. Accordingly he took advantage of the visit of a papal legate to Normandy to depose the archbishop, acting in this in unison with the legate at a synod held at Rouen. He banished Malger to Guernsey, and at an ecclesiastical council held in his presence in the same year (1055) caused the election of Maurilius, a French monk of Fécamp, a man of learning and holy life, to the see of Rouen. After about three years of peace, Henry for the third time invaded Normandy, in conjunction with Geoffrey of Anjou, in August 1058. The allies did much damage to the country, ravaging the Hiemois and the Bessin, and burning Caen before, as it seems, William could gather a sufficient force to meet them. While their army was crossing the Dive, and after the king and the vanguard had already crossed, William, at the head of a small company, suddenly fell on the remainder of the army at Varaville and cut it to pieces before the eyes of the king, who was prevented by the rising tide from sending any succour to his men. On this disaster the king and Geoffrey speedily returned home.
The deaths of Henry and Count Geoffrey in 1060 secured William from further attacks, for Henry's successor, Philip I, was young, and his guardian was the Count of Flanders, William's father-in-law, while the new Count of Anjou, Geoffrey the Bearded, was far less powerful than his uncle had been. William had made himself feared or respected by foreign powers, and was absolute master in his duchy both in things ecclesiastical and civil. He banished several lords whom he suspected of disaffection, not always justly, for he sometimes acted on false and malicious accusations. Among others, he deposed and banished Robert, abbot of St. Evroul, brother of Hugh (d. 1094) [q. v.] of Grantmesnil, though he had not been condemned by synodical authority. About two years later Robert, who had laid his case before Nicolas II, returned to Normandy in company with two cardinals, and went with them to Lillebonne, where the duke then was, to claim his abbey. William was greatly enraged, and declared that, though he would receive the legates, he would promptly hang on the highest oak of the nearest forest any monk of his duchy who dared to make a charge against him. On hearing this Robert left the duchy in haste (ib. p. 482). At a council held at Caen by the duke's authority in 1061, it was decreed that every evening a bell should be rung as an invitation to prayer, and a signal for all to shut their doors and not to go forth again. This was the origin of the curfew which was afterwards introduced into England. On the death of Geoffrey Martel, William, who had let no opportunity slip of gaining power in Maine, was enabled to prosecute the claim to that land which he derived from an alleged grant to his ancestor Hrolf or Rollo. Herbert, the young heir of the last count of Maine, in the hope of gaining possession of his inheritance, commended himself and his country to the duke in 1061; it was agreed that he should marry one of the duke's daughters, that if he died childless William should have Maine, and that the count's eldest sister Margaret should marry William's eldest son Robert. Herbert died unmarried in 1063, when Robert was still a child. The people of Maine were unwilling to submit to William, and were headed by Walter of Mantes, who claimed the country in right of his wife Biota, aunt of Herbert. William ravaged the land, and compelled Le Mans to surrender, while a Norman army ravaged Walter's own territories and forced him to submit to the duke. Both Walter and Biota died suddenly, and, it is said, while they were with the duke at Falaise. In after years William's enemies asserted that he had poisoned them (ib. pp. 487–8, 534). Geoffrey of Mayenne continued for a while to resist the duke in Maine, who punished him by taking Mayenne. Robert's intended wife Margaret was brought to Normandy, and died there before reaching marriageable age.
In 1064, when Conan, count of Brittany, was threatening to invade the duchy, William caused Guy of Ponthieu to deliver to him Harold (1022?–1066) [q. v.], then earl of Wessex, who had been shipwrecked on the coast of Ponthieu. Taking Harold with him, he frightened the Britons away from before Dol, and compelled Conan to surrender Dinan. Before Harold was allowed to leave Normandy William obtained an oath from him, sworn on some relics which, it is said, were concealed from him until after the oath was taken, that he would uphold the duke's claim to succeed to the English throne on the king's death [see under Harold, u.s.]. William, who was a kinsman of Edward the Confessor (both being descended from Duke Richard the Fearless), having thus obtained an oath from Harold as well as a promise of the succession from Edward (Will. of Poitiers, p. 108; Eadmer, col. 350; Will. of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, ii. c. 228), heard with anger that immediately on Edward's death Harold had, on 6 Jan. 1066, been crowned king. The tidings came to him when he was going forth to hunt near Rouen, and he determined, on the advice, it is said, of his seneschal, William Fitzosbern (d. 1071) [q. v.], to take immediate action. He sent a messenger to Harold, calling on him to fulfil his oath. On his refusal the duke, by the advice of his special counsellors, summoned an assembly of his barons to meet at Lillebonne.
Meanwhile he sent Gilbert, archdeacon of Lisieux, to obtain the sanction of the pope, Alexander II, for his proposed war. In addition to William's claim, founded on kinship and the bequest of Edward, William's ambassador advanced the perjury of Harold, and the causes of offence given by the English, such as the expulsion of Archbishop Robert of Jumièges. The duke's ambassador doubtless promised that his master would improve the ecclesiastical condition of England, and bring it into close obedience to the Roman see (Will. of Poitiers, p. 124). Nevertheless he met with violent opposition from many of the cardinals, on the ground that the church should not sanction slaughter; but the duke's cause was espoused by Archdeacon Hildebrand (Gregory VII), and, acting on his advice, the pope sent William his blessing, a ring, with a relic of St. Peter, and a consecrated banner, so that his expedition had something of the character of a crusade (Monumenta Gregoriana, p. 414). The barons at Lillebonne objected to the proposals made to them by William Fitzosbern, and the duke obtained promises from them of ships and men by personally soliciting each baron singly. He received a visit from Earl Tostig [q. v.], and encouraged him to invade England in May. As he desired help from other lands, he sent embassies to the German king, Henry, and to Sweyn of Denmark, and is said himself to have met Philip of France,who was adverse to his project. Volunteers from many lands, and specially from France and Flanders, joined him, in the hope of plunder and of grants of land in England, and he and his lords set about preparing a fleet. During these preparations his old enemy, Conan of Brittany, died, poisoned, it was believed, by his chamberlain, though William was afterwards accused of having poisoned him, but that was probably mere abuse (Will. of Jumièges, vii. 33; Ord. Vit. p. 534). In a council that he held in June he appointed Lanfranc abbot of St. Stephen's at Caen, and shortly afterwards was present at the consecration of Matilda's church in that city and the dedication of his daughter Cicely.
The Norman fleet assembled at the mouth of the Dive in the middle of August, was delayed there for a month by contrary winds, and sailed, with some losses by shipwreck and desertion, to St. Valery about 12 Sept. There it waited for a south wind for fifteen days, during which William made constant prayers for the desired wind, and finally caused the relics of St. Valery to be borne in a solemn procession. On the 27th the south wind blew and the fleet sailed, William embarking in the Mora, the ship given him by his wife, whom he left in charge of the duchy. The passage was made by night, and a landing was effected without resistance at Pevensey on the 28th, the third day after the battle of Stamford Bridge. The story that the duke on landing fell to the ground, and that this was turned to a lucky omen either by William himself, or a sailor crying out that he took ‘seisin’ of the kingdom, is probably an adaptation of the story of Cæsar's landing in Africa (Freeman, iii. 407). His army perhaps consisted of from twenty-five to thirty thousand men, but no certain estimate is possible. He fortified his camp at Hastings and ravaged the country. Harold marched against him from London on 11 Oct., and took up his position on the hill afterwards called Battle, eight miles from Hastings, and messages passed between them. On the morning of the 14th the duke received the communion, arrayed his army in three divisions, himself taking command of the centre, which was composed of Normans, the soldiers of Brittany and Maine composing the left, and the French and Flemings the right wing; vowed that if he was victorious he would build a monastery on the place of battle in honour of St. Martin, and made an address to his army. He rode a horse given him by Alfonso VI, of Leon and Castille, and in the course of the battle showed great personal courage as well as good generalship. He was thought to be slain, and a panic ensued; he bared his head so as to be recognised and rallied his men; his horse was killed by Gyrth [q. v.]; he slew Gyrth and mounted another horse; three horses were slain under him, but he remained unwounded (for the details of the battle see Freeman, u.s. pp. 467–508, 756–73; attacked in Quarterly Review, July 1892; defended and further attacked in English Hist. Review, October 1893, January and April 1894; Oman, Art of War in the Middle Ages, pp. 149–63; Round, Feudal England, pp. 352 seq.). The Norman victory was complete and Harold was slain. After the battle William remained for five days at Hastings, when, finding that the English did not come to offer their submission, he marched to Romney, and avenged some of his men who had been slain there before the battle; thence he marched to Dover, where he remained about a week, then went northwards, being delayed a short time near Canterbury by illness, and thence went on to Southwark, the line of his march being marked by ravages. A skirmish took place at Southwark, to which he set fire, and, finding that London did not make submission, he turned away, marched through Surrey and Hampshire, and on to Wallingford in Berkshire, where he received the submission of Archbishop Stigand [q. v.], and crossed the Thames. After further ravages (see Engl. Hist. Review, January 1898, on ‘The Conqueror's Footprints,’ a suggestive paper, though perhaps seeking to prove too much), he finally came to Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire. The Londoners, finding themselves surrounded by devastated lands, submitted to him, and the great men who were in the city, Edgar Atheling [q. v.], Aldred (d. 1096) [q. v.], archbishop of York, and others, came to him, and invited him to assume the crown. He received them graciously. Refusing to allow Stigand, whose position was uncanonical, to consecrate him, he was crowned, after taking the coronation oath, by Aldred at Westminster on 25 Dec. The ceremony was disturbed by his Norman guards, who, mistaking the shouts of the people for an insurrection, set fire to buildings round the abbey. The people rushed from the church, leaving the king, the bishops, and the clergy in great fear.
In consequence of this affair William determined to curb the power of the citizens; he left London and stayed for some days at Barking in Essex, while fortifications were raised in the city. At Barking possibly he granted his charter to London. He received the submission of the great men of the north, of Earls Edwin [q. v.] and Morcar [q. v.], of Copsige [q. v.], Waltheof [q. v.], and others. Succeeding as king to the crown lands, he confiscated the lands of those who had fought against him, and, holding that all the laity had incurred forfeiture, allowed the landholders generally to redeem their lands in whole or in part, receiving them back as a grant from himself. During his whole reign he punished resistance by confiscation (Freeman, iv. 22–9). Early in 1067 he set out on a progress through various parts of the kingdom for the purpose, as it seems, of taking over confiscated estates, establishing order, and strengthening his power by setting on foot the building of castles. He met with no opposition, and showed indulgence to the poorer and weaker people. After appointing his brother Odo, whom he made earl of Kent, and William Fitzosbern, whom he made earl of Hereford, as regent, and giving posts to others, he visited Normandy in Lent, taking with him several leading Englishmen. He was received with great rejoicing at Rouen, held his court at Easter at Fécamp, where he displayed the spoils of England, enriched many Norman churches with them, attended dedications of churches, and sent Lanfranc on an embassy to Rome on the affairs of the duchy.
William returned to England on 7 Dec. During his absence disturbances had broken out in Kent, in Herefordshire, and in the north, where Copsige, whom William had made earl, was slain, and an invitation had been sent to Sweyn Estrithson of Denmark to invade England. The Kentish insurrection had been quelled, and William made many confiscations. In the hope of averting Danish invasion he sent an embassy to Sweyn and to the archbishop of Bremen. He appointed a new earl in Copsige's place and laid a heavy tax on the kingdom. An insurrection, headed by Harold's sons at Exeter, having broken out in the west in 1068, William marched thither with English troops, ravaging as he went. He compelled Exeter to surrender, had a castle built there, and subdued the west country. Rebels gathered at York, and the king, after occupying Warwick, where Edwin and Morcar, who were concerned in the revolt, made their peace with him, and receiving the submission of the central districts, advanced to York, which made no resistance to him. As he returned he visited other parts of the country, and caused castles to be built in various towns. About this time he dismissed his foreign mercenaries after rewarding them liberally. Early in 1069 Robert of Comines, to whom he had given an earldom north of the Tees, was slain with his men at Durham, and a revolt in favour of Edgar was made at York, where the castle was besieged. William marched to its relief, defeated the rebels, and caused a second castle to be built to curb the city. Harold's sons, who, sailing from Ireland, had made a raid on the west in the preceding year, again came over with Viking crews and plundered in Devonshire. They were promptly put to flight; but it was doubtless in connection with their expedition that the fleet of Sweyn of Denmark, after some plundering descents, sailed into the Humber in September, and being joined by Edgar, Waltheof, and other English leaders, burnt York. Other revolts broke out, in the west where the rebels were defeated by the bishop of Coutances, on the Welsh border, and in Staffordshire, the movements being without concert. William, who was surprised and enraged at the news from York, marched into Lindsey, where the Danish ships were laid up, destroyed some Danish holds, and, leaving a force there, crushed the revolt in Staffordshire, and entered York without opposition. He then laid waste all the country between York and Durham, burning crops, cattle, houses, and property of all kinds, so that the whole land was turned into a desert and the people perished with hunger. After keeping Christmas amid the ruins of York, he marched to the Tees in January 1070, received the submission of Waltheof and others, committed further ravages, returned to York, and thence set out for Chester. The winter weather made his march difficult; some of his men deserted and many perished. The fall of Chester ended the revolt in that district, and was followed by ravages in Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire. The Danish fleet having been bribed to leave the coast after the winter, all resistance was at an end and the conquest of England was complete (ib. pp. 320–22).
At Easter two legates came to England by William's request, and one remained with him for a year. Their coming enabled him to carry out part of his policy with respect to the church. Stigand was deposed and Lanfranc was made archbishop in his place. Three other English bishops, and in time many abbots, were also deposed, and vacancies were filled up by foreign prelates, only two sees being occupied by native bishops by the end of 1070 (Stubbs, Constitutional History, i. 282). As he had done in Normandy, so also in England, William generally tried to appoint men of learning and good character; he avoided simony, and, though his appointments were not always successful and his abbots were not generally so worthy as his bishops, the prelates that he introduced were, taken together, men of a higher stamp than their predecessors. At the same time, his changes entailed much hardship on English churchmen, and his church appointments were often made as rewards for secular service. All disorder was abhorrent to him. He was masterful in his dealings with the church as in all else, and, though elections were often made in ecclesiastical assemblies, his will was evidently not less obeyed than in cases in which his personal action is more apparent. With Lanfranc he worked in full accord, and his general policy may be described as that of organising the church as a separate department of government under the direction of the archbishop as his vicegerent in ecclesiastical matters, in opposition to the English system by which ecclesiastical and civil affairs were largely administered by the same machinery. This policy worked well in his time, but it was necessary to its success that the throne and the see of Canterbury should be filled by men of like mind and aims to those of William and Lanfranc. William upheld Lanfranc's claim to the obedience of the see of York because it was politically expedient to depress the power of the northern metropolitan. In accordance with his system church councils were held distinct from, though generally at the same time as, the secular councils of the realm. He also separated ecclesiastical from secular jurisdiction, ordering that no bishop or archdeacon should thenceforward hear ecclesiastical pleas in the hundred court, but in courts of their own, and should try them by canon law, obedience being enforced by excommunication, which, if necessary, would be backed up by the civil power (ib. pp. 283–4). Although he brought the church into closer relations with the papacy, from which he had obtained help both in his invasion and his ecclesiastical arrangements, he was far from being subservient to popes. About 1076 a legate came to him from Gregory demanding that he should do fealty to the pope and send Peter's pence. He replied that he would send the money as his predecessors had done, but would not do fealty, for he had never promised it and his predecessors had not done it (Lanfranc, Ep. 10). The pope blamed him for Lanfranc's neglect of his summons to Rome (Monumenta Gregoriana, p. 367). He laid down three rules as necessary to his kingly rights: he would allow no Roman pontiff to be acknowledged in his dominions as apostolic without his command, nor any papal letter to be received that had not been shown to him; no synod might make any enactment that he had not sanctioned and previously ordained; no ecclesiastical censure was to be pronounced against any of his barons or officers without his consent. All things, temporal and spiritual, depended on his will (Eadmer, Historia Novorum, col. 352).
Extending the license that they had received from William, the Danes had not sailed in May 1070; and their appearance at Ely encouraged a revolt of the fen country. They left England in June, but the revolt continued, and was headed by Hereward [q. v.] In 1071 the rebels held the Isle of Ely, and the revolt, though isolated, became serious. William in person attacked the island with ships and a land force. He reduced it in the course of the year, punished the rebels with mutilation or lifelong imprisonment, fined the monastery of Ely, and caused a castle to be built in its precinct. Early in 1072 he was in Normandy where he held a parliament and addressed an ecclesiastical synod. Returning to England he invaded Scotland, for Malcolm had been ravaging the north, and made his court a refuge for William's enemies. He advanced to Abernethy, where Malcolm did him homage. On his return he founded a castle at Durham and committed it to the bishop to hold against the Scots.
The citizens of Le Mans having, after domestic conflicts, called in Fulk, count of Anjou, William in 1073 led an army largely composed of English into Maine, wasted it, received the submission of the city, defended his allies against Fulk, and, having made peace with him, returned to England in 1074. Then he again visited Normandy, apparently leaving Lanfranc as his chief representative in England. During his absence Ralph Guader [q. v.], earl of Norfolk, and Roger, earl of Hereford, conspired against him. Waltheof, who was concerned in the conspiracy, went to William in Normandy, confessed, and asked forgiveness. The rebels were overthrown in the absence of the king, who, returning to England in 1075, found the Danish fleet in the Humber; it had been invited over by the rebels, but after plundering York the Danes sailed off, for they dared not meet the king. William punished those of the rebels that he had in his power, blinding and mutilating the Briton followers of Earl Ralph, and in May 1076 caused Waltheof to be beheaded—the only capital punishment that he inflicted during his reign. Possibly about this time (Freeman, u. s. p. 609) he laid waste a district in Hampshire extending for thirty miles or more to form the New Forest, in order to gratify his love of hunting, driving away the inhabitants and destroying churches and houses (Flor. Wig. an. 1100; Will. of Malm. iii. c. 275).
Hoping to seize Earl Ralph, who had escaped to Brittany, and also to enlarge his dominions, he crossed to Normandy and laid siege to Dol, swearing not to depart until it surrendered; but Philip of France came to the help of Count Alan, and William fled, leaving his camp and much treasure in the hands of the enemy. He made peace with the count, and in 1077 with Philip. About that time his eldest son, Robert (1054?–1134) [q. v.], demanded that Normandy and Maine should be made over to him, and, on William's refusal, rebelled and attempted to seize Rouen, for he had a party in the duchy. William ordered his arrest, but he fled from Normandy; his mother sent him supplies, and William was in consequence highly displeased with her (Ord. Vit. p. 571). With Philip's help Robert established himself at Gerberoi, near Beauvais, and William besieged him there early in 1080. In a skirmish beneath the walls William was unhorsed and wounded in the hand by his son. He raised the siege, and was persuaded by his queen, his lords, and the French king to be reconciled with Robert and his friends. On the murder of Walcher [q. v.], bishop of Durham, he sent Bishop Odo to punish the insurgents, and shortly afterwards sent Robert with an army into Scotland, for Malcolm had again been invading Northumberland. He was in England in 1081, and Robert again quarrelled with him, and finally left him. In that year he made an expedition into Wales, freed many hundred captives there, received the submission of the Welsh princes, and is said to have made a pilgrimage to St. David's (A.-S. Chron. an. 1081; Hen. of Hunt. p. 207; Ann. Cambr. an. 1079).
William was again in Normandy in 1082, when he heard that his brother Odo, to whom he had committed the regency in England during his late frequent visits to the duchy, was about to make an expedition into Italy. He crossed in haste, caught him in the Isle of Wight, and, having gathered his lords, laid before them his complaints against Odo, accusing him of oppression and misgovernment in his absence and of a design to lead abroad forces needed for the defence of the kingdom. He caused him to be arrested, and, when Odo objected that he was a clerk, replied that he was not arresting a bishop but one of his earls whom he had made his viceroy; he kept him in prison until his own death was near, in spite of the remonstrances of the pope (Ord. Vit. p. 647; Monumenta Gregoriana, pp. 518, 570). He returned to Normandy, where in 1083 died his queen Matilda, for whom he mourned deeply. An insurrection in Maine, headed by Hubert de Beaumont, caused him trouble. He personally led an army against Hubert's castle, but left the war to be prosecuted by his lords, who carried it on for three years without success.
Cnut, or Canute the Saint, king of Denmark, threatened to invade England in 1085. William gathered a force to meet him, crossed to England, and, quartering his soldiers on his vassals, wasted the coasts, that the Danes might find no sustenance on landing. The invasion was not made, and William dismissed part of his force, keeping some part with him during the winter. After much discussion with his lords at a court that he held at Gloucester at Christmas, he ordered a survey of his kingdom. This survey, the object of which seems to have been to ascertain and apportion every landholder's liability with respect to taxation and military service, caused much indignation among the English; its results are embodied in Domesday book. William remained in England, held his courts according to custom at Easter 1086 at Winchester, and at Whitsuntide at Westminster, apparently travelled about the kingdom, and on 1 Aug. at a great assembly at Salisbury required that all men, whether holding immediately of the crown or of a mesne lord, should do fealty to him. All present at the assembly, ‘whose men soever they were,’ did so. The doctrine thus established, that the fealty owed to the king could not be overridden by an obligation to any inferior lord, saved England from the worst evils of feudalism. William heavily fined all against whom he could bring any charge, true or false; stayed in the Isle of Wight while the money was being collected, and then sailed off with it to Normandy.
A long-standing dispute as to the right to the French Vexin came to a head in 1087, when the French garrison in Mantes committed some ravages in the duke's dominions. William, who had become unwieldy through fat, was at Rouen seeking to reduce his bulk by medicine. Hearing that Philip had compared him to a woman in childbed, he swore his special oath, ‘by the splendour and resurrection of God,’ that he would light a hundred thousand candles when he went to his churching mass. He invaded the Vexin in August, ravaged the land, entered Mantes on the 15th, and burnt it. As he rode through the town his horse threw him forward in the saddle, and he received an internal injury. He was carried to Rouen, and was taken from his palace to the priory of St. Gervase for the sake of quiet. There he was attended by his bishops, sent for Anselm [q. v.], who was unable to go to him, repented of his sins, and ordered that his treasure should be distributed between the poor and churches. He directed that Robert should succeed him in Normandy; expressed his wish that his son William, who was with him, might succeed him in England; left Henry, who was also with him, a sum of money; and ordered that his prisoners should be released. He died on 9 Sept. His lords forthwith rode off to defend their lands from plunder, and his servants, after seizing all they could find, left his body uncared for. A knight named Herlwin had it borne to Caen and buried in St. Stephen's, the Conqueror's own church. The ceremony was interrupted by a claim made to the land on which the church was built, and William's son Henry and the bishops present satisfied the claimant's demand. The monument raised by William Rufus to his father was destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562, and the king's bones were scattered. A later tomb was destroyed in 1793, when the last bone left was lost (Freeman, u. s. pp. 721–3).
William was of middle height and great muscular strength; in later life he became very fat; he had a stern countenance, and the front of his head was bald. His demeanour was stately and his court splendid. He was a man of iron will and remarkable genius; no consideration could divert him from the pursuit of his aims, and he was unscrupulous as to the means he employed to attain them. In a large degree his achievements were due to himself alone. Despised in his youth by the proud and restless barons of his duchy, he compelled their obedience and respect, became stronger than his neighbours, extended his dominions by policy and war, conquered a kingdom far richer and larger than his duchy, forced its people to live quietly and orderly under his rule, and, dying a powerful sovereign, left his dominions in peace to his sons. He was religious, was regular in devotion and liberal to monasteries; he fulfilled his vow by building Battle Abbey, which was not finished at his death; he made no gain out of the church, promoted many worthy ecclesiastics, and was blameless in his private life. Though not delighting in cruelty, he was callous to human suffering. In addition to his two signal acts of cruelty, the devastation of the north and the making of the New Forest, he oppressed his conquered people with heavy taxes and brought much misery upon them. While affable to those who gave him no offence, he was stern beyond bounds to those who withstood his will, was merciless in his punishments, and though, with one exception, he took no man's life by sentence of law, inflicted blinding and shameful mutilation with terrible frequency, especially on men of the lower class. Loving ‘the tall deer as though he had been their father,’ he decreed that all who slew deer should be blinded; his forest laws troubled rich as well as poor, ‘but he recked not of the hatred of them all, for they needs must obey his will, if they would have life, or land, or goods, or even his peace.’
His rule was strict, and he put down all disorder with a strong hand. That he had at one time some desire to govern the English justly may be inferred from an attempt he made to learn their language; but his conquest brought temptations, his character seems to have deteriorated as he met with resistance, and, though he was always ready to allow his own will to override justice, he became more tyrannical as he grew older. He amassed great riches by oppression and became avaricious (for his character generally, see A.-S. Chron. an. 1066). Like all his race, he was addicted to legal subtleties; his oppression generally wore the garb of legality, and was for that reason specially grinding. Adopting the character of the lawful successor of the Confessor, he maintained English laws and institutions, continuing, for example, the three annual courts of the earlier kings; but he gave these courts, and indeed all the higher machinery of government and administration, a feudal character, though he kept English feudalism in subordination to the power of the crown (for his use of legal fictions in dealing with English lands, see Freeman, iv. 8–9, v. 15–51). Nor does his surname, ‘the Conqueror,’ used by Orderic [see Ordericus Vitalis], prove that he laid stress on the fact that he gained and held England by the sword, for the term at that time signified ‘an acquirer’ or, in legal phraseology, ‘a purchaser.’ He is generally called ‘the Bastard’ by contemporary writers, and after the accession of William Rufus is often distinguished from him by being called ‘the Great’ (ib. u.s. ii. 531–3). His laws in their fuller form (Thorpe, Laws, p. 490) cannot be accepted as genuine, but the short version printed by Bishop Stubbs (Select Charters, p. 80), and given with some variations by Hoveden (ii. 216), apparently represents enactments made by him on different occasions, and his confirmation of Canute's law and his regulation of appeals (Thorpe, p. 489) are most probably genuine (see Stubbs's Pref. to Rog. Hov. p. ii, Rolls Ser.). Hoveden, apparently on the authority of Ranulf de Glanville [q. v.], says that in the fourth year of his reign William caused twelve men from each shire to declare on oath the customs of the kingdom. There seems no reason to reject this tradition, though the pretended results of the inquest cannot be accepted as genuine [for William's children, see under Matilda, (d. 1083)]. Assertions that he had any illegitimate children or was unfaithful to his wife lack historical basis.[The life of William is exhaustively related in Freeman's Norman Conquest, vols. ii. iii. iv., with which should be read Bishop Stubbs's Const. Hist. i. cc. 9, 11, and reference may be made to Palgrave's brilliant, though not always trustworthy, Normandy and England, vol. iii.; Lappenberg's England under Norman Kings, transl. by Thorpe, and parts of M. de Crozal's Lanfranc. The principal original authorities are: Will. of Poitiers, the Conqueror's chaplain, ed. Giles, violently anti-English, ending about 1067; Will. of Jumièges, ed. Duchesne, though much of lib. vii. is the work of Robert of Torigni, after 1135; A.-S. Chron. ed. Plummer. For the battle of Hastings: the Bayeux tapestry; Guy of Amiens ap. Mon. Hist. Brit.; the poem of Bishop Baudri, ed. Delisle, ap. Mém. de la Société des Antiq. de Normandie, av. 1873, xxviii; a little later come Orderic, ed. Duchesne, and, better, ed. Prévost ap. Société de l'Histoire de France; Geoffrey Gaimar's French Poem (Chron. Anglo-Norm. vol. i.); Flor. Wig.; Eadmer's Hist. Nov., ed. Migne; Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum (Rolls Ser.); Sym. Dunelm. (Rolls Ser.); Wace's Roman de Rou (temp. Hen. II), ed. Andresen.]