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William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror

David C. Douglas
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    William the Conqueror
    Book Description:

    In "William the Conquerer, " Professor Douglas analyzes the causes and the true character of the Norman impact upon England in the eleventh century. The work is both a study of Anglo-Norman history and a biography of a man whose personal career was spectacular, and as reviewers have remarked, it is distinguished by a wealth of scholarship linked to a lucid and agreeable style.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18554-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Frank Barlow

    Full of honours, David Douglas died in 1982, eighteen years after this book was first published. Although interest in the Norman conquest of England has increased rather than abated since he wrote, Douglas’sWilliam the Conquerorhas not been suspended. The conquest has always been regarded as the great turning-point in English history. It was the moment when the kingdom, which had evolved out of the settlement of Germanic peoples in Britain in the fifth century, and when already shaken by the Scandinavian conquest at the beginning of the eleventh century, was given a completely new and lasting direction. In...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)

      (pp. 15-30)

      William the Conqueror–Duke William II of Normandy, King William I of England – was born at Falaise in 1027 or 1028, and probably during the autumn of the latter year.¹ He was the bastard son of Robert I, sixth duke of Normandy, by Herleve, a girl of that town. His parentage was thus remarkable. Little is known about his mother, for contemporary writers are discreetly silent about her origins. Later testimony, however, indicates that her father’s name was probably Fulbert, and there is substantial evidence to suggest that this ‘Fulbert’ was a tanner.² Herleve’s connexion with the duke was none...

    • Chapter 2 ACCESSION AND MINORITY 1035–1047
      (pp. 31-52)

      Little is known of William’s childhood, and it must be presumed that it was passed in the obscurity of his mother’s home at Falaise. Later, legends inevitably developed that his greatness was immediately recognized, and his future achievements anticipated.¹ But there is no evidence to warrant this supposition. Posterity might dwell on the romantic circumstances of his birth, but sentiment could not alter the facts of the situation nor mask William’s essential illegitimacy. William, although to be in due course styled ‘the Conqueror’² or ‘the Great’,³ was for his contemporaries emphatically ‘William the Bastard’. Nor is there any reason to...

    • Chapter 3 THE WAR FOR SURVIVAL 1047–1060
      (pp. 53-80)

      The period 1047–1060 is of cardinal importance in the history of Normandy. Often dismissed as comprising merely a welter of disconnected political disturbances, it none the less possessed its own cohesion, and without doubt it entailed momentous consequences for the future. It began with the revolt which in 1047 came near to annihilating the ducal power, and it reached its second crisis when in 1052–1054 the duke was forced to withstand not only a hostile confederation formed by his own magnates, but also a coalition of French fiefs led by the king of France. During these fourteen years...


      (pp. 83-104)

      By 1060 the political position of Duke William had been stabilized as a result of fourteen years of continuous war. He had moved out of his perilous minority, and freed himself from dependency upon the king of France. He had withstood a combined assault from Paris and from Anjou; and the deaths of Count Geoffrey and King Henry had removed from his path his two most formidable opponents in Gaul. Never before, during his reign, had Normandy been so secure from attack, and its ruler was now offered the opportunity yet further to strengthen his position during the six years...

      (pp. 105-132)

      The developing strength of Normandy during the reign of Duke William was due in the first instance to the rise of a new aristocracy, and to the identification of its interests with those of the duke. But the growth of Norman power during this period was never wholly secular, either in its causes or consequences, and the achievement of William the Conqueror was to depend also in large measure on an ecclesiastical revival in the province, which had already begun at the time of his accession, but which gathered increasing momentum in his time. The interconnexion between the secular and...

      (pp. 133-156)

      William’s rule over Normandy during the decades preceding the Norman conquest must be considered in direct relation to the aristocratic and ecclesiastical developments which we have examined. To harmonize these movements, and to control them, was here the major object of his policy; and the measure of his success in so doing is reflected in the contrast between his weakness in 1046 and his strength in 1066. In 1035 it might have seemed doubtful whether the ducal authority could survive: in 1066 it was secure, and the duke could regard himself as the firmly established ruler of one of the...


    • Chapter 7 NORMANDY AND ENGLAND 1035–1065
      (pp. 159-180)

      The Norman conquest of England was prepared and made possible by the growth of Norman power during the earlier half of the eleventh century, and by the consolidation of the duchy under the rule of Duke William II. To explain why that Conquest was undertaken, and to account for its success and its peculiar consequences it is necessary, however, to consider not only the character of the Norman duchy in his time but also the development of Norman policy during the same period. Not otherwise is it to be understood why, and how, the medieval destinies of England were during...

    • Chapter 8 THE CONQUEST OF ENGLAND January 1066–March 1067
      (pp. 181-210)

      On 5 January 1066 Edward the Confessor died childless, and the question of the English succession which had for so long loomed over northern Europe immediately entered on its final phase. Nor could there be any doubt that its settlement would involve war, or that in the conflict a crucial part must be played by Duke William whose policy towards England had been so consistently developed during the previous fifteen years. The chief actors in the ensuing drama had in fact already been brought to the forefront of the stage: Earl Harold of Wessex; Harold Hardraada, king of Norway; Tosti,...

    • Chapter 9 THE DEFENCE OF THE ANGLO-NORMAN KINGDOM March 1067–November 1085
      (pp. 211-244)

      In the summer of 1067, as William moved in triumph from Rouen to Fécamp, from the Dives to Jumieges, he was not only, as few of his predecessors had been, effectively master of Normandy, but he was also the consecrated and acknowledged king of the English. None the less his position was by no means secure. In France, Maine and Brittany were restive, and the French monarchy, whose heir was growing up to manhood, was ill-disposed towards its most powerful vassal. In England, only a part of the country was as yet under Norman control, and beyond the English frontiers,...


    • Chapter 10 WILLELMUS REX
      (pp. 247-264)

      The coronation of Duke William of Normandy as king of the English on Christmas Day 1066 was the culminating event in the Conqueror’s career. It also marked a turning-point in the history both of Normandy and England, and a stage in the development of medieval Europe. To England it gave spectacular illustration alike of the continuance of her identity, and also of the reorientation of her politics, whilst for Normandy its consequences were scarcely less profound, and no kingdom in western Europe was to be unaffected by the new political grouping which it symbolized. Again, the coronation took its place...

    • Chapter 11 THE FEUDAL POLITY
      (pp. 265-288)

      The coronation of William the Conqueror marked the beginning of a formative period which produced changes of lasting importance to both parts of his conjoint realm, but it was inevitable that England should be the more immediately and the more profoundly affected. Norman influence upon England was now in fact to be fully extended, and on highly individual lines, by a Norman king, and the earlier growth of Norman power and policy already indicated clearly the main directions in which that influence would be most notably felt. Norman power had been based upon a new feudal nobility which now claimed...

      (pp. 289-316)

      It is no part of the purpose of this book to re-tell the constitutional history of England between 1066 and 1087, but a study of William the Conqueror cannot wholly avoid the task of attempting to isolate the Norman factor in such changes as then occurred, and of estimating the personal contribution which was made by the king in bringing them about. Yet even if the problem be thus rigorously restricted, it does not admit any easy solution. The institutional developments of these years, and their social consequences, were due to a bewildering interplay of Norman and English influences. In...

    • Chapter 13 THE KING IN THE CHURCH
      (pp. 317-345)

      No aspect of the career of William the Conqueror is of more interest – or of more importance – than the part he played in the history of the western Church between 1066 and 1087. His policy in this respect thus invites particular attention, but if his personal contribution to the ecclesiastical life of his age is here to be appraised, it must be viewed in its totality and placed in its contemporary setting. Thus the enduring results of his work on the Church in England cannot be explained without reference to the earlier and continuing ecclesiastical development of Normandy; and neither...

    • Chapter 14 THE END OF THE REIGN Christmas 1085–9 September 1087
      (pp. 346-364)

      The last two years of William’s life possess a special interest for his biographer. In one sense they represent the epilogue to a great career, but in another they can be regarded as embodying the final crisis of his reign wherein all its chief characteristics were displayed in conjunction. The twenty-four months that elapsed between the autumn of 1085 and William’s death in September 1087 saw the revival of a hostile confederation against the Anglo-Norman kingdom in a form reminiscent of earlier decades. They witnessed the continuation of William’s previous defence of that kingdom, though this time by exceptional means....

    (pp. 367-376)

    Thus ended the life of William the Conqueror, ‘and this was the last end of all that was mortal in him besides his fame’.¹ A biographer is always apt to exaggerate the importance of the man he portrays, and undoubtedly the main interest of the historical process which has here been surveyed lies outside the career of any individual, however eminent. The Norman conquest of England (which was the central event in that process) was perhaps the most revolutionary event in English history between the Conversion and the Reformation. It gave to England a new monarchy, a feudal polity of...


    • APPENDIX A The birth of William the Conqueror, and the connexions of Herleve
      (pp. 379-382)
    • APPENDIX B The chronology of Duke William’s campaigns between 1047 and 1054
      (pp. 383-390)
    • APPENDIX C The marriage of William and Matilda
      (pp. 391-395)
    • APPENDIX D The sequence of events in 1066
      (pp. 396-400)
    • APPENDIX E The chronology of King William’s campaigns between 1073 and 1081
      (pp. 401-407)
    • APPENDIX F On poisoning as a method of political action in eleventh-century Normandy
      (pp. 408-416)
    (pp. 417-426)
    (pp. 427-448)
    (pp. 449-453)
  15. MAPS
    (pp. 454-456)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 457-460)