William the Conqueror: 10 Things You Should Know about the Great Norman King

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror facts| Statue of William the Conqueror in Falaise, France

Popularly known as William the Conqueror, William I was a Norman king who initially inherited the Dukedom of Normandy from his father, Robert the Devil. He sailed from Normandy to England and went on to defeat and kill King Harold II (Harold Godwinson) at the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066. A few months after Hastings, William – the Duke of Normandy in Northern France – was crowned William I of England. William the Conqueror’s coronation, which was performed by Archbishop Ealdred of York, took place at Westminster Abbey on December 25, 1066.

Here are 10 very important facts about William the Conqueror (1027-1087) – one of the mightiest rulers in Europe.

William the Conqueror’s origin lies in the Vikings

Bearing in mind that William the Conqueror was the son of Duke Robert I, the Duke of Normandy in Northern France, it is safe to say that the blood of the Vikings run through his veins.

Who are the Normans in the first place? The history of the Normans begins around 911, when an influential Viking chief named Rollo received a large parcel of land in Northern France from Charles II of France (also known as Charles ‘The Simple’). The land bestowed on the Vikings was part of a peace deal with the French.  With that said, Rollo went on to become the first Duke of Normandy. Owing to their close proximity to the French, the Normans gradually adopted the culture and language of their neighbor.

Did you know: William the Conqueror was the great-great-great-grandson of Rollo, the famed Scandinavian invader who led the Vikings on raids in northern France?

William the Conqueror was an illegitimate son

Robert I, Duke of Normandy

Also known as Robert the Magnificent, Robert I, Duke of Normandy was the father of William the Conqueror | Image: Statue of Robert I of Normandy in Falaise, France

To those that actually knew William back then, the future king of England was in fact an illegitimate son of his father Duke Robert I. William’s mother, Herleva, was the daughter of a tanner in Falaise.

Owing to his status in Normandy, no one dared called him a bastard; however, to his enemies and detractors, William the Conqueror was also known as William the Bastard. He being an illegitimate son was used to undermine his claim to both the Dukedom of Normandy and the English throne.

He would raise hell to defend his mother’s honor

Believe it or not, the Normans did have their fair share of bullies, especially if the recipient of those insults was someone as famous and powerful as William. Angered by William’s invasion of their town, some residents of Alençon – a town along the border of Normandy – ridiculed William by hanging animal hides.

The town folks were subtly mocking William’s maternal family’s profession. You see William’s grandfather was a tanner. You could say that the perpetrators of the ridicule spent the remainder of their lives maimed. Their hands and feet were chopped to teach would-be mockers to never mess with William’s mother.

He literally had to pull his wife off her horse before she married him

With news of William being an illegitimate son of his father, you could say princesses across Europe were not lining up at his door to marry him. However, William was not the kind of ruler who backed down easily. This was seen when he brutishly pulled Matilda of Flanders off her horse in the street. Matilda, one of the granddaughters of Robert II of France, had on several occasions turned down William’s marriage proposals.

Ultimately, Matilda gave in and the rest they say is history. William and Matilda had 10 children together, including their eldest son Robert II (also known as Robert Curthose) who was the unsuccessful claimant to the throne of England. William the Conqueror was so fond of Matilda that he even descended into a deep melancholy after Matilda died in 1083.

Matilda of Flanders

Matilda of Flanders – Wife of William I of England | Matilda of Flanders – Nineteenth-century depiction in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

William the Conqueror used humor to boost the morale of his troops

Humor was a powerful component in the arsenal of William the Conqueror. It has been stated that every time he rode to battle, he made sure he had a jester ride with him. And for those troops that marched into battle with William, making light of the fact that one was facing death kind of helped. William’s jesters were also use to taunt the enemy in order to secure an upper hand even before the battle would start.

He was the reason why England spoke French for centuries

Unbeknownst to many people, there was a time when French was the lingua franca in the courts of English kings. All of that was due to William the Conqueror’s inability to speak English. As stated earlier, the Dukedom of Normandy had a French-based culture. So when William invaded England, he insisted that his courtiers speak French.

Besides, it was not as if William could speak English; first off all, William was an illiterate, and he was not about to put himself through the arduous task of learning a new language. So French became the language for English kings and nobles for centuries. English was seen as the language for the ordinary English folks. So the next time you see a French sounding word in the English language, remember it all started with the Norman invasion.

The pregnant king of England

Think Henry VIII of England was obese? Well, think again. Just as Henry VIII was a young and athletic man during his childhood, so was William the Conqueror. Unsurprisingly, that is what happens when one is treated like a god on earth and overindulges in food and alcohol.

William put on so much weight that his greatest foe, King Philip of France, ridiculed him as the pregnant king of England. And although, William tried to keep in his weight in check by drinking copious amounts of wine, his weight gain went unabated.

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The father of millions of English people

William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror facts | Image: English coin of William the Conqueror

Just like the first Great Khan and Emperor of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, whose descendants make up a significant proportion of men in the world, William the Conqueror’s descendants amount to about 25 percent of the entire English population. Queen Elizabeth II herself, as well as all the monarchs that came before her, traces her ancestry to William the Conqueror.

The fact that the United States was once colony of the English crown means that there are Americans living today who have the blood of this Norman-born king oozing through them.

He did not have the easiest of deaths

Much of what we know about how William the Conqueror comes from – the Historia Ecclesiastica written by  Orderic Vitalis, a Benedictine monk and chronicler. According to Orderic’s account, William became mortally wounded after he was thrown onto the pommel of his saddle during battle. The fall caused his internal organs to rapture severely. There was nothing that his physicians could do for him. On September 9, 1087, William the Conqueror died at his capital Rouen.

The exploding corpse of William the Conqueror

There are fantastically funny stories of how his ballooned corpse exploded and left naked on the floor until some English knights gave the king a befitting burial at Caen. Owing to how long his corpse was left unattended, resulting in the corpse getting bloated.

The funeral officials and undertakers must have had a herculean task fitting his William’s bloated corpse into his stone sarcophagus. In spite of the many incense used to douse the smell, few mourners remained, as the putrid stench caused them to run helter-skelter.

William the Conqueror grave

William the Conqueror died on September 9, 1087| William’s grave at Abbaye-aux-Hommes, Caen

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