Revised 04/12/2019



[NORK339] William the bastard and the Conqueror (born at Falaise Castle, 1028, illegitimate son of [NORM321] DUKE ROBERT I & Herleva) succeeded his father as DUKE WILLIAM II OF NORMANDY (22nd July 1035, see NORMANDY DUKEDOM). He married (at Eu, c.1051) [FLAN342] Matilda (born 1031, daughter of March Count Baldwin V, see FLANDERS COUNTY). He became Count of Maine (1063) by right of conquest.

It has been said that King Edward the Confessor promised Duke William the succession to the throne of England. King Edward had no children of his own, his mother was a Norman and he had surrounded himself with his Norman friends. Edward detested his father-in-law, Earl Godwine, who had ambitions of his own in the directions of the succession, and a Norman heir seemed to be the best solution. Godwine's family had been exiled (1051), and about this time DUKE WILLIAM came across the Channel to visit Edward, who conducted him to some of his cities and royal castles. It was afterwards said that during this visit Edward promised DUKE WILLIAM the succession to the throne of England, though William's own secretary, Ingulf, denied any such mention was made of the succession.

The Norman chroniclers naturally gave a different version. They said that during 1051 King Edward despatched his newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome, to have his promotion confirmed by the Pope. En route he was instructed to visit DUKE WILLIAM at Rouen, where he is said to have informed him that Edward intended to make him his heir. The Norman chronicles may have been retrospective propaganda.

In 1064, for some unrecorded reason, Harold son of Godwine made an enforced landing on the shores of Normandy, where he was captured by Guy of Ponthieu, who then handed him over to DUKE WILLIAM. For a while William entertained Harold, even taking him on a campaign into Brittany, offering him his daughter's hand in marriage, and making a Norman match for Harold's sister. Subsequently, Harold did swear some sort of oath to William. But whilst the Anglo-Saxon writers said it was nothing more than to be William's man in Normandy, the Norman chroniclers insisted Harold had taken a solemn vow to defend and advance William's right to the throne of England.

Following the death of King Edward the Confessor, William was enraged when he heard the news that Harold son of Godwine had succeeded to the throne of England. On 27th September 1066 William set sail from Saint-Valerie, at the mouth of the River Somme, in the "Mora", a ship provided by his wife Matilda, and accompanied by the rest of his fleet. They landed in due course near Pevensey, only two ships having been lost en route. Lost on one of the boats was the official clairvoyant. William's response to the news was "Not much of a soothsayer. Couldn't foretell his own end." The army moved through the Sussex countryside, and settled in near Hastings. The inevitable battle took place on 14th October 1066, on a ridge at nearby Senlac [=lake of blood], and King Harold's side lost.

William claimed the crown of England by right of inheritance (perhaps dubious) and by right of conquest (clear). He acceded to the throne of England as King William I, and was crowned on the same day in Westminster Abbey (25th December 1066).

Close to Pevensey Castle in the present-day parish of Westham stands the Church of St. Mary, built c.1080 making it one of the earliest Norman churches in England (second perhaps to Bramber Church, built c.1075, see ABERGAVENNY (BRIOUZE) BARONY). The church has been much rebuilt but the original south wall of the nave remains, with its original slit windows.

  Westham Church
with original south wall
(3 October 2011)

Matilda died at Caen (2nd November 1083).

In 1087 William torched the town of Mantes (capital of the Vexin, on the Normandy - France border), following yet another border dispute, but in this case it was to be his last act. Riding through the smouldering ruins, something hot (perhaps a piece of beam) fell away from a roof in front of his horse, making it buck and throw William violently against the high pommel at the front of the saddle. This appears to have punctured an internal organ, and William fell, bleeding internally. He was taken to the Priory of St. Gervais near Rouen, where he died in the early hours of the morning of 9th September 1087. He was buried at the Abbey of St. Etienne, Caen.

William was succeeded in England by his son William II, and in Normandy by his son Robert.

In the Domesday Survey (1086) Queen Matilda is mentioned as having held land as tenant-in-chief of the King at Hambleden and Marlow (Bucks.), and as sub-tenant to Count Eustace II of Boulogne at Compton Durville (Somerset).

William's illegitimate children included:

 [PEVE351] William (born c.1048, son of DUKE WILLIAM & his concubine [INGE342] Ingelrica Maud) was later known as William Peverel, see PEVEREL for further details).

William's legitimate children included:

[NORK349] Cecilia (born c.1056, daughter of DUKE WILLIAM & Matilda of Flanders), married [LANG321] Ralph de Langetot I (see LANGETOT). This appears to be a fabricated marriage as Cecilia entered an abbey when she was 11 years old.

[NORK347] Adelaide (born in Normandy, c.1062, daughter of DUKE WILLIAM & Matilda) married (at Chartres, c.1081) [BLOI341] Etienne-Henri de Blois (see CHAMPAGNE COUNTY).

[NORK349] Henry beau-clerk [=fine scholar] (born at Selby, September 1068, youngest son of William) became Lord of Domfront (1092), Count of Coutances and Bayeux (1096), succeeded his brother (King William II) as King Henry I (3rd August 1100), and was crowned at Westminster Abbey (5th/6th August 1100). Shortly afterwards he married 1. (at Westminster Abbey, 11th November 1100) [CANM433] Matilda (formerly Edith, born at Dunfermline, 1079, daughter of King Malcolm III, see KINGS OF SCOTLAND); though he also had several mistresses, including [CORX349] Sybil (daughter of Burgess Robert Corbet, see CAUS (CORBET) FEUDAL BARONY). Sybil afterwards married [HERZ451] Herbert FitzHerbert, see HERBERT). Another mistress was [RHYS369] Nest (ferch Lord Rhys) who married [WINX341] Gerald FitzWalter (see WINDSOR). Henry's marriage to Matilda was delayed until an ecclesiastical council at Lambeth had accepted her denial of the rumour that she was in fact a nun.

Henry usurped the Duchy of Normandy (28th September 1106), after defeating his brother Robert Curthose (its lawful duke) at the Battle of Tinchebrai (28th September 1106), who was then imprisoned first in England then Wales for the remainder of his life.

Henry's only legitimate son, William, was drowned in an accident. This was the celebrated maritime disaster in English history, involving the loss of the "White Ship", which sank on the night of 25th November 1120, after sailing from Barfleur on the crossing between Normandy and England. It included among its passengers William atheling, son and heir of Henry I, and most of the English royal household. This in time led to a succession crisis which destabilised the reigning Norman dynasty.

The destruction of the "White Ship" was historically and politically significant, in that it left Henry I without any obvious heir, and his wife (Matilda) had died 1118. Henry took a second wife (1121), 2. Adelaide, daughter of [LOUV359] DUKE GODFREY I (see LOUVAIN). She was age eighteen, but the soured temper of Henry made her wedded life far from agreeable, and the marriage yielded no offspring; he therefore sought to secure the throne for his daughter Matilda, also known as Maud, the widow of the EMPEROR HEINRICH V of Germany (who died 1125). The barons, however, intensively disliked the proposition, for the government of a female was new in the annals of England and Normandy. But when Henry had secured the acquiescence of the more powerful nobles (by means of bribes), he obtained the consent of the council to his succession scheme, in the event of his dying without male issue.

All parties swore to maintain this arrangement: King David I of Scotland first, then Stephen, the king's nephew (later King Stephen); Robert of Gloucester, his natural son (1st Earl of Gloucester); and the other peers in order. This was in 1126; and on two subsequent occasions the barons renewed the oath of fealty to the heiress apparent.

Henry died at Saint-Denis-le-Fermont after he had been out hunting in Lyons-la Foret (Lyons Forest, 18 miles east of Rouen). He had eaten the flesh of lampreys, contrary to his doctor's advice as they always made him ill, and these brought on an extreme convulsion, and eventual death (December 1135). The body was taken to Caen, and lay for some time in the church where his father had been buried. Later, the remains were taken to England and buried at Reading Abbey (January 1136). The stability of the Norman dynasty was under threat, and Henry's untimely death resulted in the disputed succession crisis, and period of anarchy followed; and Stephen usurped the throne of England.

At the end of the reign of Henry's reign there were only eight Earldoms: Buckingham, Chester, Gloucester, Huntingdon, Leicester, Northampton, Surrey and Warwick. There had been others, now vacant, such as Arundel, Salisbury (or Wiltshire) and Shropshire. Now Stephen, to bolster his position, created nine further Earldoms: Arundel (or Sussex), Bedford, Derby, Essex, Hertford, Lincoln, Norfolk, Pembroke and York.

Meanwhile Henry's widow, his second wife Adelaide, married (1138) [ARUN361] William d'Albini, the king's cup-bearer, carrying to him the title of Earl, with the castle at Arundel (see ARUNDEL (AUBIGNY) EARLDOM). Then EMPRESS MATILDA, widow of EMPEROR HEINRICH V, invaded England (1139), to contest her right to the English throne, and met Adelaide at Arundel castle. Matilda was crowned Queen of England (1141), and to bolster her position, she created six Earldoms around 1141-42, mostly in the West Country, where her support was stronger: Cornwall, Devon, Hereford, Oxford, Salisbury (or Wiltshire) and Somerset. However, Matilda's cause gradually weakened and she was defeated by King Stephen at the Battle of Faringdon (1145). She returned to France (1148), though her son Henry eventually succeeded King Stephen as the first Plantagenet King. Finally, Adelaide, with the consent of her husband, retired to a convent in Flanders where she resided until her death (1151).

The legitimate children of Henry included:

[NORK52] Adelaide, though she adopted the name Matilda after her 1st marriage, (born 1102, legitimate daughter of Henry & Edith) married 1. (at Mainz, 7th January 1114) EMPEROR HEINRICH V (died 1125); then 2. (at le Mans, June 1128) [PLAN361] DUKE GEOFFREY V D'ANJOU (see PLANTAGENET KINGS).

Illegitimate children of Henry by Sibylla (daughter of Sir Robert Corbet of Alcester), afterwards wife of Herbert FitzHerbert} included:

[GLOU441] Robert FitzRoy of Caen (born 1090, son of Henry & Sibylla Corbet, see CORBET) became 1st Earl of Gloucester (see GLOUCESTER (FITZROY) EARLDOM).

[CORW351] Renaud (son of Henry & Sybilla) became 1st Earl of Cornwall (see CORNWALL (FITZROY) EARLDOM).

Illegitimate children of Henry by Nest included:

 [NORH351] Henry FitzHenry (born c.1103, son of [NORK349] King Henry I & Nest). He was killed during King Henry II's invasion of Anglesey (1157).

 [NORH362] Amabilis (daughter of Henry FitzHenry) married [RIDD341] Lord Walter (see RIDDLESFORD)

Other illegitimate children of Henry included:

[NORK353] Maud (illegitimate daughter of Henry by an unknown mistress) married [CORN381] Count Conan III (see BRITTANY (CORNOUAILLE) COUNTY).

[NORK354] Joan (or Elizabeth) (illegitimate daughter of Henry by an unknown mistress) married [GALL361] Lord Fergus (see GALLOWAY).

[NORK355] Constance (illegitimate daughter of Henry by an unknown mistress) married [BEAU391] Vicomte Roscelin (see BEAUMONT-AU-MAINE).


[STEP351] Stephen (born c.1096, 3rd son of [BLOI341] Etienne-Henri, see CHAMPAGNE COUNTY), Count of Mortain, married (before 1125) [BOUL352] Matilda (born c.1104, daughter of Count Eustace III, see BOULOGNE COUNTY). Matilda became Countess of Boulogne on her father's death (1125), and Stephen thereby becoming Count of Boulogne. He usurped the throne of England to become King Stephen (December 1135). Matilda was crowned Queen Consort (March 1136). After a period of misrule he was deposed (April 1141) and imprisoned, but restored to the throne (November 1141). Matilda died at Hedingham Castle, Essex, (May 1151), and Stephen died in a monastery at Dover, Kent, (October 1154).

[STEP362] Marie (born c.1136, daughter of King Stephen of England). She became a novice at Lillechurch Priory, Kent, then became a nun at Romsey Abbey, then became abbess there (after 1155).

  Romsey Abbey
(26 March 2017) 

She also became Countess of Boulogne after the death of her brother William (1159), which made her a target for suitors looking for a title. She was abducted from her convent (1160) by [ALSA381] Count Mathieu I of Flanders, who then married her (see ALSACE COUNTY). This marriage was annulled (1169) and she entered St. Austrebert Monastery, near Montreuil, France, where she died 1182.