Who Was William the Conqueror Who Was William the Conqueror

Who Was William the Conqueror? Unveiling His Surprising Rise to Supremacy in 5 Points

Douglas William the Conqueror, often known as William the Bastard, was a key figure in history who left an indelible mark on both England and Normandy. His journey from illegitimacy to kingship makes for a compelling narrative, imbued with conquests, battles, and political maneuvering.

But who was William the Conqueror actually? In this blog post, we delve into the extraordinary life of William the Conqueror. We explore his early life, marked by struggles due to his illegitimate birth, and how he rose to power in Normandy after his father’s death.

We’ll examine his decision to invade England and the resulting Battle of Hastings, which sealed his fate as the King of England. We also look at how he managed to rule both England and Normandy using the feudal system, despite numerous challenges including rebellions and invasions.

The tomb of William the conqueror in the Abbey of Saint-Étienne
Source- Shutterstock


Who Was William the Conqueror?

As an illegitimate child, William faced numerous challenges, but he overcame them all to become one of the most powerful rulers of his time. He is most renowned for leading the Normans to victory over the Anglo-Saxon forces of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

This victory led to his ascension to the English throne. This decisive battle marked the beginning of Norman rule in England and drastically changed the course of English history.

The exploration of William’s journey is essential because it demonstrates how an individual can overcome societal barriers and personal hardships to rise to power. Moreover, understanding his reign provides valuable insight into the societal and political changes during the Middle Ages.

It’s a story of resilience, ambition, and strategic acumen that continues to resonate today.


1. His Early Life and Challenges

William the Conqueror, a formidable figure in history, was born around the year 1028 in Normandy, Northern France. His father, Robert I, held the prestigious title of Duke of Normandy.  His mother, Herleva, was a tanner’s daughter. Their relationship was not bound by marriage, resulting in William being branded as illegitimate from birth.

The circumstances surrounding William’s birth were far from ideal. Despite the high standing of his father, the status of his mother and their unwedded relationship cast a shadow over William. This status of illegitimacy, referred to by the harsh moniker “William the Bastard,” created a challenging environment for the young Norman noble.

With the death of his father in 1035, William inherited the Duchy of Normandy at the tender age of seven or eight. Stepping into his father’s shoes during such formative years was no easy task.

The early years of his reign were fraught with challenges, as his control of Normandy was hotly disputed by ambitious nobles and relatives.

These challenges served as the crucible in which the future king was forged. By facing these adversities head-on, William honed his skills as a leader and a warrior. It wasn’t until 1057, after a victory at the Battle of Varaville, that he finally secured his hold on Normandy.

In retrospect, William’s early life seems to be a testament to the adage that adversity breeds strength. His illegitimate birth could have been a stumbling block, but instead, it fueled his ambition and drive. He rose above the challenges, turned them into stepping stones, and set the stage for his incredible journey to kingship.


2. William’s Rise to Power in Normandy

Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Norman invasion of England
Source- Shutterstock

The ascension of William, Duke of Normandy, to the throne following his father’s death was an arduous and fraught journey. He had been nominated as heir by his father, Robert I of Normandy, before his departure on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Upon Robert’s death in 1035, William, although an illegitimate child, was accepted as duke by the Norman magnates and his overlord, King Henry I of France. However, the road ahead was far from smooth.

William’s Uphill Battle for Authority

Being recognized as a legitimate ruler was only the first step in William’s path to power. His illegitimate birth and youth made him vulnerable to challenges and threats, both internal and external.

From 1047 onwards, William faced rebellion inside Normandy involving his kinsmen and external threats from neighboring nobles. Among these threats were attempted invasions by his former ally, King Henry I of France, in 1054 and 1057.

The Battle of Mortemer

The Battle of Mortemer in 1054 marked a significant turning point in William’s journey to power. Faced with the daunting challenge of repelling an invasion by his former ally, King Henry I of France, William demonstrated his military prowess.

The French forces were defeated, marking a major victory for William and solidifying his authority in Normandy.

Navigating Challenges to His Rule

Despite the victory at Mortemer, the threats to William’s rule didn’t cease. He had to perpetually manage rebellion and threats from neighboring nobles. Still, he navigated these challenges with strategic shrewdness and resilience.

Over time, it became clear that William was not just a ruler by birthright. He was the one who could effectively maintain his rule despite significant opposition. His leadership skills were being honed, preparing him for a greater conquest that lay in his future: the invasion of England.

Thus, William’s rise to power in Normandy was a period of testing and growth. He successfully overcame the obstacles posed by his illegitimate birth and hostile nobles, demonstrating his strength and capability as a leader. His experiences during this time would shape him into the formidable ruler history remembers him as – William the Conqueror.


3. The Invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings

The journey of William, the Duke of Normandy, to the English throne was not a peaceful one. His claim to the English crown led to one of the most significant battles in British history – the Battle of Hastings.

It was more than just a quest for power; it was also a test of strategy, resilience, and leadership.

Reasons Behind William’s Decision to Invade England

William’s decision to invade England was driven by a perceived betrayal. He claimed that Harold Godwinson, who had been crowned King of England, had previously sworn an oath of loyalty to him and acknowledged his right to the throne.

When Harold seized the crown upon the death of Edward the Confessor, William saw this as a violation of their agreement. Further bolstering his resolve was the backing he received from Pope Alexander II, which gave a religious dimension to his cause.

As such, he assembled a formidable invasion fleet and an army from various regions in France, ready to assert his claim by force if necessary.

The Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings unfolded on October 14, 1066. William’s forces, composed of infantry, cavalry, and archers, faced off against King Harold’s predominantly infantry army. Despite the apparent disadvantage, Harold and his men put up a brave fight. However, strategic moves played a key role in the battle’s outcome.

William’s forces adopted a deceptive tactic of pretending to flee in panic, only to turn on their pursuers. This tactic wore down the English lines and contributed to William’s victory.

Furthermore, the death of King Harold, likely near the end of the battle, led to the retreat and defeat of most of his army.

The Aftermath of the Battle

The Battle of Hastings marked a turning point in English history. Its aftermath saw the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England. With Harold dead and his army defeated, William was unchallenged.

After further marching and some skirmishes, he was crowned King of England on Christmas Day in 1066.

William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings was not just about superior numbers or firepower. It was about effective leadership and strategic brilliance.

His ability to adapt to battlefield dynamics and exploit his opponent’s weaknesses played a crucial role in his triumph. And so, from the illegitimate son of a Duke, William became a Conqueror – a King.


4. Reigning England and Normandy

Upon conquering England in 1066, William the Conqueror faced the colossal task of ruling two distinct territories – England and Normandy.

The governance strategies he employed were instrumental in maintaining control over his vast domains. William found a reliable solution in the feudal system, a hierarchical structure where land was exchanged for service or labor.

 A plaque in village of Cowfold in West
Source- Shutterstock

Implementing the Feudal System

William’s adaptation of the feudal system was crucial in managing his dual responsibilities.

  • In exchange for land (known as a fief), the recipient (vassal) would pledge their allegiance to William.
  • They promise military service when required.
  • This system enabled him to retain a firm grip over both England and Normandy, delegating authority while ensuring loyalty.
  • He also developed the financial system with the Domesday Book, forever altering societal structures.

It is noteworthy that this move also led to the displacement of much of the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility, further consolidating his power.

Challenges During His Reign

No reign is without its trials, and William’s rule was no exception. Despite the stability offered by the feudal system, he faced various uprisings and invasions during his time on the throne.

  • The Welsh and Scottish borders proved particularly troublesome, leading to several military campaigns.
  • Moreover, his vast territory in Normandy attracted the covetous eyes of neighboring nobles, igniting numerous conflicts.
  • In addition to external threats, internal strife also posed challenges.
  • Dissent among the nobles and discontent among the common people occasionally flared into open rebellion.

Yet, through a combination of martial prowess, strategic alliances, and effective governance, William managed to quell these disturbances and maintain the stability of his realm.

Religious Influence

William’s reign was not solely defined by conflict and governance.

  • He displayed great piety, according to the standards of his time, and took a keen interest in the welfare of the Norman church.
  • He made significant donations to strengthen the church’s position in Normandy.
  • He presided over numerous church councils and passed important legislation against simony (the selling of church offices) and clerical marriage.
  • His work had a lasting impact on the church, helping to shape its development for centuries to come.

In the end, William the Conqueror’s reign over England and Normandy was marked by strategic governance, fierce battles, and influential religious reforms.

These facets of his rule offer a comprehensive picture of his ability to navigate the turbulent waters of medieval politics, showcasing his aptitude as a leader.


5. Legacy of William the Conqueror

The legacy of William the Conqueror is one of tremendous influence on the culture, language, and power structures of both England and Normandy.

His rule altered the trajectory of these regions. And his journey from a child of illegitimate birth to a powerful king left an indelible mark on societal norms and perceptions.

Seal of William the Conqueror
By Morphart from Unlimphotos

Long-Term Impact of William’s Reign on England and Normandy

William’s reign had profound long-term effects in both England and Normandy.

As the first Norman ruler of England, he introduced Norman customs and language, effectively reshaping English culture. The French language became a significant part of English society, leaving a lasting impact on the English language itself.

Moreover, William significantly reduced the power of English noblemen by consolidating the authority of the monarch. He displaced much of the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon nobility, establishing a new power hierarchy that would endure for centuries.

Also, he established spiritual courts to deal with ecclesiastical matters and moved some bishops’ sees to urban centers. He demonstrated his strategic thinking in managing power dynamics.

Changing Societal Perceptions and Norms

William’s ascension from illegitimate birth to kingship was a remarkable journey. It challenged societal norms and perceptions of the time.

Despite being the son of Duke Robert I of Normandy and Herleve, a tanner’s daughter, and hence considered illegitimate, William’s rise to power was a testament to his tenacity and strategic acumen.

This remarkable journey made him a symbol of possibility, challenging societal norms around legitimacy and power. It showcased that one’s birth circumstances do not dictate their potential or their destiny.

William’s story continues to inspire generations, reminding us that determination, strategy, and courage can overcome even the most challenging societal barriers. His legacy goes beyond the shifts in power and culture he brought. It lies in the narrative of his life, a story of defying odds and rewriting one’s destiny.



Have a look at some of the FAQs to clear your doubts if any:

Who was William the Conqueror?

William the Conqueror, also known as William I, was the first Norman King of England who ruled from 1066 until his death in 1087.

Why is William the Conqueror’s rise to supremacy surprising?

William’s rise to supremacy is surprising because he was born as the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and faced many challenges and power struggles before ascending to the throne.

What events led to William the Conqueror’s rise to power?

William’s rise to power was driven by his victory in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where he defeated King Harold II of England and claimed the English throne.

Was William the Conqueror a popular ruler among the English people?

Earlier, William faced resistance and rebellions from the English people due to his harsh policies and taxation. But, over time, he managed to merge his rule and gain more support.

How did William the Conqueror’s reign end?

William died on September 9, 1087, from injuries sustained during a battle in France. His son, William II succeeded him,



So, who was William the Conqueror?  In this exploration of William the Conqueror’s life, we’ve traversed the complex and captivating journey of a man who, despite being branded as illegitimate at birth, rose to become one of the most powerful rulers of his time.

We’ve delved into his early life marked by trials and tribulations and witnessed his ascension to power in Normandy. We’ve relived the momentous Battle of Hastings and seen how William skilfully managed to rule over both England and Normandy.

William was not just a conqueror; he was a transformative figure whose reign significantly impacted the course of history. His victory in the Battle of Hastings set in motion events that would shape Medieval England.

But perhaps the most compelling aspect of William’s legacy is how his journey challenged the societal norms of his time.

As we conclude this journey into the life and legacy of William the Conqueror, I implore you to reflect on the lessons embedded within his story. His resilience in the face of adversity, his strategic thinking and leadership skills, and his determination to rise above societal expectations are all aspects we can draw inspiration from.

Remember, every individual has the potential to leave a lasting impact, irrespective of their background or circumstances. Let William’s extraordinary journey from illegitimacy to kingship inspire us to conquer our own battles and carve out our unique paths in life.

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