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William I of England
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William I of England William I (c. 1027 or 1028 – 9 September 1087), better known as William the Conqueror, was the King of England from Christmas, 1066 to his death. He was also William II, Duke of Normandy, from 3 July 1035 to his death. Before his conquest of England, he was known as "William the Bastard" (French: Guillaume le Bâtard) because of the illegitimacy of his birth. William was already known as "the Conqueror" prior to 1066 due to his military successes in Brittany. To press his claim to the English crown, William invaded England in 1066, leading an army of Normans, Bretons, Dutchmen, and Frenchmen to victory over the English forces of King Harold Godwinson (who died in the conflict) at the Battle of Hastings, and suppressed subsequent English revolts in what has become known as the Norman Conquest.
His reign, which brought Norman-French culture to England, had an impact on the subsequent course of England in the Middle Ages. The details of that impact and the extent of the changes have been debated by scholars for over a century. In addition to the obvious change of ruler, his reign also saw a programme of building and fortification, changes to the English language, a shift in the upper levels of society and the church, and adoption of some aspects of continental church reform.
The Battle of Hastings lasted all day. Although the numbers on each side were about equal, William had both cavalry and infantry, including many archers, while Harold had only foot soldiers and few if any archers. Along the ridge's border, formed as a wall of shields, the English soldiers at first stood so effectively that William's army was thrown back with heavy casualties. William rallied his troops reportedly raising his helmet, as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, to quell rumors of his death. Meanwhile, many of the English had pursued the fleeing Normans on foot, allowing the Norman cavalry to attack them repeatedly from the rear as his infantry pretended to retreat further. Norman arrows also took their toll, progressively weakening the English wall of shields. At dusk, the English army made their last stand. A final Norman cavalry attack decided the battle irrevocably when it resulted in the death of Harold who, legend says, was killed by an arrow in the eye. Two of his brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine Godwinson, were killed as well. By nightfall, the Norman victory was complete and the remaining English soldiers fled in fear.
Battles of the time rarely lasted more than two hours before the weaker side capitulated; that Hastings lasted nine hours indicates the determination of William and Harold. Battles also ended at sundown regardless of who was winning. Harold was killed shortly before sunset and, as he would have received fresh reinforcements before the battle recommenced in the morning, he was assured of victory had he survived William's final cavalry attack. Thus, William's next target was London, inspiring fear in the English. As William I, he was formally crowned on Christmas day 1066, in Westminster Abbey. According to some sources, the ceremony was not a peaceful one. Although the south of England submitted quickly to Norman rule, resistance in the north continued for six more years until 1072. During the first two years, King William I suffered many revolts throughout England and Wales. In 1072, he invaded Scotland, defeating Malcolm, who had recently invaded the north of England. English coin of William the Conqueror (1066–1087)
William initiated many major changes. He increased the function of the traditional English shires (autonomous administrative regions), which he brought under central control; he decreased the power of the earls by restricting them to one shire apiece. All administrative functions of his government remained fixed at specific English towns, except the court itself; they would progressively strengthen, and the English institutions became amongst the most sophisticated in Europe. In 1085, in order to ascertain the extent of his new dominions and to improve taxation, William commissioned all his counselors for the compilation of the Domesday Book, which was published in 1086. The book was a survey of England's productive capacity similar to a modern census. [The signatures of William I and Matilda are the first two large crosses on the Accord of Winchester from 1072.]
William also ordered many castles, keeps, and mottes, among them the Tower of London's foundation (the White Tower), to be built throughout England. These ensured effectively that the many rebellions by the English people or his own followers did not succeed. His conquest also led to French (especially, but not only, the Norman French) replacing English as the language of the ruling classes for nearly 300 years. Furthermore, the original Anglo-Saxon culture of England became mingled with the Norman one; thus the Anglo-Norman culture came into being. William is said to have eliminated the native aristocracy in as little as four years. Systematically, he despoiled those English aristocrats who opposed the Normans. Many English aristocrats fled to Flanders and Scotland; others may have been sold into slavery overseas. However, to the new Norman noblemen, William handed the English land widely. Effectively, this strengthened William's political stand as a monarch.
In 1087 in France, William fell off his horse, suffering fatal abdominal injuries from the saddle pommel. On his deathbed, William divided his succession for his sons. William Rufus (his third son) was next English king, as William II. William's youngest son Henry received 5,000 silver pounds, which would be earmarked to buy land. He also became King Henry I of England after William II died without issue. William died at age 59 in France, on 9 September 1087. William was buried in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, which he had erected, in Caen, Normandy. The grave was defiled twice, once during the French Wars of Religion, when his bones were scattered across the town of Caen, and again during the French Revolution. Following those events, only William's left femur, some skin particles and bone dust remain in the tomb.