William I (the Conqueror)

William of Normandy, known as 'the Conqueror', was born at Falaise in 1027, a natural son of Robert, Duke of Normandy and a girl called Herleve. He invaded England and defeated King Harold II at the battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066 (the English army had defeated an invading Norwegian force in the north of England in late September and the exhausted army had to march immediately south to meet William's forces). His reign is remembered for the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086, recording names of all landowners and tenants in England, and for the building of many castles, notably the Tower of London.


In 1053 he married Matilda, daughter of the Count of Flanders, who was descended from Alfred the Great. Her separate coronation took place in 1068. She was buried at the Abbey she had founded at Caen in France. They had four sons and six daughters. Eldest son Robert was given the duchy of Normandy, Richard died in a hunting accident, William succeeded his father as king of England, and Henry succeeded his brother as Henry I of England. The daughters were Cecilia, Agatha, Adeliza, Adela, Constance and Matilda.


After victory at Hastings he marched to London, overcoming local resistance, and was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, according to the ancient English rite. Aldred, archbishop of York performed the ceremony in place of Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury. He presented the new king to the people, speaking in English with Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances speaking the words in French. When the French-speaking Normans and English-speaking Saxons then shouted their approval the Norman soldiers outside thought the noise inside was an assassination attempt and began setting fire to houses around the Abbey. Smoke filled the church and the congregation fled and riots broke out. Inside William and the officiating clergy completed the service despite the chaos.


He was flung from his horse during fighting in France and died at St Gervais priory outside Rouen on 8th or 9th September 1087. He as buried at St Stephen's church in Caen, which he had founded.

Further reading

Queens Consort of Westminster Abbey

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

William the Conqueror by David C. Douglas, 1966

The battlefield at Hastings is managed by English Heritage

The Domesday book is kept at The National Archives, Kew, Surrey

The Battle of Hastings - 1066 website


9th September 1087


25th December 1066

Black and white engraving of William I (The Conqueror) wearing a crown and holding a sword
William I

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

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