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Sunday, 27 December 2015

The death of King William I, 1087



William the Conqueror, King William I of England, died on 9th September 1087 at the age of 59.

King William of England and Duke of Normandy

William had changed British history for ever by successfully invading the country and defeating King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066. He was thus the monarch of two countries, namely England and his own Dukedom of Normandy. Although he spent twenty years consolidating his power in England, he never forgot his other realm, which was why he was in Normandy at the time of his death.

In the summer of 1087 Normandy was coming under pressure from its neighbour, the Kingdom of France, so William reversed his famous invasion of 1066 by crossing the English Channel with an army to deal with the new threat.

William’s death

Battle was joined at Mantes, northwest of Paris, which the Normans besieged and then captured. However, during the siege William’s horse stumbled and William was thrown against the pommel of his saddle, causing a severe rupture. It was five weeks later, in his palace at Rouen, that William died from his injuries on 9th September.

Deciding on the succession

William therefore had plenty of time to reflect on his past life and to make decisions about how his realms should be governed in future. On the former point, William expressed regrets about how he had gone about his conquest of England and the cruelties that he had inflicted on the Anglo-Saxon population.

As to the succession, William had no wish to continue a dual Anglo-Norman kingdom. Instead he split his realms between two of his three surviving sons, Robert and William. It is noticeable that it was the elder son, Robert, who was given Normandy, with William to reign as King William II of England. William was in turn succeeded, in 1100, by the youngest son, Henry.

Another indication that William the Conqueror saw himself primarily as the Duke of Normandy is that he was buried there rather than being returned to England. He was laid to rest in the Abbaye aux Hommes at Caen. Unfortunately, William’s body was too big for the hole in the abbey floor that had been dug to receive it. As the monks pushed it in it burst, and the resulting stench pervaded the whole church. This was an unedifying end for the last foreign king to conquer the land of England.


© John Welford