William of Normandy: A Disputed Crown

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Let us return now to William of Normandy. He was the Duke of Normandy, a province of great import and military strength at that time. In fact, many would say that Norman was as powerful as any other country, let alone any other province of France.

William wasn’t totally of the royal bloodline, having been born of a union between the Duke of Normandy and Herleva of Falasia. In fact, young William lived with his mother until his father died, in 1035, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. William was 6. A council of nobles was appointed to rule as guardians until such time as William came of age. It is significant to note at this time that none of the nobles attempted to kill the young heir to the throne. They did have a field day trying to kill each other, however, and a teen-aged William finally put things to right in 1047, with the handy help of forces and influence from Henry I, the King of France.

William returned the favor by alienating himself from Henry, over a period of nearly 20 years. In fact, by 1066, William’s Normandy could be said to have been more powerful than Henry’s all of France. Henry very much left William alone, and William was content to be left alone, building his power and brooding.

It will be remembered that William thought he had in his learned memory a promise made by Edward the Confessor that William would succeed Edward as King of England. Edward, so the story goes, had come to Normandy to seek influence against Godwin and Son; William is said to have thought that in 1051, Edward offered him the crown in return for support against the Godwins. Once Edward and the Godwins had made up, however, William heard no more of this “promise”; whether the promise was actually given is a question that can be answered only by the two men who had the conversation.

William further claimed that Harold, the new king, had sworn allegiance to him in 1064, before Harold had ascended the throne. Regardless, William had it in his head that he was being denied something that he had been promised. That that something was the throne of England was all the more incentive to make good on it.

So when Harold was declared king, William felt betrayed and aggrieved. He also saw an opportunity. He marshaled his forces and made to invade. Oddly enough, he didn’t hide his intentions or his actions. All across Normandy and England, the cry went up that the Normans were coming. It took a few months, for the Normans to come, but come they did, with (for the Saxons) devastating effect and consequences.