Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Final Days of William the Conqueror

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Until he was well into his thirties, he'd been known as William the Bastard, which would have motivated anyone to do something so audacious they'd at least get a better sobriquet out of the deal. So he conquered England and made history call the Bastard a King (instead of the current style, which usually gets it the other way round). Thereafter his subjects and especially would-be subjects knew and feared King William I as Guillaume le Conquérant - the one we call William the Conqueror...

He was a gruff man, muscularly built but not handsome, when he landed at Pevensey in October 1066 to claim his crown; 21 years later, he was gruffer, uglier, and now also grotesquely fat when, while laying seige to the French town of Mantes, he fell on the pommel of his saddle and was unhorsed. Having suffered a massive abdominal injury, His Majesty was taken to the convent at St. Gervais near Rouen, where he died on this day in 1087. He was succeeded by his decadent, sybaritic son, who was called William Rufus.

Though he'd exterminated England's 'native'* aristocracy in just four years, in doing so he also coalesced disparate tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and others into Britons, and left behind a staggering account of his plundered kingdom in the Domesday Book. While he wasn't the first to invade Britain he made sure he would be the last; of the many fortifications he built to this end, the Tower of London remains the finest.

He was buried in St. Stephen's Church in Caen until the French Revolution, at which time his tomb was opened and his bones were scattered; only his femur remains.

*Despite the current furore over asylum seekers, England has always been a popular target for the influx of peoples from all over; at the time of William's coronation on Christmas Day 1066 the so-called English were principally of Scandinavian stock, who themselves had displaced the island's 'native' Celts to Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall in the years after the withdrawal of the Romans in 410 CE.
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