William's cunning against Henry I, King of France

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The Norman principality had become increasingly powerful. The King of France could no longer conceal his concern and decided to capture Normandy. In the spring of 1057, he came to support the Count of Anjou during a conflict with William over Maine. King Henry I advanced into the heart of Normandy and ransacked the land. After Caen, he returned eastwards alongside the Dives estuary. William was lying in wait in Falaise, having marched behind the French pillagers. Taking advantage of the rising tide, he took them by surprise at the Varaville bridge and, with help from peasants from Bavent, inflicted a humiliating defeat on King Henry. Upon the king’s death in 1060, William, Duke of Normandy, was free from any further threat of invasion. He had become invincible.

The Battle of Varaville

Although the King of France, Henry I, offered support to William in 1047 during the Battle of Val ès Dunes, he decided to league against him ten years later. Given his allegiances and his marriage with Matilda of Flanders, the Duke of Normandy had become far too powerful for King Henry’s taste.
He therefore decided to attack Normandy.
However, William did not confront the King of France. Instead, he simply asked for his castles to be reinforced, putting up no opposition to the destruction of Normandy’s villages by Henry I.
Rather than pursuing the king, William decided to devise a solid strategy.
He patiently waited for the French army, laden with spoils, to slow down.
He lay in wait with his men in the Bavent woods, keeping watch over his enemies as they progressed along the few miles of the narrow Varaville roadway.
He then attacked the army from the rear and the flank. The French troops had no choice but to thrust forward into the marshes to the north and the east. The tide was rising and most of the soldiers, who could not swim, were drowned.
King Henry I, who had remained to the rear, watched the sad scene before retreating, powerless. Before such defeat, Henry I, who was at his third attempt of reducing the Duke of Normandy’s power, abandoned any such further action.
The Duchy of Normandy subsequently escaped any control by the King of France, until Henry’s death.
William’s resounding victory and newfound peace were undoubtedly decisive in later years. William the Bastard had realised that he could dominate his enemies. A successful experience, without which William may well never have found the strength and the courage to conquer England.


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