9th of september 1087
A letter beyond the grave…
Four years have gone by since my beloved Matilda passed away and, today, we are reunited in heaven. She is laid to rest in the Holy Trinity Abbey, whereas my own grave is in Saint Stephen’s Abbey. I had ordered for these two edifices to be built in the town of Caen, to obtain the Pope’s pardon for our forbidden marriage. Personally, I would have preferred a more glorious death. It was finally accidental injury that was to cause my demise, on my return from a battle with Philip I. But, what does it matter, the time had come for me to hand things over and no longer endure the madness of men and the jealousy of the powerful. As was my entire life, even my death was eventful. Even the repatriation of my body to Caen was twice disturbed. Since, I have been laid to rest in this same abbey, in the hope that my story will continue to fascinate, even today. After all, am I not the last man in history to have successfully invaded England?
Death – Men’s Abbey – Ladies Abbey- Pope Leo IX
‘Father, you have bestowed upon me the dukedom of Normandy and I promise to be worthy.’
Guillaume le Roux
‘Father, as I receive the crown of England, you may now rest in peace.’
14th of july 1077
Consecration of Bayeux Cathedral
I am moved today. During the consecration of the new cathedral in Bayeux, presided over by the Archbishop of Rouen, my half-brother Odo of Conteville, Bishop of Bayeux, displayed the Bayeux Tapestry, also referred to as the Telle du Conquest. Embroidered in England under his aegis, the tapestry pays homage to my greatness during the Battle of Hastings and my coronation in Westminster Abbey. Imagine a 69-metre long fresco dedicated to my glory! It is a magnificent work! May it withstand the test of time, continuously bearing witness to these years of conquest, to become one of the jewels of our legendary Norman heritage.
Cathedral – Bayeux Tapestry
Jean II d’Avranches, Archevêque de Rouen
‘My dear William, this embroidery will endure the centuries to sing your praises.’
Odon de Conteville
‘My dearest brother, even the grandest of tapestries could not narrate all of your great feats.’
25th of december 1066
Call me William, King of England !
According to Harold’s wishes, God had indeed exercised his judgement and, today, I am being crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey. However, the true conquest of England begins here and now and will only come to an end in 1070. I will, once more, have to face a tricky situation. My status as King of England cannot be contested, however it is far from pleasing Philip I, King of France. Both he and the Capetians believe that a simple vassal from Norman territory cannot be endowed with such power and they are already looking to wrangle with me. But it matters little… I have already had brushes with other, far more challenging enemies.
Pape Alexandre II
‘This throne is rightfully yours, dear William, England’s new King!’
‘I find your arrogance despicable, my dear King of England.’
14th of october 1066
Battle of Hastings, the great battle
And what a battle! What fighting spirit! I am obliged to admit that the English were indeed courageous, but, in the end, the crown was ours! Early in the morning, the Saxon army’s occupation of Senlac Hill offered them a defensive advantage, heralding a risky encounter. Their front lines formed an impenetrable wall of shields. The Bretons were the first to attack these elite housecarls, but nothing was to be done and our attack rapidly turned into a fiasco. It was at that precise moment that the English made a terrible mistake. Instead of maintaining their position, they decided to pursue the fleeing Bretons, hence abandoning and weakening the cohesion of their defensive wall. I then ordered my cavalry, still standing back, to make a lightning charge and got rid of the majority of the English troops on the battlefield. Then, countless repeated assaults, repelled by our Norman horsemen, finally exhausted the English troops. The time had come for our foot soldiers to attack the hill, covered by sustained fire by our archers. Ravaged on all fronts, the overwhelmed Saxons withdrew, leaving my rival Harold of Wessex dead, struck in the eye by an arrow. The battle only ended at nightfall following a last, desperate ambush attempt by the housecarls. It was the longest day in my entire existence, but we won the Battle of Hastings and I will soon be King of England.
‘Glory to William the Conqueror!’
Conquering the Crown of England
I am in England. Normandy has perhaps never known such a period of peace and prosperity; however, I am here to save my honour. My cousin, King Edward, had carried me shoulder-high by designating me as his successor before his death; however, Harold, the Count of Wessex, who had sworn that he would see his will honoured, has taken the crown himself. I am not surprised. Of course I am disappointed by this new act of treachery, but I have unfortunately come to learn that treachery is a custom among powerful men.
I have consequently gathered an army to come and conquer England. Since Harold was guilty of betrayal, I obtained the blessing of Pope Alexander II who, having excommunicated the traitor, ensured me of his support by offering me Saint Peter’s standard, together with a relic which I will wear round my neck until victory is ours.
In a little less than 6 months, a force of some 700 ships and 7,000 men including Normans, Bretons, Flemings, troops from Ile de France and even hitherto rebellious barons, has been reunited and prepared for sail in the late summer of the year 1066. I personally led this fleet onboard the Mora, my flagship offered by Matilda; however, we were delayed by violent winds that destroyed several of our vessels, costing the lives of many brave comrades-in-arms.
After reorganising our battle corps and repairing the damage sustained, we waited on the shores of Saint Valéry sur Somme for more favourable winds, finally to set foot on English soil on the morning of the 29th of September 1066.
As soon as we arrived, Harold’s emissaries ordered us to immediately leave the island. I was tempted to decapitate him, however, I offered to have this dispute settled via the competent legal authorities or, in order to save the lives of thousands of men, to challenge him in single combat. His only reaction was to decline my offer and to let God’s judgment prevail. ‘Here’s to the two of us, Sir Harold!’
Crown – England – Harold
‘I’ll be ready and waiting for you, William the bastard! You will not usurp this royal title!’
My battle at Varaville
Decidedly, I will know no respite until such times as all of my enemies have met with their fate…
Henry I, still angst-ridden by my power, has ordered for my dukedom of Normandy to be invaded. He and Geoffrey Martel have joined forces in Angers in the hope of intimidating me. I must admit that it was a cunning plan. Their thousands of men marching towards Caen made quite an impression compared to my own few hundred horsemen; but my will proved to be unshakable and my tactics invincible. To reach Caen, these scheming rascals had to cross the Dives marshlands, which are flooded at this time of year. So, while they made their way to the only possible route between Varaville and Périers, I was already waiting in ambush in the Bavent woods, with both my men and loyal peasants from the surrounding countryside. Before dawn broke on the 22nd of March, while they were already well on their way along that famous route, we had blocked the passageway in such a manner that their only remaining option was via the wooden bridge over the River Dives, which collapsed under the weight of their panicking forces, men, horses and carts all plummeting into the waters. May the entire nation of France now be duly warned that Normandy is invincible and that I shall massacre anyone who should dare attempt to do me wrong!
Caen – Dives-sur-Mer
Mathilde De Flandre
‘Every day, I have prayed for you my tender horseman… God himself has led you to Victory!’
‘Glory to William, our duke!’
« Aggghhhh…. »
A period of conspiracy
What greater insult than to be betrayed by one’s allies… That rascal Henry – my godfather! – he who had endowed me with the knight’s sword! – he has plotted against me! After my marriage with Matilda of Flanders, my increasingly powerful dukedom troubled him and he was anxious of having to share his power. He has taken sides with my uncle William of Talou, who in turn has pledged alliance to my worst enemy, Geoffrey Martel, the Count of Anjou and the rebel barons, in order to invade me! These rogues had planned to attack me from both the north and south frontiers of Normandy and to reunite their men in one, unique army in Rouen, to ensure their victory. But I took up the challenge and marched forth against the king. I simultaneously sent my faithful Gauthier to fight against the ruffians under Prince Eudes’ command. He ambushed them in Mortemer, drunken and stuffed with pillaged goods, then chopped them to pieces. I had the shameful news brought to Henry, who promptly and pitifully withdrew without a fight! Never shall I allow them to trample me underfoot! On William’s word of honour!
‘Be damned the bastard!’
Guillaume de Talou
‘You will pay for such insolence my nephew!’
My marriage with Matilda!
Matilda of Flanders and I are now married! Our union proved to be problematic, for Pope Leo IX was opposed to it due to our fifth degree of consanguinity. However, since our marriage was of vital importance for my dukedom, we finally took our vows. I hope that Matilda will be a loving wife and that she will offer me a fine lineage! I want at least 10 children! For the time being, my priority is to make amends with the Holy Father.
Matilda of Flanders
Le Pape Léon IX
‘But I had given the order to forbid your union! Your dukedom will now suffer God’s judgment!’
‘So much madness surrounds our union, but I am your wife and I will support you.’
My first victory in Val-ès-Dunes
20 years old. The age of audacity, and I am now ready to conquer the world! A few months past, those double-crossing barons tried to assassinate me at Valognes, in order to oust me from power and have me replaced by my cousin Guy of Brionne. Thankfully, their attempt was in vain and I was able to seek refuge in Falaise. Today, I have successfully conquered those rebels! All of those ‘old Normans’, traditionalistic and hostile to any reform, will hereafter abide by my rules! This battle at Val-ès-Dunes has been a genuine triumph! A victory that I share with my friend and protector, Henry I, King of France. He was the one who, according to feudal law, offered me assistance after the Valognes conspiracy, and the support of many men to help me overcome the rebels. I can now truly exult in my reign as Duke of Normandy…
Dukedom of Normandy – Conquest – Valognes – Henri I
‘William, I am your suzerain, and as such, I could not abandon you!’
Mathilde De Flandre
‘My lord, what noble presence! How you impress me!‘
You may call me Your Higness the Duke !
I am 8 years old and I am already Duke of Normandy. A daunting role for a boy of my age, yet, since my father had acknowledged me as his son, there is now no obstacle ahead of me despite a few barons who are already scorning my appointment.
I would liked to have known my father, Robert the Magnificent, better. He was a great warrior and I would have been proud to battle by his side. When he died, he was on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and I now know that he will guide me, with God’s help.
Robert the Magnificent
Robert the Magnificent
« My son, I bequeath my Dukedom to you! Be worthy of it and defy the barons’ jealousy! »
They call me William The Bastard
I hate that nickname and I dream that one day I will have a more glorious title! But what can I do? My father, Robert, Duke of Normandy, and my mother, Arlette, a tanner’s daughter from Falaise, form an illegitimate couple and many disapprove of their union. They say that my father was a brave, cultivated and generous man, and such qualities earned him the title of ‘Robert the Magnificent’ after his death and mine. As his only son and heir, I have been bequeathed with the immense honour of wearing the ducal crown. However, I do hope that my illegitimacy will not bring undue misfortune. Whilst awaiting my destiny, I am growing up in Falaise, the town where I was born.
Arlette – Falaise
‘My son, rest assured that even if you are treated as a bastard, your father and I were passionately in love!’