11 Interesting William The Conqueror Facts You Won’t Learn In School
William I, also known under William the Conqueror and William of Normandy, was a Duke of Normandy from 1035 and king of England from 1066. William was born in 1028 in Falaise, Normandy (modern-day France), and died in 1087 in Rouen at the age of 59. William is known as one of the greatest soldiers and rulers of the Middle Ages. By conquering England, he changed the entire course of the country’s history.
William I was the first Norman King of England and his reign lasted from 1066 until he died in 1807. One of his other nicknames, William the Bastard, came from the fact that he was an illegitimate son of Duke Robert I of Normandy, and Herleve, a daughter of a tanner in Falaise. When his father died in 1035, William was recognized by his family as an heir, which was unheard of at the time.
William believed that he was entitled to the English throne. He claimed that Edward the Confessor promised him in 1051 the throne because he was a distant cousin. Next to that, he had the support of the Roman Emperor Henry VI, along with approval from Pope Alexander II.
William invaded England in September 1066, and three months later, he was crowned in Westminster Abbey. The rest of his life was filled with struggles to maintain his hold over England and other continental lands. (1) (2)
He was one of the most powerful monarchs of Western Europe in the Middle Ages and his actions shaped the history of both England and Normandy. You’ve probably learned a lot about him in school, but there are still many facts about William the Conqueror you never heard about.
Don’t worry about it, we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll go through some of the lesser-known facts about William I. Without any further ado, let’s find out more.
1. One of his nicknames was William the Bastard
William, I was an illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva, the daughter of a tanner. Even though his parents were in love, they never got married. Fast forward many years later. In 1066, when William’s army was about to defeat Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings.
At this moment, the Anglo-Saxons created an insulting nickname, William the Bastard, to show their resentment towards him. Even though William had many other bynames, the insulting nickname stayed with him until the end of his life. (3)
2. Tower of London is William’s legacy
Right after William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, he based himself in London. However, he was quite nervous that a wave of rebellion would start up after his victory. That’s why he began building a huge stone fortress to proclaim his power to Londoners. He wanted the castle to dominate the city’s skyline.
The tower was intentionally built to be a lot higher than the buildings around the tower. The idea was to keep control of the city and remind Londoners who’s in charge. It took more than 20 years to build the tower. William brought stonemasons from Normandy and the stone from Caen in France. (4)
3. William had a violent childhood
One of the facts about William the Conqueror that’s not mentioned as much is his violent childhood. William was surrounded by violence for the majority of his early years of life. Even though it’s not confirmed, many believe that his father, Robert, was responsible for the death of his eldest brother Richard, the previous Duke of Normandy.
Robert named William as his heir in 1034 and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As soon as he left Normandy, the barons started a huge conflict with each other over influencing the young William. Some even tried to murder him, but William managed to escape the murder attempt. (5)
4. His wife hated him when the couple met
William was married to Matilda of Flander, who was a granddaughter of France’s King Robert II. William wanted to marry her, and when he asked for her hand for the first time, she said no. According to a legend, the duke didn’t like her response and tackled Matilda in the street. He pulled her off her horse by her long braids.
Surprisingly enough, she eventually consented to marry William. Before William died in 1087, the couple had 10 children together. (6)
5. One-fourth of all English people are descendants of William the Conqueror
Every English monarch that ruled after William, including Queen Elizabeth II and her family, are direct descendants of William I. However, it’s not only the royals who share his genes. According to some genealogists, somewhere around 25% of all English people can trace themselves back to William. (7)
6. William didn’t tolerate any disrespect toward his mother’s family
In the late 1940s, William was sieging Alençon, a disputed town on the border of Normandy. The residents of the town weren’t too happy with this, and they decided to mock William.
The residents of Alençon hung animal hides on their walls, to mock him being the grandson of a tanner and an illegitimate son. To avenge his and his mother’s family honor, he ordered to have peoples’ feet and hands cut off. (8)
7. William was insecure about his weight
In his younger years, William was healthy and muscular. However, as he aged, he started to gain weight. On one occasion, King Philip of France made a joke and compared him to a pregnant woman who’s about to go into labor.
The conqueror who was very self-conscious wasn’t happy with these jokes and his size. He made his version of a diet, that consisted only of drinking wine and spirits for a period of time. Needless to say, the diet didn’t work. (9)
8. William is one of the most common given names in England – and it all started with William the Conqueror
The name William was introduced to England by William I himself. As he settled into his new role, the name quickly spread through the nation. By the 1300s, the name became one of the most popular names among English men. Even today, the name ranks among the top 10 names.
Having in mind that the 2nd heir to the British throne is also named William, it’s predicted that his future crowning as King William will increase the number of baby boys named after him. (10)
9. William’s body exploded at his funeral causing chaos
William died during a battle in 1087. His horse reared up and threw him against his saddle pommel. The hit was so forceful that William’s intestines ruptured. This caused a serious internal infection, and William died a couple of weeks later.
The coffin that was prepared for William turned out to be too small for his body. Nevertheless, the priests tried to stuff him inside and pushed his abdomen. This caused his stomach to burst. Those who were attending the funeral were horrified and ran to the door to escape the stench. (11)
10. William rebuilt every major church in England
When William I conquered England, the Anglo-Saxons weren’t famed for building in stone. The style which we call the “Romanesque” today was gaining in popularity on the entire continent. Before William’s conquest in 1066, the only Romanesque church in the country was Edward the Confessor’s new abbey in Westminster.
However, Normandy has embraced the new trend and built many churches during the reign of William the Conqueror. After the Conquest, William brought the architectural revolution to England and started rebuilding the Canterbury Cathedral in 1070. In the 11th century, England had 15 cathedrals in total. Out of these 15, nine were rebuilt by the time of William’s death, and the remaining six were rebuilt under the ruling of his son Henry I. (12)
11. William banned the slave trade in England
Before 1066, at least 10% of England’s population were slaves. At this time, slaves were treated as human assets and were sold, beaten, and even branded by their master’s will. To kill a slave was a sin – but not a crime.
After the Conquest, William banned the slave trade and freed slaves in some cases. By his death, the number of slaves dropped down by 25%. His son continued this practice and abolished the practice completely by the early 12th century.
In the 1130s, Lawrence of Durham wrote:
“After England had began to have Norman lords, the English no longer suffered from outsiders that which they had suffered at their own hands; in this respect they found foreigners treated them better than they had themselves.” (13)
William the Conqueror Facts
Those were some of the most popular facts about William the Conqueror. Now, we want to hear back from you! Which one of these facts is your favorite one? If you think we forgot to mention the ones you like the most, let us know in the comments below!
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out articles about other monarchs. If you enjoyed this one, you might also like the story about Henry VIII, or the story about the last Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II.