Up Close & Personal: William, Duke of Normandy

williamiOne of the stars of this year’s Sarasota Medieval Fair will be William, Duke of Normandy, future King of England thanks to his invasion and victory at Hastings – the very setting for our  Human Combat Chess match.  So who is this French upstart?

William was born during either 1027 or 1028 in Falaise, Normandy (in what is now Northern France).  He was the illegitimate and only son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, who named him as his heir. He had two half-brothers, Odo and Robert, and a half-sister, Adelaide. He was, most importantly, the grandnephew of Queen Emma of Normandy who had a blood tie to the throne of England.

By his father’s will, William succeeded him as Duke of Normandy at age seven in 1035 and was known as Duke William of Normandy. Plots by rival Norman noblemen to usurp his place cost William three guardians; however, he was supported by King Henry I of France who knighted William at age 15. By the time William turned 19 he was successfully dealing with threats of rebellion and invasion. With the assistance of Henry, William finally secured control of Normandy by defeating rebel Norman barons at Caen in the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes in 1047, obtaining the Truce of God, which was backed by the Roman Catholic Church.

William married Matilda of Flanders in 1053. Feeling threatened by the increase in Norman power resulting from William’s noble marriage, Henry I attempted to invade Normandy twice (1054 and 1057), without success. Already a charismatic leader, William attracted strong support within Normandy, including the loyalty of his half-brothers.

Upon the death of the childless Edward the Confessor, the English throne was fiercely disputed by three claimants—William, Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex, and the Viking King Harald III of Norway, known as Harald Hardraada. William not only had a tenuous blood claim through his great aunt, but he also contended that Edward, who had spent much of his life in exile in Normandy, had promised him the throne. In January 1066, however, in accordance with Edward’s last will, Harold Godwinson was crowned King.

Meanwhile, William submitted his claim to the English throne to Pope Alexander II, who sent him a consecrated banner in support. Then, William organized a council of war at Lillebonne and openly began assembling an army in Normandy. Offering promises of English lands and titles, he amassed an invasion force of 600 ships and 7,000 men. In England, Harold assembled a large army on the south coast and a fleet of ships to guard the English Channel.

Fortunately for William, his crossing was delayed by weeks of unfavourable winds. William managed to keep his army together during the wait, but Harold’s was being chipped away by dwindling supplies and falling morale. Then came the news that the other contender for the throne, Harald III of Norway had landed ten miles from York; Harold was forced to march against them.

Before Harold could return south, the wind direction turned and William crossed, landing his army at Pevensey Bay (Sussex) on 28 September. With Harold fighting to the north, William had time to organize his troops in Hastings and even erect a prefabricated wooden castle for a base of operations.

Harold, after defeating Harald Hardrada in the north, marched his army 241 miles to meet the invading William in the south. On 13 October, William received news of Harold’s march from London. At dawn the next day, William left the castle with his army and advanced towards the enemy.

To find out what happened next, join us at the Sarasota Fairgrounds on November 14, 15, 21, & 22 for a human combat chess reenactment of the battle.  Meet William and a host of other characters and have the time of your life.  For tickets or more information: www.sarasotamedievalfair.com

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. wow
    helpful to me
    very interesting as well

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