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William the Conqueror

King from 1066-1087

On the death of Edward the Confessor the throne of England was

claimed by William, Duke of Normandy.

When Edward took refuge in Normandy after the Danes conquered

England, he stayed at the palace of William. He was very kindly

treated there, and William said that Edward had promised in gratitude

that William should succeed him as king of England.

> One day in the year 1066 when William was hunting with a party of

his courtiers in the woods near Rouen, a noble came riding rapidly

toward him shouting, "Your Highness, a messenger has just arrived

from England, bearing the news that King Edward is dead and that

Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, has been placed on the English


William at once called his nobles together and said to them, "I

must have your consent that I enforce my claim to England's throne

by arms."

The barons gave their consent. So an army of sixty thousand men

was collected and a large fleet of ships was built to carry this

force across the channel.

During the months of preparation William sent an embassy to

the English court to demand of Harold that he give up the throne.

Harold refused.

Soon all England was startled by the news that William had landed

on the English coast at the port of Hastings with a large force.

Harold immediately marched as quickly as possible from the north to

the southern coast. In a week or so he arrived at a place called

Senlac nine miles from Hastings, in the neighborhood of which town

the Norman army was encamped. He took his position on a low range

of hills and awaited the attack of William. His men were tired

with their march, but he encouraged them and bade them prepare for


On the morning of October 14, 1066, the two armies met. The

Norman foot-soldiers opened the battle by charging on the English

stockades. They ran over the plain to the low hills, singing a

war-song at the top of their voices; but they could not carry the

stockades although they tried again and again. They therefore

attacked another part of the English forces.

William, clad in complete armor, was in the very front of the

fight, urging on his troops. At one time a cry arose in his army

that he was slain and a panic began. William drew off his helmet

and rode along the lines, shouting, "I live! I live! Fight on!

We shall conquer yet!"

The battle raged from morning till night. Harold himself fought

on foot at the head of his army and behaved most valiantly. His

men, tired as they were from their forced march, bravely struggled

on hour after hour.

But at last William turned their lines and threw them into confusion.

As the sun went down Harold was killed and his men gave up the


From Hastings William marched toward London. On the way he

received the surrender of some towns and burned others that would

not surrender. London submitted and some of the nobles and citizens

came forth and offered the English crown to the Norman duke. On

the 25th of December, 1066, the "Conqueror," as he is always

called, was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Ealdred.

Both English and Norman people were present. When the question was

asked by the Archbishop, "Will you have William, Duke of Normandy,

for your king?" all present answered, "We will."

At first William ruled England with moderation. The laws and

customs were not changed, and in a few months after the battle of

Hastings the kingdom was so peaceful that William left it in charge

of his brother and went to Normandy for a visit.

While he was gone many of the English nobles rebelled against him,

and on his return he made very severe laws and did some very harsh

things. He laid waste an extensive territory, destroying all the

houses upon it and causing thousands of persons to die from lack of

food and shelter, because the people there had not sworn allegiance

to him.

He made a law that all lights should be put out and fires covered

with ashes at eight o'clock every evening, so that the people would

have to go to bed then. A bell was rung in all cities and towns

throughout England to warn the people of the hour. The bell was

called the "curfew," from the French words "couvre feu," meaning

"to cover fire."

To find out about the lands of England and their owners, so that

everybody might be made to pay taxes, he appointed officers in all

the towns to report what estates there were, who owned them, and

what they were worth. The reports were copied into two volumes,

called the "Domesday Book." This book showed that England at that

time had a population of a little more than a million.

William made war on Scotland, and conquered it. During a war with

the king of France the city of Mantes (mont) was burned by William's

soldiers. As William rode over the ruins his horse stumbled and the

king was thrown to the ground and injured. He was borne to Rouen,

where he lay ill for six weeks. His sons and even his attendants

abandoned him in his last hours. It is said that in his death

struggle he fell from his bed to the floor, where his body was

found by his servants.