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William I
William I

William I, the Conqueror (1027?-1087), was the first Norman king of England. He was born at Falaise, France. He was the son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and inherited Normandy at about the age of 8 in 1035. During his youth, there were many disorders. In 1047, William put down a great rebellion at the battle of Val-es-dunes, which he won with the aid of his lord, King Henry of France. From that time on, William ruled Normandy with an iron hand.

In 1051, King Edward the Confessor of England promised William succession to the English throne as his nearest adult heir. In 1064, Edward's brother-in-law Harold was shipwrecked on the Norman coast and taken prisoner. Harold promised to support William's claim to the throne in return for freedom. But Harold won the throne in 1066 through a deathbed grant by Edward and election by the nobles.

William immediately invaded England. His expedition had the pope's blessings, because William was expected to depose the Anglo-Saxon archbishop of Canterbury and introduce ecclesiastical reforms. Before William could sail, the king of Norway invaded northern England. King Harold hurried north and defeated the Norwegian invaders at Stamford Bridge. William landed before Harold could return to defend the coast. The Normans destroyed the Anglo-Saxon army and killed Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

On Christmas Day, 1066, William was crowned king. William then suppressed local rebellions. He took lands from those who resisted him, and gave them to his followers to hold in return for their military service to him. To emphasize the legitimacy of his crown, William confirmed the laws of Edward the Confessor and retained all the powers of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. He levied Danegeld, the only national tax on landed property in all of Europe at that time. At Salisbury in 1086, he made all the landholders, even the vassals of his barons, swear allegiance directly to him as king.

William was devout, firm in purpose, and unchanging in gaining his ends. His greatest monument is Domesday Book, an exhaustive survey of the land, the principal landholders, the farm population, and the material and financial resources of his realm.