William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror was the son of his unmarried parents, Robert, Duke of Normandy and Herleva. William was named as Robert’s successor before he went on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on which he died. We know that William was devoted to his mother and favoured her children by a husband named Herluin de Conteville, such as Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

William the Conqueror had a difficult start to life and was given a lot of responsibility from a very young age. As he was the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy he was named his successor shortly before he died. In 1035 he became the Duke of Normandy - at just eight years old!

william the conqueror, painted circa 1618 - 1620

As often when the ruler was a child there were rivalries between those trying to control and manage him. The fact William was a child and the problems with his legitimacy (he born from unmarried parents) it was not the easiest journey for him. During the early years of his Duchy there were some violent and brutal conflicts and William was at times under threat. He was exposed him to horrible violence from a young age. His Steward, Osbern, was brutally murdered by a rival in William’s presence, only a few years after he had become the Duke of Normandy.

Even with William’s difficult childhood, he still managed to become King of England in 1066.

There were multiple people who felt they were entitled in ruling England and although King Harold (more about him here) had been crowned they were not going down without a fight. The Battle of Hastings was a fight for power between William and Harold - both William and Harold believed they had a legitimate claim to the throne and were prepared to fight for this honour! To understand why this conflict happened we would have to understand why they thought they were the rightful heir. Supposedly both Harold and William had been told they were next in line to become England’s ruler - see more about Edward the Confessor here.

© Reading Museum (Reading Borough Council) – William sits on his throne watching as Harold, each hand on a reliquary, swears an oath.

As William was Edward’s distant cousin he did have Royal Blood, so could be a legitimate heir. When Edward was in exile from 1016-1041 he became good friends with William’s grandfather and father, and when he returned to England as King in 1042, Edward remembered how well he had been looked after in Normandy. Supposedly as Edward’s kin, William was promised the crown when Edward died.

And so, it might have come as a bit of a shock when following Edward the Confessor’s death in 1066, Harold was crowned King of England the next day! Especially as it is rumoured Harold promised he would help William get the throne years before.

Although there was another King of England, William still felt he was the rightful heir, and was prepared to fight for that. Therefore, on September 1066 he traveled to England to challenge Harold…



Becoming royalty in the 11th Century was a little different to nowadays, although you had to have Royal Blood, there was less of a system and multiple people could make a claim for the throne…

Often this would result in violent competition!