At age 8, William the Conqueror became the Duke of Normandy. Violence plagued his early reign, but with the help of King Henry I of France, William managed to survive the early years. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he was crowned King of England. He never spoke English and was illiterate, but he had more influence on the evolution of the English language then anyone before or since.
King of England; born c. 1027, in Falaise, Normandy, France. He was an illegitimate child of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, who died in 1035 while returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. At only eight years of age, William became the new Duke of Normandy. Violence and corruption plagued his early reign, as the feudal barons fought for control of his fragile dukedom. A few of William's guards died and his teacher was murdered during a period of severe anarchy. With the help of King Henry I of France, William managed to survive the early years.
The king knighted William, still in his teens, in 1042. Taking a new
stand on political events, William finally gained firm control of his
duchy (although his enemies commonly referred to him as "the Bastard"
due to his illegitimate birth). By 1064, he had conquered and won two
neighboring provinces - Brittany and Maine. In the meantime, the
childless King of England - Edward the Confessor, whose mother was a
sister of William's grandfather - promised William succession to the
English throne. However, when Edward died in 1066, his brother-in-law
and most powerful of the English lords, Harold Goodwin, claimed the
throne of England for himself (despite an oath he made to William to
support his claim). The Witan, a council of English lords that commonly
took part in deciding succession, supported Harold. William, angered by
the betrayal, decided to invade England and enforce his claim.
William assembled a fleet and an army on the French coast, but due to
unrelenting north winds, their advance was delayed for several weeks.
In the meantime, the Norwegian army invaded England from the North Sea.
Harold, who had been preparing for William's invasion from the south,
rapidly moved his army north to defend England from Norway. After
defeating the Norwegians, Harold unwisely marched his troops back down
to meet William, without a rest. On October 14, 1066, the two armies
met in the famous Battle of Hastings. King Harold and his two brothers
were killed in the battle, and since no one of stature remained to
raise a new army, William's path to the throne was clear. He was
crowned King of England on Christmas Day.
There were several revolts in the next five years, which William used as an excuse to confiscate English land and declare it his personal property. He then distributed the land to his Norman followers, who imposed their unique feudal system. Eventually, Normans replaced the entire Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. William, however, retained most of England's institutions and was intensely interested in learning about his new property.