On 1 January 2021, to my great surprise, I discovered that I was directly related to William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders.
William, also known as William the Bastard, was the first Norman King of England reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087.
In 1060, secure as Duke of Normandy, William plotted the Norman conquest of England, which culminated on 14 October 1066 in the Battle of Hastings and the defeat of Harold Godwinson.
William was the son of the unmarried Robert I, Duke of Normandy, by his mistress Herleva. His illegitimate status led to many struggles as he sought to establish his authority. Marriage to Matilda of Flanders, c1051, allowed him to consolidate his power in Normandy.
On his deathbed, Edward the Confessor, the childless King of England, named Harold Godwinson as his successor. However, William disputed this succession and with a large fleet sailed for England where he engaged Harold in battle.
After the Battle of Hastings, further military victories ensured that William was crowned king on Christmas Day, 1066, in London. In 1067, he made arrangements for the governance of England then returned to Normandy.
Rebellions followed, all unsuccessful, and by 1075 William had established a secure hold on England, which allowed him to spend the majority of his reign in Europe.
In 1086, William ordered the compilation of the Doomsday Book, a survey listing all the land-holdings in England. This great administrative feat went unmatched until the compilation of the Return of Owners of Land in 1873.
William died in September 1087 while leading a campaign in northern France. He was buried in Caen.
Matilda of Flanders was Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy by marriage to William the Conqueror. She was the mother of nine children (some sources list ten) including two kings, William II and my direct ancestor Henry I.
In 1031, Matilda was born into the House of Flanders as the second daughter of Baldwin V of Flanders and Adela of France. Strategically placed, Flanders served as an important centre for European trade and political expansion.
As granddaughter of Robert II of France, Matilda boasted a greater lineage than William. Like many royal marriages of the period, their union breached the rules of consanguinity. She was about 20 when the marriage took place in 1051, while William was some four years older.
The marriage appears to have been successful in that William is not recorded to have fathered any bastards. Matilda was about 35 and had already borne most of her children when William embarked on his conquest of England, sailing on his flagship, Mora, a gift from his wife.
Matilda governed the Duchy of Normandy in her husband’s absence. Occasionally, she travelled to England, but spent most of her life in Normandy where she oversaw her children’s education. Indeed, Matilda’s children were unusually well educated for contemporary royalty with the boys tutored by Lanfranc, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, while the girls learned Latin in Sainte-Trinité Abbey, Caen, an abbey founded by William and Matilda as part of the papal dispensation that allowed their marriage.