William I, the Conqueror

My 25th great grandfather is William the Bastard, or William the Conqueror, as he was known later. That month of October in 1066, I had four great grandfathers fighting for the right to be king of England. Three that were ancestors from my mother’s side, and one from my father’s side. Dad’s side won.

I have always been attracted to “turning points” or “history hinges”. Sometimes the world is changed by one individual. Certainly everyone makes a difference, but in some cases it is radically modified, and cascades throughout the following years.

England was always a target for invasion. It has been referred to as the “anglo-saxon” nation, but that was only after the two different Germanic tribes, the Angles, and the Saxons, took to their boats and invaded the lands.

The land already had Britons, Picts, Celts, and Romans with developed roads, villages and towns. The Anglo-Saxons intermarried with most, and established various kingdoms that slowly became England. The Vikings also came to raid, and to settle. So, being invaded by the Normans under William was perfectly normal, but the change was dramatic.

William was a descendant of Rollo, a Viking who had raided the French coast of Normandy. He asked permission from the French king to settle the land if he agreed to defend against further Viking raids. In time, William Longsword, was made Duke of Normandy and the title was passed down to Robert I and even to William, although his legitimacy was an issue. Perhaps invading England was the motivation to remove “the Bastard” from his name.

William spoke French, not German or English. For centuries afterwards all the English kings spoke French, some never even learned English. The Normans immediately placed Norman lords over the lands that were conquered. They even sent for Norman royals back home in order to fill positions in the new country. Customs were changed forever. The world changed.

History will always have the debate of whether change is for the better. Harold Godwinsson was the last English king, but even he was the descendant of foreign invaders. Harold was also my 25th great grandfather. His kingship ended at Hastings in October of 1066, with an arrow in his throat.

William, the Conqueror