William I Facts
The English king William I (1027/1028-1087), called the Conqueror, subjugated England in 1066 and turned this Saxon-Scandinavian country into one with a French-speaking aristocracy and with social and political arrangements strongly influenced by those of northern France.
William I was the illegitimate son of Robert I the Devil, Duke of Normandy, and Arletta, a tanner's daughter. Before going on pilgrimage in 1034, Robert obtained recognition of William as his successor, but a period of anarchy followed Robert's death in 1035. As he grew up, Duke William gradually established his authority; his victory over a rival at Val-e's-Dunes in 1047 made him master of Normandy. One chronicle relates that in 1051 or 1052 he visited his childless cousin king Edward the Confessor of England, who may have promised him the succession to the English throne.
About 1053 William married a distant relative, Matilda, daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. She bore him four sons and four daughters, including Robert, Duke of Normandy; King William II; King Henry I; and Adela, Countess of Blois, mother of King Stephen.
William's military ability, ruthlessness, and political skill enabled him to raise the authority of the Duke of Normandy to an entirely new level and at the same time to maintain practical independence of his overlord, the king of France. William completed the conquest of Maine in 1063, and the next year he was recognized as overlord of Brittany.
Norman Conquest of England
In the same year, according to Norman sources, Harold, Earl of Wessex, son of Godwin, chief of the Anglo-Saxon nobility, fell into William's hands and was forced to swear to support William's claim to the English throne. Harold was nonetheless crowned king following the death of Edward on Jan. 6, 1066. William secured for his claim the sanction of the Pope, who was interested in correcting abuses in the English Church; at the same time, he ordered transports to be built and collected an army of adventurers from Normandy and neighboring provinces. William was also in touch with Harold's exiled brother, who with the king of Norway attacked the north of England. Harold defeated these enemies at Stamford Bridge on Sept. 25, 1066, but his absence allowed William to land unopposed in the south three days later. Harold attempted to bar William's advance, but he was defeated and killed in the Battle of Hastings on Oct. 14, 1066. After a brief campaign William was admitted to London and crowned king on Christmas Day.
In the next four years William and his Norman followers secured their position; after the last serious rising, in Yorkshire in 1069, he "fell upon the English of the North like a raging lion," destroying houses, crops, and livestock so that the area was depopulated and impoverished for many decades. William took over the old royal estates and a large part of the land confiscated from Saxon rebels. He kept for himself nearly a quarter of the income from land in the kingdom. About two-fifths he granted to his more important followers, to be held in return for the service of a fixed number of knights. This feudal method of landholding was common in northern France, but it was rare if not unknown in England before the Conquest.
Government of England
Claiming to be King Edward's rightful heir, William maintained the general validity of Anglo-Saxon law and issued little legislation; the so-called Laws of William (Leis Willelme) were not compiled until the 12th century. William also took over the existing machinery of government, which was in many ways more advanced than that of France. Local government was placed firmly under his control; earl and sheriff were his officers, removable at his will. He made use of an established land tax and a general obligation to military service.
William also controlled the Church. In 1070 he appointed Lanfranc, abbot of St. Stephen's Abbey at Caen, as archbishop of Canterbury. Lanfranc became William's trusted adviser and agent. The higher English clergy, bishops, and abbots were almost entirely replaced by foreigners. In a series of councils Lanfranc promulgated decrees intended to bring the English Church into line with developments abroad and to reform abuses. Though encouraging reforms, William insisted on his right to control the Church and its relations with the papacy. He controlled the elections of prelates; he would allow no pope to be recognized and no papal letter to be received without his permission; and he would not let bishops issue decrees or excommunicate his officials or tenants-in-chief without his order. About 1076 William rejected the demand of Pope Gregory VII that he should do fealty to the Roman Church for England, and the matter was dropped.
Domesday Book and Death
At Christmas, 1085, William ordered a great survey of England to be carried out, primarily in order to record liability to the land tax, or "geld." The results were summarized in the two great volumes known as the Domesday Book. Six months later, at a great gathering in Salisbury, William demanded oaths of fealty from all the great landowners, whether or not they were tenants-in-chief of the Crown. In this as in the Domesday survey, he was asserting rights as king over subjects, not simply as feudal lord over vassals.
Throughout his life William was involved in almost ceaseless campaigning: against rebels in Normandy and England, enemies in France, and the Welsh and the Scots. The Scottish king was forced to do homage to William in 1072. William died in Rouen, France, on Sept. 9, 1087. He was respected for his political judgment, his interest in Church reform, the regularity of his private life, and his efforts to maintain order. But above all he was feared; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that "he was a very stern and harsh man, so that no one dared do anything contrary to his will."
Further Reading on William I
The standard biography of William I is David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror (1964). R. Allen Brown, The Normans and the Norman Conquest (1970), treats the invasion in detail, while F. M. Stenton, ed., The Bayeux Tapestry (1947; 2d ed. 1965), offers a vivid contemporary record from the Norman viewpoint. The best general history of the period is Stenton's Anglo-Saxon England (1943; 3d ed. 1971), which concludes with the death of William.
William I (1772-1843) was king of the Netherlands from 1815 to 1840. He was one of the restored rulers of post-Napoleonic Europe whose power derived from no clearly settled precedent.
William I was born at The Hague on Aug. 24, 1772. His father was the Dutch stadholder (executive ruler) William V, Prince of Orange. In 1791 the younger William married his cousin, Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia; and in 1792 the couple had a son, who, as William II, succeeded his father as king of the Netherlands.
In the administrative system of the Dutch Republic (United Provinces of the Netherlands), inherited from the long revolutionary war against Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, the office of stadholder played a prominent role in affairs. In the 18th century the formal power of the stadholder was greatly augmented. But the strengthening of the executive power in the hands of traditional Orangeist leadership was by no means sufficient to halt the gradual decline of the Netherlands into weak-power status. William V, a rigid conservative, ruled with an iron hand, using Prussian troops to put down the native revolutionary Patriot movement (1787). But when the French Revolution began to spill across the borders of its homeland, William V, his son, and his grandson were forced to flee the Netherlands into English exile.
The younger William at first showed liberal tendencies in marked contrast to the autocratic temperament of his father. In 1802 both men returned to Europe, the elder to take up residence in the family's hereditary estates in Nassau, the younger to German territories granted him as a favor by Napoleon. The father's death in 1806 left William the title of Prince of Orange (as William VI) and the Nassau lands. But his switch to the Prussian side against Napoleon in the same year deprived him of all his holdings and turned him into a pensioner of the Prussian court.
In 1813, however, the French pulled out of the Netherlands, to which William returned first as "sovereign prince," then as king (March 16, 1815). His original grant of territory made him sovereign not only of the former United Provinces but of Belgium and Luxembourg as well. The restoration that reunited, if briefly, those territories which had once coexisted in tenuous unity under their Burgundian and Hapsburg overlords until the Dutch Revolution and partial Spanish reconquest, set them on different historical paths.
This history of separation—rather than any semimythical Netherlandish unity—was to prove William's undoing. The joining of the Netherlands to Belgium upset the linguistic balance in the latter country, antagonizing the French-speaking Walloons of the south. Religious tensions in the Low Countries, long divided by the Reformation, were also aggravated. Although not as conservative as his father, William ruled as a restored enlightened despot rather than as the liberal monarch his subjects desired. In 1830, the year which ended the restoration regime in France, Belgium successfully broke away from its northern ruler; but William I learned little from this experience. He continued his opposition to liberal demands, and on Oct. 7, 1840, he was forced to abdicate in favor of his son. William once again retreated to Prussia, where he died in Berlin on Dec. 12, 1843.
Further Reading on William I
Two general surveys of Dutch history are G. J. Renier, The Dutch Nation (1944), and B. H. M. Vlekke, Evolution of the Dutch Nation (1945). Practically all significant historical and biographical literature on the Netherlands is in the Dutch language; but for a brilliant synthesis of modern Dutch history down to William's reign see Charles H. Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800 (1965).
William I (1797-1888) was king of Prussia from 1861 to 1888 and emperor of Germany from 1871 to 1888. He was the first of the three Hohenzollern rulers of the German Empire of 1871-1918.
Born in Berlin on March 22, 1797, William I was the second son of Prussian king Frederick William III and Queen Luise. William spent much of the Napoleonic Wars as a somewhat sickly refugee in Konigsberg, Memel, and St. Petersburg. He participated in the 1813-1814 War of Liberation, gaining an Iron Cross for action at Bar-sur-Aube and being promoted to general major on his twenty-first birthday.
After a brief "forbidden romance" with Princess Elizabeth Radziwill, in 1829 William wed the lively Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, with whom he enjoyed a happy marriage despite habitual arguments. William became heir presumptive in 1840 on the accession of his childless brother, Frederick William IV. This fact, and his military conservatism, made William the "Cartridge Prince," whom the revolutionaries of 1848 hounded from Berlin to a diplomatic refuge in England. He returned in a few months, advocating order and enforcing it in an 1849 "campaign" against rebels in the Palatinate, where military administration brought William promotion to field marshal in 1854.
William became deputy sovereign in 1857 and regent in 1858 for his expiring brother, whom he succeeded on Jan. 2, 1861. The authoritarian policy and advisers of the new reign soon created a constitutional crisis. William sought to conscript a larger regular army to support his foreign policy, while pursuing a progressive "new era" in domestic politics. This united only the Landtag opponents of the military budget. War Minister Albrecht von Roon persuaded William to appoint Otto von Bismarck as minister president in 1862, and thenceforth Bismarck's skill as a diplomatist soon made him so indispensable that his right to advise William became in effect a power to rule in the King's name.
William presided over, without directing or controlling, the political and military conflicts by which Bismarck and chief of staff Count Moltke drove Austria from the German Confederation (1866) and then led the remaining German states to victory over Napoleon III (1870). The united Deutsches Reich under Kaiser William was acclaimed at Versailles on Jan. 18, 1871, during the siege of Paris. William regarded his new title as a burden of doubtful value and complained that "it is very difficult being Kaiser under a Chancellor like Bismarck." However, Bismarck was kept as chancellor to the end of William's long reign.
The new German Empire needed more modern institutions of government than the old kaiser could develop or tolerate. This proved a misfortune for his successors, Frederick III and William II, as well as for Germany, but William's generation was content to understand "German freedom" simply as national independence. The diplomatic effort to preserve this by averting another war consumed the old king's declining years. The last hours before his death on March 9, 1888, were expended in royal monologues on foreign policy, and the dying monarch rejected suggestions that he rest with the ironic retort, "I have no time to be tired now."
Further Reading on William I
A full-length study of William I in English is Paul Wiegler, William the First (1927; trans. 1929). See also Walter H. Nelson, The Soldier Kings (1970), and Theo Aronson, The Kaisers (1971). For historical background see Golo Mann, The History of Germany since 1789 (trans. 1968), and Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840-1945 (1969).