William the Bastard

Bayeux Tapestry
Bayeux Tapestry – Scene 57: the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings
Photo by MyrabellaOwn work, Public Domain, Link

William the I of England, better known as William the Conqueror, and sometimes also as William the Bastard was a vicious thug, a paranoid maniac and a homicidal despot. Slaughter, mayhem and tyranny were the tools of his trade and his greed and cruelty were legendary.

Some years after the Battle of Hastings, the people of Northern England were subjected to a campaign of terror known as “the Harrying of the North” in which towns and villages were looted and destroyed and crops, animals, houses and possessions burnt to the ground in a scorched earth policy. Men, women and children were murdered and his enemies systematically hunted down and exterminated. In this subjugated wasteland the survivors faced destitution and famine and many starved to death.

Addicted to sex, food and violence, here was a man whose appetites could never be satisfied. A man for whom enough was never enough. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to insult or get on the wrong side of William. He would cut off the hands and feet of his enemies and gouge their eyes out for good measure.

Of course, dear William had his good points too. Contemporaries described a man of exceptional health and great stamina who enjoyed hunting and horsemanship. Widely praised as an efficient administrator and collector of taxes he was also a strong supporter of the church. Thanks to his generosity many new monasteries were founded during his reign, and there is little doubt that in spite of his natural predilection for murder and despotism, he was a man of fastidious personal piety.

It’s good to know too that William received the papal seal of approval for his conquest of England and in 1070 was ceremonially crowned by legates sent by Pope Alexander during the Easter court. Thank God for William the Bastard! Where would we be without him?

Fun Fact:

Later in life William tried to learn Old English, but quickly decided it was not worth the effort when he could more easily force the locals to speak French instead.

06 March 2018

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