William the Conqueror eBook

Edward Augustus Freeman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 211 pages of information about William the Conqueror.
of the French king to put down rebellion in the Norman duchy, and he had to drive back more than one invasion of the French king at the head of an united Norman people.  He added Domfront and Maine to his dominions, and the conquest of Maine, the work as much of statesmanship as of warfare, was the rehearsal of the conquest of England.  There, under circumstances strangely like those of England, he learned his trade as conqueror, he learned to practise on a narrower field the same arts which he afterwards practised on a wider.  But after all, William’s own duchy was his special school; it was his life in his own duchy which specially helped to make him what he was.  Surrounded by trials and difficulties almost from his cradle, he early learned the art of enduring trials and overcoming difficulties; he learned how to deal with men; he learned when to smite and when to spare; and it is not a little to his honour that, in the long course of such a reign as his, he almost always showed himself far more ready to spare than to smite.

Before then we can look at William as an English statesman, we must first look on him in the land in which he learned the art of statesmanship.  We must see how one who started with all the disadvantages which are implied in his earlier surname of the Bastard came to win and to deserve his later surnames of the Conqueror and the Great.


If William’s early reign in Normandy was his time of schooling for his later reign in England, his school was a stern one, and his schooling began early.  His nominal reign began at the age of seven years, and his personal influence on events began long before he had reached the usual years of discretion.  And the events of his minority might well harden him, while they could not corrupt him in the way in which so many princes have been corrupted.  His whole position, political and personal, could not fail to have its effect in forming the man.  He was Duke of the Normans, sixth in succession from Rolf, the founder of the Norman state.  At the time of his accession, rather more than a hundred and ten years had passed since plunderers, occasionally settlers, from Scandinavia, had changed into acknowledged members of the Western or Karolingian kingdom.  The Northmen, changed, name and thing, into Normans, were now in all things members of the Christian and French-speaking world.  But French as the Normans of William’s day had become, their relation to the kings and people of France was not a friendly one.  At the time of the settlement of Rolf, the western kingdom of the Franks had not yet finally passed to the Duces Francorum at Paris; Rolf became the man of the Karolingian king at Laon.  France and Normandy were two great duchies, each owning a precarious supremacy in the king of the West-Franks.  On the one hand, Normandy had been called into being

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William the Conqueror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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