6 Things You Didn’t Know About William The Conqueror

Crowned on Christmas Day, 1066, our first Norman king would change the course of the nation.

william

1. HE WAS OF VIKING STOCK

Conquering other lands was very much in William's blood, because he was literally descended from Vikings. Indeed, his great-great-great-grandfather was a famed Viking raider named Rollo, who had reached an agreement with the then-King of France to settle in the territory that would later become Normandy. In exchange, Rollo's forces would provide protection from future Viking raiders. The very word "Norman" is derived from "Norsemen", with Rollo himself effectively being the first duke of Normandy.

William the Conqueror.

William the Conqueror.

2. HE ONCE HAD A VERY DIFFERENT NICKNAME

"William the Conqueror" may be one of the grandest and most impressive nicknames conferred on a world leader. Yet, years before attaining this accolade, he had a rather less magnificent moniker: William the Bastard. This was meant literally, as William was the result of an affair between Robert I, Duke of Normandy (who boasted the more illustrious name of Robert the Magnificent) and the low-born daughter of a local workman. The lad's "bastard" status meant that his early years as duke were under threat from rebels and usurpers for many years, with much violence and bloodshed.

3. HE WAS A ROMANTIC

Despite being a stern and often merciless ruler, William was by all accounts a tender and affectionate husband to Matilda of Flanders. In fact, it seems he wasn't even unfaithful to her, and - while being illegitimate himself - sired no secret offspring with casual mistresses, which made him an unusually faithful monarch for his time.

That said, there's a peculiar legend that when he first made his intentions known to Matilda, she scoffed at a "bastard" expecting her hand in marriage. According to this story, an incensed William rode to meet Matilda in person, grabbed her by her long braids and threw her onto the street before abruptly riding off. A colourful tale that's incredibly unlikely, given her royal standing and the political nature of their union.

4. HE MET HAROLD BEFORE HASTINGS

Before William vanquished his nemesis Harold at the Battle of Hastings, the two men had met, and fought together as allies, a few years earlier in Normandy. An apparent shipwreck had left Harold in the clutches of William, who seemed to have treated him as a kind of awkward guest/prisoner. Harold was then seemingly compelled to join William in a battle against the Duke of Brittany, and the legend even recounts how Harold bravely saved two of William's soldiers from quicksand.

Afterwards, Harold apparently swore an oath to respect and support William's claim to the throne of England, before being allowed to return home. Such an oath was likely made under duress, though William still saw it as a huge betrayal when Harold later claimed the crown for himself.

5. HIS BROTHER WAS A WARRIOR BISHOP

The Battle of Hastings was a vicious confrontation, soaking the soil with blood. Amid the chaos and carnage, one of William's men happened to be his own half-brother, Odo, who was a bishop. He's depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry wielding a large club, and the theory is that - as a religious man - he was forbidden to draw blood. A club was a way to get around this rule, as it would let him break people's bones without bloodshed.

6. THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY ISN'T A TAPESTRY

The Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the lead-up to the Battle of Hastings, as well as the conflict itself, isn't technically a tapestry at all. A true tapestry is woven together using a loom, while the Bayeux Tapestry consists of wool sewn into cloth, making it an embroidery. It was also created in England, and probably commissioned by Odo, the battling bishop, as a piece of pro-Norman propaganda. Odo's own hunger for power would later see him disgraced and imprisoned, only released after William the Conqueror's death.