William the Conqueror
King William I of England was born around 1028, the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy. William's youth and early adulthood were spent shoring up his position within Normandy and battling the surrounding principalities. By 1063, he had emerged as the most powerful ruler in northern France. Secure at home, he turned next to the conquest of England.
William was a rather severe figure whose followers respected rather than loved him. But his determination, solid military prowess and talent for improvisation were never in doubt. The English made mistakes at the Battle of Hastings but they were also up against the known world's most effective operator.
Crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066, William doggedly set about consolidating his powerbase, granting English land to trusted Norman nobles. He saw off several attempted rebellions before commissioning, in 1086, a ground-breaking economic and land survey that became the Domesday Book. He died in 1087.
The last Anglo-Saxon King of England was born around 1020, the son of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, the most powerful noble in England. In turn, Harold assumed his father's position and was named as heir by the childless King Edward the Confessor. Norman chronicles declare that Harold had already pledged to support William of Normandy's claim to the English throne.
Crowned in the first week of 1066, Harold's reign was short but eventful. In September, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, he defeated a large Viking force under the Norwegian King, Harald Hardrada, who also had designs on the English Crown. Less than a month later, he was killed at the Battle of Hastings. A bold warrior and inspirational leader, Harold was also impetuous. Critics suggest the outcome at Hastings might have been different if he had waited for reinforcements before tackling William.
Born in 1015, Harald III Hardrada (hard ruler) was the son of a chieftain and half-brother of the Norwegian King Olaf II. As a young soldier, he served with several foreign rulers, including the Byzantine emperor, Michael IV. In 1045, he returned to Norway to rule jointly with his nephew, Magnus I Olafsson. Magnus died in 1047 and Harald ruled alone, campaigning for years against the Danish.
In 1066, he formed an alliance with Tostig, the disaffected brother of Harold Godwinson, the new King of England. At the head of a large Viking force, he ravaged northern England before being killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. If Harold had not had to march north to defeat Harald and Tostig, the story of the Battle of Hastings might have turned out differently.
Roger de Montgomery
Born around 1030, Roger de Montgomery was a talented Norman noble who was one of William's closest advisers. Historians believe that it was Roger who masterminded the stunning logistical achievement that the Norman Conquest represented.
During the invasion itself, William left Normandy in Roger's hands. After his victory, William gave English land to many Norman nobles, including Roger, who became the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. Roger also built Arundel Castle (pictured, left), one of dozens of Norman fortresses constructed to stamp William's authority on England. He died in 1094.
Odo of Bayeux
A half-brother of William, Odo was born around 1036. In 1049, William made him Bishop of Bayeux. Odo was not pious: it was quite normal for noblemen to be appointed bishops at the time. In reality, they were merely guardians of the church's wealth. Odo was present at the Battle of Hastings and became one of the most powerful men in England after the Conquest.
William, who spent long periods in Normandy during the later part of his reign, frequently left Odo in joint charge of English affairs. Historians believe Odo was probably responsible for commissioning the Bayeux Tapestry. Later in life, Odo helped organise the First Crusade and died in Palermo in 1097, while on his way to the Holy Land.
Lanfranc of Pavia
A native of Lombardy, Lanfranc was born around 1005. He was a lawyer and a teacher before entering the Benedictine monastery at Bec in Normandy. He became a trusted adviser to William, who made him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070. He began his tenure by rebuilding Canterbury Cathedral (pictured, left). Parts of Lanfranc's building are still standing.
As head of the English Church, Lanfranc worked hard to reform and reorganise its institutions. He also fought to maintain its independence from royal, secular and even papal influences. Lanfranc was more than a prelate. In 1075, he uncovered a conspiracy hatched by the Earls of Norfolk and Hereford. And, in 1087, his influence with the English militia ensured the succession of William's son, William Rufus. He died in 1089.