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A Conqueror’s change of heart

falais william the conqueror statue
Match! William the Conqueror in Falaise. Was the building removed with early photoshop for the old postcard?

In the charming town of Falaise we saw this dramatic monument to that battle hungry medieval warrior, William the Conqueror.

Rightly represented as a triumphant king, William’s statue is surrounded by earlier Dukes of Normandy: Robert the Magnificent, Richard the Good (very good at propaganda, also known as the Irascible), Richard the Fearless, William Longsword, Rollo the Giant, oh and Richard III of Normandy who died of poison after just a year of rule, so no-one bothered to think up a nickname.   

Nicknames were a sore point with The Conqueror, as discussed here in an earlier post.

Cruelly oppressing high and low

The murky records of antiquity claim that William died repentant of his violent ways. Orderic Vitalis, 11th century chronicler, reported that as he was about to meet his maker, William said of England: 

“I treated the native inhabitants of the kingdom with unreasonable severity, cruelly oppressed high and low, unjustly disinherited many, and caused the death of thousands by starvation and war, especially in Yorkshire….

In mad fury I descended on the English of the north like a raging lion, and ordered that their homes and crops with all their equipment and furnishings should be burnt at once and their great flocks and herds of sheep and cattle slaughtered everywhere. 

So I chastised a great multitude of men and women with the lash of starvation and, alas! was the cruel murderer of many thousands, both young and old, of this fair people... – W. Conqueror

Murdering all within reach

As just five weeks earlier William had cheerfully flattened the rebellious French town of Mantes murdering everyone within reach, this sudden horror at his own cruelty is quite a startling change of heart.

It was while burning the town a spark startled his horse and William fell hard against the pommel and to the ground. Something inside the corpulent conqueror ruptured.

After weeks of agony William died age 59 early on the morning of 9 September 1087, in Rouen. He had ruled an unwilling England for twenty one years and loyal Normandy for fifty two.  He is widely recognised as one of the most successful rulers in history.

Was he truly repentant of of the bloodthirsty habits that entrenched his power? We reserve judgement.

statue of william the conqueror by brothers Charles and Louis Rochet unveiled oct 26 1851
The statue by brothers Charles and Louis Rochet is unveiled in Falaise on 26 October 1851.

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