William the Conqueror & Invasions

There are lots of historical sights connected with William the Conqueror in Normandy which is not surprising as he originated from the region. Born in 1027 in Falaise his father was Robert, Duke of Normandy and Arlette, a young village girl. As an illegitimate heir it was why many referred to him as ‘William the Bastard’ and although he was a cousin to Edward the Confessor, this made his claim to the throne of England very slim. Still he was extremely ambitious and invaded England defeating King Harold to win the crown in 1066. The exploits of the invasion and the battle is well recorded in the magnificent tapestry in Bayeux which is definitely worth seeing if you are on holiday in the region.

As King of England William was a keen builder, particularly of castles and churches and introduced a rigid structured feudal government to England. There are hundreds of Norman churches still remaining in the English countryside to this very day as a reminder. He also built two abbeys in Caen. He married Matilda, daughter of Baldin V of Flanders, who was his cousin but the church did not approve, so in atonement for this, two abbeys were built – Abbaye aux Hommes for William and Abbaye aux Dames for Matilda arc church builders .

William also made his Norman friends rulers of the Anglo-Saxon population in order to keep order and brought the Norman-French culture to England resulting in a gulf between the two that took centuries to disappear. 

However, ironically Normandy fell under English rule due to the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry, Duke of the Normans. Henry was the great-grandson of William the Conqueror and became Henry II King of England in 1154. So Normandy was ruled by the English for almost four centuries until, after lots of battles and despite the execution of Joan of Arc in Rouen, followers of the ‘Maid of Orleans’ succeeded in driving the English back across the channel. 

The last invasion was in very different circumstances and the British returned in 1944 to liberate the French from Hitler. Throughout history the people of Normandy and the English have had many things in common and you will, therefore, not surprisingly find a warm welcome when you stay in this superb region of France.

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