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Duke of Normandy

William Duke of Normandy

Born around the year 1028, the illegitimate son of Duke Robert the Magnificent of Normandy and Herleve, the daughter of a Falaise tanner. Known as William the Bastard by his enemies, Duke William had inherited power on his father's death. He was just nine years of age at the time and, due to his youthful vulnerability, had to face many challenges to his rule.

The Duchy of Normandy had passed through decades of instability but with the aid of trusted elders and advisers, William survived. But it had been a tough struggle to maintain his position and, as a consequence, he was honed into a strong and powerful leader.

He served a long and highly distinguished military career and during the 1050s. He transformed Normandy into a greater military power with an emphasis on horsemanship and the development of cavalry as a fighting force. He was a competent and accomplished commander and by the time of the Battle of Hastings he had at his command perhaps the finest fighting unit of the times.

After his successful victory at Hastings, William returned to Hastings where he rested for five days before making his way east. Having secured Dover, William took Canterbury and Winchester before entering London and was crowned king of England on Christmas Day 1066.

Although the Battle of Hastings was a decisive part of the Norman invasion, it would be many years before all pockets of resistance were crushed and the whole country came under Norman rule.

Apart from the introduction of Norman feudalism, continental methods of government and ecclesiastical courts, one of William's greatest achievements in the year 1085 was to record in detail the value, state of cultivation, ownership and tenancy of land, which were revealed a year later in The Domesday Book.

William ruled with ruthless efficiency until his death in 1087.

Harold Godwineson - Harold II of England

Born around 1021. His father was Godwin, Earl of Wessex who, despite suffering many setbacks, had emerged as the most powerful man in the land after the king.

On his father's death in 1053, Harold was to inherit his title and continue along the same path. The family influence over the crown had earlier been further enhanced when Harold’s sister Edith married King Edward the Confessor and eventually Harold was to become chief adviser to the king.

On Edward's death, despite his promise to support the Duke of Normandy in his claim to the throne, Harold became king. In the April of 1066 Halley's Comet appeared over England and Saxon observers feared that this 'hairy star' would prove a bad omen. How right they were! Harold's reign would last just nine months, nine days.

The first threat to his kingdom came from the Norwegian King Hardrada, who based his claim on Scandinavian links to the throne and, aided by Harold's rebellious brother, Tostig, mounted an attack which resulted in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York on September 25, where the Norwegian army were routed.

Harold then learned that the Normans had landed at Pevensey and he force marched his troops south to Hastings where, on that fateful day of October 14, 1066 he would lose the crown of England - and his life.

Harold's body was eventually taken for burial to Waltham Abbey in Essex.

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