William I, surnamed the Conqueror, king of England, the first of the Norman dynasty, born at Falaise, Normandy, in 1027, died in Rouen, Sept. 9, 1087. He was the bastard son of Robert I. or II., duke of Normandy, called " Robert the Devil," and a young woman of Falaise, a tanner's daughter, named Arietta. Robert caused the Norman barons to receive William as their duke during his own lifetime, prior to his departure for the Holy Land. William was left an orphan at the age of eight, and his youth was passed amid wars and dissensions. Henry I. of France, at whose court he had spent his childhood, was sometimes his friend and sometimes his enemy. In 1047, with Henry's help, he defeated the Burgundian Count Guy at the battle of Val des Dunes, and he aided the French king against the count of Anjou. For several years William carried on contests with France, Anjou, and Brittany, increasing his dominions and reputation. Though of illegitimate origin, he claimed the throne of England through Emma, sister of his grandfather and mother of Edward the Confessor; and when Harold, son of Earl Godwin, visited the Norman court in 1065, he was compelled to swear fealty to William and to promise to support him.

Edward the Confessor, it is asserted, had recognized William's claim, to the exclusion of the feeble Edgar Atheling; but on Edward's death in 1066, Harold procured his own elevation to the throne. William then prepared to enforce his pretension by arms. He overcame the opposition of his barons, gained the sanction of the pope, and enlisted thousands of military adventurers. A large fleet was assembled, and on Sept. 28,1066, William landed at Pevensey near Hastings with 60,000 men. Harold had been engaged in the north, fighting his brother Tostig and the Norwegians, but arrived before William's camp on Oct. 13; and on the next day was fought the battle of Senlac or Hastings, in which, after an obstinate contest, the Saxons were defeated and their king was slain. William promptly advanced to London, where he was crowned, Dec. 25. At first his rule was mild and just, yet he was careful to keep all power in the hands of the Normans. The Saxon nobles, relying upon foreign aid, having leagued against him, he laid waste the whole country between the Tees and the Humber, and caused the death of 100,000 people. The Saxons were now treated as a conquered nation.

The curfew bell, on the ringing of which all fires and lights were to be extinguished, was introduced in 1068. The religious houses were plundered, and the principal Saxon clergy deposed or banished to make room for foreigners. An invasion of Scotland in 1072 led to the submission of that country. An armed conspiracy of the Norman nobles in England was defeated. An attempt to subdue Brittany failed, and William gave his daughter Constance in marriage to the count. The dissensions between the king and his son Robert Courthose began in 1074; and in the war that followed, Robert had the support of the young nobility and of the king of France, in his demand for the sovereignty of Normandy and Maine. Concessions to Robert did not procure peace, and for years he was at the head of a party striving to deprive his father of his continental possessions. In 1081 William led an expedition into Wales. Most of the latter part of his reign he passed in Normandy, leaving England to be governed by his half brother Odo, bishop of Bayeux. William allowed Peter's pence to be collected in England, but refused to take the oath of homage to the pope. In 1079 he formed the New forest, driving a vast number of people from their homes.

Between 1080 and 1086 was made a complete survey of England. (See Doomsday Book.) Toward the close of his reign William had trouble with the nobility of Maine, and made peace with them on their own terms. His last dispute was with the king of France, some of whose vassals had plundered Norman territory. In retaliation he burned Mantes. While he was riding over the still smoking ruins, the plunging of his horse, throwing him upon the pommel of the saddle, caused a dangerous rupture. Before his death, which occurred several weeks after at a monastery in Rouen, William gave large sums of money for rebuilding the churches of Mantes, and in his will distributed treasures to cloisters, churches, and the poor. He was buried at Caen in the church of St. Stephen, which he had built in 1064. Blackstone explains the origin of the surname Conqueror by reference to feudal and Norman law, as denoting one who acquired an estate by any means aside from the common course of inheritance. In his lifetime the king was generally known as William the Bastard, an appellation of which he was not ashamed.

A monument to him was erected at Falaise in 1876.