William the Conqueror was born in the Normandy region of France in 1027 or 1028. His father was Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy. After the death of his father in 1035, William became the Duke of Normandy at the age of seven. At age 15, the young duke was made a knight by King Henry I of France. Four years later, with the help of King Henry, William engaged in his first military battles and successfully secured control of Normandy by defeating a band of rebel Norman barons at the Battle of Val-ès-Dunes in 1047. In 1053, William married his cousin, Matilda of Flanders. Together, they had ten children.
In January of 1066, William claimed the throne of England when his cousin, Edward the Confessor died. Although William claimed the throne, the assembly of England’s top nobles had proceeded in coronating Harold Godwinson as the next King of England. Amidst the swirling controversy, William obtained the support of the Pope and assembled a large army of Norman warriors and built a castle near Hastings to assert his power. In addition, William began plundering the area, which was a direct insult to Harold Godwinson, who maintained an estate there. Harold immediately assembled a large army and engaged the Normans in what came to be known as the Battle of Hastings. William’s army of Normans routed Harold’s army. Harold himself was killed, by some accounts, from an arrow through the eye. The Norman Conquest was complete, and William was officially coronated as the King of England on Christmas Day of 1066 at Westminster Abbey. William quelled any resistance to his reign by plundering land in the north of England (known as the Harrying of the North).
During his reign as King, William ordered the building of numerous bridges and castles, including the Tower of London. The Norman language replaced English as the language used by the ruling class. English was not restored for nearly 300 years. In addition, nearly all land and public office positions were given to Normans. William died in 1087 after falling off one his horses. His son, William Rufus succeeded him as King of England.