William I (The Conqueror) 1066-1087
The illegitimate son of Robert of Normandy and Arlette of Conteville. As well as being known as William, Duke of Normandy he was also called William the Bastard in some quarters. He became Duke of Normandy in 1035 when he was just 7-years-old. It was not a good time to be a child with valuable property. He grew up tough, not just because of the times but because of the number of assassination and kidnap attempts that were made upon his person during his childhood. Then having survived his childhood he had to deal with a series of rebellious barons.
He married Matilda of Flanders (1032-1083- William gave up hunting on her death. The two had argued about their son Robert and she’d spent much of the last four years of her life in Normandy) who financed his flagship for the invasion of England and gave him nine children of whom seven survived into adulthood. One of the girls became the Abbess of Romsey before she was kidnapped by an unscrupulous noble who wanted her title so forced her to marry him. She had two children before being allowed to return to the religious life. Three of William’s sons became kings of England in their turn.
He was crowned in Westminster Abbey, 25 Dec 1066- and even that went badly. He spent most of his first years as king putting down rebellions.
He introduced castles into English architecture and built The Tower of London although at that time it was called The White Tower.
William II (William Rufus) 1087-1100
William Rufus was the third son of William the Conqueror. Robert, the first son became Duke of Normandy.
Crowned in Westminster Abbey, 26 Sept 1087.
He was killed by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100. It was supposed to have been an accident but it is believed that he was killed on the orders of his brother Henry.
Henry’s older brother, Robert Curthose, away on crusade at the time hastened home but it was too late. Henry was crowned king of England in Winchester where he’d hurried just after the ‘accident’ in order to secure the royal treasury. William was unmarried so the crown remained in the hands of William the Conqueror’s sons.
Crowned in Winchester 1100.
Also known as “Beauclerc” or “The Lion of Justice.”
Married to Edith of Scotland. Edith, a Saxon name, was known after her marriage as Matilda. Norman nobles apparently had difficulty pronouncing the name Edith and it also reminded them she was a saxon which wasn’t a terribly good idea.
Henry had more than twenty illegitimate children but only one legitimate son- William who survived to adulthood. He drowned when the White Ship sank in November 1120 as it sailed from Normandy back to England. In total four of Henry’s children died in the disaster. He swiftly remarried to Adela of Louvain but no further sons were forthcoming. Henry summoned his remaining legitimate child, the widowed queen of the German Emperor home as his heir. Henry’s nobles swore that they would uphold Matilda’s claim to the throne. After his death when Matilda tried to claim the throne, civil war broke out because the majority of barons decided that they didn’t want a woman in charge although no laws were ever passed preventing them from inheriting.
Stephen followed the trend for marrying a spouse called Matilda of Boulogne with whom he had five children. His wife was the Countess of Boulogne in her own right.
He was crowned in Westminster Abbey 22 December 1135 having usurped the throne from his cousin Matilda. Stephen was an open and likeable man but his reign was tormented by civil war. Stephen was briefly captured by Matilda in 1141 but she was never crowned because she was arrogant and stand-offish. During this time Carlisle fell into Scottish hands and chroniclers refer to Stephen’s reign as ‘Nineteen Long Winters’ or a time when ‘Christ and his apostles slept.’
Matilda was supported during much of her struggle for the throne by her illegitimate half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester and by her uncle King David I of Scotland. Peace came only because Stephen’s eldest son Eustace died, thus opening the way for a p negotiations with Matilda’s son Henry also known as Henry FitzEmpress in 1153. The Treaty of Westminster allowed Stephen to remain as king during the rest of his life with Henry as his heir.
Matilda was sometimes called “The Lady of the English.” She was never crowned.