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WILLIAM - Henry I - Anjou

Wednesday 31 October 2001

On the death of Robert the pious, the father of Henry I, his mother wanted to put his younger brother on the throne. Henry called on Duke Robert to help in his fight for the throne. With the help of Robert and the counts of Anjou and Flanders he regained the throne. In exchange for his help, which was a due by a vassal to his sovereign, Robert took the French Vexin into Normandy. (Vexin is an area West of the Seine north of Paris. Part was Normandy and part French)

Duke Robert died in 1035 when William was 7. Henry could have exercised his right to administer Normandy as William was a minor, but he didn’t.
There was much in fighting as to who should be tutor to William and hence wield power in Normandy.
Count Alan III of Brittany claimed that Robert had designated him as tutor before leaving on his crusade. In Normandy this claim was ignored. The archbishop Robert of Evreux held the power. He was brother to Richard II and so great uncle to William. He was assisted by the faithful seneschal to Duke Robert, Osbern of Crepon . Gilbert of Brionne, grandson of Richard I, also carried the title of tutor.
Bishop Robert died in 1037 and was succeeded by Bishop Mauger son of Richard II. He had less authority than Bishop Robert and the stability of the province declined.
Gilbert of Brionne was assassinated while he was riding a horse. The instigator of this crime was Raoul of Gacé, son of Bishop Robert. (Priests weren’t expected to be celibate then) Soon after the taxe collector of Roual was assassinated. Then seneschal Osbern had his throat cut by William of Montgommery while sleeping in the same room as William.

A servant of Osbern gets revenge by in turn killing Montgommery.

Apart from all these direct attacks on the power base of Normandy the counts, who were mainly descendants of Richard I, were fighting amongst themselves.
And Henry I looked on and gave refuge to the exiles that resulted after each “coup d’état”.
Henry I’s main problem during his reign was to keep his surrounding provinces ( Normandy, Anjou, Brittany, Burgundy, Flanders) stable but not too powerful.

Richard II had built a castle near at Tillières sur Avres near Dreux as a defence against possible agression from the count of Blois. In 1040 the count of Blois ceded Dreux and its surrounds to King Henry. He thus became a direct neighbour of Normandy with this impressive castle on it’s border. Urged on by Roger de Montgommery, an exile from Normandy, he used this as a pretext to invade Normandy and depose the governing group headed by Raoul de Gacé. Henry rode up to the chateau of Tillières in 1042 and demanded entry. The castle was held by Gilbert Crespin who refused even though Raoul de Gacé had told him not to oppose the King. The King arranged with Rauol de Cacé that he should destroy the castle and agreed not to rebuild it within a period of four years. ( By which time William wold be adult). The houses inside the castle were burnt, Henry proceeded to Argentan which was sacked then returned to Tillières and installed a garrison in breach of his promise.

At the same time a viscount from Exmes (pronounced “Em”) Turstin Goz, invested the chateau of Falaise (where Wiliiam was born). Raoul raised the militia and attacked. This was probably the first military action where William was present at the age of 14. Part of the wall was destroyed and Turstin capitulated.
It was at this time that William started to assert power in his own right. He embraced the church, pushed out incompetents, took council from wise men and became proficient in the use of arms.

In 1046 the son of William de Brionne, Guy de Brionne led a conspiracy against William. William was on a hunting expedition near Valognes (Cherbourg peninsula). The dukes “fool” had overheard the conspirators plotting to overpower him in his bedroom. He pounded on the bedroom door to raise the alarm. William escaped only half dressed. He rode all night to a safe house at Ryes (near Arromanches). The owner instructed his sons to escort the young duke to Falaise avoiding all towns on the way. When the conspirators arrived shortly afterwards he sent them on a false trail.

It was now the turn of William to ask for the aid of his King. Henry probably thought it prudent to stifle the growing anarchy in Normandy as it might waken predatory instincts in the Count of Blois and Chartres. William raised an army from the Caux (East of the Seine), Rouen, and the area just west of the Seine. This implies that the rebellion came mainly from Lower Normandy – Bayeux - Cherbourg peninsula.

The armies confonted each other at Val es Dunes 6 miles SE of Caen (Near a town called Billy on the banks of the river Muance) on the 10 august 1047. Roaul II Taison was apart from the rebels. King Henry asked William who it was and if he knew of his intentions. William replied that they were on his side. He must have known that Raoul had allied himself with the rebels, but perhaps he suspected what was to happen. Raoul had sworn before the rebels not to rest until he had struck William. He galloped up to William tapped him on the arm with his glove and, laughing said “there I’ve honoured my oath.” He then left the field of battle with his men.
This was a sore blow to the rebels but they took up battle anyway. There were 200 knights and 700 foot soldiers on the rebels side. A similar number with William and henry.

During the battle King Henry was unseated and his life was only saved by the quality of his armour. William astounded Henry by his courage and temerity in engaging the enemy.

The rebels army finally broke up in disarray and the men scrambled back towards their homes. At a crossing point on the river Orne south of Caen the men tried desperately to cross the ford. The bodies of drowned men blocked a water wheel lower down the river.
William chose to follow Guy de Brionne back to his chateau at Brionne 30 miles SW of Rouen. He laid siege to the chateau and it was three years later that Guy de Brionne capitulated.

(It was during this siege that William met a certain Lanfranc. He was a monk at Le Bec helouin not far from Brionne. He became a favourite of William and oversaw the construction of Abbey aux Hommes and later became archbishop of Canterbury)

Having stamped his authority on Nomandy he organised the “Treve de Dieu” (God’s truce) to try to reduce the deadly quarrels that took place between families. A Franc tradition held that a murder is repaid by a murder. As every body belonged to group, a murder was repaid by a battle between families or counties. The Treve de Dieu was intended to forbid fighting from Wednesday evening till Monday morning.


The Count of Blois, who had caused trouble by ceding the chateau at Tillières to Henry, was defeated by the Count of Anjou, Geoffroy Martel. This left Anjou the most powerful province in the region. Henry called on William to assist him in a campaign against Anjou. They attacked a castle at Mouliherne.
Between Anjou and Normandy were two small counties of Belleme and Maine. These counties acted
as a buffer zone between Anjou and Normandy. In reply to the attack by Henry and William Geoffrey Martel took Chateau du Loir, Le Mans, then Alencon and Domfront, in Belleme and Maine.

Autumn 1051 William launched a campaign to free Domfront from the Angevins. He hoped to attack by surprise but the plan was given away by a traitor, perhaps William of Arques. The only alternative was to lay siege and wait till the inhabitants gave up. image 177 x 234

Geoffrey Martel tried an offensive action to lift the siege. He sent his herald to inform William’s camp that the attack would take place tomorrow. He gave the description of Geoffrey’s horse and armour. But, the next day Geoffrey heard that King Henry was on his way to Tours (on the Loire River) so he turned about and headed for Tours.

William was confident that his siege would be effective so he decided to go in person to attack Alençon. He rode the 35 miles during the night but once again his ruse was betrayed. He arrived at Alencon to be greeted by lines of defenders on the battlements taunting him with cries of ’The skin the skin of the tanner” referring to the trade of his mother’s father.

William was in such a rage, he entered the town and cut off the hands and feet of 30 prisoners captured by his men. He installed a garrison in the town and returned to Domfront which capitulated shortly afterwards.
Henry had been looking to restore the balance of power between Normandy and Anjou, but the rapidity of the victory of Normandy over Anjou caused him great consternation. Henry made a treaty with Anjou in October 1052 evidently directed against Normandy. He did nothing immediately but gave refuge to any dissidents from Normandy.

William of Arques, who had betrayed William’s plans at Domfront, was a son of Richard II and was count of Talou in the Caux, east of the Seine River. He built himself a well fortified castle and proclaimed himself count by the will of the king of the heavens. He denied William access to his castle several times. Counts had a duty to provide troops for the duke. (The Ost) He refused this.

In 1052 William laid siege to the chateau of Arques and placed a garrison there. William was in the Cherbourg peninsula when he heard that William of Arques had reinvested the chateau. With a small group of men he made a forced ride the hundred miles to Arques. When they arrived there were just 6 horses still going.
While William waited for reinforcements to attack the chateau, reinforcements arrived for Arques provided by the king Henry I. William laid siege and the chateau capitulated in early 1054. This intervention by Henry embittered relations between him and William.
The French still resented theses “most recent” invaders ( hundred years) and were always ready to incite the king to invade Normandy.

During the winter of 1053 – 54 two armies invaded Normandy. One led by Eude the kings brother attacked the Pays de Caux north of the Seine and the other led by the King and the Count of Anjou attacked to the west of Paris. William was forced to divide his forces. William took command of his army confronting the King and Robert count of Eu took command of the other.
The success of William’s strategy was due to his avoidance of ranged battles, a great mobility (which led his opponents to feel he had more men than in reality) and the use of spies to decide when was the best time to attack.

The French army attacking the Pays de Caux was bivouacked in a town Mortemer sur Aulne. The army led by Count Eu was not far away and had learnt that the french had been drinking heavily. The Normans entered the town by cover of night and set it alight. The French were panic stricken and in complete disarray. The Normans hacked many to death and took many prisoners.
William sent a herald to the other French army. He called to them to go and bury their comrades in Mortemer. The King decided it was prudent to beat a retreat.

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