William the Conquerer (ca. 1028-1087)William the Conqueror (ca. 1028-1087) - William I the Conqueror became Duke of Normandy upon his father's death in 1035.  The Normans were descended from the Vikings who settled in Northern France one-hundred twenty-four years earlier.  It was granted to them by King Charles III of West Francia as part of a peace treaty ending a war between the Franks and Vikings.  As leader of the invading Vikings, Rollo, became the first ruler of Normandy.  He was brother of the legendary Viking, Ragnar Lothbrok.  Part of the terms of peace required that Rollo convert to Christianity, and he adopted the Christian name, Robert.  So William was a direct descendant of Rollo, and an indirect descendant of Ragnar Lothbrok.  Before he earned the title "Conqueror" he was originally known as William the Bastard (due to the fact that his parents were not married).  His father, Robert I (or Robert II if you count Rollo as the first Robert), was known as Robert the Magnificent or, more notoriously, as Robert the Devil.  Despite being a bastard, William was Robert's only son, and as a result, he demanded that his lords swear fealty to William; which they did.

 

So when Robert died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1035, William became duke at the age of only seven.  His future was still uncertain though.  Not only because of his age, but because of his illegitimate birth.  For more than a decade, Norman aristocrats fought for control of the duchy.  But William managed to stay alive and hold onto power, largely under the protection of Count Gilbert of Brionne, Robert's cousin (both were grandsons of Richard the Fearless). Gilbert remained William's guardian until he was old enough to take matters into his own hands.  By 1047 he began to assert his own authority over the aristocracy, and by 1060 was firmly in control of Normandy.  Sometime in the 1050's he married Matilda of Flanders, the daughter of Count Baldwin V.  This created a powerful alliance between Normandy and Flanders.  Matilda bore him nine children, including four sons (two of whom would become kings).  With his position now secure, William set his sights on a much bigger prize than just being Duke of Normandy.  His destiny lie to the north, across the English Channel.