William the Bastard invaded England in 1066, defeated the Anglo Saxon forces, and transformed into William the Conqueror. The Norman invaders supplanted the native English and overthrew the House of Wessex. William the Conqueror founded the English House of Normandy and emerged William I. The dynasty lasted less than a century, encompassed only three monarchs, and was succeeded by the House of Blois. The House of Blois justified their rule through their blood relationship with the House of Normandy. In England, the Blois family dynasty lasted 19 years.
William the Conqueror (1066-1087)
William the Bastard campaigned for years to extend his power over Normandy. In 1066, he expanded his reach to England. William defeated the Anglo Saxons at Hastings, displaced the House of Wessex, and conquered England. He spent the next two decades ruthlessly consolidating his rule. By 1075, William completed the English pacification. William the Conqueror’s rule was marked by castle construction, the displacement of the native English, and the complete turnover of the Anglo Saxon clergy. Essentially, the conquest transformed England into a Norman colony with the Anglo Saxons becoming second class citizens in their own kingdom. At the end of his reign, William ordered a census of English landholders and their property. The Domesday Book was completed in 1086.
William Rufus (1087-1100)
William the Conqueror’s son, William Rufus, succeeded his father as English king. William II’s surname, Rufus or Red, may refer to his face’s reddish hue. The flamboyant king has been described as both a sodomite and a chivalrous warrior. As a general, William II humbled the Scots, expanded English power into Wales, and helped finance the First Crusade. He died in a hunting accident. It is likely that his hunting party assassinated the king, but there is no conclusive evidence.
Henry I (1100-1135)
William II died childless. On the other hand, his brother, and successor, Henry, produced around 30 children. Henry was on hand when William died raising further questions about the king’s death. Regardless, Henry I assumed control in 1100 and reversed some of William’s policies. He defeated his rivals and forced a peace settlement upon France following a rebellion in Normandy. The king reformed the clergy, law, and bureaucracy. Unfortunately, his only legitimate male successor died at sea. In response, he named his daughter, Matilda as his successor. Henry grew ill in November 1135 and succumbed on December 1, 1135.
Stephen I (1135-1154)
Despite Henry’s wishes, the English refused to follow a woman. Stephen of Blois immediately invaded England from his base in Normandy. Early on, the new king repelled invasions and rebellions. In 1138, Matilda’s brother, Robert of Gloucester, rebelled. In response, Stephen arrested those suspected of disloyalty. However, his efforts failed, he could not put down the rebellion, and an all out civil war ensued. The so-called Anarchy lasted until 1154. At the same time, Stephen found himself in conflict with the clergy over his succession. A long stalemate followed until the various sides word out a peace agreement. Stephen agreed to name Matilda’s son, Henry, his successor in exchange for peace.
Matilda refused to surrender her claim to the English throne. In 1139, she ventured across the channel to claim her throne by force. She boasted the support of her brother, Robert of Gloucester, and the Scottish King David I. Her forces captured King Stephen in 1141, but Londoners refused to allow her coronation. Later in the year, Stephen’s forces captured Robert, so Matilda traded the king for her brother. The fortunes of war turned against Matilda and the empress found herself trapped in Oxford Castle. She escaped in the dead of night by crossing the ice on the River Isis. In the end, a stalemate developed and The Anarchy continued unending. Matilda returned to Normandy while her son Henry led the resistance in England. Finally, Stephen agreed to name Henry his successor to secure the peace. Henry assumed the throne in 1154 while Matilda served as an adviser and church patron until her death in 1167.