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William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror
Weapons Norman Broadsword, Composite Crossbow, Torsion Catapult
Origin Normandy France
Activities Defeating the British and becoming King
Service 1066 AD
Battle Status Lost vs. Joan of Arc
Experts Jason McNeil (Medieval Combat Specialist)
Stephen Morillo, PhD (Wabash College)

"William the Conqueror started leading troops into battle when he was a teenager. He learned his craft on the battlefield. It was a case of do or die." - Jason McNeil, Medieval Combat Specialist

William the Conqueror, the daring and deadly Norman duke who crushed his English enemies and crowned himself king;

Joan of Arc , the teenaged French fighter whose battlefield heroics defeated England's superior army, and ended the Hundred Years War.


  • Circa: 1066 A.D.
  • Age: 38
  • Height: 5'10"
  • Weight: 215 lbs

History of English Monarchs[]

Origins of the Normans[]

The Normans (literally meaning 'men of the north') were originally Vikings that frequently raided France: especially when the Carolingian Empire split into three due to a succession crisis, making France too divided to defend themselves. On 20 July 911, Vikings under the leadership of Gaange Rolf, Rollo won The Battle of Chartre. Charles the Simple surrendered to the Vikings in autumn of that same year. The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte was the beginning of Normandy and the establishment of the Normans in France. As part of this treaty; the Vikings also agreed to convert to Christianity.

Normans would begin the first invasions into Italy in 999; establishing The County of Sicily 1071–1130 and County of Apulia and Calabria in 1043–1130.

English House of Normandy[]

Born in 1028 in Normandy, King William I (Duke of Normandy and King of England), also known as William the Conqueror, is known for his conquest of England and eventual rise to power. William had convinced himself that the crown of England was for the taking, and that he could successfully conquer England in a short period of time.

King Edward the Confessor died on 5 January 1066. Harold Godwinson was declared to be his successor. However William I and Harald Hardrada also claimed the English throne. King Harold killed Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge; however the battle occurred in North Yorkshire and William I was in Normandy at this time. Knowing that Harold was distracted by this northern campaign, William prepared a naval invasion. As he strengthened Normandy's defenses and rallied 7,000 troops, in 1066 he finally conquered England in only a few months. The two kings fought at the The Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. Harold had a strategic advantage by positioning his army on a hilltop; but William was able to thin Harold's line by using a feigned retreat to trick Harold's soldiers from leaving the hill to pursue: only to be entrapped. Although Harold's army was still strong and positioned as a shield-wall, William realized that their shields were too heavy to protect their heads and ordered his crossbowmen to aim high so that the bolts would fall from above. King Harold Godwinson was killed by one of these bolts striking his eye. As a result, William was crowned the first Norman King of England.

He soon began to fortify his regime by building dozens of castles and spreading his royal army around the land. William led The Harrying: a period of massacres and anti-rebel crackdowns with estimates about 100,000 civilians killed. Some historians believed that this genocide was to repress and replace Anglo-Saxon society with a Norman one.

William died from a fatal horse riding injury on 9 September 1087 (when he was 59). His succession was between his three sons; Robert Curthose became Duke of Normandy, and William Rufus/William II became King of England. His youngest son, Henry I, initially was given no land but instead inherited some wealth. King Robert and William fought each other in the Rebellion of 1088. During this time Henry occupied Scotland and forced the Scottish King William the Lion (who had supported his brother Robert during the Rebellion) to recognize him as Overlord in exchange for withdrawing. In 1095 the rivalry between the brothers halted as they sent their Knights to fight in The First Crusade. Robert leased Normandy to William to finance his Crusaders. On August 2, 1100, King William II was killed by a hunting arrow; some historians believing that he was assassinated by his brother Henry I, who was joining him on a hunt. As Henry I was William II's successor (due to Henry never having married or having any legitimate heirs), he quickly rose to power shortly after William II's death. Henry then conquered the Normandy Kingdom in 1106 and imprisoned Robert for life. Henry was able to maintain his Kingdom's territory; resisting multiple foreign invasions while maintaining his economy.

House of Angevin & The Angevin Empire[]

Henry died on 1 December 1135 and was succeeded by Stephen of Blois. However Empress Matilda and her son Henry II claimed to be the rightful heir and so the nation erupted into the Civil War of 1135–54, in a period dubbed The Anarchy. Stephen was temporarily captured by Matilda, however the Empress was so unpopular that she offended the Londoners and was chased out of London before her coronation. Stephen died in 1154 and so Henry II was chosen as his successor: making him the first English King of the Houses of Plantagenet and Angevin.

Henry II expanded further; conquering the western half of France by 1166 AD. Henry then invaded Ireland in May 1169, which is cited by many historians as the beginning of English colonialism and repression of the Irish. While Dublin was the primary territory directly owned by the Normans; the other Irish kingdoms agreed to be puppets of the Norman Empire in exchange for maintaining peace. By its peak in 1172 AD: Henry's Angevin Empire had influence over almost all of the British Isles (excluding some Scottish islands).

Henry II faced a succession crisis when his sons launched The Revolt of 1173–74 against him. Henry's distribution of lands and territories to his sons did not satisfy them; however Henry won the conflict and his sons surrendered. Henry decided to name his son John Lackland as his successor, but Richard I wanted the throne and again rebelled against his father Henry. On 4 July 1189, the forces of Richard and French King Philip II defeated Henry's army at The Battle of Ballans and forcing Henry to name Richard his successor. 2 days later (on 6 July), Henry died of a fever, granting Richard his kingdom.

Richard I led the Third Crusade in 1189–1192, but failed to gain any territory from the Muslims. Before arriving in the Holy Lands, Richard I's navy was caught in a storm and left on Cyprus. Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus, despite being a Christian as well, began imprisoning Richard's men. This sparked a war, which allowed Richard to Conquer Cyprus by June 1, 1191. Richard did not plan to own a territory so far away from England and so sold the island to the Knights Templar: creating the Kingdom of Cyprus lasting 1192–1489.

Richard returned to Europe but was captured in Vienna in 1192. Richard was able to pay off the ransom and return home; however the money used to pay the ransom was 2 years worth of tax money and thus, the Empire was bankrupt. Because of his imprisonment, the French invaded the Angevin Empire. On 25 March 1199 during The Siege of Château de Châlus-Chabrol; Richard was hit by a crossbow bolt: dying from the gangrenous wound on 6 April 1199. John Lackland became his successor.

John was a highly controversial King within English history; infamously being the main antagonist of the Adventures of Robin Hood. He was hated by nobles and peasants alike for his rude behavior, poor leadership, poor handling of the economy, overtaxing, and failures in the wars against France (giving him the name John Lackland for the territory of Normandy he lost to France). He resisted Pope Innocent III by banning Cardinal Stephen Langton from England. When English clerics opposed this action; John declared them traitors and seized Church property. The Pope in response halted church services in England between 1208 to 1214 and excommunicated John in 1209. English nobles began to revolt since John was seen as unholy or unfit to rule. Seeing the disorder threatening his reign; John decided to surrender his hostilities in 1213, giving back Church land and swearing loyalty to the Pope. However revolts still occurred; with Robert Fitzwalter launching The First Barons' War in 1215-1217. On 15 June 1215, the Magna Carta was signed: one of the most important documents in English history, as it restricted the powers of the King. John technically signed the document but ignored it and had the Pope annul the document. The revolt continued as a result. While at King's Lynn Seaport: John contracted dysentery in September of 1216. Alexander II of Scotland launched an invasion in northern England: John was forced to make a hasty, disastrous retreat when many of his ships sunk due to quicksand or whirlpools. On the night of 18 October 1216, John died at Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire.

House of Plantagenet[]

John's son Henry III was declared his successor the day after John's death: making Henry the first Plantagenet king to be Non-Angevin (despite the fact Henry was only 9 years old in 1216). The Battle of Lincoln in 20 May 1217 pushed King Louis VIII (the Lion) (who assisted the Anti-Angevin Army) out of England. The First Baron's War would end officially on 11 September 1217. Since Henry was so young, many nobles loyal to Louis defected to Henry as the rebels assisting the French didn't view Henry as a corrupt threat, and believed that a child king would be easier to manipulate for their ends.

However King Louis VIII instead began to invade English territories in Nouvelle-Aquitaine (aka New Aquitaine) and Henry asked for support from his nobles to reinforce Gascony. The nobles assisted only after they demanded Henry to follow the Magna Carta, which Henry and future English kings agreed to from that moment on. Henry attempted to reconquer Brittany and tried to install English influence in France by marrying Eleanor of Provence in 14 January 1236. However many English nobles didn't like Henry's generous support for a family from enemy lands; especially when Henry continued these alliances long after the war ended in failure with the Treaty of Paris (1259). Henry also damaged his nation's economy with overspending for attempted imperial gains; losing a significant fortune to create an alliance with his brother, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and an attempt to get his son, Edmund Crouchback, to be King of Sicily. Henry became so unpopular that between 1264–1267 a Second Barons' War erupted, led by Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. Henry however won the war.

Edward I of England left England to assist The Eight Crusade in 1270, but arrived too late when an dysentery outbreak killed Louis IX. In 16 November 1272, Henry III died and Edward I became his successor. Edward reigned from 20 November 1272 until his death in 7 July 1307. Edward I was noticeable for leading the English in The First War of Scottish Independence: facing the Scottish Knight William Wallace. While Wallace was captured and brutally executed on 23 August 1305, Edward I faced significant military defeats throughout the war.

Edward I's son and successor, Edward the II, was considered a failure; unable to defeat the Scottish rebels, defend against French invaders, and facing peasant revolts due to famine. Edward II then took land from his wife Queen Isabella (The She-Wolf of France). She and her secret lover Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March overthrew Edward II in 1326; leading her son Edward III to be the new king.

Edward III's reign began a long period of war and disasters for the English. Edward attempted to invade Scotland in The Second War of Scottish Independence (1332–1357). Scottish guerrilla tactics allowed the Scots to outlast the English and win the war. Edward then claimed to be the rightful heir to the French throne through his mother Isabella; leading to the War of the Breton Succession (1341 - 12 April 1365) and the early stages of The Hundreds Year War (24 May 1337 – 19 October 1453). The Black Death also arrived in England between 1349-1375; killing an estimated 45% of the population (about 1.5 million English deaths). As seen in most European nations; the massive loss of life allowed peasants higher wages due to the desperate demand for healthy workers: which would lead to the eventual end of feudalism.

[1] Richard II began his reign in 21 June 1377 after Edward III's death. Richard II was not the son of Edward III but the general Edward of Woodstock (aka The Black Prince). Edward III's sons were outraged and many nobles didn't enjoy the inexperience and illegitimacy of Richard II: especially since Richard II began his reign at the age of 10. Richard quickly declared peace to end The Caroline Phase of the Hundreds Year War: as he needed to focus his attention on the political instability that immediately threatened his rule. During his reign he faced opposition from the priest John Wycliffe; who criticized the clergy and the English monarchy. John's philosophies are seen as the origins of several religious concepts; including the separation of church and state (including Caesaropapism), Iconoclasm, and being considered the creator of early Protestantism (dubbed Lollardy). John openly denounced the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope for abuse of power and greed. Lollardists demanded Church to relinquish their ownership of land, which John of Gaunt (a son of Edward III who claimed to be the true successor of Edward III) and other nobles supported (as the church would have to surrender the land them). John of Gaunt's support of this movement that criticized Richard's monarchy made Richard II despise John of Gaunt, despite John being Richard's successor to the throne.

The 1381 Peasants' Revolt erupted in response to Richard II overtaxing the peasants and being accused of corruption; although the revolt was crushed, it further damaged Richard's reputation. In 1388 The Lords Appellant attempted to impeach Richard and managed to arrest or execute many of his political supporters. Richard cracked down on these lords in 1397; purging most of the leaders in an event known as Richard's Tyranny.

Between 1394-1395, Richard invaded and conquered Southern Ireland.

War of the Roses[]

House of Lancaster[]

Henry IV of England (son of the aforementioned John of Gaunt) was declared to be Richard II's successor when John died of natural causes in 3 February 1399. Richard II however strictly opposed Henry IV's claim and as a result; seized Henry's land, exiled him from the kingdom and declared his political titles forfeit. However the nobles, who despised Richard II's tyrannical rule anyways, feared that Richard would steal their property as well; and so on 30 September 1399, while Richard was busy with conquering Ireland, Henry overthrew his government. When Richard returned to England he surrendered to Henry. Richard's supporters attempted to assassinate or rebel against Henry IV, but the plot was crushed and the conspirators executed. Richard would die of thirst while in prison on 14 February 1400 at the age of 33. Henry IV was head of the House of Lancaster, and his rise allowed the Lancasters to be the royal family of England.

Henry IV died on 20 March 1413: allowing his son Henry V of England to begin his reign the next day. Henry V reignited the Hundreds Year War: beginning the Lancastrian Phase. Henry V's reign saw significant victories and successful conquests in the Hundreds Year War. In 1420 the Treaty of Troyes officially declared King Henry V of England as the successor for King Charles VI of France, in an attempt to win the war by merging the royal houses. However in 1422 the two kings died within two months of each other's deaths.

Henry VI began his reign in 31 August 1422. Henry VI would be remembered as highly incompetent, cowardly and mentally frail. This, combined with the fact that his reign started when he was only 9 months old, made him easily influenced by other politicians. A Regency Government existed between 1422–1437 to rule until Henry VI was of age. In 23 April 1445, Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Queen Margaret was considered to be the defacto ruler of England and head of the House of Lancaster: being able to manipulate her husband with ease. The combination of Henry VI's weak leadership and Margret's power-hungry corruption made the Lancasters hated by peasants and nobles alike.

On 8 May 1429 the English army broke out of the Siege of Orléans; demoralized by the charges led by Joan of Arc. This is considered to be the turning point of the Hundred Years War as English control of French lands would diminish throughout the remainder of the conflict. The French would win the war in the aftermath of The Battle of Castillon on 17 July 1453. Henry VI suffered a mental breakdown shortly after losing the War. For more than a year, Henry VI was mostly or completely unresponsive to friends, family and politics.

House of York[]

The House of Lancasters were further despised for losing the Hundred Years War and the bankruptcy resulting from war-debts. Henry VI was mentally incapable of ruling or naming a successor. Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York declared himself to be Lord Protector (his first reign starting 3 April 1454) in order to rule the nation in Henry VI's mental absence. Richard of York was a leading figure of the Regency Government of 1422–1437, and so his past experience and success made him an obvious choice. York was a popular politician, especially as he claimed to be heir to the throne due to being a decedent of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York (arguably the legitimate decedent of Edward III). However Margaret saw Richard as a threat due to his rising power and popularity: if Richard were to achieve succession, the House of Lancaster could be permanently removed from the English throne. Henry VI recovered from his mental breakdown and Margaret demanded her husband to force Richard out of the royal court. Both Margaret and York began to build up alliances with other noble families. The Lancasters identified themselves with a Red Rose and the Yorks with a White Rose. Margaret attempted to crackdown on the growing Yorkist faction, but the Yorkists took up arms in response.

The First Battle of St Albans, fought on 22 May 1455, marked the first battle and start of the War of the Roses. The Yorkist forces outnumbered the Lancasters, and King Henry VI didn't expect York to resort to a violent attack. This battle was a decisive Yorkist victory as many major Lancaster nobles were killed and Henry VI was captured by Richard of York. In exchange for Henry VI's release, Richard of York would retain his title of Lord Protector. Henry VI, in response, would have another mental breakdown for the next few months.

However keeping the Yorks in power simply reignited hostilities between Margaret and Richard. Margaret wanted her son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, to be next in line to the throne instead of Richard. As a result, Henry VI recovered again from his bout of madness and again revoked Richard's title of Lord Protector in February 1456.

England dissolved into civil war and the House of Lancaster fled from London. Margaret introduced conscription and allied with James II, King of Scotland to increase the size of the Lancaster army. On 25 October 1460: The Act of Accord declared Richard of York to be the official heir to the throne. In retaliation; Queen Margaret pursued York, leading to The Battle of Wakefield. Richard was stationed inside Sandal Castle, but instead of holding his siege, attacked the Lancasters on 30 December 1460. Yorkists underestimated the Lancasters, who outnumbered them 2-1, and Richard of York was killed in the battle. Despite Richard's death, the strength of the Yorkist faction was still strong.

The Yorkist leader King Edward IV of England, occupied London and declared himself king on March 4, 1461: with a crowd of Londoners applauding his Coronation. The Lancasters suffered a significant defeat at The Battle of Tewkesbury on 29 March 1461: Edward IV managed to ambush the Lancasters with 200 spearmen that he positioned hiding in the woods. Margaret surrendered and was exiled back to France. Her son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was killed in the battle.

House of Tudor[]

Edward IV died on 9 April 1483. Edward V of England reigned for less than 3 months (9 April 1483 – 25 June 1483) as he was overthrown (and possibly assassinated) by Richard III of England. However Richard III's shocking power-grab was viewed as illegitimate and the War of the Roses reignited.

A new family within the Lancasters, The House of Tudor, emerged under Henry VII and challenged Richard III. Henry VII fought Richard III on 22 August 1485 at The Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard III used risky maneuvers, like splitting up his army and leading a charge, in order to break Henry VII's forces. However the Tudors maintained their forces and survived the assaults: and Richard III's charge ended in failure and his death.

With Richard III dead, the Tudor Family rose to power. The Battle of Stoke Field was the last attempt by the surviving Yorkist faction to battle the Tudors. The Yorkists attempted to occupy Rampire Hill at the start of the battle, but were being assaulted by Tudor archers. The Yorkists had elite foreign mercenaries and decided to charge down the hill instead of trying to outlast the archers. The Tudors were shocked, but rallyed and engaged in a melee. The Tudors managed to maintain their long ranged advantage with their archers and forced the Yorkist army into a corner; surrounding them by 3 rivers. The Tudor archers and Yorkist mercenaries caused heavy casualties for the opposing sides, however the Yorkist leaders were eventually overwhelmed and slaughtered.

In order to heal the division between the Houses, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York. The Tudor-Lancasters and Yorks were officially combined, and the Tudor Rose symbolized this by displaying both the red and white rose. The end of the War of the Roses marked the beginning of the English Renaissance as England began to stabilize and recover from centuries of war-dept, civil war, and natural disasters like The Black Death and The Little Ice Age.

Henry VII faced opposition and revolts, but managed to crackdown against them to cement his reign.

Henry VIII is one of the most controversial kings in English history. Henry VIII was infamous for beheading anyone who opposed him politically; including most of his many wives.

Tudor period[]

English Civil War[]

This war also introduced the concept of the Redcoat, since the color was used in the war by the New Model Army.


Short Range Norman Broadsword
Medium Range Composite Crossbow
Long Range Torsion Catapult
Armor Chainmail Hauberk
Tactics Feigned Retreat

Simulated Battle[]

RedRedRedRed Red Joan

BlueBlueBlueBlue Blue William


Joan of Arc VS William the Conqueror. William

The battle begins with Joan knelt in prayer before William's castle with sword in hand. After making the sign of the Cross, Joan rises and rallies her troops to prepare the siege cannon. On the inside, William shouts "Armez la catapulte!" (Arm the Catapult) orders his men to prepare the Torsion Catapult. Two crossbowmen also begin to open fire, one from the ramparts and one from an arrow slit, but Joan's pavises defend her troops. Back outside, the siege cannon takes its first shot, blasting through the castle wall and killing the arrow slit soldier.Bluedead Joan takes a moment to survey the damage done and calls for a reload. Meanwhile, the catapult is loaded with a large stone and fired. The stone flies to the outside and kills a retreating Frenchman.Reddead

The cannon is soon reloaded and fired again, knocking down the catapult operators and disabling the catapult. The operators help each other to their feet as Joan signals for her men to advance through the wall as the crossbowman takes another shot. The bolt is deflected by a large shield and the French crossbowman counter-fires his steel crossbow, killing the bowman atop the ramparts.Bluedead Joan picks up the French banner and leads on, but another of William's men fires his crossbow from the hole at her, temporarily knocking her down. Joan's crossbowman desperately tries to reload his crossbow, but is stopped when another of William's bowmen shoots him through the eye.Reddead Joan regains herself and fires her crossbow at the Norman bowman, hitting him in the throat.Bluedead

Joan's army storms through the besieged wall as William gives the order, "Attaque!" (Attack!) A Norman swordsman makes short work of an advancing French soldier,Reddead but Joan follows up by half-swording him through his chainmail.Bluedead Joan and her remaining soldier advance on, each running up different flights of stairs. The soldier soon meets William at the top, sword and shield in hand. The lone swordsman blocks an overhead chop and manages to throw away William's shield, but William counters by striking him in the back, causing him to fall to his death from the steps into the courtyard.Reddead

Joan soon finishes coming up the other flight of stairs and begins her showdown with William. Joan's inexperience is easily countered by William's swordsmanship, but he cannot slash through her steel plate armor. As Joan slowly backs down the stairs, William rushes in. Before he can strike, Joan stabs him through the left thigh. William raises his sword again, but Joan stabs him again in the thigh, forcing him to kneel down. William tries for a backhand chop, but Joan grabs his hand and runs him through the chest. The defeated Conqueror rolls off the stairs and into the courtyard, landing next to Joan's fallen bodyguard.Bluedead Joan of Arc then stands atop the stairs, raising her sword and giving a loud victory yell.

Expert's Opinion[]

The reason why Joan won was because of her advanced technology like her siege cannon, her steel crossbow and her armor (which protected her more than and allowed her far more flexibility than William's chainmail). These technological advantages are what allowed Joan to win the day.


  • The show's narrator mentions that William the Conqueror succeeded where Napoleon and Adolf Hitler didn't. Both Napoleon and Hitler had planned invasions of England but these plans never made if off the drawing board. Napoleon had an entire army assembled to invade England but the plans were called off for Napoleon to focus on Egypt and Austria. Hitler's Operation Sea Lion managed to inflict damage on the English mainland (via German Air Force bombers) but also never crossed from France into England. Operation Sea Lion was sidelined when Hitler impulsively decided to invade the Soviet Union.
  • William the Conqueror and his soldiers can trace some of their ancestry back to the Viking; Rollo specifically.
    • William was descended from the Vikings but like all Normans was more closely related to the French.
  • The English cheered at William's coronation. However William and his army did not know how to speak Old English and so thought the crowd was a rebellious mob, so they brutally cracked down on their loyal civilians.
    • In fact, for most of the Middle Ages the ruling class of England spoke French, and initially refused to learn the language of their subjects. The first English King who could speak fluent English was Edward I (Longshanks, known for his wars of conquest against the Scots and being the archenemy of William Wallace) and even then it was his second language. This had a lasting impact on the development of the English language.
  • William and his Normans are credited for introducing the concept of castles to England. William built 84 castles in England between 1066-1087 AD.
  • The Bastard of Normandy was a common nickname for William due to his illegitimate birth. The nickname "The Conqueror" only became widespread after his conquest of England.
  • Stock footage from BBC Battlefield Britain was used in the Joan of Arc vs William the Conqueror episode.
  • At 215 lbs, William is the heaviest ancient warrior. This is a big contrast to Joan, the lightest warrior at 125 lbs (a 90 lb difference).