In 1047 William, Duke of Normandy authority was dangerously threatened. The good Duke was first called on to show in all their maturation the powers he possessed. He who was to be victor of Maine and conqueror of England was first to subdue Normandy. A insurgency in part of the Norman duchy, differed from the unflagging loyalty of the original grant to Rollo. The state of the duchy is emphasized by this split of allegiance. There was, as there still is, a line of distinction between the areas first granted to Rollon and those added. In these Viking leftovers old Tectonic life had been called into fresh strength by new settlements from Scandinavia.
At the beginning of the reign of Richard the Fearless (Sanspeur), son of Duke William I "Longsword" and Spota Bretagne, 3rd Duke of Normandy Rouen, the French-speaking city, is emphatically contrasted with Bayeux, the one time Saxon city , now the headquarters of the Scandinavian tongue. Interestingly enough the grand mother of Richard was a Saxon, Poppa the daughter of Berebger of Bayeux..
The Scandinavian faction was distinctly heathen. Scandinavian gods were probably still worshipped. And Danish form of old Norse still spoken. The revolt fell diveded by the boundary which divided French and Scandinavian language , Christian and from heathen worship.
The older Norman settlements, were now French in language, manners and customs, these old settlements were with the Norman Duke, William; the regions to the west rebelled. Rouen and Evreux what is now Haute Normandy were firmly loyal to William; Saxon Bayeux and Scandinavian Coutances were the base of his antagonists. Today this area is known as Basse Normandy. William, a Norman born and bred; had as a rival amazingly a Frenchman. William's cousin Guy of Burgundy, whose connexion with the ducal house were only by the vague. Guy was legitimate in his birth, that gave him an excuse for claiming the duchy in opposition to the bastard grandson of a tanner.
William had enriched Guy with grand possessions, including the island fortress of Brionne in the Risle. Brionne is no longer an island. The Risle flows as one river, where the hunt for the elusive brown trout continues with excellent results, but the remains of the old Donjon where Guy made his last stand still watch the small town below.
The real object of the revolt was the partition of the duchy. William was to be stripped of the Dukedom; Guy was to be duke in the lands to east; western Normandy were to be left independent. To this end the lords of the Bessin and the Cotentin revolted, their leader being Neal, Viscount of Saint-Sauveur in the Cotentin. We are told that the mass of the people everywhere wanted William, their duke; in the common sovereign lay their only chance of protection against their immediate lords. The Rebel lords had armed forces at their beck and call. They tried to slay or seize the Duke, who was at Valognes. He escaped; it is an electrifying romance of his precipitous ride from Valognes to Falaise, he never came near to Rie.. He plotted. Duke William sought help of the man who could give him help, but who had most aggrieved him. He crossed into France; he met King Henry at Poissy. Henry promised to bring a French army to help William.
This time Henry kept his promise, this King was known more for broken promises that the fidelity of his word.. The dismemberment of Normandy would have profited France by weakening the power which had become so special an object of French paranoia; but with a king the common interest of princes against rebellious barons came first. Henry came with a French army, and fought well for his ally on the field of Val-es-dunes. William, the colossus, the giant, the leviathan who bestrode Normandy, England held the French king at bay and hammered Scotland now in his youth faced his first battle, a struggle of horsemen on an open flat land just within the territory of the rebels between Caen and Mezidon. The young duke fought well and bravely; like a man beyond his 18 years but the Norman writers still allow that it was the French that achieved the victory.
One of the many stories of the battle points to a well of backbone which was always ready to tell for any lord against rebellious vassals. Ralph of Tesson, a rebellious baron, struck with remorse and stirred by the entreaties of his knights, joined the Duke just before the battle. He had sworn to smite William wherever he found him, and he fulfilled his oath by giving the Duke a harmless blow with his glove.
The victory at Val-es-dunes was decisive, and the French King, whose help had done so much to win it, left William to follow it up. He met with but little resistance except at the stronghold of Brionne. Guy himself vanishes from Norman history. His fate unknown, lost in the mists of the vanquished. William had now conquered his own duchy Normandy conquered it with foreign relief. For the rest of his Norman reign he had often to contend with competitors , but never again such a rebellion such as that manifested at Val-es-dunes. Western Normandy yielded to the French lands .. William was now master of all Normandy he suppressed all would be rebels. From the age of nineteen William rules Normandy , his achievements are his own. He was a charitable conqueror. He showed a distinct resistance to killing except in fair fighting on the battle-field. No blood was shed after the victory of Val-es-dunes; one rebel died in bonds and the other conquered underwent no harder punishment than payment of fines, giving of hostages, and destruction of their castles. These castles were not the commodious and complex structures of later times. They were a defence of wood on a steep mound surrounded by a ditch, was enough to make its owner dangerous. The possession of these strongholds made every baron able at once to defy his prince and to make himself a curse to his neighbours. Every anarchy period is marked by the building of castles each quelled rebellion brings with it castle destruction as precursor for peace.
William was a leader, a born duke he laid the foundation for the Modern British state.. What is written of his rule in Normandy are only complimentary words by paid flacks. The facts of his amazing guidance of the Normans speak for themselves. Normandy under William was more peaceful and prosperous than any other state in Europe. We do not need to Romanize the part played by Sinclairs. It was minor part at Val-es dunes. At Hastings only one St Clair is listed as a companion of the military and political genius that was William, Duke of Normandy, King of England.
Earlier I have incorrectly written that William was born at Caen. The correct birth place should be Falaise. I thank Oliver who has demonstrated this clearly to me. Duke Williams guardian was Gilbert, Count of Brionne. A number of Norman barons would not accept an illegitimate son as their leader and in 1040 an attempt was made to kill William. The plot failed by they did manage to kill Gilbert. .
The mother of William the Conqueror is in discrepancy. It is either Herleve de Falaise, also spelled Harlette and Arlette. However, Usherwood states that she was Duke Robert's mistress, a tanner's daughter. His mother married a Norman nobleman after Robert's death. She helped her son's dukedom to be saved by this marriage. William's birth date is also in question, listed as 1024 or 1027.
What is not in question is the greatness of William the Conqueror. He had a bold spirit, orderly mind and tireless energy. He had European fame by the age of 38. He was Duke of Normandy before becoming King of England. He married his cousin, Matilda, daughter of the Count of Flanders, to whom he was devoted. He died in Rouen after months of internal bleeding from being thrown from his horse. The horse reared when burnt by embers in Mantes, a town he had just captured. (Usherwood, Reign by Reign)
William's power in Normandy was constantly under threat. He repulsed two French invasions, William then in turnabout captured the Maine in 1063. It is preposterous to suppose that had Val-es-dunes been the young Dukes downfall minor Barons would have taken his place. There is no record of Sinclair (St Clair) being fined or punished in the aftermath of Val-es-dunes. This does not mean it did not happen it means there is no record. Our relationship to the Duke is thin. I do not think that we can, with certainty trace our family origins to sons of Rollo or our blood to William. To establish that as fact would be impossible it would require a great leap of faith. History is not recorded by assumptions or guesses. If the time shrouded myth that we are of the blood of Rollo, Viking war chief, serves any purpose it is harmless, to portray as history defies credibility.
This family, covered as it is in a mantel of the reflected glory of our ancestors does not need to wear other mens feathers.
Ref: Directory of Royal Genealogical Data, maintained by Brian Tompset,
Edward Fitz Randolph Branch Lines, Allied Families and English and Norman Ancestry, by Oris H. F. Randolph 1976, London
Les origines franco-saxonnes des Capétiens, by Joseph & Martine Denoyelle-Lelong 1903 Paris
Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Falaise Roll, Recording Prominent Companions of William Duke of Normandy at the Conquest of England
M. Jackson, Crispin and Leonce Macary. London 1938
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. New York 2001.
The Isles Norman Davies Chatham Kent 1999
Kings and Queens of England ed A Fraser London 1993
France Moyen Age 987-1460 Georges Duby Paris 1990
The Normans Trevor Rowley Glos. !999
Europe A History Norman Davies Oxford 1996
The Pimlico Encylopedia of the Middle Ages ed Norman F. Cantor Pimlico 1999
The Kings of England Glover and Miles London 1995
XXIe congrès des sociétés historiques et archéologiques de Normandie 1999
Guillaume le Conquérant Olivier Courtois Rouen 1999