Count of Rouen
Name: William Longsword
Place of Birth: Rouen
Father: Rollo the Dane
Luitgarde of Vermandois
Longsword had no children with his wife Luitgarde. He fathered his son, Richard the Fearless, with Sprota who was a Breton captive and his concubine. Richard, then aged 10, succeeded him as Duke of Normandy in December 942.
Count of Rouen
Death: 17 December 942 (aged about 48/9)
Place of Death: Picquigny on the Somme
House: House of Normandy
Heraldry: Blason du duché de Normandie
My Family Connection: 33rd Great-Grandfather
Life and Times of William I, 2nd Duke of Normandy (876? – 942)
Who is William I?
The second ruler of Normandy, William Longsword, or William I was technically the second Duke of Normandy, but instead, held the title of Count of Rouen at the time. This was because the official use of the Duke title only started in the 11th Century, with his grandson, Richard II, being the first one to carry it.
The exact date of birth of William I remains unknown, probably because he was born overseas, but most historians have placed it between 876 and 893. He is the only son of Rollo, the first leader of Normandy, and founder of the Rollonid dynasty (which gave rise to the dukes of Normandy) to his wife Poppa de Bayeux. During this time, Rollo was a pagan while Poppa was a devout Christian. He was a Viking chief who often traveled by sea in search of lands to ransack. From the account of Dudo of Saint Quentin, Poppa was the daughter of Count Berengar, and others have claimed Guy, Count of Senlis as his father.
William I sired only one son, Richard the Fearless with Sprota. He is considered among the leaders in the Northern kingdom who have treated the King of France as an ally at times, and a foe during several instances.
While Rollo was still alive, he already passed his leadership to William I, who was also elected by the Normans and Bretons during a meeting sometime in 927. He was also recommended by King Charles the Simple. Rollo lived for a number of years to witness his reign.
William I was said to have been too Gallic that he faced a Norman uprising during the beginning of his rule, resenting him for it. He sent Sprota his common law wife to Fecamp to secure her pregnancy, who later gave birth to their son Richard I. William I proved to the Normans that he was worthy of his position when he won the battle against Riouf of Evreux who fought him in Rouen.
Relations with Flanders
When Rollo was still the active Normandy leader, Arnulf I, Count of Flanders took on the fortress of Eu. In 939, Herluin, Count of Montreuil, appealed to William I after losing the fight for his principality. Montreuil was then restored, for which Herluin extended his gratitude towards William I. The Normans, however, were in charge of maritime affairs in Picardie and prevented the south expansion of Flanders.
Losing Montreuil made Arnulf I angry with William I, which was aggravated by the intertwined conflicts with Louis IV, who was incapable of keeping his barons at bay. It hampered Arnulf I’s high ambitions, declaring William I, who helped Herluin, as a bonafide enemy. William I was excommunicated in the process, particularly for destroying many of Arnulf I’s properties.
Christian in more ways
Unlike his pagan father, William I seemed to be a genuine Christian.
He gave generous donations to the Church, and at one point considered retiring from his rule of Normandy.
He is known to have created a new Normandy, restoring peace and order in the region. Some have viewed his rule as a success, attributing the Scandinavian graft on Roman France, founding the state in 911, which survived the crisis that plagued the Scandinavia and the west.
It was a rough time in Brittany, which was occupied by Normans from the Loire in 933. Rebellion broke out from the local Bretons led by Alan Barbetorte and Juhel Berenger against the Normans, but were defeated by William I’s troops. He took Brittany, the Channel Islands, Cotentin and Avranches with the help of King Ralph, in exchange of an homage from a vassal.
Juhel made peace with the Normans while Alan moved away towards the Channel. As such, William Longsword was essentially the Duke of both Normans and Bretons. From vague historical accounts, Brittany seemed a part of his occupation, instead of just a conquest. In other words, Brittany was treated as a protectorate for the Normans.
William I also wanted to control the Irish and Norwegian elements that have been built in Bessin and Cotentin. While the rebels wanted those places to be free of any political authority, they have no choice but be dependent. This was not unusual in a Frankish society. William I took advantage of this and became heavily involved in fighting off aristocracy leaders, including King Louis IV. He may have allied with Hugh the Great, but he managed to get a concession to his father Rollo from King Louis IV.
Working with Carolingians
Sometime in 933, Normandy has stretched out its claim, with William I paying tribute to King Raoul, who later became allied to his father-in-law Herbert II, for the Breton seas. Rollo was opposed to this, but William recognized him as the King of Western Francia even if he struggled to be the ruler of Northern France. There was no sovereign over that territory, hence it was not considered as part of Brittany. However, it was viewed as a way of conceding by a Carolingian king more than 60 years prior, on the parts of the Cotentin and Avranches.
A year later, a Norman named Rioulf led a rebellion against William I, which apparently began in Evrecin. This was believed to be caused by his preferential option for the Franks. Rioulf, who was resistant to Rouen authority, and perhaps represented the Viking ringleaders, was then defeated by William I.
Meanwhile, King Raoul died in January 936. William I promised loyalty to Louis IV, who at the time was exiled in England, succeeded him. In 1939 however, he found himself forming an alliance with Hugh the Great against King Louis IV. But with the intercession of the Pope, the war was over, with the king restoring William I’s position in Normandy. His expansion into Breton lands, however, was limited by the king.
William I married Luitgarde, a Countess since birth, being the daughter of Herbert II, Count of Vermandois. The dowry he received out of their wedding allowed him to own huge lands in Longueville, Coudres and Illiers l’Eveque. His extension towards the fortress of Montreuil brought about a major conflict with Arnulf I that led to his eventual murder in 942. He also orchestrated the marriage of his sister Gerloc and William, who was Count of Poitou, with the blessing of Hugh the Great.
William I died tragically in the hands of Arnulf’s and Theobald of Blois’ supporters during a meeting where they planned to settle their conflict on December 17, 942 on an island in the Somme river. Shortly before the meeting, the Count of Flanders, who has been opposing the rise of Normandy, arranged a peace treaty in Picquigny. In spite of his agreement by signing the corresponding document, he was believed to be treacherously murdered by Baldwin, who was the son of the Count of Cambrai, having acted upon the instructions of Arnulf I.
Moments later, William’s I’s loyal following retrieved his dead body from the site where they found a key, which is used for opening a box containing a monk’s garment. He was then entombed in the Cathedral of Rouen, which took place after the ninth year in office of Archbishop Maurilus. His widow, Luitgarde later died many years later in 985.
Before his death, William I had already been succeeded by his son Richard by his own choice, as the third leader of Normandy at the young age of 10.