Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Conqueror's change of heart

In the charming town of Falaise we saw this wonderfully dramatic monument to that battle hungry medieval warrior, William the Conqueror.

Guillaume le Conquérant, dit également Guillaume le Bâtard
Guillaume II de Normandie et enfin Guillaume Ier d’Angleterre
Rightly represented as a triumphant king, William's statue is surrounded by earlier Dukes of Normandy: Robert the Magnificent, Richard the Good (very good at propaganda, also known as the Irascible), Richard the Fearless, William Longsword, Rollo the Giant, oh and Richard III of Normandy who died of poison after just a year of rule, so no-one bothered to think up a nickname.   

Nicknames were a sore point with The Conqueror, as discussed here in an earlier post.

William the Conqueror in Falaise today.  Was the building removed with early photoshop for the old postcard?
The murky records of antiquity claim that William died repentant of his violent ways. Orderic reported that as he was about to meet his maker, William said of England: 

"I treated the native inhabitants of the kingdom with unreasonable severity, cruelly oppressed high and low, unjustly disinherited many, and caused the death of thousands by starvation and war, especially in Yorkshire....

In mad fury I descended on the English of the north like a raging lion, and ordered that their homes and crops with all their equipment and furnishings should be burnt at once and their great flocks and herds of sheep and cattle slaughtered everywhere. 

So I chastised a great multitude of men and women with the lash of starvation and, alas! was the cruel murderer of many thousands, both young and old, of this fair people..."

As only five weeks earlier William the Conqueror had cheerfully flattened the rebellious French town of Mantes, murdering everyone within reach, this sudden horror at his own cruelty is quite a startling change of heart.  I reserve judgement.

The statue, by brothers Charles and Louis Rochet, is unveiled on October 26, 1851.
Postcard today, very definitely photofiddled.

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