Medieval Timeline

...to discover the most important dates and events that helped to shape the turbulent Middle Ages.

911 The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte

At the beginning of the 10th century, France was subject to frequent invasion attempts by the 'Vikings'. In 911 the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte was signed between Charles III, King of France and Rollo, the Viking leader, granting the latter and his troops the right to settle in the area of 'Neustria', on the understanding that they would protect the kingdom from any further invasion from the Vikings. This treaty marked the creation of the Duchy of Normandy (land of the 'Northmen').

966 Benedictine Abbey Founded on the Mont-Saint-Michel

At the request of the then Duke of Normandy, Richard I, several Benedictine monks settled on the Mont-Saint- Michel and founded an abbey. The abbey soon prospered from the generosity of pilgrims, who had been flocking to the site for hundreds of years, and by the beginning of the 11th century it would be home to over 50 monks.

1027 The Birth of William

The Duke of Normandy, Robert the Magnificent, and Arlette, a local tanner's daughter, became parents to a baby boy, William, most likely in Falaise in 1027. Despite being born out of wedlock, the child was raised with a good education and was highly thought of by his father.

When William was six, Robert decided to undertake the long and difficult journey to Jerusalem, but first he summoned the religious authorities and noblemen of the duchy, asking them to swear an oath of loyalty to his young heir. This they did and it was not until the death of Robert, on his return from the Holy Land in 1035, that the noblemen went against their word and sought to dispose of William. The young Duke escaped several attempts on his life at a young age and it was during this time that his warrior mentality was forged.

William was worn in Falaise in 1027

1047 Battle of Val-es-Dunes

The scores were finally settled between William and the rebellious Norman barons at the Battle of Val-es-Dunes, to the east of Caen, in 1047. William leapt into the heart of this fierce battle and inspired his men to victory with his skill and bravery. Following the battle, William confiscated the majority of the barons' possessions but made sure that they were not driven into total despair. A few years later, William granted the return of the confiscated goods and titles, knowing that the barons would have to repay him for his kindness. This cunning plan came to fruition in 1066, when the whole of the Norman nobility formed a united front behind their leader when he set off to conquer England.

11050 William marries Matilda

The union between William and Matilda was based not only on love but also on political interest. By marrying Matilda of Flanders, William of Normandy could strenghten the alliance between the two regions.

It was this anticipated alliance that brought about some resistance to the union. In 1049 at the Reims Council, pope Léon IX forbade Baldwin, Matilda's father, from offering his daughter's hand in marriage to William. He cited the couple's blood relation (they were cousins five times removed) as the reason for his objection but it was more likely the fact that Léon IX was a supporter of the Western emperor, Henry III, who was at that time at war with Baldwin.

Not a man to give up easily, William went against the order of the pope and married his love Matilda in 1050. It is believed that the pair eventually gained papal recognition of their marriage after building two magnificent abbeys in Caen; the 'Abbaye aux Hommes' and the 'Abbaye aux Dames'. Matilda was a particularly influential character alongside her husband; an unassuming and wise queen, a church benefactor and particularly admired amongst her contemporaries.

1060 Construction of the Château de Caen

The château de Caen was built by William of Normandy in around 1060, the time between his victory over the rebellious barons at the battle of Val-es-Dunes (1047) and his conquest of England (1066). The duke needed a second capital to counterbalance that of Rouen and to affirm his power in the west of Normandy. William chose to build his fortress on a rocky spur overlooking the Orne valley, from where he could monitor all who passed through the area. The outer walls were soon erected out of stone and would protect the palace and its court, which were laid out over a vast area of around 12 acres. Later on, the fortress would be embellished with a grand reception room and reinforced with a large Anglo-Norman-style dungeon. These additions were commissioned by Henry I, William's son and successor to the duchy of Normandy and the crown of England.

The château de Caen was built by William of Normandy in around 1060

1066 The Battle of Hastings

In the autumn of 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, set sail with his troops with the intent to conquer England. The events leading up to and the battle itself are depicted in the UNESCO-listed Bayeux Tapestry.

In 1051, Edward the Confessor, King of England, was coming to the end of his life and chose to name William of Normandy as his successor. The king called upon Harold Godwinson, one of the most important noblemen in England, to travel to Normandy to inform William of the news.

In 1064, Harold made the trip to Normandy and became embroiled in a hostage situation, from which he was rescued by William. The Englishman was then invited by the William to join a campaign against the Duke of Brittany. During the campaign, Harold delivered King Edward's wish to William and then swore an oath to honour the king's wish after his death.

On 25th December 1066 William of Normandy became William I, King of England remembered as William the Conqueror

Harold returned to England and met with the king shortly before his death. Not long after this, Harold violated the oath and crowned himself the King of England. News of Harold's coronation travelled to Normandy and William immediately built a fleet of ships in preparation for the voyage to England, where the two pretendants would fight it out for the right to become King of England.

The Battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066. The English army fought on foot, behind a protective wall of shields and the Norman army fought on horseback. William led his troops by example and together they were too strong for their English counterparts, who are said to have retreated after the death of their leader, Harold.

And so it was that on 25th December 1066 William of Normandy became William I, King of England and would forever be remembered as William the Conqueror.

1078 Robert rebels against his father

In 1077 Robert, the eldest of William and Matilda's children, fell foul of a prank played on him by two of his brothers. Robert did not take it in good jest and swiftly set upon his brothers in the hope of settling the score. The resulting brawl had to be broken up by their father, William; something which Robert did not take kindly to as he considered that his dignity had been wounded. William also refused to punish his two younger sons, which enraged Robert even further and encouraged him to rebel against his father.

Robert and his followers attempted to seize the castle of Rouen, but failed and their arrest was ordered by William. The rebellious heir fled to his uncle, Robert I's, court in Flanders and proceeded to pluder the area of Vexin, promting his father to join forces with King Philip I of France in order to stop him. The fact that Matilda was secretly sending money to her son did not help the situation. In 1079, Robert succeded in dismounting his father during a battle and only prevented himself from inflicting further injury when he recognised William's voice. William cursed his son on the battlefield and promptly returned to Rouen.

In 1080, father and son reconciled thanks to the efforts of Queen Matilda; a truce which lasted at least until her death in 1083.

1083 Death of Matilda

In 1083, exhausted by the ongoing conflict between William and their son Robert and also by her successive pregnancies, Matilda fell victim to the plague and was buried at the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen. Deeply affected by the loss of ‘the woman that he loved most in the world', William sank into deep depression.

First desecrated in 1562 during the Wars of Religion, restored and then again destroyed in 1793 during the Revolution and rebuilt in 1815, the queen's tomb was finally restored again in 1959 during renovation works.

 

Matilda was buried at the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen

1085-1086 Creation of the 'Domesday Book'

In conquering England, the Norman nobles were able to claim Saxon possessions as their own. William himself enjoyed a sizeable income taken directly from the revenue of the kingdom. In order to better control the country's finances, it was decided that an inventory of all possessions would be written up: land, man, beast, buildings...nothing would escape the inventory!

In addition, the ‘Domesday Book', completed in 1086, would provide details about the Anglo-Norman society of the XI century. Still today, the English celebrate the creation of this book as it provides the first detailed account of towns and villages throughout the country. A replica of the ‘Domesday Book' can be found on display at the Tapestry Museum in Bayeux.

1087 Death of William

In July 1087, during a battle with the King of France over the province of Vexin, William fell from his horse and, in agony, was transported back to his palace in Rouen. He died on the morning of 9th September. As was his wish, his body was taken to Caen, where he was buried in the abbey church of Saint-Etienne (the Abbaye aux Hommes). The kingdom was then split between his sons Robert Courteheuse and William the Red, before eventually being taken over by Henri Beauclerc.