William the Conqueror: When a King Goes KerBOOM

I Got Me a Hankerin’ for Conquerin’

William the conqueror, was a dick.

But, let’s cut him a little slack with a bit of background. In 1028, Bill was born a bastard to Robert First, Duke of Normandy, and the local tanner’s daughter. In 1035, when Billy the B-word was 7, his dad died- and he inherited his father’s titles.  Cool, right?  All those years of being called “William the Bastard,” and now he gets all the goodies.

Nope. Not cool. When his dad died, the Norman aristocracy fought like tweaking alley cats for control of him, and ergo the dukedom.  As part of that battle, all the people who supported William when he was granted the titles, started dying off. His head tutor was murdered. The guy who replaced him, was murdered. Another tutor, was assassinated.  A steward of William’s was killed in a fight- IN WILLIAM’S BEDROOM.

We’re talking full metal game of thrones here. William’s uncle Walter took to sleeping in the kid’s room, and frequently bundled up William and got him the hell out of there in the middle of the night because of assassination attempts. They would hide in poor people’s homes.

And while trying to kill him, these Norman a-holes were trying to kill each other. Chaos, with lots of stabby-stabby.

In 1046, as a teenager, William started to assert himself.  However, at the same time “Guy of Burgundy” hatched a plot to capture William and murder him. It failed, but only because William was forewarned and escaped on horseback at night.

More hilarity ensued for years, and it wasn’t until 1060 that William finally fought his way to full control.  He was 32 by this time, married, and not a nice dude. He wanted pretty much one thing: power.  Oh, and a good meal.

In October of 1066, he invaded England.  At the Battle of Hastings, William defeated the English, and on Christmas Day he was crowned king. He was the first Norman king of England.

He made sure England would be ruled right for him, and headed back home. Rebellions tried and failed. William had conquered.

And he was an a-hole of the first measure. Ruthless, he ravaged wherever he fought, burning and killing most everything in his wake.  The people that survived, faced burnt crops, dead animals, and no shelter. They starved, and cannibalism was common. Many people starved to death. You could say his youth got grim satisfaction as he won war after war for the next 20 years. He lost a battle in 1080, but by 1081, he was back on top. Fly like a butterfly, sting like a pike jammed into your eye hole.

In 1086, at the age of 58, William left England and led an expedition to fight the French- which included one of his rebellious sons- in a plateau next to the Seine River in France. By this time, William had found his appetite, if not for war, then for food. He’d gotten rather large.  At the battle on that plateau, William led a charge, and during the ensuing fight, his horse surprised him and reared up suddenly.  In doing that, the horse shoved the saddle, and its good-sized pommel, right into his gut. It hit him so hard it punctured his intestines. Can you say “sepsis?”

Just Before the Staff Cleans the Place OutNow dying, William was taken back to Rouen, where he lived for six more weeks.  Six more horrible, agonizing, rotting weeks. Oh, he was surrounded by knights, nobles, and priests.  The clergy was there to help his soul, but the rest were there to help themselves. When he finally died, the room- and I mean this quite literally, cleared. Instantly.  And then like Ebenezer Scrooge’s household help before his transformation, the stealing began.  Here’s a description, and I quote, from Orderic Vitalis, and English chronicler and Benedictine monk of the time:

“The lesser attendants, seeing that their superiors had absconded, seized the arms, vessels, clothing, linen, and all the royal furnishings, and hurried away leaving the king’s body almost naked on the floor of the house, as if he had been a barbarian.”

Imagine that for a moment.  The King of Frickin’ England, mostly naked, dead, on the floor, because the butlers and maids stole all his shit. I guess this Lannister repaid HIS debts, yeah?

Here’s the biggest problem: everybody left.  There wasn’t anyone left to make sure he actually got buried.  So, a knight heard of this, and paid for the funeral. They embalmed him as best they could in the 11th century, put it in a box, and took it back to Caen, about 70 miles away.  Doesn’t sound like far, but in horse-draw hearse time, it took a phat minute to get the body back.  In the mean time the rupture in William’s colon is still leaking bacteria directly into the body cavity, turning his innards to mush, and filling him with nasty gas.

They get him back, and as they’re heading toward his final resting place, a fire breaks out in the city, and the mourners and coffin bearers have to run off to help put out the flames.  That takes hours, but they come back and resume.  At the funeral, a guy halts the proceedings and says the land the dead king wanted to be buried in had been stolen from HIS family, and he wanted payment.  So the funeral becomes a legal wrangling, which took a lot of time.  Eventually they came to an agreed price, the dude was compensated, and finally, frickin’ FINALLY, the funeral came to a close, and the king was to be slid into his tomb.

Did I mention the weather had been very warm during this time? William was absolutely inflated.  Also, the tomb was too short.  They had to use some force to get him where he needed to be.  Push came to shove, and shove came to KABOOM.  Or, as Orderic wrote, William’s “swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd.”  Yup, Bill the Bastard Blew Up. Nobody could stand the stank, and they left.  A few monks mopped up the monarch’s money shot, stuck it in the tomb where William now fit rather easily, and closed it tight.

Final Resting Place, Finally.

Even his tomb didn’t make it.  He got moved by the Vatican, disinterred by Calvinists, and destroyed by marauders during the French Revolution.  Only a thigh bone made it, and that’s buried under a simple stone slab.

As ye sew, so shall ye sploot.

Listen to us discuss about, and disgust on, this little stain of history- along with other seriously bad endings- in the Podenstein’s Lab podcast: Show #005, right here: http://www.podensteinslab.com/podcast/

 

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Sources:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/90921/british-king-whose-corpse-exploded-during-his-funeral

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/britannia/anglo-saxon/hastings/williamdeath.html

http://allthatsinteresting.com/william-the-conqueror

https://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2013/08/27/william-the-conquerors-childhood/

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