The Guilty Conscience of William the Conqueror

by Paul Bailey

After completing my novel 1066: Apocalyptic Visions I had always wondered why William Duke of Normandy had to go to such lengths to gain approval from the Pope to invade England and remove Harold Godwinson as the rightful King. If William had a rightful claim to the English throne then why did he need the Pope’s blessing?
Also, why did William build not one, but two abbeys in Caen? This seems like an over zealous act of piety. To build one church in a town is acceptable, but to build two Abbeys in the same town in 11th Century Normandy needs further investigation.

In 1050, William married his cousin called Matilda. She was the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders, but as she was a blood relative, the Church did not acknowledge this marriage. William knew the consequences of this arrangement but underestimated the Church’s response. As he was a pious man, he could not cope with the mental anguish of being a ‘bastard’ son and his marriage being declared immoral by the Church. One of these actions could be rectified to aid his guilty conscience, so he petitioned the Pope and asked for the marriage to be blessed on the proviso that he built an Abbey for men and one for women in the capital of Normandy, Caen. After lengthy petitioning, the Pope declared their marriage legal in 1059.