Images of William the Conqueror's Normandy

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    William the Conqueror, 1066 and all that in pictures

    William the conqueror Statue
    Ferne Arfin

    This year, 2016, Normandy and England commemorate 1066 when William of Normandy thoroughly routed the English on their own soil at the Battle of Hastings in October.

    Both Normandy and England are pushing out the boat on this, with events, exhibitions and festivals taking over the main sites, cities and towns associated with the conquest.

    More about Normandy

    The Battle of Hastings and the William the Conqueror Story in the UK

    Check out Major Events and Medieval Festivals in France

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  • 02 of 14

    William the Conqueror's Birthplace at Falaise in 1027/28

    Falaise Normandy
    Ferne Arfin

    William the Conqueror, or William the Bastard as he was then known, was born in 1027/8 and grew up in Falaise. The castle is pretty impressive, though there's very little left of the castle that William’s father built and that William knew so well.

    Looming high above the town, the three keeps and ramps with its 15 towers is an imposing site, designed to make the enemies of the Dukes of Normandy think twice before attacking.

    More about the Castle of Falaise

    Falaise Tourist Office
    Boulevard de la Libération
    14700 Falaise, Calvados
    Tel.: 0033 (0)2 31 90 17 26
    Tourist Office Website (in French)

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  • 03 of 14

    Domfront, 1051

    domfront castle
    Mary Anne Evans

    Domfront is a delightful medieval town in the green Bocage, a landscape of fields divided by hedgerows and earth walls. Domfront stands on a sandstone cliff overlooking the surrounding Varenne countryside, giving it a perfect strategic position. The castle, now in ruins, once made a formidable defence with a keep 25 meters high and a 3-meter thick base. The castle controlled the road from Caen to the Maine and the route from Alençon to the great abbey of Mont St Michel. 

    In the early 1050s, William was fighting on all fronts for his life and his inheritance. In 1051 William defeated his enemies, including William of Bellême, the owner of Domfront, in the battle nearby. 

    William the Conqueror's 3rd son, Henri I of Beauclerc, rebuilt the castle and became lord of Domfront from 1092.

    Domfront Tourist Office
    12 place de la Roirie
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 38 53 97
    Website (in English)

    The tourist office is very helpful with English speakers who can take you on a guided tour.

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  • 04 of 14

    Varaville, 1057

    medievalarmour
    Vladimir Serov/Getty Images

    Varaville was another victory for William. The 1050s were dangerous times for the young Duke, but in 1057 he defeated his enemies at the Battle of Varaville, just west of Cabourg.

    There's nothing left of the site, but there is a memorial to the battle for die-hard William fans.

    Varaville is on the D27 north east of Caen and just south of Cabourg so it's on the route to the next stop by the sea at Dives-sur-Mer.

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  • 05 of 14

    Dives-sur-Mer, 1066

    Dives sur Mer, Normandy
    Mary Anne Evans

    Dives-sur-Mer is a delightful little Normandy seaside resort with the right amount of boats bobbing up and down in the harbour and a small historic centre of medieval buildings and streets. It's popular with Parisians and Brits. 

    But the importance of Dives is the small port where William the Conqueror set out to invade England in 1066. 

    Notre-Dames de Dives church has a panel with the names of William's companions on his epic journey; whether this is correct or not has been the subject of much scholarly wrangling. But what is known is that it was here that William and his companions said mass before embarking for England and a victory that changed the course of English  history for ever.

    Tourist Office
    2 rue d'Hastings
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 91 24 66
    Website 

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  • 06 of 14

    Bayeux Tapestry

    bayeuxtapestry
    DEA/M. Seemuller

    The world's first comic strip is, quite simply, stunning. It tells the story of Edward the Confessor, Harold and William and the complex negotiations and devious behaviour of all concerned which led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

    It's a must-see for everybody and brings the story to life in a wonderful way. The audio tour is simple and straightforward, giving you insights into the life of the times as well as narrating the story of the Conquest of England. Bayeux itself is a pretty, small city that escaped much of the bombing of Normandy in 1944.

    The Bayeux Tapestry

    If you like the Bayeux Tapestry, check out the other great tapestry in France, the depiction of the Apocalypse in Angers; it's really frightening. 

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  • 07 of 14

    Caen and the Abbaye aux Hommes

    caennight20097594.JPG
    Atout France/CDT Calvados

    Caen is central to the story of William the Conqueror. In 1060 Duke William  began building the Abbaye-aux-Hommes after the Pope had originally declared his marriage to Matilda illegal on the grounds that they were cousins. In fact it was a political decision; William was marrying into the family of the Counts of Flanders, giving him a big slice of territory. The Abbaye was consecrated in 1077 but had done its work; by then William and Matilda had been happily married for years.

    The Abbaye was one of the great Benedictine monasteries that were such a huge feature of Normandy. Today it's the Hotel de Ville of Caen, and the buildings are largely from the 18th century  But there's enough of the old monastery left, including the peaceful cloisters, to give you an idea of its glory and importance in the Middle Ages. 

    William the Conqueror Trail in Caen

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  • 08 of 14

    St-Etienne Church in Caen

    caencloisters
    © Mary Anne Evans, licensed to about.com

    St-Etienne, the church of the Abbey-aux-Hommes founded by William contains the only remains of William. Originally lying in a sarcophagus beneath the central lantern, the tomb was ransacked during the French Revolution and all that remains of the remains is a solitary thigh bone buried in front of the altar.

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  • 09 of 14

    Caen and the Abbaye aux Dames

    Abbaye aux Dames Caen
    ATF/CDT CValvados

    Matilda, William's wife, founded the Abbey in Caen in 1060 for the same reason that her husband founded the Abbaye aux Hommes. Visit the abbey church which shows you the glories of Norman Romanesque architecture. Matilda is buried in the choir, a slab of black Turnai marble marking the place.

    Abbaye aux Dames
    Place Reine Mathilde
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 06 98 45
    Website 

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  • 10 of 14

    The Castle at Caen

    caencast
    © Mary Anne Evans, licensed to about.com

    The huge castle in Caen was begun by William in 1060 and fortified later by his son, Henri Beauclerc, in 1123 who added the massive keep. There's very little left of the original medieval fortification except for the foundations of the keep and a little bit of the walls which have been restored throughout the centuries, particularly after the 1944 bombardment of Caen. 

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  • 11 of 14

    Fecamp

    fecampabbey
    Mary Anne Evans

    The fishing port of Fécamp, halfway between Dieppe and Le Havre, doesn't get as many visitors as it deserves. It has a pretty promenade along the seafront, the famous Benedictine Distillery and a medieval trail around William the Conqueror.

    The former capital of the Duchy of Normandy, the trail starts with the ruins of the Ducal Palace. More significant is the Abbey of the Holy Trinity which, holding the relic of the Precious Blood made Fécamp one of France's most important pilgrimage stops, along with Mont St Michel. 

    Robert the Magnificent presented his 5-year old son William in the Abbey as his heir before he set off on the pilgrimage that killed him. William returned in 1067 for the Easter mass celebrating his victory; in 1075 his daughter Calian took her vows here to became a nun and in 1083 William once more celebrated Easter Mass here. 

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  • 12 of 14

    Jumieges Abbey

    jumieges abbey
    Mary Anne Evans

    Jumièges is one of the great ruined abbeys of France. Located on a bend in the Seine River the once mighty Benedictine abbey was a powerful force, with many of the monks sent to England after the conquest to run the Catholic church in the newly acquired kingdom.

    Jumièges was founded in 654, but being on the Seine, was inevitably attacked and sacked by the Vikings. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and consecrated by William in 1067, becoming one of the great intellectual centres of France. 

    Visit it if you can; stay at Le Clos des Fontaines, a short hop from the Abbey and eat dinner at the delightful Auberge du Bac on the banks of the river. 

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  • 13 of 14

    What did William the Conqueror look like?

    william the conqueror head
    Mary Anne Evans

    What did the great Duke look like? There's always a lot of artistic likeness in portraits of the famous figures of the past; they are nearly all created after the person became great so there wasn't much point in producing a warts-and-all image unless you wanted your head/hands chopped off.

    For a heroic figures, start with the statue at Falaise where William, astride a mighty warhorse, is brandishing his sword and looking every inch the conqueror.

    But there's another head in the abbey's main secular house above the Abbey. The house is well worth a visit for the temporary exhibitions and for the carvings rescued from the ruins of the abbey.  

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  • 14 of 14

    Practical Information on Normandy

    normandyfarm
    Atoutfrance/CDT Calvados

    Getting to Normandy

    I travelled with Brittany Ferries, which runs regular ferries between the UK and France. I went from Portsmouth to Caen and returned from Le Havre to Portsmouth. 

    • As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary travel on Brittany Ferries for this trip. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy

    ​More about Travelling by Ferry to France

    London, the UK and Paris to Caen

    London, the UK and Paris to Rouen

    London, the UK and Paris to Le Havre

    London, the UK and Paris to Cherbourg

    Where to Stay in Normandy

    Hotels and Accommodation near the D-Day Landing Beaches

    La Ferme de la Ranconniere Hotel

    Bed and Breakfast with a World War II theme in Normandy

    Hotels in Rouen

    ​Hotels in Caen

    Hotels in Bayeux

    Check out Major Events and Medieval Festivals in France

    The Battle of Hastings and the William the Conqueror Story in the UK