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William I Longsword (c. 893 – December 17, 942) was the second ruler of Normandy, from 927 until his assassination in 942.

He is sometimes anachronistically dubbed “Duke of Normandy”, even though the title duke (dux) did not come into common usage until the 11th century. Longsword was known at the time as Count (Latin comes) of Rouen.

History of the title

There is no record of Rollo holding or using any title. His son and grandson, Duke William I and Duke Richard I, used the titles “count” (Latin comes or consul) and “prince” (princeps). Prior to 1066, the most common title of the ruler of Normandy was “Count of Normandy” (comes Normanniae) or “Count of the Normans” (comes Normannorum). The title Count of Rouen (comes Rotomagensis) was never used in any official document, but it was used of William I and his son by the anonymous author of a lament (planctus) on his death. Defying Norman pretensions to the ducal title, Adhemar of Chabannes was still referring to the Norman ruler as “Count of Rouen” as late as the 1020s.

In the 12th century, the Icelandic historian Ari Thorgilsson in his Landnámabók referred to Rollo as Ruðu jarl (earl of Rouen), the only attested form in Old Norse, although too late to be evidence for 10th-century practice. The late 11th-century Norman historian William of Poitiers used the title “Count of Rouen” for the Norman rulers down to Richard II. Although references to the Norman rulers as counts of Rouen are relatively sparse and confined to narrative sources, there is a lack of documentary evidence about Norman titles before the late 10th century.
The first recorded use of the title duke (dux) is in an act in favour of the Abbey of Fécamp in 1006 by Richard II, Duke of Normandy.

Birth

William Longsword was born “overseas” to the Viking Rollo (while he was still a pagan) and his wife more danico Poppa of Bayeux. Dudo of Saint-Quentin in his panegyric of the Norman dukes describes Poppa as the daughter of a Count Berengar, the dominant prince of that region. In the 11th-century Annales Rouennaises (Annals of Rouen), she is called the daughter of Guy, Count of Senlis, otherwise unknown to history. Her parentage is uncertain. According to the Longsword’s planctus, he was baptized a Christian probably at the same time as his father, which Orderic Vitalis stated was in 912, by Franco, Archbishop of Rouen.

Life

William succeeded Rollo (who would continue to live for about another 5 years) in 927 and, early in his reign, faced a rebellion from Normans who felt he had become too Gallicised. According to Orderic Vitalis, the leader was Riouf of Evreux, who besieged William in Rouen. Sallying forth, William won a decisive battle, proving his authority to be duke. At the time of this 933 rebellion William sent his pregnant wife by custom, Sprota, to Fécamp where their son Richard was born.

In 933 William recognized Raoul as King of West Francia, who was struggling to assert his authority in Northern France. In turn, Raoul gave him lordship over much of the lands of the Bretons including Avranches, the Cotentin Peninsula and the Channel Islands.

The Bretons did not agree to these changes and resistance to the Normans was led by Alan II, Duke of Brittany, and Count Berenger of Rennes but ended shortly with great slaughter and Breton castles being razed to the ground, Alan fled to England and Beranger sought reconciliation.

In 935, William married Luitgarde, daughter of Count Herbert II of Vermandois whose dowry gave him the lands of Longueville, Coudres and Illiers l’Eveque. He also contracted a marriage between his sister Adela (Gerloc was her Norse name) and William, Count of Poitou, with the approval of Hugh the Great. In addition to supporting King Raoul, he was now a loyal ally of his father-in-law, Herbert II, both of whom his father Rollo had opposed.

In January 936 King Raoul died and the 16-year-old Louis IV, who was living in exile in England, was persuaded by a promise of loyalty by William, to return and became king. The Bretons returned to recover the lands taken by the Normans, resulting in fighting in the expanded Norman lands.

The new king was not capable of controlling his Barons and after William’s brother-in-law, Herluin II, Count of Montreuil, was attacked by Flanders, William went to their assistance in 939. Arnulf I, Count of Flanders retaliated by attacking Normandy. Arnulf captured the castle of Montreuil-sur-Mer expelling Herluin. Herluin and William cooperated to retake the castle. William was excommunicated for his actions in attacking and destroying several estates belonging to Arnulf. William pledged his loyalty to King Louis IV when they met in 940 and, in return, he was confirmed in lands that had been given to his father, Rollo.: liii

In 941 a peace treaty was signed between the Bretons and Normans, brokered in Rouen by King Louis IV which limited the Norman expansion into Breton lands. The following year, on December 17, 942 at Picquigny on an island on the Somme, William was ambushed and killed by followers of Arnulf while at a peace conference to settle their differences.

Family

William had no children with his Christian wife Luitgarde. He fathered his son, Richard, with Sprota, his wife more danico.* Richard, then aged 10, succeeded as Ruler of Normandy upon William’s death in December 942.

* marriage more danico was neither an informal marriage nor even legitimized abduction, but simply a secular marriage contracted in accordance with Germanic law, rather than ecclesiastical marriage.