Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Boyfriend of William the Conquerer

My ancestor was the boyfriend of William the Conqueror

Every schoolkid learns about the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the English and became William I (Guillaume le Conquérant).  It was a pivotal moment in world history.

That's why over 30% of the words in the English language derive from French, often more elegant equivalents to Anglo-Saxon terms:

Ask/Demand
House/Mansion
Kitchen/Cuisine
Cook/Chef

William was born in 1028, the bastard son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy.  When he ascended to the throne in 1035, his youth and illegitimacy caused a great deal of dissent.  Various nobles sought to control the boy by becoming his guardian.  The first three were all murdered, one while in William's bedroom.

Other nobles tried to kill the young William and take over the throne.  On more than one occasion he had to flee the castle at Falaise and hide in the homes of his supporters.

I
In 1046, an army led by Guy of Burgundy stormed Falaise, and 18-year old William had to flee to England, where he stayed with Henry I.

He tried to return secretly in 1047, but shortly after he came ashore at Caen, he was accosted by an armed band, and almost killed.

He was rescued by Ralph (Ranulphus de Praers), the 18-year old son of Baron Hubert de Rie (1005-1086), who took him to his father's castle in Rie (or Rye).  Ralph and his two brothers, Hubert and Adam, then escorted William to Falaise, about 45 miles away.


Ralph remained William's constant companion for the next twenty years, as he consolidated his power and forced the dissenting dukes into exile.

In 1066, King Edward the Confessor of England died without an heir, leading to a power struggle between English, French, and Norwegian claimants.  King Harold defeated his brother Tostig Godwinson and the Norwegian King Harald Hadrada, but was weakened sufficiently to allow William and his allies to storm into England and take over.

Yeah, it wasn't really the "freedom from tyranny!" thing that we prefer in our heroes.







After the Battle of Hastings, Ralph and his brothers received lands in Nottingham, Derby, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Kent constituting about 5% of all Anglo-Saxon England.

Ralph was so loyal to William that he didn't marry until about 1080, when he was 58 years old, quite elderly for the Middle Ages.

His descendants were the De Praers.  About 1450, they started calling themselves Praters.  Thomas Prater moved to Virginia in 1622.  His descendants moved to Maryland, then Kentucky, then Indiana, where I was born in 1960.

My Grandpa Prater was descended from the boyfriend of William the Conqueror.




So, were they actually lovers?

It's impossible to say.  They were lifelong friends.  Harold gave him a ridiculously large share of the conquest.  He didn't marry until he was an old man.  But any more intimate relationship is lost to history.

The Castle Rie or Rye is lost, too, although the town of Ryes, population 500, is still there.  It's only a 15 minute drive from the Musée de la Tapisserie in Bayeux.

And a 30 minute drive from the Sauna Arc en Ciel in Caen.




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