This month’s Museum Feature, the “William the Conqueror” figurine from Royal Worcester’s Military Commanders series, stands as a fine example of the craftsmanship, creativity, and attention to detail applied by Royal Worcester in the creation of stunning figurines.
The Military Commanders series was created by artist Bernard Winskill, whose paintings and sculptures have been showcased at the Royal Institute Gallery in London, the Society of Portrait Painters Gallery, and the Royal Glasgow Fine Arts Society. The first subject in the series, Napoleon Bonaparte, was released in 1968. Eight other depictions of history’s greatest military leaders followed, including: Duke of Wellington (1969), George Washington (1972), Duke of Marlborough (1973), Alexander the Great (1975), Richard Coeur de Lion (1978), Eugene de Beauharnais (1979), Simon Bolivar (1979), and our feature this month, William the Conqueror (1979).
William was born around 1027 in the Duchy of Normandy (a region most of which is now France). William was an illegitimate child – and only heir – of Robert I, Duke of Normandy. When William was eight years old, Robert died while taking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, making young William the duke of what was then a powerful territory. Although Robert had enlisted family and friends to guard over William in the event of his death, William’s dukedom was immediately tested by those wishing to gain control of Normandy. William barely escaped being murdered at least once, and many of those guarding him died while he was under their protection. When he was just fifteen years old, William was knighted by King Henry I of France, solidifying William’s authority as duke. Proving himself to be a strong and capable leader from an early age, William successfully fought off several invasions and reestablished a unified Normandy, which had become fractured following his father’s death. His political stature increased even more after his marriage to Matilda, daughter of the Count Baldwin V of Flanders (another powerful French territory at the time).
When the King of England, Edward the Confessor, died in 1066 without any apparent heirs, William claimed to be his successor, believing Edward had promised the throne to him years earlier. However, there were three other contenders for the English throne: Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold Goodwinson; Harold’s brother, Tostig; and King Harold Hardrada of Norway. Harold Goodwinson, a powerful English aristocrat, was the most obvious successor, and was elected king by the Witenagemot and crowned by the Archbishop of York. As William amassed soldiers to invade England and claim the throne he felt was rightfully his, Tostig and Hardrada combined forces and invaded England from the north before William could launch his invasion. This forced Harold, who had set up troops along the southern coast of England in anticipation of William’s attack, to move his forces north to defend that border. Harold was successful in repelling the northern invasion (both Tostig and Hardrada were killed), but by this time William and his forces had landed in the southern part of England and set up a base of operations there. Harold and his battered troops rushed south to defend against William’s invasion (picking up more soldiers in London along the way), and the two sides met at the Battle of Hastings. Harold and his two brothers were killed in battle, and although the English people didn’t fully embrace William as their king, there were no strong contenders to resist his succession to the throne. William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066 in Westminster Abbey, but spent the next several years quelling revolts and consolidating his power.
Under his rule, the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy was largely replaced by William’s Norman supporters (who were also given much of the land previously owned by the native Anglo-Saxon population), and England’s Anglo-Saxon culture became inextricably intertwined with that of the Normans. A dialect of French came to be the language of choice among the English upper class for almost 300 years after William’s reign; this cultural comingling is also responsible for the introduction of many French and Latin words into the modern English lexicon. William, interested in having an overview of his English territory, commissioned a comprehensive population and property survey in 1085-86. This information was collected and survives as the Doomsday Book, which remains an important historical document providing detailed information about the population of England at the time. William the Conqueror died in 1087, and was survived by four sons and five daughters. In addition to creating an impressive cultural legacy, every English monarch since William’s reign has been his direct descendent.
Royal Worcester’s “William the Conqueror” in our museum is not for sale, but we do have other Military Commanders figures available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 400,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!