How a life ends is not a mystery.
Often, the circumstances of one’s death reflect the circumstances of one’s life.
I suppose we might call such circumstances ironic.
The firefighter dies in a fire.
The writer dies unable to write.
The man of action dies paralyzed.
William the Conqueror was no exception to this irony.
He was a marvelous horseman as so many men in medieval Normandy were. They rode terrific horses—hybrids of Spanish Barb, Arabian, and European warm bloods. This gene combination would yield a small, agile, loyal and intelligent animal.
One day, late in William’s life, he and his men rode up from Rouen to Mantes to quell an uprising. When he arrived and saw the chaos, he ordered his knights to burn the town to the ground. That was the Norman way of extinguishing dissent.
They torched haystacks; the conflagration lit up the sky like Vulcan’s forge.
Shortly after this act, while William inspected the damage, his horse stepped on burning embers and spooked, lurching him forward into the tall saddle, the type seen on the Bayeux Tapestry. Some say he was thrown to the ground; others report he stayed on the horse but sustained severe internal injuries against the pommel.
He was fifty-nine years old, overweight, and mortally injured.
His men took him back to Rouen where he died several days later.
He achieved his status as a warrior-leader on the back of a horse.
He spent his adult life controlling his acquired lands in England and France, putting out fires and keeping order.
Duke William’s death in 1087, some twenty-one years after the Channel crossing, ended in a pedestrian manner.
He was buried in Rouen, Normandy, but his bones never rested. His tomb, pillaged twice, wasn’t strong enough to protect him. Looters galloped across the lush Norman countryside, scattering his bones.