William the Conqueror’s Ironic Death

by cheri block

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.

You understand.

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.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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18 Responses to William the Conqueror’s Ironic Death

  1. He wholives bythe sword will perish by the sword. He lived by the horse and perished by the horse. Quite a suiting end don’t you think?

  2. Impaled on his saddle’s pommel? Undignified indeed. He’s lucky that was before teh YouTube era.
    I’m wracking my brain for other famous ironic deaths in history, and not doing well.

    Alexander: Fever.
    Hannibal: suicide
    Caesar: stabbed
    Cleo: suicide
    Augustus: old age
    Charlemagne: ditto, I think …

    • Cheri says:

      What about poor King Harold Godwinson? An arrow in the eye.
      As he was dying there at Hastings, he believed that it was God’s will. He also believed that the passing over of Halley’s Comet had accurately predicted his loss to the Normans.

      An arrow in the eye? To one with vision. ( He was the more civil of the two commanders.)

      • zeusiswatching says:

        Some of us keep civil Harold’s memory very deeply.

        “Let God choose between William and Me.” God chose Harold.

  3. Don says:

    I don’t see it as ironic so much as statistically most likely, since he spent so much time going about his more dangerous business on horseback.

    • Cheri says:

      Interesting response, Don.

      He was the mastermind behind one of the greatest equine logistical events in history. That his horse spooked over fire, seems somewhat ironic, doesn’t it? Or am I just stretching it?

      ( I have been known to stretch a story)

  4. Philippe says:

    “…..Duke William’s death in 1087…….ended in a pedestrian manner…….”

    More in an equestrian manner, it seems to me.

  5. jenny says:

    Chekhov’s death is the best story ever. There are many fabulous details to it, but here is one: Chekhov was a doctor, as you may know. It was the tradition in his day that a doctor did NOT tell a patient that he was dying. There was an exception, though, a kind of poetic professional courtesy: When a doctor was on his death bed, his treating physician would bring him a glass of champagne, elegant code language for “This is it, buddy!” When the Chekhov’s doctor brought him a champagne, Chekhov said: “I haven’t had champagne in the longest time.”

    Class. Class. Class.

    And, actually, a very Chekhovian reply.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Jenny,
      I have never heard this story; it is wholly dramatic.

      Other authors’ deaths?
      Lots of suicides, as Andreas notes among historical personages.

      Did I mention that one of my students was present at Arthur Miller’s death?
      (and this student had done his “author’s report” on Arthur Miller).

  6. Geraldine says:

    Oscar Wilde: “Either this wallpaper goes or I.” Dramatic though not a suicide.

  7. Cheri says:

    Whoa. That’s an amazing last line.

    One of my friends who passed away in her early 40’s to breast cancer said, “Is this it?”
    Those were her last words.

  8. Cheri says:

    Good Morning Geraldine,

    Yes. Jenny has her smiley faces lined up perfectly. I agree.
    Your dad must have been a terrific man, wholly focused on others.

    Since you have opened up this channel to share a parent’s last words, I’ll add mine.
    I asked my dad if he would signal me from the other side (kinda like Houdini’s plan).

    He said, “If I can, I will.”

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