William Longsword

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William Longsword
Count of Rouen
SuccessorRichard I
Bornc. 893
Bayeux or Rouen
Died17 December 942 (aged 48–49)
Picquigny on the Somme
SpouseLuitgarde of Vermandois
IssueRichard I of Normandy
FatherRollo, Count of Rouen
MotherPoppa of Bayeux

William Longsword (French: Guillaume Longue-Épée, Old Norman: Williame de lon Espee, Latin: Willermus Longa Spata, Old Norse: Vilhjálmr Langaspjót; c. 893 – 17 December 942) was the second ruler of Normandy, from 927 until his assassination in 942.[1]

He is sometimes referred to as a "duke of Normandy", though the title duke (dux) did not come into common usage until the 11th century.[2] Longsword was known at the time as count (Latin comes) of Rouen.[3][4] Flodoard—always detailed about titles—consistently referred to both Rollo and his son William as principes (chieftains) of the Normans.[5] There are no contemporary accounts of William's byname, 'Longsword', either; it appears first in later eleventh-century sources.[6]


William Longsword was born "overseas"[a][7] to the Viking Rollo (while he was still a pagan) and his wife more danico (a kind of non-Christian marriage), Poppa of Bayeux.[8][9][10] Poppa's parentage is uncertain.[11] Dudo of Saint-Quentin in his panegyric of the Norman dukes describes her as the daughter of a Count Berengar, the dominant prince of that region.[12] In the 11th-century Annales Rotomagenses (Annals of Rouen),[13] she is called the daughter of Guy, Count of Senlis,[14] otherwise unknown to history.[b] According to the Longsword's planctus, William was baptized a Christian probably at the same time as his father,[15] which Orderic Vitalis stated was in 912, by Franco, Archbishop of Rouen.[16] William is not an Old Norse forename, and he must have been renamed as part of this process.[17]


The funerary monument of William Longsword in the cathedral of Rouen, France. The monument is from the 14th century.

William succeeded Rollo (who continued to live about five more years) in 927[18] and, early in his reign, in 933, faced a rebellion from Normans[19] who felt he had become too Gallicised.[20] According to Orderic Vitalis, the leader of the rebellion was Riouf of Evreux,[20][21][22] who besieged William in Rouen. Sallying forth, William won a decisive battle, proving his authority to be duke.[23]: 25–6  At the time of this rebellion, William sent his pregnant wife more danico, Sprota, to Fécamp where their son Richard was born.[24]

In 933, William recognized King Raoul, who was struggling to assert his authority in Northern France, as King of Western Francia. In turn, Raoul gave him lordship over much of the lands of the Bretons including Avranches, the Cotentin Peninsula and the Channel Islands.[25][26][27]: lii  The Bretons resisted these changes, led by Alan II, Duke of Brittany, and Count Berengar of Rennes, but this ended shortly with great slaughter and Breton castles being razed to the ground;[23]: 24  Alan fled to England and Berengar sought reconciliation.[28]

In 935, William married Luitgarde,[1] daughter of Count Herbert II of Vermandois, whose dowry gave him the lands of Longueville, Coudres and Illiers-l'Évêque.[22] He also contracted a marriage between his sister Adela (whose Norse name was Gerloc) and William, Count of Poitou, with the approval of France's most powerful magnate, Hugh the Great.[29] In addition to supporting King Raoul, William was now a loyal ally of his father-in-law, Herbert II, both of whom his father had opposed.[30] In January 936, 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 from exile seeking to recover the lands taken by the Normans, resulting in fighting in the expanded Norman lands.[27]: lii 

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,[23]: 28–9  whereupon Arnulf I, Count of Flanders retaliated by attacking Normandy. Arnulf captured the castle of Montreuil-sur-Mer, expelling Herluin, after which Herluin and William cooperated to retake the castle.[31][32] William was excommunicated for his actions in destroying several estates belonging to Arnulf.[33] 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.[27]: liii [34]

In 941, a peace treaty, brokered in Rouen by King Louis IV, was signed between the Bretons and Normans, which limited Norman expansion into Breton lands.[27]: liii  The following year, on 17 December 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.[22][32]


William had no children with his Christian wife, Luitgarde.[35] He fathered a son, Richard, with Sprota,[c] his wife more danico.[36] Richard, then aged 10, succeeded as Ruler of Normandy upon William's death in December 942.[35]


  1. ^ Neveux and other authorities believe this may have been in England, as Rollo left Neustria for several years, probably for England. See: Neveux, p. 62; Complainte sur l'assassinat de Guillaume Longue-Ėpée, duc de Normandie, poème inédit du Xe siècle, Gaston Paris; Jules Lair, Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes (1870), Volume 31, Issue 31, p. 397; Complainte de la mort de Guillaume Longue Ėpėe; and Prentout, Etude critique sur Dudon de Saint-Quentin, 178–179 [ns].
  2. ^ See Commentary: The origin of Poppa at: Stewart Baldwin, The Henry Project: "Poppa" for more detailed discussion and opinions.
  3. ^ Sprota married Esperling, a rich miller in the Pont-de-l’Arche-Louviers region. By her, he had a son, Count Rodulf of Ivry, who was one of the most trusted advisers of his half-brother, Richard I of Normandy. See Searle, p. 108 and The Normans in Europe, p. 57


  1. ^ a b Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band III Teilband 1 (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 79
  2. ^ Douglas, David 'The Earliest Norman Counts', The English Historical Review, Vol. 61, No. 240 (May 1946), p. 130, JSTOR 555396
  3. ^ David Crouch, The Normans: The History of a Dynasty, (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p. 14.
  4. ^ The Normans in Europe, ed. & trans. Elisabeth van Houts (Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), pp. 31, 41, 182
  5. ^ Eleanor Searle, Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power, 840–1066 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 45
  6. ^ Crouch, David (2002). The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon Continuum. p. 9.
  7. ^ François Neveux, A Brief History of the Normans, trans. Howard Curtis (London: Constable & Robbinson, Ltd, 2008), p. 62 & n. 111
  8. ^ Douglas, D. C. (October 1942). "Rollo of Normandy". The English Historical Review. 57 (228): 422. JSTOR 554369. Retrieved 15 May 2023 – via JSTOR.
  9. ^ Douglas, David C. (1977). Time and the hour: some collected papers of David C. Douglas. London: Eyre Methuen. p. 125. ISBN 0-413-31830-3 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Ordericus Vitalis (1969). The ecclesiastical history of Orderic Vitalis vol. II, Books III and IV. edited and translated with introduction and notes by Marjorie Chibnall. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 6, 7. ISBN 978-0-19-822204-0 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Neveux, pp. 60–61
  12. ^ Douglas, 'Rollo of Normandy', p. 417
  13. ^ Annales Rotomagenses, brillonline.com
  14. ^ K. S. B. Keats-Rohan (July–October 1997), "Poppa of Bayeux and Her Family", The American Genealogist, vol. 72, no. 4, p. 198
  15. ^ Crouch, p. 9
  16. ^ Vitalis, p. 67 (Citing William of Jumièges, Book II, ch. 12 [18])
  17. ^ Crouch, David (2002). The Normans: A History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon Continuum. pp. 8–9.
  18. ^ Douglas, 'Rollo of Normandy', p. 435
  19. ^ The Normans in Europe, p. 41 (Citing the Planctus for William Longsword composed shortly after his murder in 942)
  20. ^ a b A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World, ed. Christopher Harper-Bill; Elisabeth Van Houts (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2007), p. 25
  21. ^ Crouch, p. 11
  22. ^ a b c Neveux, p. 72
  23. ^ a b c Duncan, Jonathan (1839). The Dukes of Normandy from the time of King Rollo to the expulsion of King John. Joseph Rickerby and Harvey & Darton.
  24. ^ Searle, p. 95
  25. ^ Pierre Riché, The Carolingians; A Family who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 252–3
  26. ^ The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 916–966, eds. & trans. Steven Fanning and Bernard S. Bachrach (New York; Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. xvii & notes 15b, 85
  27. ^ a b c d Stapleton, Thomas (1840). Magni rotuli scaccarii Normanniæ sub regibus Angliæ.
  28. ^ The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumieges, Orderic Vitalis, and Robert of Torigni, ed. & trans. Elizabeth M.C. Van Houts, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 79
  29. ^ The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumieges, Orderic Vitalis, and Robert of Torigni, p. 81
  30. ^ The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 916–966, p. xxi
  31. ^ Searle, p. 56
  32. ^ a b David Nicholas, Medieval Flanders (London: Longman Group UK Limited, 1992), p. 40
  33. ^ The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 916–966, p. 31
  34. ^ The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 916–966, p. 32
  35. ^ a b Neveux, p. 90
  36. ^ The Normans in Europe, p. 47

External links[edit]

French nobility
Preceded by Count of Rouen
c. 927–942
Succeeded by