William Malet (companion of William the Conqueror)

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William Malet (died 1071) held senior positions within the Norman forces that occupied England from 1066. Of the so-called companions of William of Normandy, Malet is one of about a dozen for whom there is evidence of their presence at the Battle of Hastings. For example, the contemporary chronicler William of Poitiers recorded that Malet was present at the battle.

According to apocryphal accounts, Malet was related to both William of Normandy and King Harold of England. Some accounts claim that Malet took charge of Harold's body following the Norman victory at Hastings. However, there is no evidence confirming such claims.

Malet held substantial property in Normandy – chiefly in the Pays de Caux, with a castle at Graville-Sainte-Honorine [fr] (now a suburb of Le Havre). After 1066, he held many properties in England as well, most of them in Yorkshire and East Anglia.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

According to unverifiable, apocryphal accounts, Malet had significant, multiple ties to the Anglo-Saxon elite before the Norman Conquest.

  • Malet's mother was said to be English.
  • He was said to be the brother of Aelgifu, wife of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia (and, therefore, daughter-in-law of Lady Godiva).
  • In or about January 1066, King Harold married Ealdgyth, often known as Edith (the dowager of Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llywelyn) and a daughter of Aelgifu and Ælfgar of Mercia. If Malet was a biological uncle of the queen consort of England in 1066, he would probably have been pivotal to Norman-English relations at around the time of the Battle of Hastings.

Battle of Hastings[edit]

There is evidence that Malet fought on the Norman side at Hastings, regardless of any divided loyalties that may have been caused by family ties. For instance, William of Poitiers wrote of King Harold's remains:

His corpse was brought into the Duke's camp and William [of Normandy] gave it for burial to William, surnamed Malet, and not to Harold's mother, who offered for the body of her beloved son its weight in gold.[1]

If Malet was at the Norman headquarters, immediately after the battle, it would be strong evidence that he played a significant role in the Norman victory.

High Sheriff[edit]

Malet's activities during the first few years of the Norman conquest of England are not known. But after the Danish stronghold York was captured in 1068, he was appointed the first High Sheriff of Yorkshire and was one of the commanders of the garrisons in the new castles built in the city of York. His efforts at defending the shire from Danish raids were, in the end, a terrible failure, for the next year the city was burned and the garrison slaughtered. Malet, his wife, and two of their children were held as hostages, and finally released when the Danes were driven off.

Malet was relieved of his duties in the north, but seems to not have lost the king's favour, for he soon was appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, and given the great honour of Eye, with lands in Suffolk and several other shires. It was in fact the largest lordship in East Anglia. He built a motte and bailey castle at Eye, and started a market there.

In Histories and the Media[edit]

The Domesday Book also mentions a Durand Malet, who held land in Lincolnshire[2] and possibly some neighbouring shires. This may be William Malet's brother, but this is not certain.

On screen, Malet has been portrayed by Peter Halliday in the two-part BBC TV play Conquest (1966), part of the series Theatre 625, and by Gawn Grainger in the TV drama Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990).

Family[edit]

He had married Hesilia (Helise or Elisee). He was succeeded by his son Robert as Lord of Eye and Sheriff of Suffolk. His other son Gilbert founded the Malets of Shepton Mallet.

Death[edit]

He died around 1071, probably during the rebellion of Hereward the Wake.

Preceded by
New Creation
After Norman Conquest
High Sheriff of Yorkshire
1068-1069
Succeeded by
Hugh FitzBaldric
Preceded by
New Creation
After Norman Conquest
High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk
1070-1071
Succeeded by
Robert Malet
Preceded by
New Creation
After Norman Conquest
Lord of Eye
The Honour of Eye

-1071
Succeeded by
Robert Malet
Preceded by
Lord of Graville (Normandy)
-1071
Succeeded by
Robert Malet

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wm. of Poitiers, Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum, quoted in David C.Douglas & George W. Greenaway (Eds.), English Historical Documents 1042-1189, London, 1959, p.229.
  2. ^ Domesday Book
  • Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America Before 1700 by Frederick Lewis Weis, Line 234A-25
  • Hollister, C. Warren (1973). "Henry I and Robert Malet". Viator. 4: 115–32.
  • Hurt, Cyril. "William Malet and His Family". Anglo-Norman Studies XIX.
  • Lewis, C. P. (1989). "The King and Eye: A Study in Anglo-Norman Politics". English Historical Review. 104: 569–87. doi:10.1093/ehr/CIV.CCCCXII.569.