William, the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, was born at Falaise Castle, Normandy, in 1027 or 1028. He was known as William the Bastard.
When his father died in 1035, William was named as his successor.
By the time that he was twenty-seven, he had earned himself a good reputation as a strong leader. He defended Normandy well from repeated attacks by the French and was feared as a military leader.
William’s Claim to England
William was a distant cousin of the English King Edward the Confessor and claimed that Edward, who had no children, had promised him the throne of England. He also claimed that when Harold Godwineson had been shipwrecked off Normandy, he had sworn to support his claim.
When Harold Godwineson was crowned King of England, William, with the approval of the Pope, began planning an invasion to take what was rightfully his.
Harold’s Claim to England
Harold was born around 1020, to one of the richest men in England, Earl Godwin. After his father’s death he became a loyal supporter of Edward the Confessor and married the daughter of the Earl of Mercia.
Harold claimed that when his ship had been blown into Norman waters, he had been taken prisoner and had been forced to support William’s claim to secure his release. He also claimed that Edward promised him the throne on his deathbed and that he was the rightful King of England.