Imagine a baby boy – call him Baby W – born to an unmarried 16 year-old girl, known as ‘H’ from a working-class background. The baby’s father, ‘R’ comes from a wealthy, powerful family in which power is maintained by the ruthless use of violence: a gang culture, essentially. R agrees to support and eventually adopt his son. He maintains some kind of relationship (its precise details uncertain) with H, but insists on retaining custody, so that Baby W can grow up within his family’s strong, but extremely violent embrace. The pain of his separation from his mother causes W great pain that he is forced to suppress in his father’s remorselessly tough, macho environment. Meanwhile, H marries another, slightly less powerful, but still upper-class man, with whom she has three legitimate children. She maintains some contact with her illegitimate son W, for he certainly gets to know his half-siblings, but again it is hard to say how much time she actually spends with W in his infancy.
When W is seven, or possibly eight – the files dealing with the case have almost all been lost, apart from a few sketchy, informal accounts – his father decides on a whim to go on a lengthy overseas expedition. Before R goes, he names W as his heir and appoints legal guardians to safeguard his welfare – just as well, for his trip abroad proves fatal. By the time he is eight, W is fatherless, but in possession of a substantial inheritance, which other members of his family – jealous of the bastard child – want for themselves.
W has thus suffered the trauma of being torn from his mother when still in the earliest, most delicate years of personal development, and has lost his father to boot. In the years that follow, W does not return to live with his mother, H, but is cared for by a series of much older, male guardians and tutors. Just as he is entering adolescence, aged 12 or 13, at least four of these men are brutally assassinated. One of them dies in W’s bedroom, stabbed to death while trying to protect the boy. The post-traumatic stress caused by that event alone would be enough to have serious effects on a boy just entering puberty. Taken together with the other traumas, stresses and deprivations the child has suffered, any modern-day social worker, paediatrician or child psychologist would expect to see severe behavioural problems, that might include severe difficulties in forming healthy, trusting relationships; anger management issues; a suspicious nature whose lack of trust verges on the paranoid: in short, a potentially psychopathic, violent personality. On the other hand, this individual will certainly have learned a wide ranger of survival techniques, which will make him as charismatic to his allies and underlings as he was fearsome to his enemies.
And there you have William the Bastard, as he was known to his contemporaries, or William the Conqueror as posterity has re-named him. His early life is was psychologically fractured and chaotic and the man he became was brutal, cruel, merciless and indifferent to the suffering he caused … but also a brilliant strategist, warrior and administrator, who did not only conquer England (the Danes had done that within the previous century), but would also found a ruling dynasty that lasted centuries and lay down the foundations for the Britain we live in today. He was a loving husband, and loyal and generous to the small inner circle of men he trusted. As a father, he fell out with his eldest son Robert, but still sired two more sons, William and Henry who became Kings of England.
William, in short, was a complicated, contradictory and controversial character. But with a childhood like his, what else could he have been?
Devil, the first Leopards of Normandy novel, is out now in paperback. Find out more about William the Conqueror and David’s novels over on his blog – www.david-churchill.co.uk
Author: David Churchill
David Churchill is the pseudonym of an award-winning journalist, who has conducted several hundred in-depth interviews with senior politicians, billionaire entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes, movie stars, supermodels and rock legends. He has investigated financial scandals on Wall Street, studio intrigues in Hollywood and corrupt sports stars in Britain, and lived in Moscow, Washington DC and Havana. He has edited four magazines, published seventeen books and been translated into some twenty languages.
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