William of Ypres

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William of Ypres (Dutch : Willem van Yper; c. 1090 24 January 1165 [1] ) was a Flemish nobleman and one of the first mercenary captains of the Middle Ages. [2] Following two unsuccessful bids for the County of Flanders, William became King Stephen of England's chief lieutenant during the civil war of 113954 known as the Anarchy. He held Kent, though not the title of earl, until the early years of King Henry II's reign, when he returned to Flanders.

Dutch language West Germanic language

Dutch(Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language spoken by around 24 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the third-most-widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

Mercenary Soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. Beginning in the 20th century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th to the 15th century

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.


Struggle for Flanders

William was an illegitimate son of Philip of Loo, who was the son of the Flemish count Robert the Frisian and younger brother of Robert II, Count of Flanders. [3] William's mother was a wool carder, which further diminished his status; Louis VI of France pointed out that she never rose from that station. [4] The exact date of his birth is unknown, and although C.1090 is the commonly used date of his birth, several other dates later in the same decade are also plausible. [3] His brother, Theobald Sorel, was likely born of another relationship of hers. His maternal origin did not prevent him from having a large influence in Flanders. [4]

Robert II, Count of Flanders Count of Flanders

Robert II was Count of Flanders from 1093 to 1111. He became known as Robert of Jerusalem or Robert the Crusader after his exploits in the First Crusade.

Louis VI of France King of France

Louis VI, called the Fat or the Fighter, was King of the Franks from 1108 to 1137, the fifth from the House of Capet. Chronicles called him "roi de Saint-Denis".

A succession crisis ensued in the County of Flanders in 1119 upon the sudden death of the childless Count Baldwin VII, William's cousin. Though illegitimate, William remained the last male-line descendant of Count Robert the Frisian. His claim to the countship was supported by Baldwin's mother, the powerful dowager Clementia of Burgundy, [5] and her second husband Godfrey I, Count of Louvain [3] , but Flanders nevertheless passed to the Danish prince Charles the Good, son of Robert I's daughter Adela and Canute IV of Denmark . [3] . The chronicle of Galbert of Bruges attributes his failure to his illegitimate birth. [3] It is possibly the case that, rather than being an active participant, William was simply a figurehead manipulated by his more powerful relatives; giving weight to this argument is the fact that not only did he survive the succession crisis, but he was also granted the same positions as his father, i.e. the effective Count of Ypres and the surrounding localities. [3]

County of Flanders French fiefdom and historic territory in the Low Countries

The County of Flanders was a historic territory in the Low Countries.

Baldwin VII of Flanders was Count of Flanders from 1111 to 1119.

A dowager is a widow who holds a title or property—a "dower"—derived from her deceased husband. As an adjective, dowager usually appears in association with monarchical and aristocratic titles.

Charles was assassinated on 2 March 1127 by the Erembald Clan, who then offered the countship to William, but he did not wish to be associated with them and he severed all ties with the murderers, going so far as to execute one of their members on 20 March. [3] . [5] Louis VII, as feudal overlord, rejected William's claim using his mother's status as an excuse, but this time William responded with force. [4] He used funds allegedly given to him by King Henry I of England to hire 300 mounted warriors, with whom he occupied Ypres and forced its merchants to accept him as count. Henry was eager to prevent Flanders from passing to his nephew, William Clito, another contender and second cousin of William of Ypres, as William Clito also laid claim to Henry's Duchy of Normandy. The war united him with another nephew of Henry and likewise a second cousin, Stephen of Blois. Ypres was besieged a month later on the 26 April by William Clito and Louis VI of France. After bitter fighting, the gates of Ypres were opened by the citizens, and William of Ypres was imprisoned along with his brother on 10 September. [3] [2] At Bruges there was an inquest into the death of Charles the Good. It is unclear how seriously William's involvement was considered, but in the end he escaped implication and was released in March 1128 having given an oath of loyalty to Clito. However, by this stage Clito had alienated most of his allies and faced a new opponent Thierry of Alsace, who was the son of Gertrude, the daughter of Robert the Frisian. Clito was killed in July 1128 at the siege of Aalst, leading to Thierry being confirmed as Count. William made one final attempt to take the county in 1130, though the events are veiled in obscurity. He was unable to prevail against Thierry and unlike his predecessors, Thierry was less than forgiving, banishing William from Flanders sometime between 1133 and 1135. [3] . [2]

Henry I of England 12th-century King of England and Duke of Normandy

Henry I, also known as Henry Beauclerc, was King of England from 1100 to his death in 1135. Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and was educated in Latin and the liberal arts. On William's death in 1087, Henry's elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively, but Henry was left landless. Henry purchased the County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but William and Robert deposed him in 1091. Henry gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William against Robert. Henry was present when William died in a hunting accident in 1100, and he seized the English throne, promising at his coronation to correct many of William's less popular policies. Henry married Matilda of Scotland but continued to have a large number of mistresses by whom he had many illegitimate children.

Ypres Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Ypres is a Belgian municipality in the province of West Flanders. Though the Dutch Ieper is the official name, the city's French name Ypres is most commonly used in English. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote. Together, they are home to about 34,900 inhabitants.

William Clito Belgian noble

William Clito reigned as Count of Flanders and claimed the Duchy of Normandy. His surname "Clito" was a Latin term equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon "Aetheling" and its Latinized form "Adelinus". Both terms signified "man of royal blood" or, the modern equivalent, "prince".

The Anarchy

Having failed to established himself as Count of Flanders, William went from his wife's lands in Sluis to Stephen's County of Boulogne. [4] Stephen's accession to the English throne following Henry I's death in 1135 finally changed William's fortunes for the better. He commanded Stephen's troops against the forces of their cousin, Henry's daughter Empress Matilda, who claimed the throne. Many of the soldiers were William's fellow Flemings, including his brother. [2] Stephen's campaign in Normandy failed because the local noblemen refused to co-operate with William and other Flemings. [4]

The count of Flanders was the ruler or sub-ruler of the county of Flanders, beginning in the 9th century. The title was held for a time by the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. During the French Revolution in 1790, the county of Flanders was annexed to France and ceased to exist. In the 19th century, the title was appropriated by Belgium and granted twice to younger sons of Belgian kings. The most recent holder died in 1983.

Sluis Municipality in Zeeland, Netherlands

Sluis is a town and municipality located in the west of Zeelandic Flanders, in the south-western Dutch province of Zeeland.

The County of Boulogne was a county within the kingdom of France during the 9th to 15th centuries, centred on the city of Boulogne-sur-Mer. It was ruled by the counts of Flandres in the 10th century, but a separate House of Boulogne emerges in the 11th. It was annexed by Philip II of France in 1212 and after this was treated as part of the county of Artois, until it was finally annexed into the royal domain in 1550.

William was much more active in England, where he took part in the Battle of Lincoln (1141), during which Stephen was captured by the Empress's forces. William led his contingent away when it became clear that the battle was lost, for which he was reprimanded by the author of Gesta Stephani and excused by Henry of Huntingdon. [2] [4] At this moment most of Stephen's supporters either declared for the Empress or attempted to stay neutral. William, however, determinedly supported Stephen's wife, Matilda I of Boulogne, who took over during the King's imprisonment, and he assumed command over all of Stephen's forces. [4] William distinguished himself during the Rout of Winchester and two subsequent battles which led to Stephen's release. [2] [4] He was involved in some of the most dishonorable events of the Anarchy, such as the plundering of Abingdon Abbey, burning of Wherwell Abbey and Andover, and threatening to burn St Albans. [6]

Battle of Lincoln (1141) battle of Lincoln, England in 1141

The Battle of Lincoln, or the First Battle of Lincoln, occurred on 2 February 1141 between King Stephen of England and forces loyal to Empress Matilda. Stephen was captured during the battle, imprisoned, and effectively deposed while Matilda ruled for a short time.

Deeds of King Stephen or Acts of Stephen or Gesta Regis Stephani is a mid-12th-century English history by an anonymous author about King Stephen of England and his struggles with his cousin, Empress Matilda, also known as the "Empress Maud". It is one of the main sources for this period in the history of England.

Henry of Huntingdon, the son of a canon in the diocese of Lincoln, was a 12th-century English historian, the author of a history of England, the Historia Anglorum, "the most important Anglo-Norman historian to emerge from the secular clergy". He served as archdeacon of Huntingdon. The few details of Henry's life that are known originated from his own works and from a number of official records. He was brought up in the wealthy court of Robert Bloet of Lincoln, who became his patron.

Stephen rewarded William with the County of Kent and its revenues at Christmas 1141. Though no proof exists of his creation as Earl of Kent by King Stephen, chroniclers describe him as "possessing the county" and "having Kent in his custody". He exercised the same powers over this county as other earls over theirs, though he never adopted the comital style. [3] William lost his sight in the late 1140s, which ended his military career and may have contributed to Stephen's compulsion to designate Empress Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir. [6] William founded the Cistercian house of Boxley c. 1146 [3] and endowed monasteries in Flanders. [2]

Last years

Despite his fierce loyalty to King Stephen, William was very unpopular, [6] primarily for being a foreigner, [4] but also due to plundering and extortion (common among English magnates). [2] Upon Stephen's death in 1154, the crown passed to Henry Plantagenet, who found it a military and political necessity to banish Flemings and other foreigners. William initially held onto Kent but, being old and blind, could not be of use to the new monarch. [6] He left England in 1157 and returned to Lo in Flanders, living quietly and piously. [6] He died there on 24 January 1165. [2]

Further reading


  1. 24 January 1164 O.S., 1165 N.S.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Isaac, Steven (2010). William of Ypres. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. 3. Oxford University Press. pp. 451–452. ISBN   019533403-5.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Richard Eales, "William of Ypres, styled count of Flanders (d. 1164/5)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Isaac, Steven (1999). "The Problem with Mercenaries". The Circle of War in the Middle Ages: Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History. 6. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 103–104, 122. ISBN   0851156452.
  5. 1 2 Nicholas, David M. (2014). Medieval Flanders. Routledge. p. 62. ISBN   131790155X.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Amt, Emilie (1993). The Accession of Henry II in England: Royal Government Restored, 1149-1159. Boydell & Brewer. p. 88. ISBN   0851153488.

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