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Causes of Frontier Disputes During William the Conqueror's Reign

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To what extent were family disputes within William the Conqueror’s family the main cause of frontier disputes from 1066-1100?

Frontier disputes were an occurrence that plagued the Norman rule of England throughout both William the First and his son William the Second’s reign. With the forces of Malcolm III, King of Scots encroaching upon Northumbria in the north eastern border and Cumbria in the west, and with Norman authority collapsing in Normandy, we see a pair of English Kings run ragged, marching up and down the country, over the English Channel and back again in a desperate attempt to consolidate their rule and affirm superiority in a cross channel government. But with twice the military commitments and two different sets of jurisdiction, rebellion and dispute spread like wildfire along the fringes of Norman control. This came down to three main reasons; the deep rooted disunion between English constitutions and Scottish rule had been a problem for centuries, and while inroads were made to settle this division, Kings William I and II found it hard to leave a lasting effect. The impact of a cross channel government, and how this arrangement made it easy for rebel forces to initiate attempts at claiming whatever land or possessions they liked when William left England to deal with discord in Normandy or vice versa. Finally, how family disputes, between William the First and his son Robert, and also between William Rufus and Robert after William came in to the throne, were a cause for frontier disputes. Of which it could be argued that to a certain extent familial issues were the main cause of frontier disputes. After all, the inheritance dilemma after William I’s death did lead to the division of Normandy and England, which would prove to be a huge long term trial for future kings to maintain. Only to a certain degree however would I agree with this statement, preferring to identify the cross channel government which William I & II tried so hard to maintain, and evidence would suggest was the main clause.
Firstly however, see how through divisions in the royal family, in multiple generations, led to disputes on the Norman frontiers. In 1056, William the Conqueror rode out to conquer Maine, in which he was successful, passing lordship of the land onto his son Robert. Robert received homage from the barons of France, and was widely recognised as William’s successor. However, Robert’s ambition and zeal for power made his father wary, as William was not prepared to hand off so much influence to his son. This drove Robert to distance himself from his brothers; William, Richard and Henry, and during a campaign in France, Robert left with his own force and began to associate himself with the King of France, Philip I, who armed Robert and put it upon him to harass the lands of Eastern Normandy. The domestic unrest therefore leads Robert himself to join with the French rebels, whom his father was fighting to keep at bay, increasing the profile of the rebel’s movements and attracting more potential followers. These troubles were rested after a clash of Robert and his father’s forces in 1079, but it proved in the long term to raise the rebel’s reputation in France. However, it should be remembered that only in France were these effects seen, so the familial friction did only seem to present minor, and isolated cases of insurrection. Moving on, discord within the family again raises issues of dispute on the frontiers as is seen after William II’s rise to throne. William Rufus and Robert begin a back and forth of truce making and discontent. One of the main problems this leads on to is that it allows Malcolm III, King of Scots to raid as far down south as Chester le-Street, while Robert and Rufus are busy coming to terms of agreement and disagreement with each other all the way over in Normandy. We see again in 1094-1095, when Rufus crosses the channel to fight once again with Robert in Normandy, how the Welsh clans fight and work to slowly take back the lands the Normans had established, undoing the in-roads they had made into native independent Welsh land, leading to further clashes on the Norman fronts. The clashes between the two brothers were reversing all the work they had put in to consolidating their lands and boundaries. See how this leads to disputes on the Norman frontiers. However, the long distance geographical factor plays well in to this situation as well. Had the two brothers both been rooted in the English capital throughout these troubles rather than chasing after each other, they could of dealt with the problem more efficiently and not allowed the forces of the welsh or Scottish to take advantage. Again, the main reason for frontier disputes comes back to William Rufus struggling frantically to maintain a cross channel government. While indeed the foundations of the family were not solid, the point of geographic displacement due to William’s willingness to maintain the cross channel government must be factored in to have a complete understanding of why the frontier disputes continued to occur.
Furthermore, Scottish relations could be described as anything but stable. The barbaric north had been attempted to be reasoned with several times throughout medieval history, most noticeably in 973, when Edgar the Peaceful came to an agreement with Kenneth, King of Scots, granting him the western region of Lothian, and Northumbria in the east, and both were uniformly recognised under their respective rulers. Years pass, and Scotland serves England well to neutralise any Scandinavian threat that happened to land on the northern shores. However, Malcolm III Canmore, instated by Edward the Confessor, steadily mustered more and more power throughout the Norman conquest and William I & II’s rule. It can be said that William certainly did not think Scotland worthy of integration with his dominion, and made no effort to appease Malcolm in any way. Malcolm III took advantage of William’s constant struggle to maintain English rule by commencing regular raids into Northumbria during 1070-1072 to stir up trouble on the frontier for William, fearing his strength, and hoping that a war of attrition might wear William down and make him give up his efforts to rule as King of England. So while it can be said the King of Scots definitely caused frontier disputes for William, William’s battle that he fought on three fronts (Wales, Normandy and Scotland) made it impossible for him to focus an attack on any given enemy or force. Had William not been dealing with any other opposition and been able focus on Malcolm, Malcolm would certainly not of taken William the Conqueror head on. It was only through viewing William’s struggle to keep up with a cross channel government that Malcolm saw an opportunity to push south. Even after the signing of The Treaty of Abernethy by Malcolm and William in 1072, Malcolm still persisted on invading and raiding England in 1079 and 1090, because William and William Rufus could only march so quickly from dealing with government responsibilities and obligations in Normandy to meet him. The theme of cross channel fatigue is evident throughout.
Lastly, the obligations William I and William Rufus had in both England and Normandy found to create frontier disputes can come down to two main factors. The economic burden placed on the King was now doubled, having to keep up with payments for two sets of barons, and two sets of armies. Chasing money became much more difficult for William now that he had to chase it back and forth across the channel. Keeping up with these lords and barons, making sure they are supplying the due amount of military force or monetary value becomes nearly impossible for the king to track. This led to many people having doubt in their leader’s security of rule, and insecurity of rule can directly lead to uprising and standing of opposition forces. Two different laws also existed for French and English lands, leading to an inconsistency of both regulation and constitution. The rebels have a point in not knowing how much they can get away with, or what the actual jurisdiction is, which the common folk can sympathise with. This led the people to have doubt in their leader’s security of rule, and insecurity of rule directly leads to uprising and standing of opposition forces. The king having to deal with attacks from the north, south and east at the same time because of his will to maintain this cross channel government means he can never truly focus his force on one faction. A drawn out frontier dispute ensues.
In conclusion, the devotion to the maintenance of William’s cross channel government weighs heavily throughout both the family disputes and Scottish conflicts, as a main reason for frontier dispute. More so than the family disputes contribute in their own right, and as such I can conclude that while the family disputes were a strong contributing factor to the occurrence of frontier disputes, the extent of which they provide such a reason comes second to the weak and disorderly architecture of cross channel government.

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