William I, the Norman duke who subdued England at the Battle of Hastings and became its king in 1066, was known by his court as the Conqueror. But commoners were less awed by the king’s remote majesty. They focused not on William’s greatness, but on his girth, dubbing him “the fat man” and mocking him for appearing to be pregnant.
Indeed, this was not the only indignity borne by the hero of Hastings. William, born to his father’s mistress, was also known as William the Bastard. But the most inglorious moment of William’s life came not at its beginning, but at its end.
In the summer of 1087, as the king journeyed to a spa in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, his horse reared up and shoved its iron saddle horn into William’s fat belly, rupturing his intestines. A raging infection followed, subjecting the monarch to five weeks of intense pain, nausea, vomiting, and, finally, death.
At the end, William’s already big midsection was grotesquely bloated by disease. It swelled still more in the summer heat–so much so that by the time of his funeral in a chapel at Caen, the clergy and mourners were unable to fit the royal corpse into its sarcophagus: The casket was too narrow and too short as well.
Subjected to continued pushing and squeezing, the royal cadaver burst, spewing decay in all directions. Mourners raced from the chapel to escape the overwhelming stench, the service was cut short, and the king’s exploded remains were hastily and unceremoniously interred. Not long before his death and nauseous burial in 1087, the obese King William I was memorialized in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. King William I ushered in the Middle English era. THE END