Journal Article

The De Obitu Willelmis: Propaganda for the Anglo-Norman Succession, 1087–88?*

Katherine Lack

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXIII, issue 505, pages 1417-1456
Published in print December 2008 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online November 2008 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cen276
The De Obitu Willelmis: Propaganda for the Anglo-Norman Succession, 1087–88?*

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The de obitu Willelmi is a short text purporting to describe the death of William the Conqueror and the division of his lands between his sons William Rufus and Duke Robert of Normandy. It survives in full at the end of one late eleventh or early twelfth-century copy of the Gesta Normannorum Ducum. The de obitu Willelmi is however known to be a minimally modified pastiche of two ninth-century texts, a Life of Charlemagne and a Life of Louis the Pious; the former is an obvious choice as a model for the Conqueror, but the latter requires further explanation. There is some evidence to suggest that the de obitu Willelmi pre-dates the accession of Henry I, and additional support for this argument is adduced here. It is demonstrated that the extracts from the Life of Louis the Pious are used so as to stress Duke Robert's unsuitability for rule, and it is proposed that this is the purpose for which the de obitu Willelmi was created, circulating independently before being appended to the Gesta Normannorum Ducum. The probable identities of Johannes medicus and Gerardus cancellarius, who are inserted into the de obitu Willelmi text, are explored, and John, appointed Bishop of Wells by Rufus in 1088, is suggested as a key figure in its production. It is proposed that de obitu Willelmi was composed and used as propaganda against Duke Robert during the 1088 rising following William Rufus's succession to the English throne.

Journal Article.  15676 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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