Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

William Clito

William Clito (1101-July 28, 1128) was the son of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, by his marriage with Sibylla of Conversano. He had a claim on both Normandy and England, and became count of Flanders.

After his father's defeat and capture by Henry I of England at the Battle of Tinchebrai (1106) the young William fell into the king's hands. Henry placed his nephew in the custody of Helias of Saint Saens, who had married a natural daughter of Duke Robert.

By 1112 Henry wanted William back in his hands, but Helias fled with the boy to the court of Baldwin VII of Flanders. Soon a coalition was created which joined the discontented Norman barons with others of Henry's enemies in recognizing William as the rightful claimant to the duchy. (They disregarded Robert, a prisoner whom there was no hope of releasing.)

William's claims furnished the pretext for two Norman rebellions. The first, which lasted from 1112 to 1120, was abetted by Louis VI of France, by Fulk V of Anjou and by Baldwin VII of Flanders. In the end, Baldwin died as a result of battlefield injuries, and Louis and Fulk came to terms with Henry. Louis recognized Henry as ruler of Normandy, and accepted homage from Henry's son William Adelin. The latter also married a daughter of Fulk. With his hopes gone, Clito met with Henry in October 1119, and pleaded with the king to release his father, promising that the two of them would go on pilgrimage and never trouble Henry again. Henry however could not trust this, and refused.

But thirteen months later Henry's son and heir drowned, and the king's careful web of diplomacy unraveled. His enemies attempted a near-repeat of the previous coalition. In 1122 or 1123 William married Sibylle, another daughter of Fulk of Anjou, and with her received the county of Maine. The new count of Flanders, Charles the Good, was not interested, but Fulk and king Louis prepared to attack Normandy again.

However, Henry I outmanouvered them. He persuaded the papal curia to annul William's marriage, as being within the forbidden degrees of kinship. Henry then got his son-in-law, the Emperor Henry V, to threaten Louis from the east. With more of his barons at least neutral, this time Henry easily defended Normandy from Fulk's invasion.

William Clito and his allies had not given up yet. Emperor Henry died in 1125, and Charles the Good of Flanders in 1127, both without direct heirs. That year, William was given by Louis the hand of Johanna of Montferrat, half-sister of the French queen, and Louis asserted his right to settle the succession to the vacant fief of Flanders. William had some claim on the county, being the grandson of Matilda of Flanders and thus a great-grandson of Baldwin V of Flanders, and Louis selected him instead of several rival claimants.

William Clito had significant experience as a military leader, but none as a political leader. Governing Flanders was not easy as its society was rapidly changing with the growth of the woolen industry. Henry exploited these tensions, financing some of the other claimants, and cutting off the vital trade of raw wool from England. Soon William faced a rebellion, and Thierry of Alsace emerged as the leading rival for rule of the county. While besieging Alost, one of the strongholds of the rival party, William received a wound which mortified and proved fatal (July 28, 1128). He left no children, and Thierry succeeded him in Flanders. Although Duke Robert survived until 1134, the power of Henry I in Normandy was already undisputed.

Preceded by:
Charles the Good
Count of Flanders Succeeded by:
Thierry of Alsace

Adapted from a 1911 encyclopedia