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Mallett Family History
"An English Family"

William Malet
the Conqueror
Arms of the Malet Family
as depicted in Iddesleigh Parish Church

William Malet, or Guillaume, as he may have been called, "Sire de Graville", came from Graville Sainte Honorine between Le Havre and Harfleur, in what is today the French province of Normandy. He is said to have had a Norman father and a Saxon (read English) mother, and had some sort of association with King Harold of England before the conquest. William, through his Saxon mother, may actually have been related to King Harold, and also to the well known Lady Godiva. It is also possible that William and Harold were both God fathers of Duke William of Normandy's daughter, Abela.

The Malet Castle at Graville Sainte Honorine had an important strategic location, at the mouth of the Seine. It has now fallen into the sea, though some remnants of it may still be visible. A large section of wall with large iron rings attached was still there just over 100 years ago. The Abbey church, in which some of the Malets are buried, is now in the town of Le Havre. Though William Malet had connections to both sides in the conflict to come, his main allegiance was to Duke William of Normandy.

William fought with distinction at Hastings, as the following Excerpt from Wace's "Roman de Rou" attests:

    William whom they call Mallet,
    Boldly throws himself among them;
    With his flashing sword
    Against the English he makes furious onset;
    But his shield they clove,
    And his horse beneath him killed,
    And himself they would have slain,
    When came the Sire de Montfort
    And Lord William de Vez-Pont
    With the great force which they had,
    Him they bravely rescued.
    There many of their men they lost;
    Mallet they remounted on the field
    On a fresh war-horse.

When the battle was over, Duke William entrusted William Malet to attend to the burial of the dead English king. The body was buried under a heap of stones on top of a cliff at Hastings overlooking the shore that Harold had so bravely defended. William placed a stone on the grave with the epitaph:

    "By command of the Duke, you rest here a King, O Harold, that you may be guardian still of the shore and sea".

This burial of Harold was only temporary and the body was later re-buried at Harold's Abbey at Waltham.

The story of the Norman conquest of England is told by the Bayeux Tapestry, brought up to date in the following animation, brilliantly done by David Newton, a former graphic designer from the UK:

Here's another take on the same theme, with a very catchy tune:

A re-enactment of the battle of Hastings, provided by ITV:

William and his brother Durand held lands in Lincolnshire, England, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, and through the reign of Harold right up to the conquest, in addition to those in Normandy. These Lincolnshire holdings, all in the Danelaw, probably came from William and Durand's mother. After the conquest William's English holdings were greatly increased, again, principally in the Danelaw, as English lands were taken from their Saxon owners and handed over to Norman Barons. It is likely that Duke William conferred these estates on William, partly because of his loyalty and skill in battle, but also because of his prior connections with his Danish "cousins" there. Perhaps the Duke felt that William was the best man to bring these proud, warlike and independent settlers under the control of their new King.

William was dead at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, but the holdings at that time of his son Robert, and of his wife, give a good indication of the extent of his estates. He held large parts of what are today Suffolk and Norfolk, with smaller amounts of land in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Eye, in Suffolk appears to have been William's stronghold. Here he built a Motte and Bailey castle, after the Norman fashion. Nothing remains of the Norman fortifications, but the outline of the baileys and "Castle Mound", are still evident. There is even a slight indication of where the Market, founded by William Malet under Royal License would have been held.

William married Hesilia Crispin, by whom he had two sons, Robert and Gilbert, and one daughter, Beatrice. Robert and possibly Gilbert, along with their uncle Durand, accompanied their father at the battle of Hastings. The arms shown at the top of the page, likely carried by the Malets at Hastings, were used by many generations of the Malet family, both in England and in France, and can be seen on the Bayeux tapestry.

William was made Sheriff of York and granted considerable lands in Yorkshire following the building of the first Norman castle there (the mound now supports 'Clifford's Tower') in 1068. He and his fellow captains, Robert Fitz-Richard and William of Ghent, with 500 picked knights had to fight off a local revolt, headed by Edgar the Atheling; this in or shortly after January 1069. Robert Fitz-Richard and many of his men were killed and it was only by the timely arrival of King William that the City was saved. The natives remained restless and had another, token go, as soon as King William left but were quickly put down. The troops were strengthened and another castle built on the other side of the river from the original but, notwithstanding, in September 1069, William, his wife and two of his children were captured by a combined force of Danes and English under Sweyn of Denmark supported by Earls Waltheof and Gospatric and the Northumbrians, when York fell to them after a terrible fight. This led to King William ordering the burning and killing of everything in the north and Domesday, even 16 years later, records most of northern England as still being waste and uninhabited.

William, his wife and two children must have been released some time later and William retained most of his lands apart from those in Yorkshire, which will have come with the office of Sheriff, which had been taken from him. At some point the King awarded William the appellation of "Princep", and in the Chart granted by the King to the church of St. Martin le Grand, his signature appears as "Wilielmus Malet Princep". In the context of the times, Princep would likely have been interpreted as "leader, or chief". William is believed to have died fighting "Hereward the Wake" in the Fens near Ely Cathedral, which lies between South Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk (and in the middle of the Malet holdings), in 1071. The Domesday book records that "...He went into the marsh", and that "...he went on the King's service, where he died".

William is generally accepted to be the progenitor of many of the various branches of the Malet family (those that can trace their lines back that far), both in England and in France. The descendants of Durand continued to hold lands in Lincolnshire, and are recorded in Irby on Humber up to the 16th century.

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This website is produced and maintained by:
Bob Mallett
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Comments and enquiries are welcome.