Mantes is a small town with a big personality. It sits on the river Seine and it was the scene of many historical happenings. Here’s the scene: It’s July 1087. At this time, France as we know it is just a small area encompassing Paris. It’s ruled by the king of the Franks, Philip I. Surrounding Paris are several kingdoms and duchies, among which is Normandy, ruled by the duke king William the Conqueror. Mantes is in the Vexin. This region is an area between Normandy and the royal domain around Paris. King Philip I had reinforced his controls over the land in the French Vexin, and through it launched attacks on Normandy. William the Conqueror decided to launch a reprisal raid. The sortie took place at Mantes in July, after the harvest. The Normans razed Mantes, destroying it nearly entirely except for the castle. During the attack, William somehow fell against the pommel of his saddle and severely injured his abdomen. The 59 year old ruler died from his injury in Rouen on 9 September 1087. Supposedly, on his deathbed, he spoke of his regret at burning the town, and he left a large sum of money to rebuild Mantes.
Poor William – it must have been a dreadfully painful death. According to the contemporary chronicler Oderic Vitalis, the king’s house was looted after his death, leaving his body “almost naked on the floor.” A fire broke out in Caen during his funeral. Most rushed out to help extinguish it and the service was only attended by monks. Oderic also recorded the stone sarcophagus in which William was to be incarcerated was made too short. When the monks attempted to force his body in, his swollen bowels burst and an “intolerable stench assailed the nostrils” of all those present. I can only imagine the horror.