D uke of Normandy (1035-87) and the King of England (1066-87), William was raised in France and was also known as William of Normandy and William the Bastard. He was 5 foot 7 inches tall, an unusual height for a man of the times, with excessively long legs and arms (Bates 1989: 90). His contemporary William of Malmsbury observed that his arms and shoulders were so strong that he could draw a bow that others could not bend and that while riding (Bates 1989: 91). In his old age, however, he became extremely fat. Even in the Middle Ages, when being "fat" was permitted as a sign of power and wealth; in excess, as among the Greeks, it was also seen as a sign of weakness, not of strength. Thus, a contemporary chronicler inserted a description lifted from a much earlier biography of Charlemagne noting that William was "abstemious in eating and drinking and abhorred drunkenness in himself or others." No proof, "except his corpulence," exists to indicate that this was wrong (Ashley 1973: 147). William's son, known as William "Rufus," inherited his father's corpulence as well as his throne (Ashley 1973: 166).
William is thought to be one of the earliest recorded "celebrities" to diet. It has been said that in 1087, William thought he was too overweight to ride his horse. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he grew so large that he decided to go on a diet. His diet included spending days in bed, only consuming alcohol. There is no record on how much weight he lost; however, he was riding his horse again the next year. It has also been reported, however, that in July 1087, he was still corpulent enough that when he led his troop to loot Mantes, he fell on the pommel of his saddle which caused an intestinal hernia (Bates 1989: 179). This resulted in his death. The clergy also had problems getting him to fit into his sarcophagus, and the body had to be broken to fit (Ashley 1973: 181). Moreover, the sarcophagus was reported to have burst while his clergy trying to put him in it and the rotting corpse filled the church with an intolerable stench (Douglas 1999: 362). This was clear proof to many of the doggerel written about him at the time that "He was sunk in greed / And utterly given up to avarice" (Ashley 1973: 159).
See also Celebrities; Greek Medicine and Dieting
References and Further Reading
Anon. (2004) "Diets: A Primer," CBC News Online, available online at <http://www.cbc.ca/news/ background/food/diets.html> (accessed March 20, 2006).
Ashley, Maurice (1973) The Life and Times of William I,
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Bates, David (1989) William the Conqueror, London: George Philip.
Douglas, David Charles (1999) William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact Upon England, London: Yale University Press. Midgley, Carol (2001) "Fat Chance of Success," The Times (London), February 16.
Wolf, Buck (2005) "Belly Laughs at Early Fad Diets," abcnews.com, available online at <http:// abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/WolfFiles/story? id= i537630&entertainment=te> (accessed April 2, 2006).
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