William did not come from as noble of backgrounds as Harold Godwinson, he was the illegitimate son of a count and “the whole course of William’s early history was determined by the fact of his illegitimacy” (William the Conqueror. 63) His father’s aunt married King Cnut, who ruled England, Denmark, and eventually Norway, which started the close connection between Normandy and England which ended with William Conquering England. William became recognized as his father, Robert’s, heir at the age of seven through a series of pointing out other illegitimate children in the family line and through Robert’s closeness with the King of France. Robert fell ill on the way back from a pilgrimage and power fell to William through his guardians. By accepting William as future duke of Normandy, the greatest fief of north France, the King of France stood to increase the prestige of the monarchy and strengthen the ties between the fief and the king.
There is little known about William in the years between 1035 and 1045, other than that he was becoming experienced in governing and leading military operations. By the 1050’s William had consolidated his power and was focused on the internal affairs of Normandy, however, in 1051 he took time to visit England. It is wondered if King Edward promised the throne to William at this time, this is due to the fact that this was the only occasion after 1042 that the two men met in person. In around 1058 Harold Godwinson “made a tour on the continent…including Normandy and North France generally.” (William the Conqueror. 148) It is stated that during this time Harold was captured and held for ransom by a count who was a feudal dependent to William. William heard of Harold’s imprisonment and had Harold brought to him and Harold stayed with William for a uncertain amount of time. During this time it is agreed that “he (Harold) placed himself under some obligation to his host…it would seem certain that he took an oath which bore some reference to the rivalry for the English throne in which both were evidently engaged.” (William the Conqueror. 155) It was under this history of promise and family ties that William chose to invade England.