Herleva (c. 1003 - 1050) also known as Arlette, Arletta, and Herlève, was the mother of William I of England.
The background of Herleva and the circumstances of William's birth are shrouded in mystery. The written evidence dates from a generation or two later, and is not entirely consistent. The most commonly accepted version says that she was the teenage daughter of atanner named Fulbert from the small Norman town of Falaise, where they lived. Translation being somewhat uncertain, Fulbert may instead have been a furrier, embalmer, or a person who laid out corpses for burial.
It is argued that Herleva's father was not a tanner but rather a member of burgher class. The idea is supported by the fact that her brothers appear in a later document as attestors for an under-age William. Also, the Count of Flanders later accepted Herleva as a proper guardian for his own daughter. Both facts would be nearly impossible if the father (and therefore her brothers) of Herleva was a tanner, little more than a peasant.
Legend has is that it all started when Robert, the young Duke of Normandy saw Herleva washing in the river near his castle. He was unable to resist her and took her for his mistress. She later gave birth to his son, William, in 1027, and a daughter, Adelaide, in 1030, who married first Enguerrand II of Ponthieu, second Lambert of Lens, and third Odo, count of Champagne.
Their love affair didn't last and the Duke cast his mistress aside and with his consent Herleva married Herluin de Conteville in 1031. Robert went on a successful pilgrimage in 1035 and died on his way home.
From her marriage she had two sons: Odo who later became Bishop of Bayeux and Robert who became Count of Mortain, and both of them became prominent during William's reign. They also had at least one daughter, who married William, lord of La Ferté-Macé.
Herleva probably died around 1050, probably in her forties.
- ^ McLynn, Frank. 1066: The Year of the Three Battles. pp. 21-23 (1999) ISBN 0-7126-6672-9
- David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror (1964); see especially Appendix A, "The birth of William the Conqueror, and the connexions of Herleve"
- Elisabeth M. C. van Houts, 'The Origins of Herleva, Mother of William the Conqueror', English Historical Review, vol. 101, pp. 309-404 (1986)