William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066. Orderic Vitalis wrote the nearest we have to a contemporary account of the day’s disastrous events.
On Christmas Day 1066, William, Duke of Normandy , became the third man in that eventful year to wear the English crown. His coronation took place at Westminster Abbey, but ended in chaos when Norman troops mistook a cry of acclamation for a rebellion.
This account was given by Orderic Vitalis (1075-1142), the Anglo-French chronicler of Norman England. Although Orderic was obviously not present at the coronation his version of the story is usually the most trusted by historians.
William the Conqueror crowned at Westminster, 25 December 1066
So at last on Christmas Day in the year of Our Lord, 1066, the fifth Indiction, the English assembled at London for the king’s coronation, and a strong guard of Normen men-at-arms and knights was posted round the minster to prevent any treachery or disorder. And, in the presence of the bishops, abbots, and nobles of the whole realm of Albion, Archbishop Ealdred consecrated William duke of Normandy as king of the English and placed the royal crown on his head. This was done in the abbey church of St Peter the chief of the apostles, called Westminster , where the body of King Edward lies honourably buried.
But at the prompting of the devil, who hates everything good, a sudden disaster and portent of future catastrophes occurred. For when Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey bishop of Coutances asked the Normans , if they would accept William as their king, all of them gladly shouted out with once voice if not in one language that they would. The armed guard outside, hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot, and rashly set fire to some of the buildings. The fire spread rapidly from house to house; the crowd who had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in frantic haste. Only the bishops and a few clergy and monks remained, terrified, in the sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the king who was trembling from head to foot. Almost all the rest made for the scene of conflagration, some to fight the flames and many others hoping to find loot for themselves in the general confusion. TheEnglish, after hearing of the perpetration of such misdeeds, never again trusted the Normans who seemed to have betrayed them, but nursed their anger and bided their time to take revenge.
Source: The Ecclesiastic History of Orderic Vitalis, translated by Marjorie Chibnill (Oxford University Press, 1978)