Norman Conquest Encyclopedia
Herleve, or in modern language Arlette, was the mother of William the Bastard who became Duke of Normandy and King of England. Her father was probably a tanner named Fulbert, which is why, in 1051, William was so insulted by hides being hung from the walls of Alençon, drawing attention both to his bastardy and the modest social rank of his mother. He cut off the hands and feet of those he took prisoner there. William's father, Duke Robert the Magnificent is said to have seen Herleve either dancing or washing clothes in Falaise and to have fallen for the girl at once. She was of too lowly a social standing for marriage to be contemplated and when a less formal liaison was suggested she went to him quite openly. In due course a son was born. Herleve was subsequently married to Herluin, count of Conteville, to whom she bore two sons, William's half-brothers and loyal supporters, Odo, who became bishop of Bayeux, and Robert, count of Mortain, who became one of England's greatest landowners. The two lovers were certainly less than twenty years of age at the time of their affair, perhaps as young as seventeen.