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Conquest - 13: Duke William's Kindred - Odo Bishop of Bayeux, the Once Strongly Loyal Half-Brother

Updated on June 7, 2019
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Alan's research for his books took him through Duke William's kindred, followers, friends and allies

Initially Odo was one of William's staunchest supporters, rallying the Normans when they faltered at rumours of the duke's demise on Caldbec Hill

Bishop Odo is seen here wielding his mace in front of the English shieldwall - as a man of the Church he was not to draw blood by the poin t of a weapon (sword or spear)
Bishop Odo is seen here wielding his mace in front of the English shieldwall - as a man of the Church he was not to draw blood by the poin t of a weapon (sword or spear)

Duke Robert 'The Magnificent', (also known as 'The Devil') had his wicked way with Herleve, daughter of Fulbert the tanner.

He then married her off to Herluin de Conteville, and then set off on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. (Of the sins that earned him the nickname 'the devil', the worst one had to be in having his brother William slain in order to gain the dukedom). Duke Robert never returned, being slain by robbers near Constantinople on his way home.

Herleve gave the lucky Herluin two sons, Odo and Robert, in fairly quick succession after the wedding. Odo, the elder of the two, was made Bishop of Bayeux in AD1049, well below canonical age.

Nevertheless he showed himself to be of great support to the duke and would-be king until they fell out in AD1082, and Odo was imprisoned. He made a name for himself as a warrior bishop, but his main contribution in Norman consolidation of power over the new realm was as an administrator and justiciar to his half-brother William's regime. Odo's role on Caldbec Hill (known to the Normans as 'Senlac/Sanguelac' - lake of blood), like that of his fellow Norman clergyman Geoffrey of Coutances was to give aid 'by prayer' at the rear. The mace he held - shown on the Bayeux Tapestry commissioned by him - is deemed to be a marshal's baton. The Tapestry also shows him blessing a meal. He was handy with his mace, by all acounts, lashing out at any unsuspecting Saxon fyrdman or thegn who came within arm's length of him on his mount. He did not restrict himself to the back of the Norman line, either.

After William's coronation his half-brother Odo was created Earl of Kent, with his power-base at Rochester at the eastern end of Watling Street (the old Roman road that joined with London and Chester) in Kent. Younger brother Robert Count of Mortain ruled north of the Thames and a trusted family friend William fitzOsbern ruled in the west, whilst Odo ruled south of the Thames during William's first absence during AD1067.

At the time of the 'Harrying of the North' Odo made enemies with another of his half-brother's staunchest supporters, Alan 'Rufus'. The Breton, cousin of another of William's allies Alan 'the Black', Count of Brittany saw much of his land laid waste by Odo and one of Odo's henchmen, Geoffrey of Coutances ( S W Normandy), neither of whom owned land in the North. Count Alan was understandably angered that William did not take action against either. Alan was known to be fair to his English tenants and others on his lands, perhaps this incensed Odo, thinking that all the English in the north should be punished for 'supporting' the rising of AD1069, when the Danes under Jarl Osbeorn came over to support the rebels.

Odo was accused of 'acquiring' ecclesiastical estates, which may explain his imprisonment by his pious half-brother - although he may have 'trodden on the king's train' in other ways, not least of which would have been exceeding his brief. The abbey of St. Augustine's at Canterbury and St. Albans and the bishopric of Rochester acknowledged his protection and support, however. He was a very wealthy lord in his own right, with lands worth £3,000 according to Domesday. These lands lay mostly in Kent where his earldom was centred, although he held land also in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Lincolnshire.

Odo often deputised for his half-brother during frequent absences in Normandy - keeping his vassals in their places - and took part in the northern campaign with Robert 'Curthose' (the king's eldest) in AD1080.

Released from imprisonment in AD1088 after William's death-bed amnesty, he supported his nephew Robert;s rebellion against William II 'Rufus' in the same year. He withdrew to Bayeux on the failure of the rising, ostensibly to devote time to his diocese... A more realistic view would be he did not trust his nephew William not to imprison him again. He had not neglected his home diocese through the years of the Conquest, returning there often especially to consecrate his new cathedral in Ad1077 when the Tapestry may have been on display to the public for the first time.

Over the next decade Odo was busy in Normandy, supporting Duke Robert in a bid to keep the barons there under control. He was in his sixth decade when he set out to join the First Crusade with Duke Robert and his friend Eadgar 'the aetheling'. Whilst visiting King Roger in Palermo is AD1097 Odo was taken by a virulent but otherwise unknown disease and died. He was grandly entombed in Sicily in the magnificent Palermo Cathedral.

Odo, brave yet foolhardy - and greedy

Battle lines drawn - William's Norman and allied positions at the outset of fighting on Caldbec Hill
Battle lines drawn - William's Norman and allied positions at the outset of fighting on Caldbec Hill | Source
Palermo Cathedral in Sicily - Odo was on his way to join the first Crusade when he fell ill in Palermi. as a senior man of the Church he was interred in style in the cathedral
Palermo Cathedral in Sicily - Odo was on his way to join the first Crusade when he fell ill in Palermi. as a senior man of the Church he was interred in style in the cathedral | Source
See description below
See description below | Source

William's half-brothers Robert, Count of Mortain, and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux played a large part in the initial Conquest. Odo fell out with William not too long afterwards and Robert played the obedient follower. He gained from it. Odo on the other hand didn't get on with his half-brother's successor William 'Rufus', was imprisoned by him and left England finally to go on crusade. He reached Palermo and as guest of King Roger resided until death diverted him from his original cause. Teresa Cole gives you the whole unexpurgated story...

A closer look at the keep, the bishop's residence

Cross-section of Odo's Rochester Castle keep, open to the public. Re-enactors dressed both as Normans and English often stage battle demonstrations in the now dried-up moat.
Cross-section of Odo's Rochester Castle keep, open to the public. Re-enactors dressed both as Normans and English often stage battle demonstrations in the now dried-up moat. | Source

Bayeux Tapestry

Odo's heritage

Odo Bishop of Bayeux, Earl of Kent and half-brother of William 'the Conqueror' left a legacy you would need to cross the English Channel to see. The Bayeux Tapestry, more accurately a wall hanging, is housed in a special museum at the seat of his earthly power within the Church. It was made by Englishwomen, it is thought, perhaps the widows of thegns and other noblemen slain on Caldbec Hill - Sanguelac to the Normans and their chroniclers, 'lake of blood' - under 'instruction' by Odo to make the winners look good. It's certainly colourful, and it's long. 70m by 50 cm deep (around 229 ft X 1ft 7 inches). Address: 13 Rue de Nesmond, 14400 Bayeux, Normandy, France.


After WWII a tapestry was made to commemorate the D-Day landings of 6th June, 1944, it was named the 'Overlord Tapestry' and featured the leading military figures of the time. There are 34 panels, each panel measuring 2.4m X 0.9m, Total length (if laid end-to-end) amounts to 81.6m. (approx 267 ft 8 in X 2 ft 11 in) The 'Overlord Tapestry' is housed in Portsmouth at the D-Day Museum (no need to get your feet wet).


Next - 12: The New Order

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

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