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Conquest - 17: Raking Old Embers - Misunderstandings Among the Select, & a King's Son in Check

Updated on June 24, 2019

York's unmistakable roofline - this building was not started until the 12th Century and completed until the 15th

York's famous city roofline with the Minster - it is in fact a cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of  York (signed as 'Ebor')
York's famous city roofline with the Minster - it is in fact a cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of York (signed as 'Ebor') | Source

Misunderstandings amongst the Normans part 1 -Thomas, Archbishop-elect:

It is AD1070. Thomas, a former canon of Bayeux was now Archbishop-elect of York.

He presented himself to Archbishop Lanfranc at Canterbury for consecration. When Lanfranc asked for a written profession of obedience and an oath of loyalty. Thomas - not yet schooled in the ways of the English Church - answered that 'he could never do that until he had read evidence of the claim and could see witnesses testifying to its antiquity'. He left unconsecrated.

The king - also unschooled in English ways - believing Lanfranc was aiming for more than his due was annoyed, but Lanfranc calmed him with his explanation of the case and persuaded the transmarini who were there that he was in the right. As for the English, who already understood the issue, they testified very firmly in support of his claim in all respects. This was the beginning of the primacy dispute between York and Canterbury. The point to look at is the stress laid on testimony given by the English - Thomas's demurral is attributed to his lack of knowledge of English church customs. In both church and lay government the law to be followed was that of the English, conceived as the customs adhered to in the time of Edward 'the Confessor'.

Thus, in his coronation charter Henry I restored 'the law of King Eadward, with such emendations to it as my father made with the counsel of his barons'. One difficulty with this is the lack of any code issued by Eadward. The 'law of King Eadward' was in fact the laws of Knut/Canute as drafted by Archbishop Wulfstan of York before 1023. In the early 12th Century efforts were made to rectify the lack of recent legislation, and the reign of Henry I saw a remarkable revival of legal writing. Much of pre-Conquest law was found in compilations from that age, for example the Textus Roffensis produced at Rochester. A similar collection emanated from Saint Paul's in London. Both are English and have been seen as backward-looking nostalgia, but the fact that Latin translations and compilations were also made at this time points to a more practical aim. Directives in the vernacular were a peculiarity of the English clergy. English was still a tool of law-making and - like it or not! - the Normans had to be able to follow the English texts somehow in order to legitimise their own status.

The outer fabric of the cathedral is late mediaeval, the heart tells a different story, of pre-Norman beginnings

York's cathedral - more popularly known as 'the Minster', although the archbishop's seat has never been linked with a monastic house like Westminster
York's cathedral - more popularly known as 'the Minster', although the archbishop's seat has never been linked with a monastic house like Westminster | Source

Misunderstandings amongst the Normans part 2 - William and Robert - Confrontation within the clan

Duke William of Normandy married his love Matthilda and brought down the wrath of the Church on his head. He was too closely related, they said. There had been marriages sanctified by the powers-that-be that were much more closely tied through blood, but this one somehow stuck in their craw.

The story was put about by his enemies, we know that now. Several years passed before it was ratified but by then his first son Robert was classed as illegitimate. This would have its own repercussions on their relations later, when it mattered.

For some reason William was dersiory towards his eldest son, calling him 'short boot'. The derision was adopted by William 'Rufus' and Henry 'Beauclerc', and Robert felt himself disadvantaged from an early age. His birthdate has been reported as AD1054 and alternately as AD1051. He was betrothed at an early age to Margarethe, heiress of Maine but she sickened and died long before they could be wed - he did not marry then until he was in his forties.

In fighting prowess he was skilful, and he was a brave youth, but lazy. In character he was weak, which led to the King of the Franks exploiting the dissatisfaction he felt at the way power was allocated. He frequently quarrelled with his father and brothers. William made his eldest son Count of Maine on the strength of his engagement to Margarethe, but ran it himself until in AD1069 the county rebelled in favour of Hugh V.

A first major revolt was instigated by Robert against his father in AD1077. This was the outcome of a prank played on him by young William and Henry, who dropped a full chamber pot over his head. Urged on by friends, he brawled with his younger brothers. Their father broke up the fight in favour of the younger boys and Rodberht felt slighted. He was even more angry at his father's failure to punish his brothers for their childishness. On the following day Robert and friends attempted to take the castle of Rouen but failed. However, when William ordered his friends' arrest they sought sanctuary with Hugh of Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais. They fled again when the king assaulted their base at Remalard, to the court of his uncle Robert, Count of Flanders before raiding in the Vexin, causing mayhem. William was so incensed he allied himself with King Philippe I to halt his son's destructive trend. The father-son confrontation was not helped by Queen Matthilda sending Robert funds. At a battle in January, AD1079 Robert unhorsed his father in combat, wounding him. He was only stopped from finishing off his combatant when he realised it was his father. A humiliated William raised the siege and left for Rouen. Robert knew he had won some sort of recognition from his estranged father.

See description below
See description below | Source

The Normans lived frugally compared with their English counterparts, not given to shows of extravagance. They also built in stone, dwellings, churches and fortifications (probably fed up with having to rebuild their earlier wooden palisades and keeps, especially at York where both castles were destroyed twice in 1068 and 1069). Although William abolished serfdom, those who lived on the land were punished for trying to escape. Most English landowners had given way to Norman, Breton and Flemish counterparts by the 'Demesde' (Domesday survey) of 1086. The king held all land not owned by the Church, the origins of Real Estate, leased out to his nobles, who in turn sub-let.

A King's Son In Check - Robert would turn on his father in revenge for a slight, and bore a deep hatred for his younger brothers

A youthful Robert - he waged war on his father over the dukedom of Normandy and unseated him from his horse. He would have unknowingly killed his father had William not raised his helmet to show he yielded
A youthful Robert - he waged war on his father over the dukedom of Normandy and unseated him from his horse. He would have unknowingly killed his father had William not raised his helmet to show he yielded | Source


Father and son were brought back together again at Easter, AD1080 through the intercession of Matthilda. When she died in AD1083 the amity between them died with her. Robert left court shortly after her death and travelled long years throughout the Frankish, German and Flemish lands. When in Tuscany he sought the hand of the heiress Matthilda but was turned down. During this time he fathered several illegitimate offspring. One, Richard spent much of his time at the court of his uncle William 'Rufus'. However this son was killed in a hunting mishap in the New Forest in AD1099 - a rehearsal for the killing by William Tyrrell? - and an illegitimate daughter was wedded to Helias of Saint-Saens.

King William died in AD1087 of abdominal wounds sustained when riding through the burning city of Mantes. His horse had shied and the grossly overweight William had lurched forward in the saddle against the high front. He had thought of disinheriting Robert but was talked out of it. He granted his eldest the dukedom of Normandy, and his namesake, the second son became king. Henry was given funds to buy land. Robert was thought to be the weaker of the two older sons and his favours were sought by nobles who held lands on both sides of the Channel. At the time of their father the king's death the two brothers duried their differences and named one another as heirs. The peace lasted less than twelve months before barons sided with Robert to sideline William 'Rufus' in AD1088. The rebellion was unsuccessful as Duke Robert stayed away. He took as counsellor Ranulf Flambard, earlier a close adviser to the king until his death in the New Forest in AD1100.

In AD1096 Robert left for the Holy Land with Eadgar 'aetheling'. He was so poor he often stayed in bed to make up for his lack of clothes. to raise funds for this Crusade he had mortgaged the duchy to William for the princely sum of ten thousand marks. When William died on August 2nd, 1100 Robert was on his way home, about to wed a wealthy young bride, Sybilla di Conversano, daughter of Geoffrey of Brindisi and grand-niece of the famed Robert Guiscard de Hauteville. This was a move to raise the funds to buy back the duchy. However before he was available to claim the kingdom - as was his due - Henry had seized the crown for himself. Urged by Flambard and a number of barons on his return, Roberht claimed the throne on the grounds of the short-lived agreement of AD1087. In AD1101 he led an invasion to eject Henry, landing at Portsmouth with his army. Lack of support among the English nobility as well as the Normans and his mishandling of the invasion helped Henry rebut the invasion.

Through diplomatic channels Robert was obliged to renounce his claim by the Treaty of Alton (Hampshire). It was said of Robert that he was an outstanding leader but his skills seemed lacking in the First Crusade. Mis-government of Normandy and the failed invasion showed his military skills to be as sadly lacking as his administrative ones.

In AD1105 his persistent agitating against Henry as well as the civil disorder in Normandy led to the king invading the duchy. The scribe Orderic Vitalis wrote about something that happened at Easter, AD1105 when Robert was to have been listening to a sermon from Serlo, bishop of Sees. The duke spent the night with harlots and jesters and as he lay in bed sleeping off the drink his 'friends' stole his clothes. He awoke naked and was forced to stay in bed, missing the sermon. In AD1106 Henry defeated his older brother at Tinchebrai, claiming the duchy as property of the English crown. Robert was captured after the battle and held in Devizes Castle for twenty years until he was moved on to Cardiff, where he died in his early eighties in AD1134. He was interred at the abbey church of Saint Peter in Gloucester. His likeness, dating about a century after his death, is bog oak, lying on a mortuary chest decorated with the arms of the Nine Worthies. The mortuary chest dates from much later, and the church was later absorved into Gloucester Cathedral.

In marrying Sybilla he had a son, William Clito, born October 25th, AD1102. He became heir to the duchy but was eternally unlucky, failing twice to invade Normandy (AD1119 and AD1125). A marriage to a daughter of the Count of Anjou was annulled through his uncle's meddling and even his late inheritance of the County of Flanders wa18: Marriage en Outremer s bungled. He died without heirs in AD1128, leaving Heanrig to the Norman succession.

Sybilla was admired, often praised by chroniclers of the day. She died soon after Willelm Clito was born. William of Malmesbury claimed she died from binding her breasts too tightly; both Robert of Torigny and Orderic Vitalis think she was murdered at the behest of her husband's mistress Agnes Giffard.

Next - 18: Marriage en Outemer

Struggle in Normandy and an exacting test of his leadership skills in the Holy Land

Taken by Baudri, Robert had tried to raise his younger brother Henry's siege at Tinchebrai in SW Normandy, September, 1106, in order to support his uncle and namesake, Robert of Mortain.
Taken by Baudri, Robert had tried to raise his younger brother Henry's siege at Tinchebrai in SW Normandy, September, 1106, in order to support his uncle and namesake, Robert of Mortain. | Source

Life with a slur on his parentage

By rights Robert should have been king after William I, but for the machinations of the Church with regards to the legality of his parents' marriage. Because the matter was only cleared up after Robert's birth he was wrongly considered illegitimate. As with the English-born Henry 'Beauclerc', Robert held no grudges against the English and he made friends easily. He could have been the king before Henry's time to make lasting peace with the English. Not only did he get on with the English, his Norman compatriots looked up to him.

The rightful claimant to the kingship, Eadgar the aetheling made friends with Robert after many years in the political wilderness and as a mere guest of his brother-in-law Maelcolm. He headed to the Holy Land with Robert, who also awarded him land in Normandy. This was a gesture neither of the Williams saw fit to extend to a young man who had been robbed of his birthright, twice, although Harold had acted in the kingdom's interests early in 1066.

[Had Harold announced to the kingdom at large after Eadward's death that he was a caretaker king only, on behalf of Eadgar he would have had the earlier support of those earls not related to him by blood, i.e., Eadwin, Morkere and Waltheof. Things could well have been totally different for William's invasion. All the subsequent deliberations about the rights and wrongs of Harold's kingship would have been purely academic].

At rest at last

Robert's tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. The effigy was made from bog oak a century after his death at Cardiff Castle in February, 1134
Robert's tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. The effigy was made from bog oak a century after his death at Cardiff Castle in February, 1134 | Source

© 2011 Alan R Lancaster


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