Sybilla of Conversano, daughter of Geoffrey of Brindisi, was rather younger than her husband – Robert, Duke of Normandy a.k.a. Curthose pictured left. Chroniclers waxed lyrical about her intelligence, virtue and her beauty. She is even purported to have sucked the poison from a poisoned arrow, or something of that ilk, that had wounded and threatened to kill her stout spouse. I note that his effigy makes him fetchingly lean as well as demonstrating a pressing need to avail himself of the facilities…sorry, shouldn’t joke. The crossed legs are a reminder of the fact that Robert has been on crusade.
Apparently he met her on his way to the First Crusade. Obviously she made quite an impression on him because he married her on the way home. Clearly being a Duke meant you couldn’t sit around at home admiring your beautiful young bride and besides which he was a bit peeved because he’d already missed out on the English crown to his younger brother William Rufus. Whilst he’d been away William had a nasty accident with an arrow and his even younger brother Henry had snitched the crown to become King Henry I. Robert had already tried to take the crown from William and now he felt honour bound to have a go at the next brother (I should imagine the royal nursery was a cheery place during their infancies!)
Sybilla proved herself to be an effective agent on her husand’s behalf in his absence. Robert of Torigny even said that she did a better job than the Duke. What more could a Duke want of a wife? Just one thing – sons. Sybilla duly obliged and produced William known as Clito which translates as something similar to ‘Atheling’ or ‘heir.’
A few months later, in 1103, she died at Rouen. There’s nothing like a happy ending and this is nothing like a happy ending. History does not know what carried Sybilla off. William of Malmesbury blamed a midwife for binding her breasts too tightly. It could just have likely been a complication of childbirth but rumour was quick to blame Robert’s mistress. Robert of Torigny who was clearly one of Sybilla’s fans blamed the mistress as did the Orderic Vitalis who pointed a finger at Agnes Gifford who’d been widowed for about a year and was looking for another spouse – if she had arranged for her arrival to exit stage left she was to be sadly disappointed as Robert found himself rather occupied with keeping his kingdom for himself.