Domesday and the Salisbury Oath

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William, Duke of Normandy raising his visor to show that he is unharmed. Depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

William the Conqueror died on 9th September 1087.  The years following 1066 had not been peaceful ones.  He may have secured the Crown with the death of Harold at Hastings but there was the small matter of resistance and revolt. In 1067 Eadric the Wild revolted, he was followed by the Northern earls and then in 1070 King Sweyn arrived from Denmark.

Let’s not forget Malcolm Canmore who made a bit of a habit of invading the North of England. In 1072 William returned the compliment by taking his army into Scotland

William’s family proved disloyal. In 1077 Robert Curthose – or Robert “shorty-pants” rebelled against his father because he wanted some real power.  Even worse William’s wife Matilda supported their son.    William’s brother Odo the Bishop of Bayeux who features on the tapestry as William’s right hand man found himself arrested and carted off to Rouen without trial in 1082. The following year Matilda died and Robert went on a European jaunt.  William must have felt particularly betrayed by his brother because he refused to include Odo in his death bed amnesty of prisoners.

 

So there’s the back drop.  The Danes were contemplating invading England and William’s son was endangering William’s position in Normandy by making an alliance with King Philip of France.  His brother, on whom William had relied, proved greedy, ambitious and untrustworthy.  In 1086, William’s health was failing, having been described by the French king as looking as though he was pregnant – William ordered an evaluation for tax purposes of his English territories.  He was expecting trouble and wanted to know how much revenue he could draw on.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle describes how the king sent men across England to find out how many hundred hides of land there were (120 acres) in each shire, what William owned and what his income ought to have been in terms of taxation.  He also wanted to know what his bishops and earls owned.   The result is unique.

In addition to taxation William wanted guarantees of loyalty.  With this in mind he summoned the great and the good to Salisbury in August 1087 along with a range of landowners.  Normally, in the feudal system, a king took oaths of fealty from his tenants-in-chief and they took oaths in their turn.  At Salisbury William extended the oath taking beyond his chief land owners.  There were one hundred and seventy tenants-in-chief

The ceremony took place at Old Sarum and included sub tenants as well as tenants-in-chief.  Essentially William understood that although the 170 chiefs owed their allegiance to him that their tenants owed their allegiance to the chiefs rather than to him – as in my vassal’s vassal is not my vassal!  This demonstrates that the centralised pinnacle of the feudal system wasn’t yet in place in England in 1087.  The Order Vitallis says that William  distributed land to some 60,000 knights – a huge number – and even if it is wrong (600 is rather nearer the mark) it is useful to demonstrate how the Oath of Salisbury changed things- At Salisbury William gained oaths of allegiance from everyone who held land – they were now all his vassals and owed him service not just the 170 bigwigs.

Cassady, Richard. The Norman Achievement

Normandy and Maine

henry iiiOne way of looking at William the Conqueror’s foreign policy is to say that it was about conquest and colonisation but back in Normandy things weren’t so straight forward. Essentially there were many small countries jockeying for territory and power – survival.  Before Normandy rose to a dominant position Anjou was deemed to be the most powerful territory.  The Normans in their turn succumbed to the Angevins.  Land was acquired either through conflict or inheritance.

 

William the Conqueror never managed to successfully secure Maine despite  betrothing his eldest son Robert to Margaret the sister of  Herbert II who had fled to Normandy in 1056 following the death of his father and  the invasion of Maine by the Duke of Anjou.  Herbert died in 1062 and in 1063 William invaded Maine based the premise that although Robert’s child would-be bride had died that as the almost-spouse the Normans should keep the land.  By the following year  William had control of Maine.  In its own way this was important as it meant that William had created a buffer zone between Normandy and Anjou.  This gave him security whilst he was invading England in 1066.

 

Despite this  William was uable to maintain control of Maine in the long term.  His son Robert took on the title Count of Maine and may have even ruled there for a while but he had not been married to Margaret and there were other claimants including Hugh IV’s nephew, another Hugh who became Count of Maine in 1070 after the people of Maine revolted against the Normans and ejected them.  This didn’t stop the Normans from attacking Maine several more times during the eleventh century.

 

Inevitably treaties and agreements were sealed by marriages.  Hugh V  sold Main to his cousin Elias.  Elias sought to strengthen his hand by creating an alliance with Anjou.  He did this by marrying his only child to the Count of Anjou.  This effectively meant that Anjou would one day take  control of Maine without having to invade.

Elias and Robert Curthose were not on the best of terms.  Robert had after all thought that Maine would be his. Their enmity only came to an end when Curthose, by then Duke of Normandy, went on Crusade.  It was considered bad form as a Christian to invade another man’s territory if he had gone on a crusade.  This was 1096.  Robert had also arrived at an understanding with his own brother William Rufus who acted as regent for Robert during his absence.

 

On Elias’s death in 1110 the Count of Anjou became the Count of Maine.  Henry I (pictured at the start of this post) who had succeeded his brother William as King of England in 1100 and taken Normandy from his brother Robert in 1106 agreed to recognise Fulk of Anjou’s claim to Maine so long as Fulk recognised the Duke of Normandy as his overlord.  Henry set about binding Fulk and the house of Anjou to  the Norman alliance by arranging the marriage of his son William Adlin to Fulk’s daughter Matilda of Anjou.  It was a double marriage as he also arranged for his own daughter  Matilda to marry Fulk’s son Geoffrey Plantagenet.

A series of marriages resulted in  Henry I’s grandson, Henry II, ruling England, Normandy, Anjou and Maine – the series of small territories had built into a sizeable kingdom.

 

 

The role of the Count of Flanders during the Conquest and beyond

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It’s always useful to know which countries were allied.  In 1066 for example Flanders had an important role to play in the conquest.  Count Baldwin V ‘s daughter was Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror. Baldwin’s family, like  the rest of Europe’s political leaders were strategically allied.  Interestingly there was even a member of the family married into Earl Godwin’s family.  Baldwin’s sister, Judith, was married to Tostig – Harold’s earstwhile brother.  On one hand Count Baldwin allowed his brother-in-law to recruit men on the other  if his son-in-law successfully invaded the kingdom that Tostig also sought he would be very influential  indeed– especially as he held the regency of Philip I of France as well. (Baldwin’s wife was the daughter of Robert II of France as well as being a wily politician in his own right.  He was Count of Maine as well as Count Flanders.)

William of Malmsebury indicates that Baldwin advised Wiliam and offered troops. Another chronicler notes that Baldwin was a canny neogitaor and demanded to know what benefits he would reap from his support.  Allegedly William sent Baldwin a blank sheet of parchment.  Wace suggests that Baldwin fed King Harold and the rest of the Godwinson Clan false information about the number of men at his son-in-law’s disposal. Family loyalty had its place but financial incentive and power were much more important.

Whilst the words of chroniclers are not always reliable, it is true to say that the Norman conquest was not entirely a Norman achievement .  There was a good sprinkling of Flanders in the ranks at Hastings; the alliterative Gilbert of Ghent who later turned up in York and also Walter Bec to name but two.  The Domesday Book of 1086 gives historians an insight into the role of Flemings in William’s army and the rewards that they received in the aftermath of the conquest.    In total in Derbyshire Gilbert of Ghent had three land holdings whilst there were 53  Flemish landholdings in Yorkshire held predominantly by Dreux of Beuviere (George).

There weren’t just Flemings in William’s army.  There were many men from Brittany in William’s army.  Eustace II of Boulogne also fought for the Duke of Normandy.  This is interesting as Bolougne and Flanders were rivals.  The Godwinsons had marital links with Flanders through Tostig’s marriage to Judith of Flanders.  Eustace on the other hand was the former brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor – his first wife Goda being Edward’s sister.  His step son also had a personal vendetta against Sweyn Godwinson – Earl Godwin had famously refused to punish the people of Dover for not providing free bed and board to Eustace and his entourage when the Count was on his way home from visiting Edward the Confessor in 1051.  This had become one of the flash points which led to the exile of Earl Godwin.

Looking beyond the immediate Conquest years the role of Flanders remained an important one – it was to Flanders that William’s son Robert fled when he rebelled against his father in 1077.  By that time Baldwin’s son Robert I was the Count having usurped the position from his young nephew Arnulf – it was a situation that would end in  armed conflict and the death of Arnulf. (Baldwin died in 1067 and was succeeded by his eldest son also called Baldwin but he died three years later leaving a young son.  He asked Robert to be a regent for the boy but Robert ignored his brother’s wishes and claimed Boulogne for himself.)

The impact of Robert’s usurpation on Norman- Flemish ties is evident by the fact that Robert Curthose found sanctuary with his uncle. By 1085 Robert of Flanders had become involved in a plan to invade England and snatch the Crown from the head of his increasingly chubby brother-in-law. Robert planned to assist his son-in-law Cnut IV of Denmark who was the great nephew of England’s King Cnut.

In his own turn William had offered help to Arnulf’s younger brother (another Baldwin.)

 

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medlow.asp

George, R. H.  “The Contribution of Flanders to the Conquest of England (1065-1086)”

https://www.persee.fr/doc/rbph_0035-0818_1926_num_5_1_6418

William Clito, Count of Flanders

 

william clitoWilliam’s parents were Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, and Sybilla of Conversano.  She died in 1103 when William was just two. Robert was at that time the Duke of Normandy.   Clito is a latinised form meaning man of royal blood – so similar to prince. He was Count of Flanders by right of his grandmother Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror.

Alison Weir identifies a legitimate son of Robert Curthose’s called Henry who was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest but there is no further information and for the most part William Clito is usually identified as Robert’s only legitimate issue.  Robert also had illegitimate sons.  One was called Richard who was killed in the New Forest in 1100.  Richard had a full brother, confusingly enough, also called William and he became the Lord of Tortosa.  It is assumed he was killed around 1110 at the Battle of Jerusalem as there is no further record of him after that.

battle of tinchebraiAfter the  Battle of Tinchbrai in 1106 which saw Henry I of England defeat Robert Curthose the two brothers travelled to Falaise where William Clito was staying.  Henry had never met his nephew before and he placed the boy in the care of Hélias of Saint-Saëns, Count of Arques who was married to William’s illegitimate half-sister (history does not know her name.)    William remained in their custody for the next four years.  In 1110 Henry sent for his nephew. Hélias was not in residence but his household concealed the boy from Henry’s men and then smuggled him to Hélias who fled Normandy with the boy.

BremuleHélias and William became fugitives.  At first they stayed with Robert de Bellâme but he was captured in 1112.  From there they went to  Baldwin VII of Flanders.  By 1118 many of the nobility of Normandy were sufficiently fed up of Henry I to join William Clito and Baldwin in a rebellion.  However, in the September of that year Baldwin was injured and eventually died.  William  found another sponsor in the form of  King Louis VI of France who invaded Normandy but was comprehensively beaten at the Battle of Brémule on 20th August 1119. Even the Pope interceded on William’s behalf. Despite this the so-called First Norman Rebellion did not improve William’s position.

Disaster struck Henry I when the White Ship sank off Harfleur on the 25 November 1120 drowning his only legitimate son – another William.  This meant that William Clito became a logical successor to his uncle.  He was, after all, the legitimate son of the Conqueror’s eldest son.

In addition to the change in Clito’s  perceived status Henry I  also refused to return the dowry that had come with Matilda of Anjou upon her betrothal to his son.  Matilda’s father, Fulk V Count of Anjou now betrothed his daughter Sybilla to William Clito and gave him as Sybilla’s dowry the county Maine- an area between Anjou and Normandy.  Henry I appealed to the pope and the marriage was ultimately annulled in 1124 because the pair were too closely related.

Meanwhile the Normans had rebelled against Henry for a second time in 1123-1124.

And so it continued, with the French king taking the opportunity to add to Henry I’s discomfort by providing men and money for William in 1127.  It was at this point that William married the french queen’s (Adelaide of Maurienne) half sister Joan of Montferrat.  Louis VI was using William as a pawn against Henry’s claim to Maine.

 

On the 12 July 1128 William was at the Siege of Aaist.  He was wounded in the arm.  The wound became gangrenous.  He died on 28th July.  Amongst his followers was his brother-in-law Hélias of Saint-Saëns, Count of Arques who had been at his side for most of his life.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is no portrait of William – his uncle  Henry I made a rebel of him and did not want him to inherit either Normandy or England after the death of his own son (also William). Clito’s father, Robert Curthose, survived him by five and a half years.

Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families: the Complete Genealogy

The Norman kings of England family tree

Norman family tree

If ever there was a dysfunctional family – this is it.  There are sufficient tales of sibling rivalry, murder and kidnap to keep me out of mischief for weeks.

William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders had the following children –

Robert_Curthose_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI

  • Robert Curthose (1052/4- 1135) who married Sybilla of Conversano.  He fought with his brothers, rebelled against his father and was denied the English crown by his youngest surviving brother Henry before losing the duchy of Normandy and being imprisoned for 28 years in England.  One story suggests that Henry threatened to put Robert’s eyes out to prevent him from escaping.  He married and had issue. William Clito was the only one of Robert’s two sons to survive until adulthood.  He became Count of Flanders by right of his grandmother but his struggle to regains father’s lands and titles resulted in much unpleasantness.

RichardofNormandy

  • Richard who died in a hunting accident in the New Forest by either in 1075 or 1081.

Cécile_de_Normandie

  • Cecilia born about 1054 who was entered into her mother’s abbey of the Holy Trinity in Caen and went on to become its abbess.  She died in 1126.
  • Adeliza born 1055.  She may have been promised in marriage to Harold when he was the Earl of Wessex but as events turned out she entered a nunnery.  Alison Weir states that she was probably dead by 1066.

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  • William Rufus was born sometime between 1056 and 1060.  He died as the result of an ‘accident’ with an arrow on 2nd August 1100.

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  • Constance married Alan IV of Brittany.  She died in 1090, possibly poisoned by her own servants.

adela

  • Adela was born about 1062 and was married to Stephen, Count of Blois.  After his death she entered a nunnery.  She died in 1137 or 38. The lives of her children are interwoven into the story of England at this time – one became Bishop of Winchester, another – Stephen became king whilst a third drowned when the White Ship sank in 1120.

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  • Henry was born in 1068 in Selby, Yorkshire. He was crowned on the 5/6th August 1100 having purloined the English Crown from his older brother Robert who was traveling home from the First Crusade at the time William Rufus’s unfortunate accident. He died in 1135, his only legitimate sone having drowned in 1120.  His first wife was Edith of Scotland (daughter of St Margaret) she changed her name to Matilda which was much more comfortable on Norman ears.  After the death of his heir Henry remarried to Adela of Louvain who I have posted about previously. Alison Weir lists 25 children both legitimate and illegitimate.  Their story reflects the fact that legitimacy was not so important at this time in history.  One of Henry’s daughters married Alexander I of Scotland another married the Duke of Brittany.

white ship sinking

  • Agatha, born in 1064, was married by proxy to King Alfonso of León.  She died in 1074.
  • Matilda died in 1112 – and that’s more or less all that we know about her.

 

The family tree at the start of the post demonstrates the way in which William’s family was married into States which bordered William’s own territories. The extended familial relationships  then impacted on English politics and Church making England a very European affair.

Henry I  forced his barons to accept his daughter Matilda after the death of his son William in 1120 but Matilda’s cousin Stephen of Blois was male and on the scene so snaffled the job.  This resulted in the so-called Anarchy which lasted from 1135 until 1153. It was only after the death of Stephen’s son Eustace that a peace treaty between the two sides could be formally arranged by the Treaty of Winchester.  Matilda’s son Henry known as Henry FitzEmpress was recognised as Stephen’s heir.  His accession to the throne ended the Norman period of rule and began the Plantagenet line.

 

Many of the images in this post come from the Genealogical Chronicle of the English Kings which dates from the reign of Edward I, is almost  five metres long, beginning with Egbert King of Wessex and concludes with Edward I.  Edward II  and Edward III were added at a later date.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/genealogical-chronicle-of-the-english-kings

William the Conqueror’s sons

young-william-the-conqueror.jpgFor the most part when we think of William the Conqueror’s and Matilda of Flanders’ children we tend to identify William Rufus who got himself killed in the New Forest in 1100 and his little brother Henry who took the opportunity to snaffle the crown having secured the treasury in Winchester.

The death of William Rufus  is pictured below in an illustration from William of Malmsebury’s account of events in the New Forest.

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The English crown went to William Rufus as the second son surviving son whilst the more important patrimony – i.e. Normandy went to William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose.    Henry, William’s youngest surviving son received money to buy land.Robert_Curthose_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI

William and Robert hadn’t always seen eye to eye.  In 1077 Robert rebelled against his father following a prank played by William Rufus and Henry.  They thought it would be funny to up end a full chamber pot over Robert’s head.  Robert fought his brothers and the resulting brawl was only stopped when William the Conqueror intervened. Robert was so disgruntled when his two brothers went unpunished that he and his followers attempted to seize Rouen Castle the following day.  The dispute lasted for the next three years until Queen Matilda was able to bring both sides together having secretly sent money to her son behind William’s back during that time. As is often the case there is more to the tale than the story.  William left Matilda in Normandy acting as regent during his absence.  Not only was she acting on William’s behalf but she was also standing in for the young Robert.  This practice should have stopped as Robert grew up.  He demanded that he be allowed more responsibility, but William who appears not to have had a high opinion of his eldest son refused.  Robert’s resentment grew.

Matilda died in 1083 and Robert became something of a vagrant, travelling widely to avoid spending time in his father’s court.

220px-Henry_I_of_EnglandWhen William the Conqueror died in 1097 Robert gained Normandy and made William Rufus his heir.  William did like wise. However despite this agreement little brother Henry (pictured left) was able to claim the English throne  in 1100 because  Robert was on the return journey to Normandy from the First Crusade where he had proved himself to be an effective military leader which goes somewhat against the chronicles of the time which describe him at best as lazy, at worst as incompetent. At the time of William Rufus’s death  Robert not only had further to travel but he had interrupted his journey in order to marry a wealthy bride.  In order to pay for the crusade he’d mortgaged Normandy and now needed to find the funds to free himself from his debts.

His bride was Sybilla of Conversano  about whom I have posted before. The pair had a son called William Clito before she died in 1103. Like William the Conqueror, Robert had left his wife as regent during his absences and most chroniclers agree that she made a better job of the role than Robert.

Inevitably  Robert finally arrived on English shores with an army on July 21st 1101 but Henry  persuaded Robert to settle for a pension instead of a kingdom. This was recognised in the Treaty of Alton (Hampshire). Sooner rather than later Henry stopped paying the pension and punished the men who had supported Robert in his claim.

In 1105 Henry invaded Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebray.  The British contingent in Henry’s army  felt that Hastings had been avenged as the Norman army fled the field.  Robert spent the next 28 years in captivity.  He died in 1134 in Cardiff Castle where he’d passed the time learning Welsh and writing poetry. He is buried in Gloucester Cathedral. Robert’s incarceration did not mean that Henry was bale to rule both England and Normandy in peace. Robert’s son William Clito was recognised by many Norman nobles as their rightful duke.

 

RichardofNormandyAnd finally, William Rufus wasn’t the only one of William the Conqueror’s sons to die in the New Forest.  Richard  (pictured left) who was born some time between 1055 and 1059 died in a hunting accident by 1075. Orderic Vitalis says of him that “when a youth who had not yet received the belt of knighthood, had gone hunting in the New Forest and whilst he was galloping in pursuit of a wild beast he had been badly crushed between a strong hazel branch and the pommel of his saddle, and mortally injured.” He is buried in Winchester.

 

 

 

 

Aird, William. Robert ‘Curthose’, Duke of Normandy

Weir, Alison. Queens of the Conquest

 

 

 

 

The coronation of Henry I

henry iiiUpon the death of William Rufus, Henry hastened to Winchester where the royal treasury happened to be located.  Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and he had inherited no land from his father although under the terms of the Conqueror’s will he had been left money.

Under normal circumstances it would have been William and Henry’s older brother who inherited England.  Robert Curthose inherited Normandy from William the Conqueror and after some nastiness with William eventually came to terms with his younger sibling and took himself off on crusade.  When William died in the New Forest Robert was on his way home from the Holy Land.

Henry on the other hand was in England and able to seize the opportunity that presented itself.  Having taken control of the treasury he then ensured that some barons elected him as their king in a nod to the Anglo-Saxon practice of the Witan electing kings and arranged for his coronation to take place as soon as possible.  This took place in Westminster on 5th August 1100.

Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the earliest one to survive.  It is thought that the charter was part of the process by which a king came to the throne in Anglo-Saxon times.  The new king would essentially say to his barons this is what I’m giving you in return for your support of me. More than one copy of the charter exists suggesting that is was circulated in the shires. Basically he condemns William Rufus’ rule “the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions” and then claims that by becoming king Henry has brought peace to the English Nation.  It is said that Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the basis for Magna Carta.  The charter is also called the Charter of Liberties in some sources.

Henry promises that he will not take property that belongs to the Church.  He also says that whilst he expects his barons to consult the monarch in the matter of their daughters’ marriages that he will not exact a tax for them being allowed to marry.  He also explains that if a baron dies with underage heirs that Henry will determine who those heirs will marry but that he will consult with the rest of his barons in the matter.  He also recognises that widows shouldn’t be required to remarry without their consent in the matter.

As well as dealing with feudal matters and wardship Henry also tackles the royal mint.  He makes it clear that it is the king who mints the coinage – no one else is permitted to do so.  He also makes sure that all the royal forests used by William the Conqueror remain in his own hands.  This is a rather clever wheeze of ensuring that if anything had been given away or sold by either William the Conqueror or William Rufus it now returned to the Crown – an veritable example of “having your cake and eating it.”

Essentially the charter places Henry and his successors under the rule of law.  Henry was aware that there had been recent rebellion and resentment of William Rufus.  There was also the small matter of the difficult relationship with the Church.  At a stroke Henry sets the clock back to zero and in so doing gives the barons president for Magna Carta and in turn for the Provisions of Oxford which Henry III was forced to accept by Simon de Montfort in 1264 and which Edward I was prudent enough to adapt in the Statute of Westminster.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Henry’s by-name is Beauclerk – or good scholar.

Henry I would reign for thirty-five years.  He set about bringing unity to his kingdom  not only with his barons but also with his Saxon commoners by marrying Edith of Scotland, the daughter of St Margaret of Scotland (i.e. niece of Edgar the Aethling and granddaughter of Edmund the Exile, the son of King Edmund Ironside, who arrived back in England on the invitation of Edward the Confessor only to die in unexpected circumstances.)  Edith was too Saxon a sounding name so it was promptly changed to Matilda but it was said of Henry that his court was too Saxon.  Certainly his son William who was born in 1103 was called the Atheling in an attempt to weave two cultures together.  So we can also see movement of a wise king towards the unification of his people.  Of course it wasn’t as straight forward as all that not least because William was his only legitimate male heir and he was drowned in 1120 when the White Ship sank.

After the death of his son, Henry remarried to Adela of Louvain who I have posted about before.

It was just as well that Henry had been so conciliatory to his barons and the wider population because in 1101 big brother Robert did invade England.  But, possession is nine tenths of the law and Henry gave him his properties in Normandy as well as an annuity to go away and leave England alone.  In 1106 Henry took advantage of the political turmoil in Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai – no more annuities and an entire duchy to add to the list of things that Henry owned although Robert’s son William Clito was unhappy about the outcome for obvious reasons.  Henry drew the line at killing his older brother but Robert would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/coronation-charter-of-henry-i

http://www.arts.cornell.edu/prh3/MDVL%202130/Texts/1100charter.pdf

The death of William Rufus – accident or murder

king-william-rufus-william-ii-house-of-normandy-1087-1100-1351385894_bOn the 2nd August 1100 William Rufus or rather William II of England, who was born in 1056, had a nasty accident whilst hunting at Brockenhurst in the New Forest.  He’d been king since 1087 and demonstrated that being the eldest son of the previous monarch wasn’t the most necessary of qualifications for taking over the job at that time.

William was the third of William the Conqueror’s four sons. Robert Curthose, the eldest son inherited Normandy which was viewed as the greater part of William’s patrimony.  There were also the usual family relationships to be considered as well as fate. The second son Richard died in 1075 whilst, er, hunting in the New Forest.  William the Conqueror’s youngest son, named Henry, was left money.

William Rufus was not satisfied with England but then he’d never particularly liked his brother Robert either. There is an account of him emptying a chamberpot over Robert’s head for a joke in his youth.  Before long William Rufus and Robert were at war.  William the Conqueror’s nobility had a bit of a problem.  Many of them owned land in both Normandy and England.  It was difficult to decide which one of the brothers they should effectively rebel against.  Ultimately each man made his brother his heir – demonstrating that neither of them could gain the upper hand. Eventually Robert felt secure enough to go off on a crusade and leave William in charge of Normandy in his absence.

Meanwhile the Anglo Saxon Chronicle was not overly delighted with William Rufus.  The chronicler described him as “harsh and severe” though it seems unlikely that it would have been possible to rule in those times if one were approachable and cuddly.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle suggested that William was advised by evil councillors when it came to extorting heavy taxes from his subjects.  One reason for William’s need for cash were his wars.  It was the Rufus who took on the Scots with regard to the ownership of Cumberland and he also made a less successful foray in Wales.  Then of course there was his war with his brother over Normandy.

So, back to 2nd August 1100.  The hunting party was composed of Gilbert and Roger de Clare.  There was also a man named Walter Tirel the would-be son-in-law of  Richard de Clare.  William Rufus’s little brother Henry was also on the scene.

The day hadn’t begun well.  A messenger had arrived from the Abbot of Gloucester with the news that a monk had dreamed that the king would be killed in the event of him going hunting that day.  William was not impressed.   He wasn’t terribly impressed with the Church full stop.  He was inclined to mock clerics. In another version of the same story it was a friend who arrived with news of an unsettling area,  The group split into two parties in order to better chase the deer.  William was with Tirel.  Apparently there were two deer; one for each man.

William of Malmsebury chronicled what happened next:

“The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him… The stag was still running… The king, followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. …Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight…”

Instead of shooting a deer Tirel had shot the king through the chest and to make matters worse William tried to remove the arrow, thus hastening his death.  To all intents and purposes it looked very much like a tragic accident, although clearly there were those who had their doubts.  The Orderic Vitalis also contains an account of events.  It said that the sharpest arrows go to the man who knows how to inflict the deadliest shots.  Aside, rather understandably from Tirel fleeing the scene, instead of collecting up his brother’s body, Prince Henry dashed off to the treasury at Winchester and having secured it, declared himself to be the new king of England becoming Henry I on 5th August.  The de Clare’s were his key supporters and were handsomely rewarded by the new king.

Various historians have argued that the descriptions make it unlikely for Tirel to have been the murderer.  They talk about trajectory, distance and the account of the arrow that killed William glancing off the deer meaning that the arrow was more likely to have lost its power.  Mason’s biography of William Rufus, published in 2005 suggests that he was assassinated by a French agent. Mason puts forward the theory that William was planning to invade France and that Prince Louis effectively had him replaced with Henry who was not likely to be so bellicose. Mason pins the blame on Raoul d’ Equesnes who was in the household of Walter Tirel.

The evidence for it not being a genuine hunting accident nearly a thousand years down the line is circumstantial.  Usually it is pointed out that Tirel was not pursued, that Henry did rather well out of William’s untimely death and that the de Clare family didn’t do so badly either.

Tirel, having scarpered to one of his castles in France entertained Louis very shortly after William Rufus’s death.   Tirel never returned to England but not only was he not physically pursued he wasn’t pursued by the law either so his English estates were passed on to his children on his death.

 

The English forces which were gathered around the Solent ready for William Rufus  to invade France were sent home very shortly after Henry declared himself king.

 

William Rufus’s body was found by a charcoal burner and it was he who transported  the body back to Winchester.  The image of William from the Stowe Chronicle shows him clutching an arrow.

Mason, Emma. (2005)  William II: Rufus the Red King.

Sybilla of Conversano

df53082bbdd2602149f06143573dfe88Sybilla 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.

 

 

Edgar the Atheling

Edgar_the_ÆthelingEdgar is Edward the Exile’s son born in 1050 or 1051.  On his father’s death in February 1057, probably by poisoning, he and his great-uncle King Edward (the Confessor) became the last remaining male descendants of Cerdic (essentially the founder of the royal house of Wessex) – hence the Atheling title meaning of ‘noble  or royal blood.’ As such Edgar was an appropriate candidate for the English crown.  King Edward took Edward the Exile’s family into the English court and cared for them.  Had Edward lived a little while longer Edgar might have been the natural heir to the crown just as his father had once been viewed in a similar way.

On King Edward’s death in January 1066 Edgar was a contender for the throne. Initially he was supported by the Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Witan (council) which met to select the king.  However, across the Channel, Duke William of Normandy was making his own claim to the crown based on his relationship with Edward, promises made and a certain well-known oath made by Harold. In reality a youth without experience either leading men nor of war was not an ideal choice for a country about to be invaded.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings the Witan selected Edgar to replace King Harold who famously died during the battle. Technically Edgar rather than King Harold was the last pre-conquest king of England but he was never crowned and besides which spent most of the nominal two months he was king on the run from Duke William.  Eventually he submitted to William in Berkhamstead in December 1066.

Edgar lived in William’s court where he was well treated but was, understandably,  kept by William as a hostage to his new subjects good behaviour.  He went to Normandy with the duke in 1067 but when he returned in 1068 he became involved with the earls Edwin and Morcar once more and soon found himself up to his neck in insurrection.  He fled to Scotland very soon afterwards – unlike the folk of York who had to live with the consequences of William’s irritation.

However, Edgar did have a secret weapon that kept him firmly on the political map – his sister Margaret, blogged about in an earlier post, who’d won the heart of King Malcolm (Canmore) of Scotland when the Atheling’s family fled to Scotland in 1067.  Malcolm agreed to support Edgar in his bid for the English throne.  They didn’t have long to wait.  In 1069 the people of the north rose against William once more – history repeated itself.  Edgar fled once more into Scotland.  This process was repeated once more by which time everyone must have been heartily fed up – there wasn’t much left in some parts of the North either.  The Domesday Book shows a marked drop in the value of rents from pre-conquest to post-conquest revenues in many parts of Yorkshire.  Though as with everything there are two sides to every story. One of William’s sidekicks – a chap called Alan the Red- who’d acquired rather a lot of real estate probably ensured his own lands weren’t terribly badly ‘harrowed’.  Not withstanding this salient point it is always worth mentioning that William the Conqueror was allegedly troubled on his deathbed by his unfriendly actions in the north (its a good story anyway though not necessarily fair to William.)

Eventually King Malcolm III signed the Treaty of Abernethy (1072) and that was the end of Edgar’s Scottish sojourn. The Atheling was forced to seek protection from King Philip I in France – Edgar was not a lucky lad.  En route to his new host he was shipwrecked and had to flee back to Scotland.  Malcolm sat his brother-in-law down and had a long chat with him then waved Edgar over the border into England into William’s hands.

The Conqueror treated the troublesome atheling well. He received a pension of £1 a day from 1074 onwards.  Clearly the relationship between Duke William and Edgar must have eased further over time because Edgar went to South Wales campaigning on William’s behalf. He was present at William Rufus’s coronation, went on diplomatic missions for William II and became embroiled in the unseemly squabble over the English crown that raged between William and his elder brother Robert.

In the end Edgar sided with Robert once too often after having spent most of his adult life steering difficult political waters to remain on good terms with everyone.  William Rufus is the king who had the unfortunate accident with an arrow in the New Forest. The English crown should have gone to his brother Robert (known as Curthose) but, hey, little brother Henry was right there while Robert was abroad.  Having got his hands on the crown and the royal treasury he did what anyone would do in the circumstances…became King  Henry I.

Edgar, who had been on a crusade with Robert was at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106 – it didn’t do Robert much good- he was captured and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  On the other hand Edgar was welcomed back to court by Henry I who had handily married Edgar’s Scottish niece Edith.  Edith – who clearly wanted to win friends and influence people dropped the Saxon Edith and became the Norman Matilda.

Edgar died in 1125 having spent his latter years away from court. He was probably due a few quiet years!