For 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.
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.
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.
When 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.
And 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