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The Death of Robert, Earl of Gloucester

In writing Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy, I was keen to apply the same narrow-eyed pursuit of solid facts that I hope comes across in my books on the Wars of the Roses. More than being about battles and, well, anarchy, I wanted to discover the real personalities behind the stories, the people who are sometimes lost in the moralising and misogyny of chroniclers. Few characters are as fascinating and worthy of admiration as Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

RobertConsul_TewkesburyAbbey_FoundersBook Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey, c. 1500-1525 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robert, Earl of Gloucester and his wife Mabel FitzHamon from the Founders’ Book of the Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey

The first person to hold a peerage title centred on Gloucester was the oldest, and favourite, illegitimate son of Henry I; a man who might have been king. Henry I holds the record for the most known illegitimate children fathered by an English or British monarch. He had at least twenty-two, and possibly more, illegitimate sons and daughters. Robert was his oldest, born around 1090, either his grandfather William the Conqueror or his uncle William Rufus were on the throne and his father was the king’s third son, unlikely to inherit anything more than a hefty lump of cash.

The identity of Robert’s mother is not known for certain. Once conjectured to have been Nest, a daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the last King of Deheubarth, it is more likely that she was a member of an Oxfordshire family, like the mothers of many of Henry’s other illegitimate children. She was possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay of Hampton Gay, but she remains lost in mystery. Her son, however, would be propelled into the political limelight, feted as the favourite son of a father who took the throne as Henry I.

Robert’s importance solidified after The White Ship Disaster of 1120, when Henry lost his only legitimate son. Shortly afterwards, Robert was created Earl of Gloucester, probably reflecting the amount of land and the number of honours his wife, Mabel FitzHamon, brought to him within the area. He also held extensive lands in Wales and Normandy. When Henry appointed his only other legitimate child, his daughter Empress Matilda, as his heir, he extracted oaths from his barons that they would support her. More than most, though, Henry would have been aware of the fragility of such pledges: he had not been his brother’s heir but had snatched the throne on William Rufus’s sudden death.

Robert was promoted further, given lands that made him one of the most wealthy and powerful men on both sides of the Channel. The plan was clear: Robert was to be a crutch for his half-sister as she tried to exercise power as a woman in a strictly man’s world. Crutches come in pairs, and the other one readied for Empress Matilda was her cousin, Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne. Stephen was the son of Henry’s sister Adela of Normandy and was another of Henry’s favourites, made powerful to help support Matilda.

Henry’s plans, however well laid, ultimately fell to pieces on his death in 1135. It is possible the king changed his mind on his deathbed, since he was at odds with Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou, but whatever really happened behind closed doors, it was Stephen who rushed to have himself crowned in place of Empress Matilda. Robert trod a difficult and strained line. He eventually submitted to Stephen, but the king was never quite sure of his cousin. Whether Robert had planned to remain loyal to his half-sister all along or Stephen’s suspicion drove him away is unclear – chroniclers have their ideas based on their prejudices, but Robert alone knew the secrets of his heart.

When Empress Matilda landed at Arundel Castle to formally launch her bid to take the crown in 1139, she was accompanied by her half-brother Robert. While she remained inside the castle until Stephen arrived, Robert sped west to his stronghold at Bristol, a castle deemed impenetrable and which would form the beating heart of Matilda’s bid for power for years. Robert became the military arm of his half-sister’s efforts, allowing her to overcome the problems of putting an army into the field. In 1141, it was Robert who led the army against Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln that resulted in the king’s capture. Later the same year, when Matilda was driven out of Winchester, it was Robert who fought a rear guard action to allow Matilda to escape safely, but which led to his own seizure by forces loyal to Stephen.

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Medieval knights riding into battle from wall paintings at Claverley Church, Shropshire

It is a mark of the importance to Matilda’s cause of Earl Robert that he was part of a prisoner exchange, his release secured with that of Stephen in a complex arrangement of hostages and releases. The chronicler William of Malmesbury, who knew Earl Robert and is unfalteringly positive about his patron, believed that Robert demonstrated his courage, guile and humility when he initially refused to be exchanged for the king, since he was a mere earl and worth less than Stephen. Even when he was offered control of the government, he still refused. It was Matilda who blinked first. Robert was perhaps not as clever as William of Malmesbury believed (if the earl didn’t exaggerate his role in the negotiations for his writer friend!). Matilda’s case was largely based on the illegitimacy of Stephen’s rule; he was not the rightful king and had broken his own oaths to support her. Robert, in recognising Stephen as a king and as one of higher worth than an earl, undid that pretence and handed Stephen all of the religious authority and infallibility that went with being king.

Robert died on 31 October 1147, aged around fifty-seven, at Bristol Castle, still trying to lift his half-sister onto the throne. He was buried at his own foundation of St James’s Priory in Bristol. The hammer blow to Matilda’s cause is amply demonstrated by her decision to leave England in the early months of 1148, abandoning her own claim to the throne but bequeathing the effort to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the future Henry II. Robert had been a paragon of chivalry, and shared many attributed with his rival King Stephen. William of Malmesbury is full of gushing praise for the brave, chivalrous, unflappable earl, and it is clear that he was the strong core of his half-sisters efforts.

Many urged Robert to make his own claim to the throne in 1135 and afterwards. This presented problems, not the least of which was his illegitimacy. His grandfather, William the Conqueror had been a bastard, but becoming a duke was different from becoming a king, and William took England by conquest, not by right. Illegitimacy was always much more of a bar to becoming a king, with all of the associated religious aspects of being chosen by God. On the other hand, he was the favourite son of the old king, Henry I, and solved all of the problems of female rule that Matilda relentlessly encountered. Capable, both militarily and politically, he was more acceptable to some despite his illegitimacy than any woman would ever be.

Robert refused at every turn, and at every request, to even consider trying to make himself a king. It is perhaps unkind to suggest that he lacked confidence that he would succeed, because he relentlessly spearheaded his half-sister’s efforts to unseat Stephen. William of Malmesbury may not have been far wide of the mark when he admiringly assured his reader that Robert would not consider such a step because he accepted Matilda as the rightful heir to their father’s throne. He swore oaths to her and, once Matilda launched her bid for the throne and turned away from Stephen, he spent the remainder of his life trying to keep those promises.

Robert died without seeing the eventual success of their cause, but he never gave up. He managed to be the military arm of an attempt to implement female rule in England more than four centuries before it would finally be accepted. That he did so without blurring the lines of his half-sister’s claim to the throne or allowing himself to become embroiled in efforts to make him king speaks volumes for the man and his abilities. There is an awful lot to admire in this dedicated, honourable and capable first holder of a peerage based on the city of Gloucester.

Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy is released by Pen and Sword on 30 October 2019.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stephen-Matildas-Civil-War-Cousins/dp/1526718332

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis – Caroline Angus Baker — Matt’s History Blog

Here’s an incredibly pleasing review of Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me from Caroline Angus Baker.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis – Caroline Angus Baker — Read on carolineangusbaker.com/2019/02/18/historical-book-review-series-richard-iii-loyalty-binds-me-by-matthew-lewis/amp/

via HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis – Caroline Angus Baker — Matt’s History Blog

Loyalty Binds Me reviewed

See Sarah Bryson’s review of this biography here .richard-iii-by-matthew-lewis

Or, if you would prefer to judge it by our criteria for a post-Kendall biography of Richard, read here. Lewis is already the author of a volume on the “Princes” but approaches the pre-contract and Portuguese marriage negotiations well, thereby scoring highly on the three most important points.

GRANT ME THE CARVING OF MY NAME: A NEW RICARDIAN ANTHOLOGY FOR CHRISTMAS!

On the book front, I am rather excited about GRANT ME THE CARVING OF MY NAME, an upcoming anthology of fiction about Richard III , which should be out right in time to make a fabulous Christmas present.  Release date is scheduled for December 2 and all proceeds from sales will go to the Scoliosis Society UK. Stories are from many well-known names in Ricardian circles and range  from the serious to the humorous. Editor is Alex Marchant, author of  THE ORDER OF THE WHITE BOAR series and the cover is a fabulous piece by Finnish artist Riikka Katajisto.

List of contributors are as follows:

Narrelle M. Harris
Wendy Johnson
Riikka Katajisto
Susan Kokomo Lamb (one-half of Larner & Lamb!)
Joanne R. Larner (the other half of Larner & Lamb!)
Matthew Lewis
Máire Martello
Frances Quinn
J. P. Reedman
Marla Skidmore
Richard Unwin
Jennifer C. Wilson

So.. something  good to read on those long cold winter nights that lie just around the corner!

grant me the carving of my name anthology

Please click this link for more information

 

riikka

Art copyright Riikka Katajisto

 

A genealogical illustration …

… of Lewis’ The Survival of the Princes in the Tower. Here is the pedigree, incorporating the “Simnel” and “Warbeck” hypotheses but also Jack Leslau’s theory involving More and Hans Holbein’s painting.

ANNE MORTIMER AND RICHARD OF CONISBURGH , A LOVE MATCH?

IMG_4798.jpgTHE TOMB THAT  IT IS BELIEVED ANNE MORTIMER SHARES WITH HER IN-LAWS, EDMUND OF LANGLEY AND ISABELLA OF CASTILE…CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS, KINGS LANGLEY

Some time during the month of May 1408 , were married Richard III’s paternal grandparents, Anne Mortimer and Richard of Conisburgh. She was just 16 and he was in his 20s, it being thought that he could have been born circa 1375 but there is some uncertainty about this and it could have been later.  It must have been a love match for it was without parental consent but validated by papal dispensation two years later on the 23 May.   There was certainly no material gains from the marriage for either of them as Anne and her sister, Eleanor, were both living in straitened circumstances and being described as ‘destitute’ on the death of their mother..  Conisburgh was destined to suffer on going cash flow problems being described at the time as ‘the poorest of all the earls’ and struggling to maintain the lifestyle appropriate for his rank (1) when he was promoted to Earl of Cambridge in 1414.

Sadly the marriage was short-lived, Anne dying shortly after giving birth to Richard III’s father, Richard of York on the 22 September 1411 at Conisburgh Castle.  The future was to bring about the execution of Conisburgh as a result of the Southampton plot in 1415 leaving their small son an orphan.

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CONISBURGH CASTLE

But I digress , and returning to Anne, it is believed that she was finally reburied once again with her paternal inlaws, Edmund of Langley and Isabella of Castile in All Saints Church, Kings Langley after their original burial place, Convent Chapel, Kings Langley fell into disrepair after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.    In 1877, this tomb and its contents were examined by  Dr George Rolleston.     In a third lead coffin was found the remains of a woman of ‘about’ 30 years old with some of her auburn hair still remaining.  These are believed to have been the remains of Anne Mortimer.

Kings_Langley_Palace_ruins.jpg

Some of the remains of Kings Langley Palace, home to Edmund Langley, are thought to have been incorporated in this old farm building.

Here is a link to an interesting article on  “Anne Mortimer, the forgotten Plantagenet”

1) Richard Duke of York, King by Right p35 Matthew Lewis.

Invasions

 

SamWillis

I have watched Dr. Sam Willis on several occasions and regularly enjoy his programmes, particularly his artillery series. With the prematurely grey beard, he is usually much more informative than Dan Jones, who is of a similar age.

 

However, part two of his Invasions fell below this standard. It featured a lot of black and white film of William I as a control freak drafting the Domesday Book, building castles and organising archers; John as “evil”, “Perkin” as “an impostor” and Elizabeth I speaking at Tilbury. John was shown stealing a puppy, hanging several and blinding someone for taking deer from a royal forest – a penalty actually introduced by William I. “Perkin”‘s imposture was referred to at least four times with a clip from “The Shadow of the Tower”, whilst Willis didn’t think about the possibility that  he falsely confessed to save his wife and child, which Wroe, Fields and Lewis have considered.

It wasn’t quite as simplistic as many Jones programmes because we were told about Louis the Lion being invited, by some nobles) to ascend the English throne from 1215-7, the Barbary pirates and the Dutch Medway raids of Charles II’s time. As a result, I shall be watching the final episode.

Did the Princes Survive?

A great review of Matthew Lewis’s new book: The Survival of the Princes in the Tower

 

princes-book

 

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower has finally been released. There was a delay in some copies reaching readers in September, so by way of apology I blogged a little extract which can be found below. I also wrote a piece for On the Tudor Trail which was quite well received and can be found here.

I’m hoping this book will add a new dimension to an old debate and at least cause readers to think again about what they believe are the facts of a story seriously lacking in any hard, definitive facts.

It seems that a lot of the hardback copies of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower are not reaching people after the release on Thursday. I’m told there has been a delay getting copies to the warehouse, but that they are there now and should be shipped early next week. The Kindle version […]

via The Survival of the Princes in the Tower Extract — Matt’s History Blog

History of Royals Tackles the Princes

I was excited to be asked to contribute to an article in Issue 18 of History of Royals magazine about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. It helps when I have a book on the way next month called The Survival of the Princes in the Tower – and it probably gives away the theme of my contribution.

The other six contributors are full-on big hitters of medieval history: Derek Wilson, John Ashdown-Hill, Michael Hicks, Josephine Wilkinson, Alison Weir and AJ Pollard. Dizzying company to find myself in! That list of names will most likely give away the themes of each of their contributions too.

HistoryOfRoyalsArticle

There is a lot of traditionalist mantra on display, relying heavily on Sir Thomas More or the lack of evidence of their survival as damning proof of Richard III’s guilt. There is also plenty of interpretation and several statements to take pretty strong issue with, but I’m certain some readers will be saying the same about my contribution and writing it off as revisionist, Ricardian lunacy.

I wonder whether that’s because there’s no answer to the suggestion that the boys weren’t killed in 1483 at Richard’s instruction. Evidence? Well, that would be telling. You’ll just have to grab a copy of the book next month!

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