Robert of Bellême, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury

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Robert de Bellême (c. 1056– after 1130), seigneur de Bellême (or Belèsme), seigneur de Montgomery, viscount of the Hiémois, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury and Count of Ponthieu, was an Anglo-Norman nobleman, and one of the most prominent figures in the competition for the succession to England and Normandy between the sons of William the Conqueror. He was a member of the powerful House of Bellême.

Robert became notorious for his alleged cruelty. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis calls him "Grasping and cruel, an implacable persecutor of the Church of God and the poor... unequaled for his iniquity in the whole Christian era." The stories of his brutality may have inspired the legend of Robert the Devil.

Early life[edit]

Robert was the oldest surviving son of Roger of Montgomery, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and Mabel de Bellême, born probably between 1052 and 1056.[1] In 1070 after the death of his great-uncle Yves Bishop of Sées his parents brought him to Bellême, which at that time became his mother's inheritance, and as the oldest surviving son it would eventually be his.[a][2]

In 1073 when the Conqueror invaded Maine, Robert was knighted by William at the siege of Fresnai castle.[3] By now probably of age and independent of his father he took part in the 1077 revolt of the young Robert Curthose against Duke William.[b][2] When Robert's mother, Mabel, was killed c. 1079, Robert inherited her vast estates.[4] But at this point Duke William took the added precaution of garrisoning the Bellême castles with his own soldiers, which was his ducal right.[5] On hearing the news of William the Conqueror's death in 1087, Robert's first act was to expel the ducal garrisons from all his castles.[5]

Rebellion of 1088[edit]

At the end of 1087 Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy was told of a plot to place him on the throne of England in his brother William II's place, a plot that Duke Robert enthusiastically approved and supported.[6] Robert de Bellême, his brother Hugh de Montgomery and a third brother, either Roger or Arnulf, participated in this rebellion.[7] The main conspirators, however, were Odo of Bayeux, Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, Robert de Mowbray, Geoffrey de Montbray, Earl Roger de Montgomery and other disaffected Magnates.[6] The next year in the Rebellion of 1088, beginning at Easter the rebels burned and wasted the king's properties and those of his followers.[8] At some point Roger of Montgomery detached himself from supporting Robert Curthose through negotiations with the king.[9] Finally Robert de Bellême was among the rebels who found themselves defending Rochester Castle.[10] When William Rufus blockaded the town and built two counter-castles, the garrison began negotiating for surrender under honourable terms, being allowed to keep their lands and serve the king.[10] This Rufus refused; he was furious and had initially wanted the traitors hanged 'or by some other form of execution utterly removed from the face of the earth.'[11] Roger of Montgomery and other great barons interceded with the King, Earl Roger on behalf of his sons, until finally in July a semi-honorable surrender was negotiated between the king and the rebels.[10] Rufus, albeit reluctantly, guaranteed the rebels life and limb and gave them safe conduct.[12]

Return to Normandy[edit]

Coincidentally Robert sailed back to Normandy in the company of Count Henry (later king Henry I), who had not been part a of the conspiracy against his brother William Rufus.[13] However well they got along on the voyage, they were destined to become bitter enemies.[13] One thing more they shared in common was the extreme resentment by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux who, banished from England, had returned to Normandy ahead of Henry and Robert.[5] Henry at just 20 years of age was now Odo's overlord, which Odo strongly resented, and Robert de Bellême was a powerful and dangerous disruptive force in Normandy now free to do as he would.[5] Odo, who held great sway over Duke Robert, convinced him that both Henry and his travel companion Robert de Bellême were now conspiring with William Rufus against the duke.[5] Both Henry and Robert were seized as they disembarked and, both placed in the Bishop's custody, were imprisoned; Henry at Bayeux and Robert at Neuilly-ll'Evêque, now Neuilly-la-Forêt.[5]

On hearing his son was imprisoned Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury immediately went to Normandy and put all his castles in a state of readiness against the duke.[14] At this point the Montgomery family was in a state of rebellion against Robert Curthose.[15] Bishop Odo now instigated Duke Robert to take all the castles of Robert de Bellême by force and the duke gathered an army and proceeded against them. Duke Robert first attacked Ballon and after losses on both sides, the castle surrendered.[16] Moving on to the castle of Saint-Céneri where the family of Robert de Bellême was residing, Robert Quarrel had been told by Earl Roger to resist the duke at all costs and this was done until the provisions eventually failed.[17] Duke Robert was so enraged at such resistance he blinded Robert Quarrel and mutilated the castle defenders.[17] At this point the duke lost interest in attempting to capture any more of Robert de Bellême's castles, he dissolved the forces and returned to Rouen.[17] Earl Roger sent peace envoys to the duke and convinced him to release his son Robert which the fickle duke finally did.[18] The price of his son's release, however, was the castle of Saint-Céneri which Duke Robert gave to Robert Giroie as castellan. The Giroies had long held the castle until, as punishment for their rebellion in the 1060s, William the Conqueror gave this castle and other Giroie lands to Roger de Montgomery, who as a member of the Bellême family was also considered their nemesis.[15]

By 1090 Robert was back in Robert Curthose's good graces, Orderic Vitalis calling him a "principal councilor" to duke Robert.[19] He supported Curthose in putting down a revolt by the citizens of Rouen, in 1090,[20] and took considerable numbers of the citizens captive throwing them into dungeons.[21] According to Robert of Torigni in 1092 the inhabitants of Domfront, long a Bellême-Montgomery stronghold, invited Henry, the duke's younger brother to take possession of Domfront.[22] Apparently they had grown weary of Robert's oppressive and abusive style of lordship.[22] No explanation was offered for what happened to Robert de Bellême's garrison contingent or who exactly facilitated the bloodless takeover.[22] In addition Robert de Bellême had requested that same year to hold Bellême of the French crown instead of the Duke of Normandy.[20]

In 1094 Robert's father, earl Roger, died.[23] Robert's younger brother Hugh of Montgomery, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury inherited the English lands and titles, while Robert inherited his father's Norman properties, which included good part of central and southern Normandy, in part adjacent to the Bellême territories he had already inherited from his mother.[24]

William Rufus (1096–1100)[edit]

In 1096, Duke Robert took up the cross on the First Crusade and left the custody of the duchy to his brother William Rufus, King of England. Robert Bellême regained the favour of Rufus and both he and his brothers were in his service on several occasions.[20] In 1098 he captured Elias I, Count of Maine for Rufus, a significant feat.[25]

In 1098 Robert's younger brother Hugh died, and Robert inherited, on payment of £3,000 in relief, the English properties that had been their father's, including the Rape of Arundel and the Earldom of Shrewsbury.[26] Robert had also acquired the countship of Ponthieu jure uxoris and the honour of Tickhill; all of which combined made him the wealthiest magnate in both England and Normandy.[26]

In August 1100 at the death of Rufus, Henry I seized the English throne before his brother Robert Curthose could claim it.[27] While Robert rushed to England to pay homage to Henry, he and his brothers must have seen this as the end of royal favour for the Montgomerys.[28]

Anglo-Norman Civil War 1101[edit]

Duke Robert returned from the First Crusade in triumph,[29] According to Orderic, Curthose was being encouraged to attack Henry by his barons but he remained indecisive until Ranulf Flambard, having escaped from the Tower of London, fled to Normandy where he appears to have influenced Duke Robert to go ahead with his invasion of England and depose his brother Henry.[30] Robert de Bellême was one of the great magnates who joined Robert Curthose's 1101 invasion of England, along with his brothers Roger the Poitevin and Arnulf of Montgomery and his nephew William, Count of Mortain.[31] This invasion, however, which aimed to depose Henry I, ended bloodlessly in the Treaty of Alton which called for amnesty for the participants but allowed traitors to be punished.[32] It quickly became evident that Henry I had no intentions of abiding by the treaty of Alton; 'Soothe them with promises' advised Robert Count of Meulan just before the battle, then they can be 'driven into exile'.[33]

Henry I took a year compiling charges against Robert and his brothers and Robert's unlicensed castle building and specifically Bridgnorth Castle may have been the last straw for Henry.[34] Henry had a series of charges drawn up against Robert in 1102, and when Robert refused to answer for them, gathered his forces and besieged and captured Robert's English castles.[35] Robert lost his English lands and titles (as did his brothers), was banished from England, and returned to Normandy.[36]

In 1105 he was warring with Rotrou III, Count of Perche over a large portion of his Bellême lands and lost.[36] That same year he attacked a force of Henry's supporters, then went to England before Christmas to attempt make peace with King Henry but he returned to Normandy empty handed.[36]

Battle of Tinchebrai and after[edit]

In 1106 Robert was one of Curthose's commanders at the Battle of Tinchebrai commanding the rear division and, when the battle turned in Henry's favour, he and most of those with him avoided capture by fleeing the field.[36] With Normandy now under Henry's rule, Robert de Bellême submitted and was allowed to retain his Norman Fiefs and his office as viscount of the Hiémois.[37]

But Henry was still wary of Robert and placed his followers in key positions in Normandy.[38] In the rebellion of 1110/2 barons on the frontier of Normandy were disgruntal over Henry's policies and especially of his attempting to take custody of William Clito, son of Robert Curthose.[38] According to Orderic, Robert played a central role in this rebellion after the death of Elias I, Count of Maine in July 1110.[38] In 1112 Robert was sent as an envoy of the French king to Henry I at his court at Bonneville to negotiate the release of Robert Curthose, whereas Henry seized Robert and imprisoned him.[39] Apparently Henry had charges already prepared; failing to attend Henry at his court after being summoned three times, of failing to render accounts, and of acting against his lord's interests.[40] Technically Robert may have been guilty but arguably it was not safe for him to attend Henry, he may have regarded the revenues as gifts and it's also arguable whether the charge of acting against Henry's interests warranted the severity of the punishment.[40] In addition Robert was under the king's protection as an emissary sent to negotiate Robert Curthose's release.[41] This gave the act international implications but at the time Louis VI of France and Henry I were intriguing against each other so the breach of protocol went unpunished.[41] But with Robert's imprisonment the rebellion against Henry collapsed.[38] Robert spent the rest of his life as a prisoner; the exact date of his death is not known.[42]

His character[edit]

Orderic Vitalis portrays Robert de Bellême as a villain, especially when compared to Henry I, whose misdemeanors the chronicler felt were excusable. Orderic calls Robert "Grasping and cruel, an implacable persecutor of the Church of God and the poor... unequaled for his iniquity in the whole Christian era."[43] To quote David C. Douglas "Ordericus, if credulous, was neither malicious nor a liar; and these accounts concerned people of whom he had special knowledge" [referring to the Bellême-Montgomery family].[44] But, he may have been strongly biased against Robert de Bellême and his treatment of that magnate belies a moral interpretation of his actions.[43] The basis for Orderic's animosity towards Robert and his de Bellême predecessors was the longstanding and bitter feud between the Giroie family, patrons of Orderic's Abbey of Saint-Evroul, and the de Bellême family.[45] William Talvas (de Bellême), Robert's grandfather, had blinded and mutilated William fitz Giroie.[c][46] He did at times appropriate church properties and was not a major donor to any ecclesiastical house. But Robert's attitudes toward the church are typical of many of his contemporaries; certainly no worse than the secular rulers and other magnates of his day.[47] The assessment of William II Rufus by R.W. Southern could well apply to Robert de Bellême as well: "His life was given over to military designs, and to the raising of money to make them possible; for everything that did not minister to those ends he showed a supreme contempt".[47]

According to William Hunt in the Dictionary of National Biography, various stories of his brutality were circulated after his death, possibly insipring the legend of Robert the Devil, a sadistically cruel Norman knight fathered by Satan himself. In Maine "his abiding works are pointed to as the works of Robert the Devil, a surname that has been transferred from him to the father of the Conqueror."[48]

Family and children[edit]

Robert married Agnes of Ponthieu, before 9 Sep 1087, and they had one child:[49]

Fictional References[edit]

Robert appears as the principal antagonist throughout George Shipway's The Palladin (1973), a fictionalized account of the life of Walter Tirel.

He is also portrayed in The Wild Hunt (1990) by Elizabeth Chadwick.

In 2012, a fictional account of the life of Robert de Bellême authored by Roy Stedall-Humphryes was published through Amazon as a Kindle eBook and as a paperback.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ His older brother Roger died young, before 1060–62 when Robert attested a charter for St. Aubin of Angers. See: Cokayne, The Complete Peerage, Vol XI (1949), p. 690 & note (b). This placed Robert in line to obtain his parents' inheritances in Normandy, where the law distinguished between acquisitions and inheritances. Acquisitions were those lands obtained by conquest or purchase while a parent's (typically father's) Norman ancestral lands were heritable by the eldest son. This was later codified in the Leges Henrici Primi which stated: "The Ancestral fee of the father is to go to the first-born son; but he may give his purchases or later acquisitions to whomsoever he prefers". For a time after the Conquest this took the form of the eldest son, now Robert, inheriting the Norman lands of his ancestors while the second son, Hugh, was given the English honors his father had acquired. See: James Clarke Holt, Colonial England, 1066–1215 (London: The Hambledon Press, 1997) pp. 116–121 (& notes); also C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 47 & n.
  2. ^ Robert de Bellême was typical of his generation, the sons of William's companions who had earned their great honors and titles at the battle of Hastings in 1066. This newer generation did not share the values and attitudes of their fathers but rather had different experiences altogether. They had inherited their wealth and status, not earned it. Yet this next generation expected royal favor and patronage without attending court or serving the king in any capacity. They often rebelled when they felt they were not being treated with the dignity and respect they deserved. See: Charlotte A. Newman, The Anglo-Norman Nobility in the Reign of Henry I, The Second Generation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), pp. 17–18; also: William M. Aird, Robert `Curthose', Duke of Normandy (C. 1050–1134) (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2011), pp. 69–70, 83.
  3. ^ For more on the feud between the Bellêmes and the Giroies see the article William I Talvas

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage; or, a History of the House of Lords and all its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol XI, ed. Geoffrey H. White (London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1949), p. 689
  2. ^ a b George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage; or, a History of the House of Lords and all its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol XI, ed. Geoffrey H. White (London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1949), p. 690
  3. ^ Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 75
  4. ^ J. F. A. Mason, 'Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963) p. 13
  5. ^ a b c d e f C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 65
  6. ^ a b William M. Aird, Robert 'Curthose', Duke of Normandy (C. 1050–1134) (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2008), p. 110
  7. ^ Victoria Chandler, 'The Last of the Montgomerys: Roger the Poitevin and Arnulf', Historical Research, Vol. 62, No. 147 (February 1989), p. 3 & n. 7
  8. ^ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, trans. James Ingram (Middlesex: Echo Library, 2007), p. 137
  9. ^ Neil Strevett, 'The Antlo-Norman Civil War of 1101 Reconsidered', Anglo-Norman Studies, XXVL, Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2003, ed. John Gillingham (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004), p. 160
  10. ^ a b c Frank Barlow, William Rufus (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983), p. 81
  11. ^ Karen Bosnos, 'Treason and Pilitics in Anglo-Norman Histories', Feud, Violence and Practice: Essays in Medieval Studies in Honor of Stephen D. White ed. Belle S. Tuten (Burlington, VT; Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2010), p. 299
  12. ^ William M. Aird, Robert 'Curthose', Duke of Normandy (C. 1050–1134) (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2008), p. 115
  13. ^ a b C. Warren Hollister, Henry I ( New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 62–3
  14. ^ Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 452
  15. ^ a b Kathleen Thompson, 'Robert of Bellême Reconsidered', Anglo-Norman Studies XIII; Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1990, ed. Marjorie Chibnall (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1991), p. 270
  16. ^ Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 455
  17. ^ a b c Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 456
  18. ^ Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 457
  19. ^ Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), p. 476
  20. ^ a b c J. F. A. Mason, 'Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963) p. 19
  21. ^ Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, Vol. II, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), pp. 502–3
  22. ^ a b c C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 86–7 & n. 250
  23. ^ a b Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band III Teilband 4 (Marburg, Germany: J. A. Stargardt, 1989), Tafel 637
  24. ^ George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage; or, a History of the House of Lords and all its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol XI, ed. Geoffrey H. White (London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1949), pp. 688, 689–91
  25. ^ J. F. A. Mason, 'Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963) p. 20
  26. ^ a b C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 155
  27. ^ Neil Strevett, 'The Antlo-Norman Civil War of 1101 Reconsidered', Anglo-Norman Studies, XXVL. Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2003, ed. John Gillingham (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004), p. 161
  28. ^ J. F. A. Mason, 'Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963) pp. 20–21
  29. ^ Steven Runciman, The First Crusade (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 190
  30. ^ David Crouch, The Normans; The History of a Dynasty (London; New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p. 170
  31. ^ C. Warren Hollister, 'The Anglo-Norman Civil War: 1101', The English Historical Review, Vol. 88, No. 347 (Apr. 1973), pp. 317–8
  32. ^ C. Warren Hollister, 'The Anglo-Norman Civil War: 1101', The English Historical Review, Vol. 88, No. 347 (Apr. 1973), pp. 331,
  33. ^ C. Warren Hollister, 'The Anglo-Norman Civil War: 1101', The English Historical Review, Vol. 88, No. 347 (Apr. 1973), pp. 332,
  34. ^ J. F. A. Mason, 'Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963) p. 22
  35. ^ David Crouch, The Normans; The History of a Dynasty (London; New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p. 175
  36. ^ a b c d George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage; or, a History of the House of Lords and all its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol XI, ed. Geoffrey H. White (London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1949), p. 693
  37. ^ Kathleen Thompson, 'Robert of Bellême Reconsidered', Anglo-Norman Studies XIII; Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1990, Ed. Marjorie Chibnall (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1991), p. 277
  38. ^ a b c d Kathleen Thompson, 'Robert of Bellême Reconsidered', Anglo-Norman Studies XIII; Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1990, Ed. Marjorie Chibnall (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1991), p. 278
  39. ^ Kathleen Thompson, 'Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Bellême', Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 20 (1994), p. 138
  40. ^ a b Judith A. Green, Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006), p. 125
  41. ^ a b C.W, Hollister, 'War and diplomacy in the Anglo-norman world; The reign of Henry I', Anglo-Norman Studies VI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1983, Ed. R. Allen Brown (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1984), p. 81.
  42. ^ J. F. A. Mason, 'Roger de Montgomery and His Sons (1067–1102)', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series vol. 13 (1963) p. 24
  43. ^ a b Kathleen Thompson, 'Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Bellême', Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 20 (1994), p. 133
  44. ^ David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964), p. 414
  45. ^ Kathleen Thompson, 'Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Bellême', Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 20 (1994), p. 134
  46. ^ Geoffrey H. White, 'The First House of Bellême', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fourth Series, Vol. 22 (1940), p. 84
  47. ^ a b Kathleen Thompson, 'Robert of Bellême Reconsidered', Anglo-Norman Studies XIII; Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1990, Ed. Marjorie Chibnall (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1991), p. 280
  48. ^ Freesman, William Rufus, i. 181-3, quoted in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885, volume 04, p.182.
  49. ^ George Edward Cokayne, The Complete Peerage; or, A History of the House of Lords and all its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol XI, Ed. Geoffrey H. White (London: The St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1949), p. 695
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Hugh of Montgomery
Earl of Shrewsbury
1098–1102
Succeeded by
Forfeit