Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester

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Robert of Caen
Earl of Gloucester
Effigy of Robert Consul, St James' Priory, Bristol. 1840 drawing
Bornc. 1090
Died31 October 1147
Bristol Castle
Spouse(s)Mabel FitzRobert
FatherHenry I of England
MotherA woman from Gay or Gayt family of north Oxfordshire
Attributed arms of Robert FitzRoy, 1st Earl of Gloucester: Gules, three clarions or (later successively arms of de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Granville, Earl of Bath)
Robartus Consull et Mabilia uxor eius ("Robert Consul and Mabel his wife"). They are shown holding churches or abbeys which they founded or were benefactors of, including Tewkesbury Abbey. The attributed arms shown quartered on his tabard and below are: Left: Gules, three clarions or (de Clare, Earl of Gloucester); Centre: Gules, three clarions or (de Clare, Earl of Gloucester) impaling Azure, a lion rampant guardant or (FitzHamon); Right: Azure, a lion rampant or. Tewkesbury Abbey Founders Book (c. 1500 – 1525), Bodleian Library, Oxford

Robert FitzRoy, 1st Earl of Gloucester (c. 1090 – 31 October 1147[1]) (alias Robert Rufus, Robert de Caen (Latinised to Robertus de Cadomo[2]), Robert Consul[3][4]) was an illegitimate son of King Henry I of England. He was the half-brother of the Empress Matilda, and her chief military supporter during the civil war known as the Anarchy, in which she vied with Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.

Early life[edit]

Robert was probably the eldest of Henry's many illegitimate children.[1] He was born before his father's accession to the English throne, either during the reign of his grandfather William the Conqueror or his uncle William Rufus.[5] He is sometimes and erroneously designated as a son of Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, last king of Deheubarth, although his mother has been identified as a member of "the Gay or Gayt family of north Oxfordshire",[6] possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay (fl. 1086) of Hampton Gay and Northbrook Gay in Oxfordshire. Rainald had known issue, Robert Gay of Hampton (died c. 1138) and Stephen Gay of Northbrook (died after 1154). A number of Oxfordshire women feature as the mothers of Robert's siblings.[6][7]

Robert may have been a native of Caen[1] or he may have been only the constable and governor of that city, jure uxoris.[3]

Robert's father had contracted him in marriage to Mabel FitzRobert, daughter and heir of Robert Fitzhamon, but the marriage was not solemnised until June 1119 at Lisieux.[1][8] His wife brought him the substantial honours of Gloucester in England and Glamorgan in Wales, and the honours of Sainte-Scholasse-sur-Sarthe and Évrecy in Normandy, as well as Creully and Thorigny. After the White Ship disaster late in 1120, and probably because of this marriage,[9] in 1121 or 1122 his father created him Earl of Gloucester.[10] He commissioned the translation of Welsh historical sources which the subject lent to Walter Espec of Helmsley, and he, in turn, lent to others.[11]

Earl of Gloucester[edit]

In either 1121 or 1122, his father created him the 1st Earl of Gloucester.[12] Robert became powerful in both the countries of Normandy and England with this act, as Caen may have remained his principal seat.[13]: 199 

Robert possessed many castles and land through grants made to him by his father, King Henry. He was the keeper of Gloucester Castle, Canterbury Castle and fortresses of Bristol, Leeds and Dover.[13]: 200  Bristol Castle was Robert's principal seat in England and he constructed additions to its exterior fortifications and rebuilt the interior.[13]: 200  Robert held Gloucester Castle in right of his earldom, however, after Miles of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford was created earl, Miles became the constable of it under Robert, his liege-lord, as Florence of Worcester called him.[13]: 200 

There is evidence in the contemporary source, the Gesta Stephani, that Robert was proposed by some as a candidate for the throne, after his father's death, but his illegitimacy ruled him out:

Among others came Robert, Earl of Gloucester, son of King Henry, but a bastard, a man of proved talent and admirable wisdom. When he was advised, as the story went, to claim the throne on his father's death, deterred by sounder advice he by no means assented, saying it was fairer to yield it to his sister's son (the future Henry II of England), than presumptuously to arrogate it to himself.

This suggestion cannot have led to any idea that he and Stephen were rivals for the Crown, as Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136 referred to Robert as one of the 'pillars' of the new King's rule.

For the first five years after the death of his father, Henry I, and usurpation of power by Stephen in 1135, Robert seems to have been an inactive spectator of the struggle between Stephen and Matilda.[14]: 211 

In June 1138, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou persuaded Robert to join the party opposing King Stephen through prayers and promises given to Robert when Geoffrey entered Normandy.[13]: 198–199  It is said that when the hostilities first began, Robert acted with "great prudence, and still held aloof," but that his hostility to Stephen was not disguised.[13]: 199  Thus, while Robert sided in June 1138 with the party opposing Stephen's rule was a great change in the power dynamics in England, it may not have been quite as unexpected as some scholars make it out to be, as "his hostility to Stephen was scarcely disguised."[13]: 199 

In 1139, Robert, along with Guy de Sablé and several others, took Matilda to England.[12][13]: 212  On August 31, 1139, they landed in England and were received at Arundel castle by their step-mother Adeliza, the queen-dowager.[13]: 212  Matilda was given leave from King Stephen to pass through England under safe conduct.[13]: 212  Robert hosted Matilda after her arrival in England at Bristol Castle and led her forces against Stephen.[12]

Robert commanded the empress's forces during the Battle of Lincoln, during which Robert's son-in-law Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester commanded his own forces for the empress.[13]: 217 

The capture of King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141 gave Empress Matilda the upper hand in her battle for the throne, but by alienating the citizens of London she failed to be crowned queen. Robert imprisoned Stephen in Bristol.[12] Her forces were defeated at the Rout of Winchester on 14 September 1141, and Robert of Gloucester was captured nearby at Stockbridge.[12]

Without the Earl of Gloucester, the party of Matilda was powerless, so the two prisoners, King Stephen and Robert of Gloucester, were then exchanged.[14]: 213  But by freeing Stephen, Empress Matilda had given up her best chance of becoming queen. She would later return to France, where she died in 1167, though her son succeeded Stephen as King Henry II in 1154.

With the success of Stephen in England, Robert and Matilda returned to Normandy, where the earl recruited fresh levies.[14]: 214  He soon crossed the channel again, taking with him his nephew, Henry, then ten years old. Robert was devoted to the education of his young charge and taught him English habits and culture.[14]: 214  Following their crossing of the channel, Robert went to Wareham, Dorsetshire and sent Henry to Somerset, where he was received by friends of his mother, Matilda.[14]: 214 

The civil war continued on without much success, with alternate triumphs and defeats for three more years. However, it came to a quiet close in 1147 when Robert died and the queen and her son, now deprived of Gloucester's protection, returned to Normandy.[14]: 214–215 

Robert of Gloucester died in 1147 at Bristol Castle, where he had previously imprisoned King Stephen, and was buried at St James' Priory, Bristol, which he had founded in 1129.


Robert and his wife Mabel Fitzhamon married in 1119,[15] and they had seven children:

He also had four illegitimate children:

  • Richard FitzRobert (died 1142): Bishop of Bayeux [mother: Isabel de Douvres, sister of Richard de Douvres, bishop of Bayeux (1107–1133)]
  • Robert FitzRobert (died 1170): Castellan of Gloucester, married in 1147 Hawise de Reviers (daughter of Baldwin de Reviers, 1st Earl of Devon and his first wife Adelisa), had daughter Mabel FitzRobert (married, firstly, Jordan de Chambernon and, secondly, William de Soliers)
  • Mabel FitzRobert: married Gruffud, Lord of Senghenydd, son of Ifor Bach
  • Thomas FitzRobert

In popular culture[edit]

Robert of Gloucester is a figure in many of the novels by Ellis Peters in The Cadfael Chronicles (written between 1977 and 1994) where he is seen as a strong moderating force to his half-sister (see Saint Peter's Fair). His efforts to gain the crown for his sister by capturing King Stephen and her own actions in London are part of the plot in The Pilgrim of Hate. His capture by Stephen's wife Queen Mathilda is in the background of the plot of An Excellent Mystery. The exchange of the imprisoned Robert for the imprisoned Stephen is in the background of the plot of The Raven in the Foregate. Robert's travels to persuade his brother-in-law to aid Empress Maud militarily in England is in the background of the novel The Rose Rent. His return to England when Empress Maud is trapped in Oxford Castle figures in The Hermit of Eyton Forest.

Robert's return to England with his young nephew Henry, years later the king succeeding Stephen, is in the background of the plot of The Confession of Brother Haluin, as the battles begin anew with Robert's military guidance. Robert's success in the Battle of Wilton leads to the death of a fictional character, part of the plot of The Potter's Field. In the last novel, he is a father who can disagree with and then forgive his son Philip (see the last novel, Brother Cadfael's Penance). In that last novel, Brother Cadfael speculates on the possibly different path for England if the first son of old King Henry, the illegitimate Robert of Gloucester, had been recognised and accepted. In Wales of that era, a son was not illegitimate if recognised by his father, and to many in the novels, Robert of Gloucester seemed the best of the contenders to succeed his father.

Robert is also a central character in Sharon Penman's 1995 novel When Christ and His Saints Slept. He was also central in the struggle during the Anarchy as portrayed in Ken Follett's 1989 novel The Pillars of the Earth, in the 2010 mini-series, and in the 2017 video game of the same name too.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d David Crouch, 'Robert, first earl of Gloucester (b. c. 1090, d. 1147)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 Retrieved 1 October 2010
  2. ^ twice styled Robert de Caen (de Cadomo) by Orderic (ed. Le Prevost), vol. v, pp. 121, 122
  3. ^ a b "Complete Peerage" Vol IV(1892), p38, "Gloucester", "Robert filius Regis" quoting Round "Consul is often used for Earl in the time of the first age of the Norman Kings"
  4. ^ The Complete Peerage claims only that he is "described" as consul, as are most earls of his time.
  5. ^ William (of Malmesbury) 1904, p. 1.
  6. ^ a b David Crouch, Historical Research, 1999
  7. ^ C. Given-Wilson & A. Curteis. The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (London, 1984) (ISBN 0-415-02826-4), p. 74.
  8. ^ "Complete Peerage", "Gloucester"
  9. ^ "In the aftermath of the White Ship disaster of 1120, when his younger and legitimate half-brother, William, died, Robert shared in the largesse that the king distributed to reassert his political position. Robert was given the marriage of Mabel, the heir of Robert fitz Haimon, whose lands in the west country and Glamorgan had been in royal wardship since 1107. The marriage also brought Robert the Norman honours of Evrecy and St Scholasse-sur-Sarthe. Robert was raised to the rank of earl of Gloucester soon after, probably by the end of 1121." David Crouch, 'Robert, first earl of Gloucester (b. before 1100, d. 1147)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 Retrieved 1 October 2010
  10. ^ CP citing Round for between May 1121 and the end of 1122, but see William of Malmesbury, ed Giles who cites 1119 Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Short, Ian (1994). "Gaimar's Epilogue and Geoffrey of Monmouth's Liber vetustissimus". Speculum. 69 (2): 323–343. doi:10.2307/2865085. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2865085.
  12. ^ a b c d e Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Robert, earl of Gloucester". Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 October 2021, Accessed 11 December 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ordericus Vitalis (1856). Forester, Thomas (ed.). The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy. Vol. IV. Translated by Forester, Thomas. London: Henry G. Bohn.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Duncan, Jonathan (1839). The Dukes of Normandy, from the Time of Rollo to the Expulsion of King John by Philip Augustus of France. London: Joseph Rickerby, Sherbourn Lane; and Harvey and Darton, Gracechurch Street.
  15. ^ Cockayne, George Edward. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom Extant, Extinct, or Dormant (1st ed.).

Further reading[edit]

  • J. Bradbury, Stephen and Matilda: The Civil War of 1139–53 (Stroud, 1996)
  • D. Crouch, "Robert of Gloucester's Mother and Sexual Politics in Norman Oxfordshire", Historical Research, 72 (1999) 323–332.
  • D. Crouch, "Robert, earl of Gloucester and the daughter of Zelophehad," Journal of Medieval History, 11 (1985), 227–43.
  • D. Crouch, The Reign of King Stephen, 1135–1154 (London, 2000).
  • C. Given-Wilson & A. Curteis. The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (London, 1984)
  • The Personnel of the Norman Cathedrals during the Ducal Period, 911–1204, ed. David S. Spear (London, 2006)
  • Earldom of Gloucester Charters, ed. R. B. Patterson (Oxford, 1973)
  • R. B. Patterson, "William of Malmesbury's Robert of Gloucester: a re-evaluation of the Historia Novella," American Historical Review, 70 (1965), 983–97.
  • R. B. Patterson. 2019. The Earl, the Kings, and the Chronicler: Robert Earl of Gloucester and the Reigns of Henry I and Stephen. Oxford University Press
  • William (of Malmesbury) (1904). Sharpe, John; Giles, John Allen (eds.). William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England: From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen. George Bell and Sons.
  • K. Thompson, "Affairs of State: the illegitimate children of Henry I," Journal of Medieval History, 29 (2003), 129–151.
  • W. M. M. Picken, "The Descent of the Devon Family of Willington from Robert Earl of Gloucester" in A Medieval Cornish Miscellany, Ed. O. J. Padel. (Phillimore, 2000)
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Gloucester
Succeeded by