Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester

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Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester (~1090 - October 31, 1147) was an illegitimate son of Henry I of England, and one of the dominant figures of the English Anarchy period.

Robert was probably the eldest of Henry's many illegitimate children. He was born at Caen in Normandy before his father's accession to the English throne. His mother is not known for certain, though recent scholarship suggests she was a member of the Gay family, minor nobility in Oxfordshire. William of Malmesbury refers to Robert's "Norman, Flemish, and French" ancestry, but this may be a reference only to his father's side of the family. Robert was acknowledged at birth, and raised at his father's court. He had a reputation of being an educated man, not altogether surprising considering his father's scholarly inclinations. He was a patron of William of Malmesbury and Geoffrey of Monmouth.

He married in 1107 to Mabel of Gloucester, daughter of Robert Fitzhamon, thereby receiving lordship of Gloucester and Glamorgan. She died in 1157. Their children were:

  1. William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester, died 1183
  2. Roger Fitz Robert, Bishop of Worcester, died 1179
  3. Hamon Fitz Robert, slain at the siege of Toulouse in 1159
  4. Philip Fitz Robert, Castellan of Cricklade, died after 1147
  5. Richard Fitz Robert, lord of Creully, died 1175
  6. Maud of Gloucester, died 1189, wife of Ranulph de Gernon, 2nd Earl of Chester

In 1119, Robert fought at the Battle of Bremule; he was already one of King Henry's foremost military captains. In 1122, he was created Earl of Gloucester.

At his father's death, in the struggle between the Empress Maud and Stephen for the English throne, he at first declared for Stephen, but subsequently left Stephen's service and was loyal to Maud, his half-sister, until his death. According to the Gesta Stephani:

"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."

At the Battle of Lincoln, he captured Stephen, whom he imprisoned in the custody of his wife, Mabel. This advantage was lost, however, when Robert fell into the hands of Stephen's partisans at Winchester, covering Maud's escape from a failed siege. Robert was so important to Maud's cause that she released Stephen to regain Robert's services. In 1142 she sent Robert to convince her husband Geoffrey of Anjou to join her cause. Geoffrey refused to go to England until he conquered Normandy, so Robert stayed in France to help him until he learned of Maud being besieged at Oxford. He hastened back to England, along with Maud's young son Henry. In 1144 one of Robert's own sons, Philip, declared for Stephen and so Robert found himself and his son on opposite sides.

Robert fought tirelessly on Maud's behalf until his death in 1147 from a fever at Bristol. One of his illegitimate sons was Richard, Bishop of Bayeux (died 1142).

References

  • David Crouch, "Robert of Gloucester's Mother and Sexual Politics in Norman Oxfordshire", Historical Research, 72 (1999) 323-332.
  • Given-Wilson & Curteis. The Royal Bastards of Medieval England


Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Gloucester
1122-1147
Succeeded by:
William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester

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