He was William the Conqueror’s great-grandfather and ruled over a developing Normandy or Northmen for fifty-one years, from 945 to his death in 996.
Let’s get started with his ancestry. Here are the Anglo-Normans all the way to Henry II, the first Plantagenet, from C. Warren Hollister’s Henry I:
BASIC FACTS AND STORIES
- This is the story of Richard I and even more of how Normandy became a unified-ish political entity in the bigger realm of Lesser France (all of France was not yet unified).
- It is important to realize that France as we know it today was not even close to being unified in the Medieval Age. It was in the process of breaking up into a patchwork of duchies and counties, overseen by dukes and counts. They tirelessly competed with each other.
- When his father William Longsword was assassinated, Richard, whose mother was a Breton concubine named Sprota, was about nine-years old at his father’s death in 942, if Richard was conceived in the Breton campaign of 933-934.
- After the assassination, the people of Rouen were nervous. Would they be attacked by another count to take their city?
- The boy-heir was brought from Bayeux under military escort. For the half-Franks and Franks among the nobility, accepting Richard was obvious and advantageous to them.
- Over the past century hereditary succession from father to son was becoming the norm. But the invading Vikings of 911, at least in their fifties, normally select the fittest male.
- King Louis IV arrived in Rouen from overseas (England) and complicated matters.
- Harald, a Viking, took control of parts of the former land of Count William (Richard’s father) and by 944 up to Bayeux.
- “King Louis gave the land of the Northmen to the son born of William from his Breton concubine, and some of the nobles swore faith to the king, others to Duke Hugh” (qtd. in Crouch 15). This duke as a Robertian, who eventually was an early founder of the Capetians. He was interested in Rouen.
- Louis marched into and occupied Rouen, while Hugh invaded Bessin and intended to take Bayeux. But Louis and Hugh fell out. Hugh withdrew to his own lands, and Louis handed Richard over to a local Frankish aristocrat, Ralph Torta, who was to administer the principality from Rouen in the king’s interest.
- Harald was still rampaging. He took Cherbourg and the Contentin as early as 943 and was moving on Rouen, forcing Louis to return to the city.
- At a bungled peace conference, the Northmen seized Louis, who agreed to release him in exchange for young Richard, who had been tutored at the royal court of Laon and then with his father’s friend Count Bernard of Senlis. The exchange was made.
- So at the age of thirteen, at most, in 945, Richard took control of his inheritance. It was Frankish and Scandinavian in origin.
- Could Richard win the support and allegiance of the magnates without warfare or the warrior’s charisma?
- Between 961 and 962 he had to contend with the alliance between the Carolingian king Lothar (d. 983), son of Louis IV, and his southern neighbor, the count of Blois-Chartres.
- Richard had made a marriage alliance with Hugh Capet’s sister Emma (Hugh was the namesake of the Capetian kings and ascended the throne in 987).
- Richard ended the threats and incursions by hiring Danish mercenaries who pillaged the upper seine valley and scared King Lothar into making peace.
- In 963-964, Richard is seen peacefully at the court of Lothar.
- On 18 Mar 968, Richard is at the court of his brother-in-law Hugh Capet, duke of the Franks and head of the Robertian dynasty.
- As noted, in 987 Hugh succeeded Lothar as king, and Richard helped him to ascend the throne.
- What about prestige and titles? He was not happy with count. He spread the same title around to his allies, which meant he needed a greater one.
- Normally the Carolingian kings bequeathed them, but they were gone.
- He decided to take the title marchio, from which we (or French) get the word marquis, in the late 960s. In 990, one clerk recorded his title in the Roman style consul, which was equivalent in the Middle Ages to count, so no all accepted his elevated status.
- In the Act of 968 between Richard and Duke Hugh of the Franks, the lands of St. Denis were restored to Richard’s realm or to the people of the Normans (Normanni).
- Bottom line: Richard was the ruler over the Normans, while Duke Hugh (not yet king until 987) ruled over the Franks. The Normans by the 960s became one of the sub-divisions of Lesser France, just as the Bretons had their prince or king and the Aquitanians had their dukes.
- In 966 Richard re-founded the community of monks at St. Mt Michel, which indicated he had recovered his authority over the Breton march (border). A Christian count or marquis could supervise such religious matters.
- Other foundations or re-foundations of religious houses: Evreux, St. Taurin, and Fécamp.
- He appointed his younger son, Robert, to the see of Rouen in about 990. He took a concubine and produced children.
- By 990 he had restored the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Carolingian province for alongside Robert were six suffragan bishops.
- Richard was involved in fighting King Hugh’s enemies in 991.
- Richard became ill in autumn 996 and moved from Bayeux to his favorite residence at Fécamp.
- On 20 Nov he called an assembly of nobles before whom Richard formally nominated his successor. He walked barefoot to receive last communion at the nearby abbey. While at the church he selected a burial place in the portico, at the door.
- On 21 Nov a sudden seizure struck him and caused his death, in her early sixties. He struggled to get the words out, from Luke’s Gospel: Into thy hands, O Christ, I commend my spirit.”
- What was his appearance in his mature age? He was tall, straight-backed, and distinguished, with alert and clear eyes, thick eyebrows, and a long and white fatherly beard. “It is historical fact that several members of the dynasty had reddish hair” (Crouch p. 23).
- His rule became legendary and he was titled duke by later writers—marquis was too low for their great man.
- At Richard’s death, Neustria was long forgotten and the region he ruled was called Northmannia or Normannia or just plain Normandy. By 1000, It was a land of famous churches and monasteries and an integral principality of the greater realm of France.
- Bottom line: At Richard I’s death Normandy achieved its identity, largely thanks to his long reign.
- He had married Emma, sister of Hugh Capet, in the early 960s or later 650s, but his union was childless, due to her early death (or perhaps other reasons) in the late 960s.
- Richard had concubines and by them fathered children, whom he took care out of his wealth.
- He took Gunnor as his favorite concubine, whom he later married in the 970s. She was of Danish descent, but a Norman. Her family may have been a great Viking rival to Richard, so the marriage, though satisfying, was also political.
- Her brother was Arfast, one of the great noble lineages of Normandy and grandfather in the male line of William fitz Osbern.
- Gunnor’s sisters made great marriages to the great nobles of Normandy at the beginning of the eleventh century (1000s).
- By the year 1100, seven of the counts and earls of the aristocracy of the Anglo-Norman realm and numerous high barons were great-grandchildren of Gunnor and her sisters, and so was King Henry I of England.
- With Gunnor Richard had these children:
- Richard II, the grandfather of William the Conqueror.
- Robert, archbishop of Rouen and count of Evreux (989-1037).
- Mauger, count of Corbeil.
- Robert the Dane, who died young in the 980s.
- By two other mothers Richard had Godfrey and William, successively counts of Eu.
- Another son, also called Robert, who was made count of Mortain.
- Emma, who became queen of England, marrying successively King Æthelred II and King Cnut.
- Hawise married the count of Nantes in Brittany
- Matilda married Count Odo (Eudes) of Blois.
- To sum up, by the third generation, the Norman dynasty deeply penetrated within the network of princely families that ruled northwestern Europe, including the Capetian and West Saxon dynasties.
- The early counts of Normandy invented a duchy, over which dukes ruled. Richard I laid the foundation.
THE HOUSES OF NORMANDY AND BLOIS
(They lived before Henry II, Plantagenet, below)
Richard I, Norman Marquis and Count
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Interesting Facts and Stories (married to Henry II)
Eleanor of Provence: Interesting Facts and Stories (married Henry III)
Eleanor of Castile: Interesting Facts and Stories (married to Edward I)
Constance B. Bouchard, Those of My Blood: Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia (U Penn P 2001)
Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).
Marjorie Chibnall, The Normans (Blackwell, 2000, 2006).
David Crouch, The Normans: The History of a Dynasty (Hambledon and London, 2002).
David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England (UC P, 1964).
Earl of Onslow, The Dukes of Normandy and their Origin (Hutchinson, 1945)
Ivan Gobry, Robert II: Fils de Hughes Capet, Histoire des Rois de France (Pygmalion, 2005).
John Le Patourel, Norman Barons (The Historical Association, Hastings and Bexhill Branch, 1966).
—, The Norman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1976, and special edition for Sandpiper Books, 1997).
Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).