He was the father of William the Conqueror and ruled over Normandy from 1027 to 1035.
He was Duke of Normandy 1027-1035, but Medievalist David Crouch says it began in 1028. He was called the Magnificent because of his generosity while going on a pilgrimage. He was called the devil because of his cruelties. In his time he was accused of poisoning his older brother Richard to get the dukedom.
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
- Robert was named after his great-great-grandfather Rolf / Rollo / Robert. Recall that Rolf was his Viking name, which the clerks Latinized to Rollo. Then at his baptism, his name was changed to Robert. It seems Medievalists today who specialize in the Normans just call him Rollo.
- When his brother Richard III died unexpectedly, Robert inherited the duchy, but he did not live in tranquility.
- Robert had scores to settle. He besieged his uncle, Archbishop Robert of Rouen in his city of Evreux, where he was also count. He may have been punishing his uncle for supporting Richard. Robert fled to the Capetian court, but placed the duchy under anathema. When Robert restored Evreux to his uncle, his uncle lifted the banishment.
- In 1028 Robert attacked his cousin Bishop Hugh of Bayeux, son of his great-uncle Rodolf (Raoul / Ralph) of Ivry. Hugh gave it up, and he fled in exile, while his lands were not restored until 1032.
- Robert was less aggressive against the secular magnates.
- However, Duke Robert’s cousin, Count Gilbert of Brionne was “chafing to enlarge his estates” and began a local war with the young sons of Giroie fitz Arnold of Montreuil and Echauffour. Duke Robert appears as a distant referee, and Gilbert lost his estate. He had to surrender the estate as a pledge in exchange for his good behavior.
- In another case an outraged father carried out an assassination against a man who deflowered his daughter. Robert outlawed the murderer and exiled him to Brittany, for this offense disturbed the peace of the ducal court.
- 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.
- This competition is often called “foreign” affairs or wars, even though they happened in (today’s) geographical France or nearby, like Flanders.
- Speaking of Flanders, there was a civil war going on there between Count Baldwin IV, who had been driven out by his son, Baldwin V, with the support of King Robert II, his father-in-law. Duke Robert offered sufficient military support to the elder Baldwin to scare the younger Baldwin into making peace, in 1030.
- Then Robert’s first cousin Alan III of Brittany expanded his influence from Rennes, far enough to include Mont-Saint Michel. Robert was concerned and sent a force to stop him. They were reconciled in 1033.
- In the southern border regions, Chartres and Maine, particularly in Alençon and Séez, Robert had to secure recognition of his authority from a growing Bellême clan. He succeeded.
- The greatest foreign venture took place when King Robert II of Francia or Lesser France (an equally small region over which the Capetians ruled at this time) died in 1031. In 1033, the young king, Henri (Henry) I was ousted by his stepmother Queen Constance, in alliance with Odo (Eudes) II of Blois to install her preferred son on the throne, Robert, (Henry’s younger brother).
- Henri fled with a small escort to Fécamp, within Normandy, and asked for help from the duke. Robert mustered an army and forced a settlement with Constance and Robert and restored Henri to the throne.
- Robert’s reward for his help was the Vexin, the region between the Ile de France (small region around Paris) and Normandy.
- Another venture: England. He was working on an arranged marriage with Cnut’s sister Estrith, but things had not progressed as a far as a contract. Robert did not like her, it seems.
- Further, the two sons of Emma (the duke’s aunt) and King Æthelred, Edward and Alfred, were living in exile in Normandy since 1016, and by now it was the early 1030s. They were grown men. Edward was being called the king of the English, while Cnut ruled there (1016-35).
- Robert assembled an invasion fleet, but a gale stopped them.
- Duke Robert announced—to the shock of the magnates—in 1033 that he wanted to visit the Holy Land, on the millennium of Christ’s death, though David Crouch says it was at Christmastime in 1034 that he made the announcement. (Maybe he first announced in 1033 and again in 1034.)
- He did not secure a marriage, but he did ensure that his son by his mistress was to be his successor: William.
- He left in spring 1035.
- On his way there, he gave lots of gifts, which secured him the posthumous title the Magnificent.
- His piety while going there is shown in the story that he let poor pilgrims go past a toll gate and pay a pilgrim tax (called a musella). The Turkish toll keeper was annoyed and took a stick to the duke. He restrained his knights from killing the Turk. He wanted to suffer like Christ, and is reported to have said: “Leave the fellow alone. The depths of my soul are more flooded with joy by his beating than if he had given me a pile of money!”
- He made it to Jerusalem, and on his way back in the city of Nicaea south of the Bosphorus, he suddenly fell ill and died.
- The Greek Princess, Anna Comnena, described Robert in this way, while she met him on his trip: “This Robert was a Norman by birth, of obscure origin, with an overbearing character and a thoroughly villainous mind: He was a brave fighter, very cunning in his assaults on the wealth and power of great men; in achieving his ends absolutely inexorable, diverting criticism by incontrovertible argument. He was a man of immense stature …; he had a ruddy [reddish] complexion, fair hair, broad shoulders, eyes that all but shot out sparks of fire …. In him all was admirably well-proportioned and elegant.” (qtd. in Chibnall, p. 78)
- By his mistress Arlette (Herleve or Herleva), daughter of Fulbert, chamberlain (a low-level courtier at that time), whose real job under his title chamberlain was the tanner of Falaise,
- Robert had (illegitimate) William, the future King of England and Duke of Normandy.
- The designation “The Bastard” was a comment made by later commentators and chroniclers. David Crouch says his illegitimacy was no big concern earlier in the eleventh century.
- William was born in about 1028.
- For his military prowess in conquering England, William will be nicknamed the Conqueror.
- Robert and Arlette also had a (illegitimate) daughter Alice, Countess of Aumale.
- Robert went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in early 1035 and died at Nicaea, 1-3 July 1035.
- She remarried and had more children. She was living in 1050-1051 and died soon after.
- Arlette and Robert’s daughter Alice (Aelidis, Adeliza, Adelisa) of Normandy was born about 1035.
- Alice married (1) Enguerrand II, Count of Ponthieu, son and heir of Hughes (Hugh) II, Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil, seigneur of Abbebille, by Berthe, daughter of Guerinfrid, seigneur of Aumale. They had one daughter, Alice.
- He was slain before the Chateau of Arques 25 Oct 1053.
- Arlette’s and Robert’s daughter Alice married (2) Lambert of Boulogne, Count of Lens, Governor of Lille Castle, younger son of Eustache I, Count of Boulogne, by Matilda (or Mahaut), daughter of Lambert I, Count of Louvain.
- They had one daughter Judith.
- Then Alice married (3) Eudes (Odo) III, Count of Champagne, son and heir of Stephen (Etienne), Count of Troyes and Méaux by his wife Adelaide. They had one son, Stephen. Alice died before 1096.
- Judith, daughter of Alice and Lambert, married Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland.
THE HOUSES OF NORMANDY AND BLOIS
(They lived before Henry II, Plantagenet, below)
Robert I, Duke of Normandy
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)
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).
Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).
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).
The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).
Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).