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Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester

Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester

English noble
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro English noble
Gender male
Birth 1090 (Caen, arrondissement of Caen, Calvados, Normandy)
Death 31 October 1147 (Bristol, Bristol, South West England, England)
Father: Henry I of England
Siblings: Reginald de Dunstanville1st Earl of CornwallHenry FitzRoyWilliam AdelinFulk FitzRoyGilbert FitzRoyRobert FitzEdithLord OkehamptonEmpress MatildaSybilla of NormandyMatilda FitzRoyAbbess of MontvilliersAlice FitzRoyMatilda FitzRoyDuchess of BrittanyMatilda FitzRoyCountess of Perche
Spouse: Mabel FitzRobert of Gloucester
Children: William Fitz Robert2nd Earl of GloucesterMaud of GloucesterCountess of ChesterRoger of WorcesterRichard de Gloucester
The details

Robert FitzRoy, 1st Earl of Gloucester (before 1100 – 31 October 1147) (alias Robert Rufus, Robert de Caen, Robert Consul) 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

Robert was probably the eldest of Henry's many illegitimate children. 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. 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", 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.

He may have been a native of Caen or he may have been only Constable and Governor of that city, jure uxoris.

His father had contracted him in marriage to Mabel FitzHamon, daughter and heir of Robert Fitzhamon, but the marriage was not solemnized until June 1119 at Lisieux. 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. After the White Ship disaster late in 1120, and probably because of this marriage, in 1121 or 1122 his father created him Earl of Gloucester.


Robert and his wife Mabel FitzHamon had seven children:

  • William FitzRobert (111?–1183): succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Gloucester
  • Roger FitzRobert (died 1179): Bishop of Worcester
  • Hamon FitzRobert (died 1159): killed at the siege of Toulouse.
  • Philip FitzRobert (died after 1147): lord of Cricklade
  • Matilda FitzRobert (died 1190): married in 1141 Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester.
  • Mabel FitzRobert: married Aubrey de Vere
  • Richard FitzRobert (1120/35-1175): succeeded his mother as Sire de Creully.

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. This couple were ancestors of Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the U.S.A.
  • Father of Thomas

Relationship with King Stephen

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

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.

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

The two prisoners, King Stephen and Robert of Gloucester, were then exchanged, but by freeing Stephen, the Empress Matilda had given up her best chance of becoming queen. She later returned to France, where she died in 1167, though her son succeeded Stephen as King Henry II in 1154.

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 popular culture

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 (1143) 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 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 recognized 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 Follet's 1989 novel The Pillars of the Earth and in the 2010 mini-series of the same name.

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