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Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester


Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester

Robert of Caen
Earl of Gloucester
Effigy of Robert Consul, St James' Priory, Bristol. 1840 drawing
Spouse(s) Mabel FitzHamon
Father King Henry I
Born before 1100
Died 31 October 1147
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 (before 1100 – 31 October 1147[1]) (alias Robert Rufus, Robert de Caen, Robert Consul[2][3]) 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 1
  • Family 2
  • Relationship with King Stephen 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • Sources 6

Early life

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.[4] 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",[5] possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay (fl. 1086) of Hampton Gay and Northbrook Gay in Oxfordshire. Rainald had known issue Robert Gaay 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.[5][6]

He may have been a native of Caen[1][7] or he may have been only Constable and Governor of that city, jure uxoris.[2]

His father had contracted him in marriage to 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,[9] in 1121 or 1122 his father created him Earl of Gloucester.[10]


Robert and his wife Mabel FitzHamon had seven children:[11]

  • 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.[12]
  • 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:

"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.

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 Brother Cadfael's Penance). In that last novel, Brother Cadfael, the Welsh monk who fought under English lords and ends his life in a Benedictine monastery in England, 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. Instead, he used his strength to fight for his half-sister.


  1. ^ a b c d 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 accessed 1 Oct 2010
  2. ^ 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"
  3. ^ The Complete Peerage claims only that he is "described" as consul, as are most Earls of his time.
  4. ^ William of Malmesbury
  5. ^ a b David Crouch, Historical Research, 1999
  6. ^ C. Given-Wilson & A. Curteis. The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (London, 1984) (ISBN 0-415-02826-4), page 74
  7. ^ ,
  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 accessed 1 Oct 2010
  10. ^ CP citing Round for between May 1121 and the end of 1122, but see William of Malmesbury, ed Giles who cites 1119
  11. ^ Cawley, Charles. ,
  12. ^ Descent of Franklin Pierce from Henry I Beauclerc


  • 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.
  • 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)
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Gloucester
Succeeded by
William Fitz Robert
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