HUGH D'AVRANCHES, EARL OF CHESTER
Here is a personage who, under the more popular name of Hugh Lupus, is perhaps almost as well known as the Conqueror himself.
Wace in his "Roman de Rou," speaks only of his father Richard:
"D'Avrancin i fu Richarz."
But it is generally contended that Richard was not in the battle, and that it was Hugh, his son, who accompanied William to Hastings. The authors of "Les Recherches sur le Domesday," to whom we are so deeply indebted for information on these points, hesitate to endorse the opinion of Mons. le Prévost upon these grounds, -- that Richard was living as late as 1082, when he appears as a witness to a charter of Roger de Montgomeri, in favour of St. Stephen's at Caen, to which also his son, Earl Hugh, is a subscriber. Their observations only point, however, to the probability of Richard, who in 1066 was Seigneur or Vicomte of Avranches, having been in the Norman army of invasion, as he survived the event some sixteen years; at the same time they deny that there is any proof that his son Hugh was in the battle, and assert, without stating on what authority, that Hugh only joined the Conqueror in England after the victory at Senlac, when he rendered the new King most important services by his valour and ability in the establishment of William on the throne, and contributed greatly towards the reduction of the Welsh to obedience. That there is authority for their assertion appears from the cartulary of the Abbey of Whitby, quoted by Dugdale in his "Monasticon," (Mon. Ang. vol. i, p. 72) where we read distinctly that Hugh Earl of Chester and William de Percy came into England with William the Conqueror in 1067: "Anno Domini millesimo sexagesimo septimo," and that the King gave Whitby to Hugo, which Hugo afterwards gave to William de Percy, the founder of the abbey there.
We have here, therefore, a parallel case to that of Roger de Montgomeri (Vide vol i, p. 181), and must similarly treat it as an open question.
The descent of Richard, surnamed Goz, Le Gotz, or Le Gois, from Ansfrid the Dane, the first who bore that surname, has been more or less correctly recorded, but in "Les Recherches" it will be found critically examined and carried up to Rongwald, or Raungwaldar, Earl of Maere and the Orcades in the days of Harold Harfager, or the Fair-haired; which said Rongwald was the father of Hrolf, or Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. Rongwald, like the majority of his countrymen and kinsmen, had several children by a favourite slave, whom he had married "more Danico," and Hrolf Turstain, th.e son of one of them, having followed his uncle Rollo into Normandy, managed to secure the hand of Gerlotte de Blois, daughter of Thibaut Count of Blois and Chartres, which seems to have been the foundation of this branch of the great Norse family in Normandy, and the stock from which descended the Lords of Briquebec, of Bec-Crispin, of Montfort-sur-Risle, and others who figure as companions of the Conqueror.
The third son of Gerlotte was Ansfrid the Dane, the first Vicomte of the Hiemois, and father of Ansfrid the second, surnamed Goz, above mentioned, whose son Turstain (Thurstan, or Toustain) Goz was the great favouritc of Robert Duke of Normandy, the father of the Conqueror, and accompanied him to the Holy Land, and was intrusted to bring back the relics the Duke had obtained from the Patriarch of Jerusalem to present to the Abbey of Cerisi, which he had founded. Revolting against the young Duke William in 1041 (Vide vol. i, p. 21), Turstain was exiled, and his lands confiscated and given by the Duke to his mother, Herleve, wife of Herluin de Conteville.
Richard Goz, Vicomte d'Avranches, or more properly of the Avranchin, was one of the sons of the aforesaid Turstain, by his wife Judith de Montanolier, and appears not only to have avoided being implicated in the rebellion of his father, but obtained his pardon and restoration to the Vicomté of the Hiemois, to which at his death he succeeded, and to have strengthened his position at court by securing the hand of Emma de Conteville, one of the daughters of Herluin and Herleve, and half-sister of his sovereign. By this fortunate marriage he naturally recovered the lands forfeited by his father and bestowed on his mother-in-law, and acquired also much property in the Avranchin, of which he obtained the Vicomté, in addition to that of the Hiemois.
There was every reason, therefore, that he should follow his three brothers-in-law in the expedition to England, if not prevented by illness or imperative circumstances. He must have been their senior by some twenty years, but still scarcely past the prime of life, and his son Hugh a stripling under age, as his mother, if even older than her brothers Odo and Robert, could not have been born before 1030, and if married at sixteen, her son in 1066 would not be more than nineteen at the utmost. Mr. Freeman, who places the marriage of Herleve with Herluin after the death of Duke Robert in 1035, would reduce this calculation by at least six years, rendering the presence of her grandson Hugh at Senlac more than problematical. It is at any rate clear that he must have been a very young man at the time of the Conquest. That "he came into England with William the Conqueror," as stated by Dugdale, does not prove that he was in the army at Hastings, and is reconcilable with the assertion in the "Recherches," that he joined him after the Conquest, corroborated by the cartulary of Whitby, before mentioned; very probably coming with him in the winter of 1067, and in company with Roger de Montgomeri, respecting whose first appearance in England the same diversity of opinion exists, and it might be his assistance in suppressing the rebellion in the West and other parts of the kingdom that gained him the favour of the King, and ultimately the Earldom of Chester, at that time enjoyed by Gherbod the Fleming, brother of Gundrada. The gift of Whitby, in Yorkshire, to Hugh, which he soon afterwards gave to William de Percy, would seem to show that he had been employed against the rebels beyond the Humber in 1068.
In 1071, Gherbod Earl of Chester being summoned to Flanders by those to whom he had intrusted the management of his hereditary domains, whatever they were, obtained from King William leave to make a short visit to that country; but while there his evil fortune led him into a snare, and falling into the hands of his enemies, he was thrown into a dungeon, "where he endured," says Orderic, "the sufferings of a long captivity, cut off from all the blessings of life." Whether he ended his days in that dungeon Orderic does not tell us. A little more information respecting this Gherbod and his sister would be a great boon to us. At present, what we hear about them is so vague that it looks absolutely suspicious.
In consequence of this "evil fortune" which befell Gherbod, the King, continues Orderic, gave the earldom of Chester to Hugh d'Avranches, son of Richard, surnamed Goz, who, in concert with Robert de Rhuddlan and Robert de Malpas, and other fierce knights, made great slaughter amongst the Welsh.
Hugh was in fact a Count Palatine, and had the county of Chester granted to him to hold as freely by the sword as the King held the kingdom by the crown. He was all but a king himself, and had a court, and barons, and officers, such as became a sovereign prince.
We hear but little of him during the remainder of the reign of William the Conqueror, but in the rebellion against Rufus, in 1096, he stood loyally by his sovereign; he is charged, however, with having barbarously blinded and mutilated his brother-in-law, William Comte d'Eu, who had been made prisoner in that abortive uprising. In the same year he is also accused of committing great cruelties upon the Welsh in the Isle of Anglesea, which he ravaged in conjunction with Hugh de Montgomeri, Earl of Shrewsbury, who lost his life at that period in resisting the landing of the Norwegians nnder Magnus III, King of Norway. The Norse poet tells us the Earl of Shrewsbury was so completely enveloped in armour that nothing could be seen of his person but one eye. "King Magnus let fly an arrow at him, as also did a Heligoland man who stood beside the King. They both shot at once. The one shaft struck the nose-guard of the helmet, and bent it on one side, the other arrow hit the Earl in the eye and passed through his head, and this arrow was found to be the King's."
Giraldus Cambrensis gives a similar account, adding some few details, such as the derisive exclamation of Magnus, "Leit loupe! " -- "Let him leap!" as the Earl sprang from the saddle when struck, and fell dead into the sea.
As this Earl of Shrewsbury was called by the Welsh "Goch," or "the Red," from the colour of his hair, so was Hugh Earl of Chester called "Vras," or "the Fat." His popular name of Lupus, or "the Wolf," is not to be traced to his own times, and Dugdale observes that it was an addition in after ages for the sake of distinction; about the same time, I presume, that the heralds invented the coat of arms for him -- "Azure, a wolf's head, erased, argent " -- suggested, probably, by the name, which, if indeed of contemporary antiquity, might have been given him for his gluttony, a vice to which Orderic says he was greatly addicted. "This Hugh," he tells us, "was not merely liberal, but prodigal; not satisfied with being surrounded by his own retainers, he kept an army on foot. He set no bounds either to his generosity or his rapacity. He continually wasted even his own domains, and gave more encouragement to those who attended him in hawking and hunting than to the cultivators of the soil or the votaries of Heaven. He indulged in gluttony to such a degree that he could scarcely walk. He abandoned himself immoderately to carnal pleasures, and had a numerous progeny of illegitimate children of both sexes, but they have been almost all carried off by one misfortune or another."
With all this he displayed that curious veneration for the Church common to his age, which so ill accorded with the constant violation of its most divine precepts. He founded the Abbey of St. Sever in Normandy, and was a great benefactor to those of Bec and Ouche (St. Evroult) in that duchy, and also to the Abbey of Whitby in Yorkshire, and in 1092 restored the ancient Abbey of St. Werburgh at Chester, and endowed it with ample possessions, substituting Benedictine monks in lieu of the secular canons who had previously occupied it; Richard, a monk of Bec, being brought over by Abbot Anselm, the Earl's confessor and afterwards the great Archbishop of Canterbury, to be the first abbot of the new community.
Being seized with a fatal illness, this pious profligate assumed the monastic habit in the Abbey of St. Werburgh, and three days after being shorn a monk died therein, 6th kalends of August (July 27), 1101.
By his Countess Ermentrude, daughter of Hugh Comte de Clermont, in Beauvoisis, and Margaret de Rouci, his wife, he had one son, Richard, seven years of age at the time of his father's death, who succeeded him in the earldom, married Matilda de Blois, daughter of Stephen, Count of Blois, by Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, and perished with his young wife in the fatal wreck of the White Ship in 1119, leaving no issue.