"De Bohun le Veil Onfrei." Roman de Rou, 1. 13,583.
Wace appears to be specially addicted to represent the companions of the Conqueror as venerable from age as renowned for their valour. Humphrey "with the beard," however, who is the De Bohun he is here commemorating, may, with some propriety, be styled "the old," as there is evidence that previous to the Conquest he had been thrice married; his grant to the nuns of St. Amand at Rouen of a tithe of his own plough and a garden, being made for the health of his soul and the souls of his three wives, not one of whom unfortunately is named, but it is witnessed by "William Comes," as the Duke of Normandy was often termed prior to his elevation to the throne of England, the titles of Count and Duke being indifferently used by him and by his predecessors.
The practice of close shaving amongst the Normans, and which caused the spies of Harold to report that the invading army was an army of priests, is further illustrated by such distinctions as "with the beard," and "with the whiskers," being employed to identify particular members of a family. Several examples of this practice have already been noticed.
Of the origin of the De Bohuns very little has yet been discovered. We are vaguely informed that the first of this name known to us, the aforesaid Humphrey with the beard, was a near kinsman of the Conqueror, but in what particular degree, or by which of the many branches, legitimate and illegitimate, of the ducal house of Normandy, no information is afforded us. After the Conquest he became possessed of the lordship of Talesford, in the county of Norfolk, so that whatever his relationship to or support of William may have been, no very great benefit appears to have resulted from it.
Bohun, or rathcr Bohon, the place whence the family derived its name, is situated in the arrondissement of St. Lo, in the Cotentin, where are still the communes of St. Andre and St. George de Bohon. The mound of the castle was visible some thirty years ago, and may be still. The honour of Bohon was in possession of this Humphrey at the time of the Norman invasion, and his later gift of the Church of St. George de Bohon as a cell to the Abbey of Marmoutier, is confirmed by William, King of the English, "his Queen Mathildis, his sons Robert and William, his half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, Michael, Bishop of Avranches, Roger de Montgomeri, and Richard, son of Turstain," husband of Emma de Conteville, which certainly supports the belief that he was closely connected with the Conqueror, probably by one of his wives, respecting whose parentage we are left so provokingly in the dark.
He died before 1113, having had issue three sons and two daughters, but by which wife or wives we are unhappily in ignorance. How important, genealogically, to the descent it is scarcely necessary to observe.
One of the daughters appears to me to have been named Adela; at least I find an Adela, aunt of Humphrey de Bohun, in the Fine Roll for Wiltshire, 31st of Henry I, and it could not have been on the mother's side, or she would have been a daughter of Edward of Salisbury, that mysterious personage, one of whose daughters, named Maud or Mabel, was wife of Humphrey II, the youngest of the three sons of "old Humphrey," and the founder of the fortunes of the family.
The eldest son, Robert, died, in his father's lifetime apparently, unmarried; and from Richard, the second son, descended in the female line the Bohuns of Midhurst, in Sussex; but the grandeur of the Bohuns was due to the extraordinary succession of great matches made by the descendants of the youngest sons, who became Earls of Hereford, Essex, and Northampton, the co-heiresses of the eleventh and last Humphrey de Bohun being the wives, one of Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Gloucester, and son of King Edward III, and the other of Henry, surnamed Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and subsequently ascending the throne of England as King Henry IV.