I have just mentioned Robert, the son of this Richard, and son-in-law of Hugh de Grentmesnil, and shall conclude this chapter with a notice of this memorable family, the direct male descendant of which wears at the present day the coronet of a baron, one of the very few instances that can be quoted of an unbroken line of nobles in the same family from the Conquest.
Wace simply mentions "Cil de Corcie" amongst those knights who "that day slew many English." Courci is in the arrondissement of Falaise, and I have just described its siege by Robert Court-heuse in 1091, at which time it was held by Richard de Courci, the companion of the Conqueror. He was the son of Robert de Courci, who was one of the six sons of Baldric the Teuton, or German, Lord of Bacqueville-en-Caux, and held the office of Archearius under Duke William. He married a niece of Gilbert Comte de Brionne, grandson of Richard first Duke of Normandy, name unknown, by whom he had six sons and two daughters, and here we have an example of the difficulty the general reader would experience in endeavouring to form an idea of the family and connections of many important personages with whose names he incidentally meets in the popular histories of England. Robert, the third of these six sons, alone bore the name of De Courci: all the rest assumed surnames similarly derived from their particular properties or the place of their birth. The eldest, Nicholas, succeeding
to his father's fief of Bacqueville-en-Caux, was thence called Nicholas de Bacqueville. The second son, Fulk, was named Fulk d'Aunou from his fief of Aunou le Faucon, arrondissement of Argentan. Richard, the fourth son, was the first of the famous name of Nevil, derived from his fief of Neuville-sur-Tocque, in the department of the Orne and the canton of Gacé. Baldric, fifth son, was surnamed de Balgenzais, from his fief of Bouquence or Bouquency. The youngest, Vigerius or Wiger, was named after an uncle, and also called Apulensis, having been born, it is presumed, in Apulia. Who, meeting with the names of these noble and powerful Normans in their study of English history, would, without such an explanation, suspect they were all sons of the same father, and cousins of William the Conqueror on their mother's side? Elizabeth, named after her aunt, who was a nun at St. Amand, married Fulk de Boneval; and Hawise was the wife of Robert Fitz Erneis, who fought and fell at Senlac.
It was Robert, the third son of Baldric the Teuton, as I have said, who assumed the name of De Courci from his inheritance of Courci-sur-Dive, and transmitted it to his immediate descendants. His son Richard married a lady named Guadelmodis, and was the Sire de Courci present at Hastings and Senlac. For his services he received from the Conqueror the barony of Stoke in the county of Somerset, and the manors of Newnham, Setenden, and Foxcote, in Oxfordshire. At least, he held them at the time of the great survey.
We hear no more of him during the reign of the elder William, though it is improbable he could have remained quiescent during all the commotions that were constantly convulsing the duchy; but whether he fought or not we may be satisfied that he remained loyal to the Conqueror, and to his successor William Rufus, whose opportune arrival in Normandy caused Robert Court-heuse and Robert de Belesme to raise the siege of Courci, as before related.
Both he and his friend and neighbour Hugh de Grentmesnil, who was now connected with him by the marriage of their children, were considerably advanced in years, and like Hugh, the Lord of Courci, may not have mingled in the m≖lée; but it is strange not to find Robert's name mentioned amongst the gallant defenders of his own property and that of his father-in-law.
Besides this Robert, whose line was not of long endurance, Richard had a second son named William, from whom descended the famous John de Courci, Earl of Ulster, and the present Lord Kingsale, who enjoys the enviable privilege of wearing his hat in the presence of his sovereign, traditionally granted by King John to the said Earl of Ulster in reward for the following service.
Philip Augustus, King of France, having proposed to King John to settle the difference between the Crowns of England and France respecting their pretensions to the Duchy of Normandy by single combat, had appointed on his side a champion. King John, who had unwarily fixed the day, could find no one of sufficient strength or prowess to oppose the Frenchman but the Earl of Ulster, who, at the instigation of Hugh de Lacy, had been dispossessed of his estates, and was a prisoner in the Tower. Having accepted the challenge for the honour of his country, he appeared in the lists on the appointed day, and so terrified the French champion by his gigantic form and warlike demeanour that, on the third sounding of the trumpets, he wheeled about, broke through the lists, and galloping to the coast took ship for Spain, leaving De Courci victor without a blow. To gratify King Philip, who desired an exhibition of his extraordinary strength, the Earl directed a massive suit of mail surmounted by a helmet to be placed on a block, and at one stroke he cleft armour and helmet asunder, his sword entering so deep into the wood that no one present could pull it out with both hands, but he did in an instant with one. King John being well satisfied with his extraordinary service restored him to his titles and estates, and bade him ask besides anything it was in his power to grant, to which the Earl replied, that he had titles and estates enough, but desired that he and his successors, the heirs-male of his family, might have the privilege, their first obeisance being paid, to remain covered in the presence of him and his successors the Kings of England, which was granted accordingly. There is about as much truth in this story as there was in the one formerly told by the warders in the Tower of London, who were wont to show a remarkably large suit of plate armour of the time of Henry VIII as being that of the very redoubtable John de Courci aforesaid.
The King of France, Philip Augustus, never set foot in England. William II, King of Scotland, never saw King John, save on the one occasion when he did homage to him at Lincoln. De Courci was never restored to his estates by John, and no one knows when a privilege, as worthless as it is unmannerly, was conferred, or by whom or on what authority it was first claimed and exercised.
Almericus, the twenty-third Baron Kingsale, astonished King William IlI by presenting himself with his hat on, but had the good taste to reverse the
custom by remaining uncovered after the first assertion of his privilege.
George II good-humouredly observed to Gerald, cousin and successor of Almericus, that, although his lordship had a right to wear his hat before him, he had no right to do so before ladies.
Let us trust that good sense and good taste will combine to abolish an absurd custom, for the observance of which no credible authority can be produced — no dignity lost by its discontinuance.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.