GILBERT DE MONTFICHET
This Norman lord of a commune situated on the road from St. Lô to Bayeux, and where as late as 1827 might be seen a few ruins of the castle which was the original stronghold of the family, is, according to Monsieur le Prévost, "one of the most authentic personages who can be named as having assisted at the battle of Hastings." (Note to "Le Roman de Rou," Vol. ii, p. 256) But we hear of him then for the first time, and simply as "le Sire de Monfichet," without any exploit having been recorded of him.
What is our astonishment, then, on consulting Dugdale, to learn, on the authority of an ancient history of the family,* [Mon. Ang, vol. ii. p. 236] that the said Gilbert de Montfichet (Montfiquet) was a Roman by birth, descended from an old illustrious Roman family (De Montefixio?); that he was in the habit of dispensing palatial hospitality to all royal visitors to the Papal Court, and specially entertaining William, Duke of Normandy, whenever he set foot in the sacred city; and that he was a kinsman of the Duke, and privy to all his councils, especially to that design of King Edward the Confessor to make him his successor to the realm of England.
How is it that in no contemporary historian can we find a trace of the Count, Marquis, or Duke of the Normans, as William is indifferently styled, having ever crossed the Alps, or extended his travels further than France, England, and Flanders? As a boy he was at Paris; as a man, at Poissy. In 1051 he was in England, and it is believed in 1066 in Flanders; but at what other time had he a day, I might almost say an hour, the occupation of which is not accounted for, rendering a journey to Rome in the interim an actual impossibility? What can have been the origin of this extraordinary story? How could Dugdale have copied this account without a comment? Is the whole romance the concoction of David the Priest, a Scot by birth, whom Gilbert so loved that he gave to him a place called Tremhale, in the county of Essex, whereon to build a church and other monastic edifices, viz, the Priory of Tremhale, of which this ancient MS. would seem to have been one of the muniments; and if so, how much are we to believe of it?
Utterly incredulous of the statement that he (Gilbert) entertained that Duke in his house whenever he came to Rome -- which implies more than one visit to the Eternal City -- what faith are we to attach to the description of Gilbert's Italian extraction, and of his kinsmanship to the Conqueror? Was he named after his property in the Roman States, and did he impart it to or derive it from this land in Normandy acquired by gift or marriage? Nothing has yet been discovered to elucidate the subject. We are ignorant of whom he married or when he died; the aforesaid history merely informing us that, after the gift of Tremhale to the priest David, he returned to Rome, leaving what he had obtained in England by his services to the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings and afterwards, to his son Richard, who, on arriving at man's estate, travelled to Rome, and being a person of extraordinary strength obtained much fame in casting a stone, no man being able to do the like, in memory whereof certain pillars of brass were set up to mark the distance.
What is nearly as singular as this story is the fact that the large possessions Gilbert is reported to have obtained in reward for his services are not to be found in Domesday, and that it is not till we come to a William Montfichet, apparently a grandson or great nephew of Gilbert the Roman, and the husband of Margaret de Clare, daughter of Gilbert Fitz Richard of Tunbridge, that we find mention of any possessions in England whatever.
Monsieur le Prévost asserts so positively that there can be no question but that Gilbert was the Sire de Montfichet mentioned by Wace amongst the combatants at Senlac, that he must doubtlessly have found authority sufficient to justify his doing so. I should otherwise be inclined to consider the companion of the Conqueror was a William de Montfichet, father or uncle of the William above named, who had a wife named Rohais, and was certainly a contemporary of the Conqueror, as in his reign he granted to the monks of Croisy in Normandy the Church of St. Marculf, with the tithes thereto belonging, and one plough land; also the Church of Fontenis and its tithes, with certain lands in Sotaville; likewise two salt works, with two boats for great fish; the right use of every great fish, with one piece of the small, and two islands lying in the sea. Surely at the time of this grant he must have been the Lord of Montfichet, but whether a brother or a son of Gilbert we are at present without means of even surmising.
Dugdale has, I think, confounded him with his son or nephew, the second William, who was certainly the founder of the fortunes of the family in England, most probably by his marriage with a daughter of the great house of Clare, with whose consent, and that of his son and heir, Gilbert, he founded in 1135 (35th Henry I) the Abbey of Stratford Langton, in Essex, within the precincts of his lordship of Westham. It was, I presume, in commemoration of this alliance that his descendants assumed the arms of Clare, unless, as some have suggested, they were themselves a branch of that great family, a conjecture the names of Gilbert and Richard certainly tend to support, as well as the tradition of their being kinsmen of the Conqueror, but which would be fatal to the story of the descent from an illustrious race of Romans.
The male line of William and Margaret de Clare terminated in their great-grandson Richard, Sheriff of the county of Essex, Governor of the Castle of Hertford, and Justice of the King's Forests in no less than fifteen English counties. His name descends to us with the town of Stansted-Montfichet, the seat of his barony in the reign of Henry III. Adelina, the second of his three sisters and coheirs, married William de Fortibus (second of that name), Earl of Albemarle, whose granddaughter Adelina, having first married Ingleram de Percy, became the wife of Edmund, surnamed Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, second son of King Henry III, but died without adding to the royal family of England.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Michael Linton, who provided scanned text.