HUGH DE MONTFORT
second of that name, and son of Hugh "with the Beard," Lord of Montfort-sur-RisIe, near Brionne, was the companion of the Conqueror at Hastings. His father, with whom he has been often confounded, fell in mortal combat, with Walkelin de Ferrers, who received his death-wound at the same time, during the days of anarchy which followed the succession of the boy William to the Duchy of Normandy.
We hear first of his son Hugh H. as one of the commanders of the Norman forces at the famous battle of Mortemer already spoken of, but of which more will be told in the memoir of its lord, and next in the list of those who furnished contingents to the fleet and army of the great expedition, wherein we find him set down as a contributor of fifty ships and sixty knights. ["Ab Hugone de Montfort L naves et LX milites."] In the battle he and the Seigneur de Vieuxpont gallantly rescued William Malet, who had his horse killed under him, and would have been slain himself but for their timely aid. They lost many of their people, but succeeded in protecting Malet, and mounting him on a fresh horse. [Rom. de Rou] Hugh de Montfort is supposed to be one of the four named by Bishop Guy as the mutilators of the body of Harold at the close of the conflict; I need only here repeat my utter disbelief in an improbable statement supported by no other contemporary writer.
For his services he received (before the completion of Domesclay) sixteen manors in Essex, fifty-one in Suffolk, nineteen in Norfolk, and twenty-eight in Kent, in addition to a large proportion of Romney Marsh, and was one of the barons intrusted by the Conqueror witli the administration of justice throughout England, under Bishop Odo and William Fitz Osbern in 1067; and by the Bishop himself, Hugh de Montfort was made Governor of the Castle of Dover, the chief fortress in Odo's own earldom, and the key of the kingdom. His absence on other duties with the Bishop south of the Thames was taken advantage of by the Kentish malcontents, and led to the assault of the castle by the Count of Boulogne, the failure of which has been already related.
The monk of Jumièges informs us that he was twice married, but names neither of his wives; one, however, appears by his account (Lib. vii. ch. 38) to have been a daughter of Richard de Bellofago (Beaufoe), by a daughter of the Count of lvri, and was therefore niece of John, Archbishop of Rouen, of Hugh, Bishop of Bayeux, and of the wife of Osbern de Crépon. By the first we are told he had two sons, Hugh and Robert, and by the second, a daughter named Alice, eventually heir to her brothers, both of whom died without issue, and who became the wife of Gilbert de Gant, son of Baldwin VI Count of Flanders, and consequently nephew of Queen Matilda.
The date of the death of Hugh II, who became a monk in the Abbey of Bec, is not known, but if the holder in Domesday, he must of course have been living in 1085, his father having been slain some forty-eight or forty-nine years, previously. He might probably, therefore, be a young man at the battle of Mortemer in 1054, between forty and fifty at the time of the Conquest, and under seventy if he survived the accession of Rufus. His second son Robert was Commander-in-Chief of the Norman army in Maine in 1099, and on his joining the Crusaders under Bohemund, in 1107, received a hearty welcome and a high rank in the army in consequence, as Orderic speaks of his being " hereditary Marshal of Normandy." ["Strator Normanici exercitus hereditario jure."]
If this be not a mistake, his elder brother must have been dead at the former date. At all events his father, Hugh II, is styled "the Constable" by Orderic in his enumeration of the personages present in the battle of Senlac.
A few words in conclusion respecting the accusation of Guy, Bishop of Amiens. That prelate was almoner to the Duchess Matilda, and accompanied her to this kingdom in 1068. He therefore had special opportunities of picking up the reports of the day; but he was not like his brother Bishops of Bayeux and Coutances, actually present at Senlac, and his poem being composed before his journey to England, must therefore have been written from hearsay only. The continuator of William of Jumièges, who mentions his poem, and calls him "a respectable author," does not back his opinion by adopting the Bishop's account of the death of Harold. Neither does Orderic Vital, who was, nevertheless, acquainted with the poem, and says it was an epic in imitation of Virgil and Papinius, describing the battle of Senlac, blaming and accusing Harold, and highly praising and exalting William. A MS. of the 12th century, discovered by Dr. Pertz in the Royal Library at Brussels, is supposed, from its general character, to be the poem in question, the initials L. W. in the second line being interpreted to signify " Wido to Lanfranc." Mr. Petrie, who has published this poem in his "Monumenta Historica Britannica," observes that it is not improbable that Guy was the writer, but Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy, in his Descriptive Catalogue of Materials relating to the History of Great Britain (vol. i. p. 671), appears less impressed with its authenticity. Without, however, raising that question, 1 have shown the probability that Count Eustace de Boulogne was put hors de combat before the fall of Harold, that there is no evidence whatever of a noble heir of Ponthieu being present in the battle, even if he were in existence at that period, and that no other historian corroborates the poet's assertion.
The story appears to me to be a sensational version of the account given by Benoît de St.-More, who says that Harold fell pierced by three lances, and his skull cloven to his cars by a dozen swords — itself an evident exaggeration of the plain fact as related by Henry of Huntingdon, which is, that twenty of the bravest knights pledged their troth to each other that they would cut through the English troops and capture the royal ensign. In this attack the greater part were slain, but the remainder, hewing away with their swords, readied and seized the standard. Meanwhile a shower of arrows fell round King Harold, and he himself was pierced in the eye. A crowd of horsemen now burst in, and the King, already wounded, was slain. Cut down in the furious charge with the gallant few who stood their ground beside him, perhaps even undistinguished by his slayers themselves, who in the hasty and general slaughter could not possibly have found time or opportunity to indulge in such wanton barbarity. The English heavy-armed Housecarls fought to the death long after the fall of their King. To have cut off the head of Harold, to have scattered his entrails, the perpetrators must have dismounted, and assuredly had never mounted again.
Could any combatant in the Norman host have been identified as having inflicted a mortal wound on the heroic King of the English, his name would have been as notorious as that of the Conqueror himself. Honest Master Wace acknowledges that he never heard who slew him, only that he was found dead amongst the dead. Walter Giffard and Hugh de Montfort, or some other Hugh, may have been amongst thic twenty who bound themselves to capture the standard; and even that honour has not been appropriated to any individual, but their complicity in the disgraceful acts attributed to them is to me incredible. The "lie circumstantial" is always accompanied by the names, and the Bishop of Amiens, if he really did write the song of the battle of Hastings, has not proved an exception to the rule of scandal mongers in general.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.