NEEL DE SAINT-SAUVEUR
M. le Prévost, the French annotator of Wace, is disinclined to believe that Neel le Vicomte, whom we have seen in arms against Duke William at the battle of Val-es-Dunes (vol. i. p. 80), was fighting in his cause at Senlac; and Mr. Taylor, in his English version, does little more than cite le Prévost's opinion.
The reasons of the latter are of no great weight: simply that the presence of Neel at Hastings is not vouched for by any contemporary authority, an objection that would equally apply to three-fourths of the persons who undoubtedly were there -- and that the name of "Sanzaver" in Brompton's List is not a corruption of Saint-Sauveur, but of Sanzavier (Sans-avoir), a family which established itself in England at the time of the Conquest, and of whom some charters are to be found in Dugdale's "Monasticon."
Surely this is very illogical. Brompton's inclusion of the name of Sanzavier in his List, which is as little to be relied upon as any other, does not disprove the presence of Neel de Saint-Sauveur in the army of William, any more than the silence of Guillaume de Poitiers, or the other historians of the Conquest who merely mention a few of the principal leaders and contradict each other about them. That Wace is in error requires some much stronger argument, and I think I can show that probabilities are at least in his favour.
He speaks of the Barons of the Cotentin, of which province Neel was the Viscount, that he was at the head of a company -- "Jost la cumpaigne Neel" (1. 13,626), and that he excited himself greatly to gain the love and favour of his feudal lord, vigorously assaulting the English, overthrowing many by the poitrail of his horse, and speeding, sword in hand, to the rescue of many barons (l. 13,489). It is quite clear that Wace knew well enough whom he was describing: and now let us see what evidence we can find to support him.
It is well known that after the "Noble Chef de Faucon," as he was called, unwillingly retreated from Val-es-Dunes, he was banished by Duke William, and took refuge, in Brittany, that he was subsequently pardoned and restored to his estates, at what time is not exactly ascertained, but most likely at the moment the politic Duke felt the importance of such assistance as the valorous Viscount could afford him in his projected expedition; and, consequently, we find him at the head of a company, exerting himself to deserve the favour of the suzerain who had forgiven him his former rebellion.
That he is not mentioned in "Domesday" is, as Mr. Taylor admits, to be accounted for by the supposition that he died previously to its compilation; and that supposition receives support from the fact that his son and successor, the last Neel de Saint-Sauveur, died in 1092, seven years afterwards, as is proved by the desire of his relative, Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, to attend his funeral ("Mem. Ant. Norman." i. 286, the bishop himself dying the following year.
According to the Welsh Chronicles, as transmitted to us by Humphrey Lloyd and Dr. Powell, Neel the Viscount was one of the slain in the battle of Cardiff, A.D. 1094 (p. 116). Mons. de Gerville, following the French account, says 1074, but afterwards, as I have already mentioned, corrects as he imagines this date, substituting that of 1092; evidently confounding him with his son and successor above mentioned.
The more critically the Welsh account of the battle of Cardiff is examined, the more does the general truth of the story appear, and if the last Neel the Viscount was killed in Wales in 1092, in company of Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury, and Arnold de Harcourt, there is every probability that his father was a companion of the Conqueror in 1060.
But Wace names also a "Sire de Neahou" amongst the combatants at Senlac, and it is a question whether he is alluding to Neel de Saint-Sauveur by another title, or to some distinct individual. The fief of Nehou, in the arrondissement of Valognes, received its name from Neel, an ancestor of the Saint-Sauveur family, Nehou signifying Neel's Hou or Holm, i.e. Nigelli Humus. On the banishment of Neel the Viscount in 1047, Nehou is said to have been given by Duke William to Baldwin de Meules; but it could not have been at that period, as Baldwin and his brother Richard were then refugees in Flanders, and not received into the Duke's favour until 1053. Was Nehou excepted when WIlliam restored to Neel his estates previous to the Conquest, or did it pass to the Rivieres (De Redvers, Rivers) on the death of his son, the last of the family, in 1092? I shall return to this subject when noticing the Vernons (vide p. 205), who were Sires de Nehou from the end of the eleventh to the end of the thirteenth century.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.