Raoul (Ralph) de Toeni, Seigneur de Conches, second of that name, was the son or grandson (for it is not quite clear which) of that turbulent Roger de Toeni, who was one of the first to dispute the succession of the base-born William to the ducal throne of Normandy, and who, with his two sons Halbert and Elinance, was slain in a conflict with Roger de Beaumont. You have beard of him before as the messenger of the Duke to the French King with the disastrous tidings of the battle of Mortemer.
The honourable office of gonfanonier (standardbearer) of Normandy was hereditary in their family, collateral descendants of its dukes from Mahaluc, uncle of Rolf or Rollo, but on whom it was first conferred has not transpired.
Previous to the battle at Senlac, Wace tells us the Duke ordered the consecrated gonfanon, which the Pope had sent to him, to be brought forth and unfurled. Then taking and raising it, he called to him Raoul de Conches, and said, "Bear my gonfanon, for I would not but do you right. By right and by ancestry your family are gonfanoniers of Normandy, and very good knights have they all been." "Many thanks to you," answered Raoul, "for the recognition of our right, but by my faith the gonfanon shall not be borne by me this day. To-day I claim quittance of that service, for I would serve you in another guise. I will go with you into the battle and fight the English as long as I have life to do so, and be assured that my hand will be worth more than those of twenty such men!"
There can be no doubt that he was as good as his word, although no especial act of gallantry has been recorded of him, for we find him rewarded by the gift of thirty-seven lordships, nineteen being in Norfolk, and making Flamstead, in Hertfordshire, his principal residence in England.
Orderic tells us that this Raoul gained great glory in the wars, and was renowned among the first of the Norman nobles for honour and wealth, serving bravely in the armies of King William and Duke Robert, his son, for nearly sixty years. Of course he must mean alternately, for he was one of the nobles who took part with Robert Court-heuse on his first outbreak, in consequence of the insult of his brothers, William and Henry, who threw water on him from a gallery in a house where they were playing at dice. Raoul was banished, and his domains seized by the King, but through the intercession of friends obtained his pardon and the restoration of his estates.
In 1077, he married Elizabeth, or Isabel, daughter of Simon de Montfort l'Amauri, whose hand he obtained by the audacious act of carrying off by night Agnes, daughter of Richard, Comte d'Evreux, who was his half-sister, and marrying her to the said Simon. Orderic gives an amusing account of this Isabel and her sister-in-law Havise, daughter of William, Comte de Nevers, the wife of her brother Willliam, Comte d'Evreux. The Countess Havise took offence, it appears, at some taunts of the Lady of Conches, and used all her influence with her husband and his barons to have recourse to arms, in which mischievous attempt she unfortunately succeeded. "Both these ladies," the chronicler tells us, "were great talkers, and spirited as well as handsome; they ruled their husbands, oppressed their vassals, and inspired terror in various ways: but still their characters were very different. Havise had wit and eloquence, but she was cruel and avaricious; Isabel, on the contrary, was generous, enterprising, and lively, so that she was beloved and esteemed by those immediately about her. She rode in knightly armour when the vassals took the field, and exhibited as much daring amongst belted knights and men-at-arms as Camilla, the renowned Virgin of Italy, among the squadrons of Tevenus."
By turns the people of Evreux and Conches plundered and destroyed the property of each other. The Lord of Conches, who was less powerful than the Count of Evreux, sought his sovereign, Robert Court-heuse, and laying before him an account of the losses to which he was exposed by the aggressions of the Count of Evreux, demanded the aid he had a right to expect from his liege lord; but Robert turned a deaf car to his prayer, and Raoul in his distress sought a more powerful protector in the King of England, promising him by his envoys the fealty of all his estates in return for his assistance. Rufus was highly pleased at the proposal, and sent orders to Stephen Count of Aumale and Gerrard de Gournay, with others in command of his forces in Normandy, to give every aid to Raoul de Toeni, and throw supplies of all kinds into his castles.
In the month of November, 1090, Count William assembled a large force and laid siege to Conches, his two nephews, Richard de Montfort and William de Breteuil joining him with their respective powers. Richard de Montfort was slain while taking possession of the Abbey of St. Peter de Châtillon at Conches, and in a subsequent attack William de Breteuil was taken prisoner. This worse than civil war, the wagers of it being all nearly related to each other, lasted three years; at length the Count of Evreux and his allies, ashamed that, having commenced hostilities on so frivolous a provocation, they had suffered the greatest losses, consented to a truce, and peace was proposed upon the following terms: -- William de Breteuil paid three thousand livres for his ransom, and made his cousin Roger, eldest son of Raoul de Toeni, heir to the whole of his fief; the Count of Evreux appointed the same youth, who was his nephew, his successor in the comté. "But," adds the pious writer, "Divine Providence, which is not ruled by the will of man, provided otherwise." The boy was of an excellent disposition and much beloved by his companions, the vassals, and the neighbors. He had a great regard for the clergy and the monks, to whom he paid due reverence. Rejecting the pomp of dress, in which the nobility too much gloried, his whole demeanour was simple and modest. Upon one occasion, when the knights were amusing themselves in the hall at Conches, playing at various games and talking on various subjects, "as the custom is," the Lady Isabel being present, the conversation took a serious turn, and one of Roger's youthful companions said, "I had a dream lately which much alarmed me. I saw our Lord upon the cross, his whole body livid and writhing with agony. My eyes were riveted upon him in the greatest terror." The listeners gravely remarked that so solemn and fearful a dream seemed to forebode some terrible judgment of God upon him. Baldwin, the son of Eustace, Count of Boulogne, who was of that company, said, "I, too, lately saw in a dream our Lord upon the cross, but in my vision He appeared bright and glorious, and smiled benignantly upon me, stretching forth one hand and making the sign of the cross upon my head." The bystanders all agreed that this vision portended some singular grace and favour. Young Roger de Toeni, upon this, said to his mother, "I know some one not far from here who had recently a similar dream." Her curiosity being excited, she pressed him to say who it was, and what had been seen; but the boy blushed, and was unwilling to say more. At length, yielding to the general entreaties of his friends, he said: "A certain person saw in a vision the Lord Jesus, who, laying his hand on his head, blessed him, saying, 'Come quickly to me, beloved, and I will give you the joys of life.' I therefore believe firmly that one whom I know has been called by the Lord, and will not live long."
The three youths, we are told, experienced different fates, corresponding with what had been foreshadowed to each of them. The first, whose name is not given, was mortally wounded in a hostile inroad, and died without having confessed or received the viaticum. Baldwin, as is well known, took the sign of the Cross, and distinguishing himself in the Holy Wars, was, on the death of his brother Godfrey, elected King of Jerusalem. The youthful heir-presumptive of the Count of Evreux and William de Breteuil took to his bed the same year that he had seen his vision, and departing this life on the 15th of May, was buried amidst general sorrow with his ancestors in the Abbey of St. Peter's at Châtillon, now called of Conches.
Leaving my readers to decide for themselves the question how much credibility may be attached to this story, the like of which are to be found by scores in the pages of our monkish chronicles, I shall only direct their attention to the interesting view it affords us of the manners and habits of the age in which it was written, the words "as the custom now is" proving that although the anecdote may be mere idle gossip, the picture of domestic life is drawn from personal knowledge and observation. Here we see the high-spirited Lady of Conches, seated on the dais or haut pas, in her own castle hall, the ruins of which were recently and may still be existing, surrounded by her family and their young companions, the knights owing service to her lord, the officers of her household, and her handmaidens in attendance on her -- all the features of the court of baron of the eleventh century familiar to the sight of the narrator; the various groups, each with its favourite pastime or topic of conversation, and the peculiar character imparted to the latter by the religious atmosphere of the age. We have here the earliest glimpse of that future King of Jerusalem when, probably, a newly-belted knight and a guest of Raoul de Toeni, he may have seen for the first time the young Countess Godechilde, daughter of his host, who, just separated from her husband, Robert de Meulent, and still under age, was shortly to become his wife, although not destined to share with him the crown of his eastern kingdom.
Raoul de Toeni, like his grandfather Roger, made a journey into Sprain, but with a more peaceful object. The former had hoped to carve out with his sword a dominion for himself, as Rollo had done in Normandy and Robert Guiscard in Sicily; but gained nothing by his enterprise except an empty name --- being afterwards distinguished from other members of his family as Roger of Spain.
His grandson most probably went, like Walter Giffard, to visit the shrine of St. Iago of Compostella.
Previously to setting out on his journey he attended a chapter at the Abbey of St. Evroult, and implored pardon of the abbot and monks for having abetted Arnould d'Eschafour when he burnt the town of Ouche. Laying his gage on the altar, he made many pious vows to be fulfilled on his safe return, and recommended to their care his physician Goisbert, whom he much loved, and who, as soon as he departed, made his profession as a monk, and kept it for nearly thirty years. Goisbert must, therefore, have been personally known to Orderic -- a fact which increases our reliance on any information he communicates to us respecting the family of De Toeni.
On Raoul's return, he tells us, the Lord of Conches faithfully redeemed his promises by the gifts of certain lands and privileges to St. Evroult, and that some years afterwards he took Goisbert, the monk, with him to England, and, through his means, added to his former benefactions two farms or manors -- one named Caldecot, in Norfolk, and the other Abington in Worcestershire; his wife, Roger and Ralph, his sons, freely joining in the grant, which was also confirmed by King William.
Ralph II de Toeni died 24th March 1102, and was buried in the Abbey of Conches, beside his father and his son Roger. His widow Isabel, repenting of the sinful levity in which she had too much indulged in her youth, gave up the world, and took the veil in a convent of nuns at Haute Bruyère (a priory of the order of Fontevrauld, at St. Remi-l'HonorÉ, near Montfort l'Amauri), where she reformed her life and worthily ended it in the favour of the Lord.
From Robert, a cadet of this house, the family of Stafford is descended, but I have not been able to satisfy myself as to the exact place of Robert and his brother Nigel de Stafford in the pedigree. They were probably younger brothers of the subject of this memoir, or possibly his uncles. They appear in Domesday as possessors of considerable property, but whether companions of the Conqueror in 1066 is uncertain. The first Robert de Toeni who assumed the name of Stafford, from the Castle of Stafford, married, it is said, Avicia de Clare; but I cannot identify any such person.