TOP

I introduce here the few observations I have to make on the uncertain and disputed points in the history of William the Conqueror, his queen and family, to which I alluded at the commencement of the former chapter, in lieu of placing them as an appendix at the end of the volume, as they principally turn on questions of date, and those who care to discuss them would naturally desire to do so before passing to other subjects. The less curious reader can "skip and go on."

The first and most important date open to controversy is that of the birth of William—-most important because it affects all the rest.

The latest investigators place it in 1027 or 1028, and one (Mons. Deville) endeavours to fix it exactly to the month of June or of July in the former year.

Were it a question of only a few weeks or a few months I should not have thought it necessary to moot it here; but it is one of years, and of much more consequence than it appears at first sight.

The calculations of the upholders of the dates 1027-28 are founded on: —

1. The contract of marriage of Duke Richard II and Judith, the parents of Robert, said to be dated in 1008. According to this date, Robert being their second son, would hardly have been born before 1010, and could be only seventeen or eighteen at the birth of William, and consequently his passion for Herleve was that of a boy of sixteen or seventeen at the utmost.

2. A charter granted by Robert previous to his departure on pilgrimage to Jerusalem dated in the ides of January, 1035, and as it is agreed on all hands that William was between seven and eight years old when his father left Normandy, that would place his birth in 1027-28.

3. The cartulary recently discovered at Falaise recording William's birth and baptism therein 1027.

4. The statement of Guillaume de Jumièges that William was not quite sixty at his death in 1087.

A sort of collateral substantiation of the date of the pilgrimage I find also in the story told by the author of the "Gesta Consulum Andegavensium," of the meeing of Duke Robert with Fulk Nera, Count of Anjou, at Constantinople in 1035, and their travelling thence to the Holy Land together, escorted by some merchants of Antioch, who had offered to be their guides. Robert becoming fatigued was carried in a litter by four Moors. A Norman pilgrim returning from Jerusalem, meeting his sovereign with this equipage, asked if he had any message to send to his friends. "Tell them," said the Duke, "that thou sawest me borne to Paradise by four devils." But it is to be observed that Fulk was also a pilgrim to the Holy Land in 1028, and that the compiler of "L'Art de Vérifier les Dates" remarks that the work I have quoted "ne mérite pas beaucoup de créance."

On the other hand we have also to consider the statement of William himself, who, according to Orderic, declared on his death-bed that he was sixty-four, which would make him born in 1023; that he was eight years old when his father went into what he calls voluntary exile, and that he had ruled the duchy fifty-six years, thus placing the death of Robert in 1031. That date is supported by the perfectly independent testimony of the Saxon Chronicle, which becomes more trustworthy in the eleventh century, wherein we read, "A° 1031. . . . and Robert, Earl of Normandy, went to Jerusalem and there died, and William, who was afterwards king in England, succeeded to Normandy, though he was but a child." The words I have printed in italics, however, detract from the value of the evidence; as they must have been written at least thirty-five years after the event, and perhaps much later.

The Peterborough and Canterbury chronicles follow the Saxon, and Roger of Wendover and Matthew of Westminster are merely copyists of the earlier writers.

I have seen too many errors in the dates of charters and other MSS., arising from clerical or typographical carelessness, to pin my faith upon any copy, printed or other, even when the original document is undoubtedly genuine, and therefore hesitate to accept the date accorded to the contract of marriage of Richard and Judith, particularly as there are several obvious inaccuracies in the copy printed in Martene (Thesaurus Novus Anecdotorum, vol. i.).

Judith was the only child of Conan le Tort, Count of Rennes, by his second wife Ermengarde, daughter of Geoffrey Grisegonelle, married according to the "Chroniques de Mont St. Michel" in 9 70. Conan was slain at the battle of Conquereux in 992. Now, if these dates can be at all relied on, what age was Judith likely to be in 1008, if not married till then? At what period of the two-and-twenty years of her parents' married life was she born? If in the ordinary course of nature, she must have been five- or six-and-thirty in 1008!

Judith died in 1017, the mother of five children: Richard, Robert, Guillaume, Alix (also called Judith), and Eleanore; and if only married in 1008 her eldest son Richard could scarcely have been born before 1009, and Robert, as already remarked, 1010. Whether Guillaume or Alix was their third child is uncertain, but before 1025 Alix was the wife of Renaud, son of Otto-Guillaume, Count of Burgundy, who, having fallen into the power of Hugues, Bishop of Auxerre and Count of Chalons, was strictly confined in prison by that prelate. Richard II, Duke of Normandy, thereupon sent his sons, Richard and Robert, with an army to relieve their brother-in-law, and Count Hugues was compelled to present himself with a saddle on his back (the usual custom at that period) and crave mercy at the hands of the sons of the Duke of Normandy.

Now, doubting that young warriors were mere boys of fifteen and sixteen years of age in 1025 (Richard, the eldest, dying in 1027, and leaving a natural son named Nicholas, who was Abbot of St. Ouen in 1042), I cannot bring myself to believe in the "extreme youth" of Robert, as pointed out by Mons. Deville, and without presuming to fix an exact date, believe that both Richard and Robert were nearly of full age at the death of their father, whether that event occurred in 1026 or 1027.

Leaving, therefore, the precise period of the birth of William the Conqueror still undecided, the weight of evidence inclining rather to 1027, let us hasten to the consideration of the equally vexed question concerning the number and ages of his family, consisting undoubtedly of four sons, and presumably of five or six daughters. [Freeman: Nor. Con., vol. v. [. 468, note4.]

Notwithstanding the various and conflicting dates suggested for the marriage of William and Matilda, ranging from 1047 to 1053, I think we may consider it sufficiently proved that it was solemnized at the close of 1053 or beginning of 1054, and that Robert, their first child, was born in the course of the latter year.

Their second child I take to have been Adeliza, eldest daughter, born apparently in 1055, being seven years old in 1062, when betrothed to Harold, and dead before 1066, as her decease was the undeniable answer of the Saxon king to one of William's charges of broken faith.

Cecilia must have been the third child, as she was clearly born in 1056, dedicated to the service of God by her father and mother at the consecration of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Caen, 18th June, 1066, was elected abbess on the death of Matilda, the first abbess, in 1112, and died on the 30th of July, 1125, in the seventieth year of her age.

The fourth child appears to have been Richard, born 1057-58, who, with his younger brother, William (fifth child), born 1060, witnessed the consecration of the Church of the Holy Trinity at Caen in 1066.

Richard was killed in the New Forest by accident during the reign of his father in England; and his brother William, surnamed Rufus, who succeeded the Conqueror as King of England, met his death, as is well known, A.D. 1100, in the same forest, doomed apparently to be fatal to the progeny of the heartless despot who had sacrificed to his passion for the chase the homes and hearths of thousands of his unfortunate subjects.

The sixth child I take to be Constance, born in 1061, married to Alain, Duke of Brittany, in 1086, and who died, poisoned by her own servants, according to some writers, on the 13th of August, 1094, at the early age of thirty-three.

Mrs. Green, notwithstanding she places her birth "most likely about 1057," subsequently tells us, upon the authority of no less than four chronicles, that she died in 1094 " when she had scarcely attained her thirty-third year." If the latter statement is to be depended upon, she must have been born in 1061, and the probabilities are all in favour of that date. Miss Strickland, by a curious inadvertency, makes Constance die some years before her mother, "after seven years' unfruitful marriage." The marriage having taken place three years after her mother's death!

The seventh child I believe to have been Adela, born circa 1062, married, at Chartres in 1080, to Stephen, Count of Blois and Chartres, and deceased in 1137, in tbe seventy-fourth year of her age.

Agatha, believed by Mrs. Green to be also Matilda, whose name appears in Domesday, the eighth and last child born in Normandy, circa 1064, was promised to Edwin, the Saxon Earl of Chester, in 1067, when only three years old, and after his death contracted to Alfonso 1, King of Castile and Galicia. She died on her journey to Spain, having, as the story goes, prayed she might not live to be married, and by unceasing genuflections caused a horny substance to form on her knees.

More incredible is the sentimental account of "blighted hopes" and "crushed affections" indulged in by Mrs. Green, as the child was but three years old when she first saw the "fair-haired Saxon," seven when her "lover" was murdered, and scarcely fifteen when she was contracted to Alfonso; for she must have been dead in 1080, as in that year the Castilian monarch married the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy.

This is of course according to my calculation, which I by no means presume to be irrefutable, and also applies solely to Agatha, leaving it to others to identify her with Matilda "filiae regis," whose chamberlain (Geoffrey) held lands in Hampshire of the King for service rendered to his said daughter. That there was a Matilda, daughter of King William, is undeniable, not only from the entry in Domesday, but from her being named with her sisters Adelaide and Constance in an encyclical letter to the nuns of the Holy Trinity at Caen in 1112. But as the survey was only begun in 1085, and completed in 1086, it will be difficult, I think, to prove that Agatha, who must have been dead in 1080, was the same daughter as Matilda, supposed to be living five or six years later.

Henry, afterwards King Henry 1, the youngest of the whole family, was the only child born in England, and the date of his birth is generally acknowledged to be 1068, his mother having come over from Normandy for her coronation in that year. Now let us see when it would be possible that a tenth child, if not a twin, could have been born to William by his duchess, and of sufficient age to have a chamberlain appointed to her before 1085.

  1. Robert, born 1054.
  2. Adeliza, born 1055; dead before 1066.
  3. Cecilia, born 1058.
  4. Richard, born 1057-58.
  5. William, born 1060.
  6. Constance, born 1061.
  7. Adela, born 1062.
  8. Agatha, born 1064; dead before 1080.
  9. Henry, born 1068.

The ingenious theory that Matilda was no other than the mysterious Gundrada, the former name being simply a translation of the latter, is negatived by the fact that Gundrada died wife of William de Warren in 1085, while the survey was in the course of compilation. That one daughter should have been named after her mother is most natural. That the King had a daughter so named, and that she was apparently living in 1085, must be conceded; but that she was the same person as Agatha "the inexorable logic of facts" positively contradicts. There is just the possibility of its being Constance, who survived her mother, and was married to Alain, Duke of Brittany, as before stated, in 1086. She is said to have been the favourite daughter and companion of Queen Matilda, and for nearly six years the only princess at Court. At the period of her niother's death she would have been twenty-three, and previous to her marriage would no doubt have had a chamberlain and other officers appointed for her service. That she was ever called Matilda there is no evidence yet discovered; but there is no daughter of Matilda's more likely to have been so. But then we have to get over the awkward fact of Matilda and Constance being separately named in the encyclical letter of 1112. ["Matildem Anglorum reginam, nostri cœnobii fondatricem, Adelidem, Mathildem Constantiam, filias ejus." Also in the Bouleau des Morts of the same Abbey we read: — "Orate pro nostria Mathilde Regina et Willielmo ejus filio atque pro filiabus ejus Adelide, Mathilde, Constancia." -- Recherches sur le Domesday, p. 234.] Matilda is consequently, as Mr. Freeman truly describes her, "without a history." The vexed question of Gundrada will be discussed in the chapter comprising the biography of her husband, William, Earl of Warren and Surrey, and in connection with it the presumed widowhood of Matilda of Flanders, and her passion for Brihtric Meaw.

I gladly pass to the companions of the Conqueror.

Added to the site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the chapter.