This great progenitor of the illustrious house of Clare, of the Barons Fitzwalter, and the Earls of Gloucester and Hertford, was the son of Gilbert, surnamed Crispin, Comte d'Eu and Brionne, grandson of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. Count Gilbert was one of the guardians of the young Duke William, and was murdered by assassins employed by Raoul de Gacé, as already related in the memoir of the Conqueror (vol. i., p. 16). Orderic gives us the name of one of the assassins -- Robert de Vitot; and Guillaume de Jumièges tells us that two of the family of Giroie fell upon and murdered him when he was peaceably riding near Eschafour, expecting no evil. This appears to have been an act of vengeance for wrongs inflicted upon the orphan children of Giroie by Gilbert, and it is not clear what Raoul de Gacé had to do in the business.
Fearing they might meet their father's fate, Richard and his brother Baldwin were conveyed by their friends to the court of Baldwin, Count of Flanders.
On the marriage of Matilda of Flanders to Duke William in 1053, the latter, at the request of the Count, restored to the two sons of Gilbert the fiefs which in their absence he had seized and appropriated, Richard receiving those of Bienfaite and Orbec, from the first of which, latinized Benefacta, he derived one of the various names whereby he is designated and the reader of history mystified.
By Wace, who includes him among the combatants in the great battle, he is called
"Dam Richart ki tient Orbec;"
and the exchange of Brionne for Tunbridge, in the county of Kent, obtained for him the appellation of Richard of Tunbridge. At the same time the gift of the honour of Clare in Suffolk added a fourth name to the list, which is swelled by a fifth, descriptive of his parentage, viz., Richard Fitz Gilbert.
It is necessary for a reader to be acquainted with all these particulars, in order to identify the individual he meets with under so many aliases.
In the exchange of the properties above mentioned a most primitive mode of insuring their equal value was resorted to. A league was measured with a rope round the Castle of Brionne, and the same rope being brought over to England, was employed in meting out a league round Tunbridge; so that exactly the same number of miles was allotted to the latter estate as the former had been found to contain. (Continuator of Guillaume de Jumièges.) Besides Tunbridge, Richard possessed at the time of the compilation of Domesday one hundred and eighty-eight manors and burgages, thirty-five being in Essex and ninety-five in Suffolk.
He was associated with William de Warren as High Justiciaries of England during the King's visit to Normandy in 1067, and actively assisted in the suppression of the revolt of the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk.
Dugdale and others have confounded this Richard Fitz Gilbert or de Clare with his grandson of the same name, who was waylaid and killed by the Welsh chieftains, Joworth and his brother Morgan-ap-Owen, in a woody tract called "the ill-way of Coed Grano," near the Abbey of Lanthony, in 1135. (Florence of Worcester, Henry of Huntingdon, Welsh Chronicle, sub anno, Giraldus Cambrensis, cap. vi.) Richard, the son of Gilbert Crispin, would at that date have been nearly, if not quite, a hundred years old, and the Richard slain in "the Wood of Revenge," as it is still called to this day, was the second son of the Gilbert who was lord of Tunbridge at the beginning of the reign of Rufus, and joined in the rebellion of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, against that monarch in 1088. (Vide vol. i., page 97.)
The pedigree of this family is one of the most confused in Dugdale's "Baronage," and has been the subject of some very severe comments by Mr. Hornby, who, while conferring great obligations upon us by his correction of the errors into which Dugdale has fallen, forgot those we are under to the learned and laborious herald for the mass of information collected and rendered accessible to us by his research and industry, and which he made doubly valuable by faithfully indicating the innumerable sources whence it was derived, enabling us to test the accuracy of his quotations and the credibility of the evidence. Fortunately, my present task is limited to the life of Richard de Bienfaite, which must have terminated either before or very early in the reign of Rufus, as his son Gilbert was in possession of Tunbridge in 1088.
The continued alternation of the names of Richard and Gilbert in this particular line of Clare tends greatly to confuse the genealogist, and nothing but a rigid verification of dates can preserve us from the most inexplicable entanglements. Not only has Dugdale reversed the order of events, but ascribed the same acts to both father and son, and recorded the same fate to Richard and his grandson. There is a curious indication of the probable date of the death of Richard de Bienfaite in the long, rambling, and ridiculous story of an adventure which occurred to a priest named Walkelin, afterwards known as St. Aubin, bishop of Angers, and who in 1091 resided at Bonneval, in the diocese of Lisieux. At the commencement of the month of January in that year, having been summoned in the middle of the night to visit a sick man who lived at the further extremity of the parish, he was alarmed on his road homewards by what sounded like the tramp of a considerable body of soldiers, and thought it was part of the forces of Robert de Belesme on their march to lay siege to the Castle of Courci. Considering it prudent to avoid them, he made for a group of medlar trees at some distance from the road, with the intention of concealing himself behind them till the troops had passed; but he was suddenly confronted by a man of enormous stature, wielding a massive club, who shouted to him, "Stand! Take not a step further!" The priest, frozen with terror, remained motionless, leaning on his staff. The gigantic clubcbearer stood close beside him, and without offering to do him any injury, awaited silently the passage of the troops. The moon, we are assured, shed a resplendent light, and speedily there appeared an apparently interminable procession of deceased persons of both sexes and all classes, amongst whom the priest recognised many of his neighbours who had lately died, and heard them bewailing thc excruciating torments they were suffering for the evil they had done in their time. There were also ladies of high rank, and, mirabile dictu, bishops, abbots, and monks, many of whom were considered saints on earth, all groaning and wailing, and these were followed by a mighty host of warriors, fully armed, on great warhorses, and carrying black banners. There were seen, says the narrator, Richard and Baldwin, sons of Count Gilbert, who were lately dead, and amongst the rest Landri of Orbec, who was killed the same year; William de Glos, son of Barno, the steward of William de Breteuil and of his father, William, Earl of Hereford; and Robert, son of Ralph le Blond, the priest's own brother, with whom he had a long conversation on family matters.
I will spare the reader the more preposterous details of this absurd story and the sermons with which it is interlarded, merely observing that Orderic, who relates it, assures us that he heard it from the priest's own mouth, and saw the mark on his face which was left by the fiery hand of one of the terrible knights. We have, therefore, incidental evidence of one fact recorded in it, thc death of Richard de Bienfaite and his brother Baldwin, before January, 1091, or, according to our present calculation, 1090, for Orderic sometimes begins his year at Christmas, and at others at Easter.
The wife of Richard de Bienfaite, Lord of Tunbridge and Clare, was Rohesia, the only daughter of Walter Giffard, thc first Earl of Buckingham, and by her he had six sons, Godfrey, Robert (from whom the Barons Fitz Walter), Richard, a monk at Bec, Walter and Roger, who both died without issue, and Gilbert, who succeeded him, and became the direct progenitor of the great Earl of Hertford and Gloucester. He had also two daughters, Rohesia, wife of Eudo Dapifer, and another unnamed, who married Ralph de Telgers.
The fact that the first Fitz Walter was the greatgrandson of Richard de Bienfaite is sufficient to prove that his (Fitz Walter's) name was subsequently introduced into the Roll of Battle Abbey.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.