He was the son of Eustace 1 and Mahaut, daughter of Lambert the Bearded, Count of Louvain, and succeeded his father in or about 1047, being distinguished from him, who was called "à l'oeil" (" with the eye") by the sobriquet of "aux Grenons," or "Als Gernons" ("with the whiskers"), the origin of the modern name of Algernon.
In 1050 he married Goda, daughter of Ethelred II, King of England, and widow of Gauthier, Count of Mantes, and in the following year, in the month of September, crossed the Channel from Wissant to Dover, on a visit to his brother-in-law, King Edward the Confessor, who was then at Gloucester. Returning via Canterbury and Dover, one of his attendants killed an inhabitant of the latter place, who had refused him a lodging, and was himself slain by a townsman, who avenged the deed.
The brawl soon swelled into a tumult. The English flew to arms, and attacked the Count and his followers, who fought for their lives, and, fearfully outnumbered, were at length compelled to flee for them. Roger of Wendover says this incident occurred on his first landing at Dover, and that the Count and his followers in their wrath slew a great number of men and women, and trod the children under their horses' feet. William of Malmesbury, who lays the scene at Canterbury, says that Eustace, on hearing of the murder of his servant, proceeded with all his retinue to avenge it, and killed the perpetrator of the crime and eighteen others; that the citizens, flying to arms, he lost twenty-one of his people, and had multitudes wounded (Roger of Wendover says he lost eighty men), himself and one companion with difficulty making their escape in the confusion. King Edward, on hearing from Eustace his account of the circumstances, sent for Earl Godwin, and ordered him to march with sufficient forces into Kent and punish the offenders. The Saxon Earl, jealous of the favour constantly shown to the Normans by King Edward, remonstrated, and subsequently taking up arms, demanded that the Count and Ins followers should be delivered up to him for trial, the affair resulting, after much altercation, in the banishment of Godwin and his family.
Much obloquy has been heaped upon Eustace for his conduct upon this occasion; but large allowance must be made for the bias of the English against the Normans, and save and except the main facts of the affray, the versions of it are too conflicting to enable us at the present day to come to any definite conclusion on the subject.
Returned to his dominions, Count Eustace, in 1053, gave an asylum to William Count of Talou and his family, who had been expelled from Normandy by Duke William, and in 1054 he succeeded his brother Lambert, the second husband of the Duke's sister, in the lordship of Lens, according to the same law which gave the county of Champagne to Thibaut, Count of Blois and Chartres, to the exclusion of Odo, the only child of Lambert being an infant in her cradle.
About the same period the Countess Goda died, whether without issue by Eustace is not satisfactorily settled, and in 1056, after escorting Pope Victor II to Rome from the Council of Cologne, he returned through Lower Lorraine, and paid a visit to its Duke, Geoffrey the Bearded, at Bouillon, where he saw and was captivated by the charms of the Duke's daughter, Ida, and received her hand in marriage, with the castle of Bouillon for her dowry.
The nuptials were celebrated at Cambrai in December, 1057, and the second of their three sons was the famous "Godfrey of Bouillon," King of Jerusalem, born in 1060.
In 1066, Count Eustace was one of the French nobles who joined the army of the Conqueror, and of whose presence in the great conflict there can be no doubt. He is not only expressly named by William of Poitiers, and the author of the Latin poem of the battle of Hastings, but his conduct in the fight is particularly described, and he is also personally depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, the almost obliterated name of "Eustatius" over the figure having been detected by that accurate and excellent artist, the late Mr. Stothard.
Wace simply mentions a "Wiestace d'Abevile," in which Monsieur le Prévost and Mr. Taylor hesitate to recognize the Count of Boulogne, in presence of the fact that both the Counts of Ponthieu and the Counts of Boulogne were occasionally called "of Abbeville." Without, however, contesting this point, there is evidence enough that Eustace II fought at Senlac, where at some period of the action he was grievously wounded. He is said to have advised William at a critical moment to retreat, and not rush upon certain death, counsel which the Conqueror was the last man to listen to. The stratagem of the feigned flight is also said to have been suggested by him, and on the Duke's second horse being killed under him, he dismounted and offered him his own. As darkness fell upon the fatal field, the headlong pursuit of the Normans led to a disaster which might have turned the scale in favour of the English. Unacquainted with the ground, a considerable body of the Norman cavalry, galloping down the north side of the hill of Senlac, suddenly found themselves floundering in a morass, and the flying foe, perceiving their hapless condition, turned upon them and slew the greater number.
The Norman panegyrist of the Conqueror tells us that Count Eustace, imagining that the English had been strongly reinforced, rode back with fifty knights to William, and again advised him to retreat, when at the moment he was speaking he was struck by some one between the shoulder-blades with such violence that the blood gushed from his mouth and nostrils, and he was borne from the field in a dying state. How and by whom such a blow -- a blow which Orderic says was heard -- could be struck at that moment upon that spot, even in the darkness, without the dealer of it being detected, I am at a loss to imagine. The enemy had been driven from that portion of the ground, and Eustace, with fifty knights at his back, was speaking confidentially to the Duke, who was certainly not without his own officers and attendants. They were both on horseback too, and so heavy a blow between the shoulder-blades could only have been dealt with a mace by a mounted man, or by one on foot with the long-handled axe of a Saxon soldier, and in neither case without observation, as the assailant must have been close to him, and could not have escaped instant death. Remember, it was on the summit of the hill, in the open air, with the sky for a background, and the darkness must have been Egyptian if the erect form of a man could escape the observation of so many surrounding friends and followers. If there be any truth in the story, the incident occurred at an earlier period, during the confusion of the fight, in the midst of the mélée, and not at the time stated by the writer.
I have dwelt upon this point because it will be found of importance hereafter.
That Count Eustace was rewarded for his services, whatever they may have been, for they are not particularized, by large grants of land in England there can be little doubt, but he speedily forfeited them by his attempt, in 1067, to seize Dover Castle, at the instigation of the disaffected men of Kent, during William's absence in Normandy; and though many manors were probably restored to him on his subsequent reconciliation with the Conqueror, they cannot at present be distinguished from those which were added to them at a later period, or might have been acquired by his son, Eustace III, who is the tenant recorded in Domesday, and at the time of its compilation was about twenty-seven. The attempt on Dover failed, through the loyalty of the royal garrison and the personal hostility to Eustace entertained by the townsmen from the recollection of the fatal affray in 1051. A vigorous sally on the besiegers compelled them to retreat, and a report that Bishop Odo was advancing with a large force, created a panic that sent them flying in confusion back to their ships, which few of them reached in safety, many being slain, and more taken prisoners, amongst whom William of Poitiers mentions a young nephew of Eustace, of whose name or subsequent fate we have no information.
Eustace himself contrived to escape to his own country, but on the King's return to England in 1068, the Count of Boulogne was outlawed, and his honours and lands in this country forfeited. By what means he regained the favour and friendship of the Conqueror is unknown. William seems never to have thoroughly trusted him, as he took hostages for his good behaviour before the expedition to Hastings, and now, after this overt act of treason, the avowed object of which was to deprive him of his hardly won crown, forgiveness was out of the question, except from motives of that crafty policy which was throughout his life the sole guide of the Conqueror's conduct. What those motives were on this occasion must be left to conjecture, but Eustace was a dangerous neighbour, and owed fealty to Philip l King of France, as well as to William 1, King of England. It was at the instigation of the former over-lord that he had broken with the latter and allied himself with the Kentish insurgents, and William may have thought no price too dear to secure at least his neutrality in prospect of a war with France.
In 1071 he espoused the cause of Richilde and her son, Baldwin, Count of Flanders, and in the February of that year defeated their competitor, Robert the Frison, at Montcassel, and, pursuing him to St. Omer, took him prisoner. On regaining his liberty some few months afterwards, Robert in his turn defeated Eustace, and took him prisoner at the battle of Broqueroie.
Godfrey, the brother of Eustace, Chancellor of France and Bishop of Paris, ransomed him, and Robert, to obtain his alliance, ceded to him the Forest of Bethlo and the Castle of Sperli.
Various dates have been given of his death. One writer placing it in 1065, in which case he could not have fought at Senlac. The "Art de Vérifier les Dates," which denies this and also the date of 1080, given by another author, prolongs las existence to 1093; but no authority is quoted, and the probability is in favour of 1080, as the late Sir Henry Ellis cites a charter in winch Ida, the second wife of this Eustace, is described as a widow in 1081. The point is of great importance, because if he did not die till 1093, he must have been the Count Eustace of Boulogne who was implicated in the rebellion against Rufus in 1088 (as stated by the compilers of the great work above mentioned), and also the Count Eustace of Domesday, which I think it is perfectly clear he was not.
The author of "Carmen de Bello," said to have been Guy, Bishop of Amiens, recounts with great gusto a barbarous outrage committed by Eustace and three other knights -- namely, Walter Giffard, Hugh de Montfort, and some one he calls "the heir of Ponthieu" ["Pontivi nobilis hæres"], on the still breathing but mortally-wounded Harold, who, pierced through the right eye by a falling arrow, had sunk in agony at the foot of his standard. One knight thrust his lance through the shield of the dying King, and stabbed him in the breast; another assailant finished the work by striking off his head with his sword: but even this vengeance was not enough; a third pierced the dead body and scattered about the entrails; the fourth coming, it would seem, too late for any more efficient share in the deed, cut off the king's leg as he lay dead!
Mr. Freeman, while reprobating in a proper spirit this "inglorious exploit," accepts it as a matter of fact, though it is not alluded to by any other contemporary, and is partially contradicted by their accounts of the death of Harold.
I place no faith in it whatever. William of Poitiers is silent altogether on the subject; Orderic simply says, "Harold was slain in the first onset." From Wace we receive the earliest account of the fall of the arrow, of Harold's attempting to extract it, and breaking the shaft; of his leaning for support, in his agony, on his shield, and being attacked by two knights, one of wbom struck him down by a blow on the head, and the other, as he attempted to regain his footing, severely wounded him in the thigh, which was cut to the bone; but he honestly adds that by whose arm he was slain he knew not, and never heard. The Bayeux Tapestry corroborates this account. Harold is first depicted with the fatal arrow in his eye, and then prostrate in front of a knight who, as he is attempting to rise (the action is unmistakable) is dealing him a blow on the thigh with his long Norman sword.
William of Malmesbury says that Harold fell from having his brain pierced with an arrow from a distance, and that one of the soldiers with a sword gashed his thigh as he lay prostrate, for which shameful and cowardly action he was branded with ignominy by William and dismissed the service.
Who was this nameless soldier? Certainly not one of the noble and distinguished warriors on whom the Latin libeller has flung his wretched calumnies. Who was the heir of Ponthieu he speaks of? Mr. Freeman says: "Nor are we bookstoreed to find the son of Guy of Ponthieu foremost in showing despite to the man who had once been his father's prisoner." Why? -- what had Harold done to injure Guy of Ponthieu? He was the injured, not the offender! Guy I, Count of Ponthieu, who arrested Harold when thrown upon his coast in 1062, had succeeded his brother Enguerrand II, who was slain before Arques in 1053, and died circa 1100, leaving by his wife Ada, who died before him, an only child, Agnes, married to Robert de Belesme. He is said to have had a son named lvo, whom he had associated with himself in the government, but the boy as well as his inother preceded him to the grave, and the heir of Ponthieu in 1066 was, if not this young lvo -- in which case I give the Bishop joy of his great nephew -- no other than the Bishop himself ! As regards the person who is the especial subject of this memoir, the "cowardly" Eustace Count of Boulogne -- his share in the brutality, whatever it was, can only be brought home to him by some more credible witness than a romancer, who tells us that Duke William slew two thousand English at the battle of Hastings with his own hand ! I have already expressed my doubts about the period of the battle when Eustace received the terrible blow in the back, which caused the blood to burst from his mouth and nostrils and, according to Orderic, to be "borne from the field in a dying state."
If this incident occurred in the heat and confusion of the fight -- and otherwise it appears impossible -- Eustace was not present at the fall of Harold. Under any circumstances, if he were, and had been guilty of one of the dastardly acts the Bishop celebrates, the detestation, deserved or not, which the English seem to have held him in, would have caused them to spread the scandal far and wide. When it is proved to me that an heir to the County of Ponthieu was in the battle, I will reconsider the evidence against the Count of Boulogne.
Added to the site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the chapter.