Of this noble Norman we have considerable information afforded us by Orderic, in consequence of his being one of the founders of the Abbey of Ouche, better known as that of St. Evroult, in which the historian was professed a monk by the venerable Abbot Mainer, in the eleventh year of his age, by the name of Vitalis (Vital), and in which monastery he lived fifty-six years.
From him we learn that Hugh de Grentmesnil was one of the sons of a Robert de Grentmesnil (now known as Grandmesnil, in the arrondissement of Lisieux) by Hawise de Giroie, which Robert was mortally wounded in the battle between Roger de Toeni and Roger de Beaumont, already mentioned, vol. i., pp. 19, 217.
He fought on the side of De Toeni, and being carried off the field, lingered for three weeks, and then died and was interred without the Church of St. Mary at Norrei, between Grandmesnil and Falaise. His issue by Hawise de Giroie was two sons, Robert and Hugh, between whom he divided his property.
Robert became a monk in the abbey he had assisted to re-edify. Hugh, who was "eminent for his skill and courage," was, through the machinations of Mabel de Montgomeri, banished by Duke William without any real cause of offence in 1058, but recalled from exile in 1063, and intrusted with the custody of the Castle of Neufmarché-en-Lions, from which the Duke, on equally slight grounds, had expelled Geoffrey de Neufmarché, the rightful heir; and nobly forgetful of past injustice, did the valiant Hugh justify the trust reposed in him, restoring in the course of a year the disturbed district to perfect tranquillity. We next find him amongst the principal combatants in the great battle, but he surely cannot be the person described by Wace as "a vassal of Grandmesnil," who was in great peril during the action in consequence of his horse becoming masterless through the breaking of his bridle-rein in leaping over a bush. He was near falling, and the English perceiving his flight ran towards him with their long axes, but the horse taking fright, and wheeling suddenly round, bore his rider safely back into the ranks of the Normans. Hugh was certainly a vassal of the Duke of Normandy, but a baron of his reputation and power would scarcely be so described by Wace. Mons. Le Prévost, however, appears by his note on the passage to consider it refers to Hugh himself, and Mr. Taylor follows him without comment. It may perhaps be argued that there is nothing in the incident itself to give it sufficient importance to be recorded by the poet unless the person endangered was some one of consequence. At all events, Hugh de Grentmesnil was certainly present at Senlac, and no doubt did his devoir, as he was wont to do; for in 1067 we find him one of the principal persons joined with William Fitz Osbern and Bishop Odo in the government of England, during the King's absence in Normandy, and besides the donation of one hundred manors in this country, sixty-five of which were in Leicestershire, he was appointed Viscount (i.e., sheriff) of that county and Governor of Hampshire.
He was one of the Norman nobles who interceded with the Conqueror in favour of Robert Court-heuse, and effected a temporary reconciliation. On the accession of Rufus he espoused the cause of the young duke; but like many others of his rank and country, weary of his vacillations, and disgusted by his general conduct, he ultimately took part against him.
In 1090 we find him in Normandy, in his old age, strenuously opposing the aggressions of the detestable Robert de Belesme, who had erected strongholds at Fourches and at La Conebe, on the river Orme, whence he made inroads on his neighbours, and harried all the country round.
Hugh de Grentmesnil and Richard de Courci, whose domains lay nearest to him, and most exposed to his depredations, were the first to take arms against him. Both these knights were now grey-headed, but their spirit was unbroken, and their intimate connection strengthened the bond of friendship between them, Richard de Courci, the son of Richard, having married Rohesia, daughter of Hugh. Matthew, Count of Beaumont-sur-l'Oise, brother-in-law of Hugh, William de Warren, second Earl of Surrey, with many other knights, hastened to their support, eager to exhibit their prowess in such a field. Theobald, son of Walter de Breteuil, called "the White Knight," because his steed and appointments were all white, and his brother-in-arms Guy, called "the Red Knight" for a similar reason, were slain in some of these encounters; but Robert de Belesme finding that he was unable to cope alone with his brave and resolute opponents, prevailed on the Duke of Normandy, by humble supplications and specious promises, to march to his assistance. In the month of January, 1091, the Duke accordingly laid siege to Courci-sur-Dive; but unwilling to come to extremities with his great nobles, took no measures for closely investing the place. De Belesme, however, used every means by force and stratagem to get possession of the castle. He caused a huge machine, called a belfry (berfradum), being a wooden tower containing a number of stages or floors, and moving on wheels, to be constructed and rolled up to the castle walls, filled with soldiers, who could leap from it on to the battlements, or fight hand to hand with the defenders; but the device proved in vain, for as often as he attempted an assault, a powerful force from Grentmesnil hastened to the rescue, and drew him off from the attack.
In one of these conflicts the garrison during a rally took prisoners William, son of Henry de Ferrers (who fought at Hastings), and William de Rupière, whose ransoms were a great assistance to the besieged; but, on the other hand, the besiegers captured lvo, one of the sons of Hugh de Grentmesnil and Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, the latter of whom did not long survive the horrors of the dungeon to which De Belesme consigned him.
An oven had been built outside the fortifications, between the castle gate and De Belesme's belfry, and there the baker had to bake the bread for the use of the garrison, the siege having been begun so suddenly that the inhabitants of Courci had no time to construct one within the walls. The thickest of the fight was therefore often around this oven, for the men of Courci stood in arms to defend their bread while De Belesme's followers endeavoured to carry it off. This led occasionally to a general engagement, in which there was much slaughter, without special advantage to either side; but in one of them, the besiegers having repulsed their assailants, set fire to the belfry, and succeeded in destroying it.
Hugh de Grentmesnil, who did not bear arms himself, on account of his advanced age, was much distressed by the long continuance of the siege, and in consequence sent the following message to the Duke of Normandy: — "I long served your father and grandfather, and suffered much in their service; I have also always been loyal to you. What have I done? In what have I offended you? How have I merited at your hands this hostility? I openly acknowledge you as my liege lord, and on that account will not appear in arms against you; but I offer you two hundred livres to withdraw when it may suit your pleasure for one single day, that I may fight Robert de Belesme!" Orderic has not acquainted us with the reply of Court-heuse to this manly appeal of the chivalric old warrior, who, as he mentions his service to the Duke's grandfather, could not at this period have been much under eighty.
At all events, neither the letter nor the mediation of Gerrard, Bishop of Séez, who took up his abode at the Convent of Dive during the siege, in the hope of restoring peace in his diocese, had any effect upon either the Duke or Robert de Belesme; but the arrival of King William (Rufus) with a great fleet caused them to decamp with all haste and disband their forces, each man returning to his own home.
Three years afterwards, Hugh de Grentmesnil was again in England, and worn out with age and infirmity, finding his end approaching, assumed, in accordance with the common practice of the period, the habit of a monk, and expired six days after he had taken to his bed, 22nd of February, 1094, according to our present calculation, and presumably in the city of Leicester.
His body, preserved in salt and sewn up in the hide of an ox, was conveyed to Normandy by two monks of St. Evroult, named Bernard and David, and honourably buried by the Abbot Roger on the south side of the Chapter House, near the tomb of Abbot Mainer.
Arnold de Tillieul, his nephew, caused a marble slab to be placed over his grave, for which Orderic tells us he himself furnished the Latin epitaph in heroic verse, with which he obliges his readers; but as it is simply laudatory I will not inflict it on mine, observing only that it is a relief to feel that in this instance the praise appears to have been truly deserved, as I find nothing recorded of Hugh de Grentmesnil that does not redound to his credit.
In his youth we are told he married a very beautiful lady, Adeliza, daughter of lvo, Count of Beaumont-sur-l'Oise, by his first wife Judith, with whom
he had Brokesbourne, in Herefordshire, and three lordships in Warwickshire.
She died at Rouen seven years before her husband, and was buried in the Chapter House of St. Evroult, (A charter of her son lvo indicates that she was buried at Bermondsey.) having had issue by him five sons and as many daughters — namely, Robert, William, Hugh, lvo, and Aubrey; Adeline, Hawise, Rohais, Matilda, and Agnes — none of whom except Robert lived to an advanced age, and he, although thrice married, died without issue in 1136. Hugh died young. William, lvo, and Aubrey forfeited their reputation for bravery by their dishonourable and ludicrous escape from Antioch, which obtained for them the name of ropedancers. With the exception of Hawise, who died unmarried, his daughters became the wives of noble knights: Adeline, of Roger d'lvri, Rohais, of Robert de Courci, Matilda, of Hugh de Montpincon, and Agnes, of William de Say.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.