There may be, it seems, a question whether by "d'Oillie" (Rom. de Rou, l. 13,659) the author means one of the many "Ouillies" to be found in the arrondissement of Falaise, or Ailly, near Centiboeuf; but whatever doubt there may be respecting the locality from which this valiant Norman derived his name, there is none as to his having been at Senlac, and rewarded for his services there with the baronies of Oxford and St. Waleries in England. He is simply mentioned as "cil d'Oillie" by Wace amongst some dozen of doughty knights, to whom no particular feat of arms is accorded; and unless we are to consider "Duylly" in Leland's alliterative list is intended for it, the name occurs in no catalogue of those who came in with the Conqueror -- one of the many proofs of the little dependence that can be placed on any.
Robert d'Oiley built the Castle of Oxford, and the collegiate church of St. John within the walls. He was also one of the witnesses to the foundation charter of the Abbey of Selby by King William, and at the time of the general survey possessed four lordships in Berkshire, fourteen in Herefordshire, seven in Buckinghamshire, three in Gloucestershire, and three in Northamptonshire, one in Bedfordshire, one in Warwickshire, and twenty-eight in Oxfordshire, in all sixty-one manors; besides forty-two habitable houses in Oxford, and eight which then lay waste, with thirty acres of meadow land adjoining the wall, and a mill valued at ten shillings per annum of the money of that time. Being likewise Constable of Oxford, he had the full sway of the whole county, and was so powerful a baron that no one durst oppose him.
With the King's consent he took possession of a large meadow near the Castle of Oxford which belonged to the monks of Abingdon, who, being sorely aggrieved by this act, came in a body before the altar of our Lady, and prostrating themselves, prayed with tears to God that He would avenge the injury. Whereupon, says Dugdale, it shortly after happened that D'Oiley fell into a grievous sickness, but continued impenitent until one night he dreamed that he was in a royal palace, where, amongst many nobles standing about it, was a glorious throne, on which sat a beautiful person habited like a woman, and before her knelt two monks of Abingdon whom he knew, and who, when they saw him enter the palace, said with deep sighs to the Lady, "Behold this is he who usurpeth the inheritance of thy church, having taken away that meadow from us for which we make this complaint." The Lady, much moved, commanded that he should be thrust out of doors and taken to that meadow, there to be tormented. Two young men who stood near immediately seized and led him to the meadow, where they made him sit down, and he was forthwith surrounded by divers ugly children with loads of hay upon their shoulders, who laughingly said to each other, "Here is our friend, let us play with him!" Upon which, setting fire to the hay, they smoked and burned him till in his anguish he called out aloud, "O blessed Lady! have pity upon me, for I am dying!" His wife, much alarmed, exclaimed, "Awake, sir, for you are much troubled in your sleep," and being thus aroused, he answered, "Yes, truly, for I was amongst devils!" "The Lord preserve thee from all harm!" ejaculated his pious and affectionate helpmate, and on hearing his dream, consoled him with the text, "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."
At her instance, to quiet his conscience, he shortly afterwards repaired to Abingdon, and there, before the altar, in presence of Abbot Reginald and the whole convent, as well as of many personal friends, he gave to the community the lordship of Cadmerton, value ten pounds per annum, solemnly protesting that he would never meddle more with any of their possessions. He also presented them with more than a hundred pounds in money towards the reconstruction of their monastery, in atonement for the wrong he had done them. Moreover, he amended his ways for the rest of his life, repairing divers churches both within and without the walls of Oxford, becoming very charitable to the poor, and amongst other good works building the great bridge there.
I have told this silly story (omitting some little coarseness), as I have told others of the same nature in the course of this work, in illustration of the childish superstition by which men of the most undaunted courage -- fierce, proud and powerful men -- were weak enough to be enslaved. Some of these tales were doubtless subsequent inventions by the monks themselves, while others are veritable descriptions of "pious frauds" practised by them on the sick or the dying, for the purpose of augmenting their funds or increasing their influence. At the same time it is singular to observe the simple good faith with which truly religious and honest writers, such as Orderic, testify to the veracity of the most preposterous narrations on the grounds of their having heard them from the very lips of the persons who have been favoured with such miraculous manifestations.
However unworthy of credit they may generally be, there are few that do not afford us peeps into past manners and, customs, pictures of the inner life of our ancestors, and incidental information on a variety of subjects formerly considered beneath the notice of the historian, but of which the value has within the last fifty years been discovered and acknowledged by the most eminent authors of France, England, and Germany. One of the results recorded by the monks of Abingdon of the dream of Robert d'Oiley -- if ever he had such a dream -- was the building of the first great bridge at Oxford; the earliest information we possess upon the subject, and which may be depended upon, whatever doubt may be entertained of the veracity of the vision.
The exemplary wife of Robert d'Oiley was the daughter and apparently heir of Wygod of Wallingford, "a person of great note in that age," by whom he had an only daughter named Maud, the wife first of Milo Crispin, and secondly of Brien Fitz Count, to whom she brought the whole barony of Wallingford but having no issue, both she and Brien betook themselves to a religious life, whereupon King Henry I seized Wallingford and appropriated it to his own uses.
Robert d'Oiley leaving no male issue was succeeded by his brother Nigel, whose son and successor, Robert, married the beautiful Edith Forne, mistress of Henry I, and by that king mother of Robert, Earl of Gloucester. There is a little bit of mediaeval gossip about this lady, which professes to account for the foundation of the Abbey of Oseney, near Oxford. The fair but frail Edith, having become the lawful wife of the said Robert d'Oiley, was in the frequent habit of strolling down from the castle to the banks of the Isis. The pleasure she derived from this innocent and healthful recreation was, however, considerably interfered with by the conduct of a colony of "chatterpies," who had established themselves in a clump of trees by the side of the river, and invariably on her appearance commenced a most impertinent clamour, which it was impossible to mistake for flattery. Humiliated as well as irritated by this almost daily insult, she sent for a canon of St. Fridiswides in Oxford, named Randolph, a person of virtuous life, and her own confessor, and requested his advice on the matter. Of course he suggested that the only mode of escaping the malicious mockery of the magpies was to clear away the trees and build some religious house upon the spot, which she immediately entreated her husband to do, who kindly consented, and thereupon erected and founded the Abbey of Oseney for black canons of the order of St. Augustin, and, with the consent of his two sons, Henry and Gilbert, richly endowed it with lands and other property, constituting Randolph (no doubt to his great surprise) the first prior.
Margery, the elder of Robert's two granddaughters, co-heirs of their brother Henry, the last male of the D'Oileys, married Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, and has generally been accredited as the mother of his heir, Thomas Earl of Warwick, and consequently ancestress of the Marshals and De Plessites. By a writ of "Novel disseisin," 11th of Henry III, I am inclined to believe Thomas was the son of Philippa, the second wife of Henry de Beaumont, who was daughter of Thomas, Lord Basset of Heddington, and has been hitherto said to have died without issue. Many erroneous descents have been recorded in these early pedigrees through the neglect of accurately ascertaining, in cases where a man has married two or more wives, which lady was the mother of his heir. In the instance of Adeliza, sister of the Conqueror, we have seen her issue by each husband most perplexingly confounded.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Michael Linton, who provided scanned text.