"Rogier li Veil, cil de Belmont, Assalt Engleis el primier front." Roman de Rou, 1. 13,462.
Thus sings the Prebend of Bayeux in direct contradiction, as I have already observed, of the Archdeacon of Lisieux, who as distinctly asserts that Roger de Beaumont was left in Normandy, president of the council appointed by the Duke to assist his Duchess in its government. There is more reason, however, to discredit Wace in this instance than even in the former one, as Orderic corroborates the statement of the Archdeacon that it was Robert, the eldest son of Roger de Beaumont, who was the companion of the Conqueror in 1066, and whom he describes as "a novice in arms." Mr. Taylor, in his translation of the poem, has mentioned also that in the MS. of Wace, in the British Museum, the name is Robert, though the epithet "le Viel" is not appropriate to his then age. Might not "le Viel" be a clerical error for "de Vielles," the name of Roger's father, which is latinized into "de Vitulis"? Roger de Beaumont would of course have been de Vielles as well as his father. The latinizing of proper names cannot be too much deplored and deprecated.
Of Roger, Count de Beaumont, it is unanimously recorded that he was the noblest, the wealthiest, and the most valiant seigneur of Normandy, and the greatest and most trusted friend of the Danish family. Son of Humphrey de Vielles, and grandson of Thorold de Pontaudemer, a descendant of the Kings of Denmark, through Bernard the Dane, a companion of the first Norman Conqueror, Duke Rollo, illustrious as was such as origin in the eyes of his countrymen, he considered his alliance with Adelina, Countess of Meulent, sufficiently honorable and important to induce him to adopt the title of her family in preference to that of his own.
We have already heard of his first great exploit, when, as a young man, in the early years of Duke William, he defeated the turbulent Roger de Toeni, who with his two sons were slain in that sanguinary conflict (vide p. 19, ante). Towards the invading fleet he contributed, according to Taylor's List, sixty vessels, and being at that time advanced in years, and selected to superintend the affairs of the duchy, sent his young son Robert to win his spurs at Senlac.
In that memorable battle he is said to have given proof of courage and intelligence beyond his years, and promise of the high reputation he would eventually obtain, and which won for him the surname of Prudhomme. "A certain Norman young soldier," writes William of Poitou, "son of Roger de Bellomont, and nephew and heir of Hugh, Count of Meulent, by Adelina, his sister, making his first onset in that fight, did what deserves lasting fame, boldly charging and breaking in upon the enemy with the troops he commanded in the right wing of the army."
His services were rewarded by ninety manors in Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Wiltshire, and Northamptonshire.
In 1080 he, with his brother Henry, afterwards Earl of Warwick, were amongst the barons who exerted themselves to reconcile King William to his son Robert Court-heuse, and in 1081 he subscribed a charter of confirmation in favour of the Abbey of Fécamp. This was the last document he signed in the name of Beaumont, for his mother dying in year, he thenceforth wrote himself Comte de Meulent, and did homage to Philip I, King of France, for the lands to which he succeeded in that kingdom, and in 1082 sat as a Peer of France in a parliament held by the said King at Poissy.
On the death of the Conqueror, the Comte de Meulent and his brother sided with William Rufus; their father, Roger de Beaumont, leaving also the ducal court and retiring to his estates. The late King had given the Castle of Ivri jointly to Roger de Beaumont and Robert his son; but during the absence of the latter in England, Robert Court-heuse, having become Duke of Normandy, exchanged, in 1090, that castle for the Castle of Brionne with Roger de Beaumont, without obtaining the consent of Robert de Meulent. The latter, having a quarrel with the monks of Bec, whose monastery was in the territory of Brionne, was greatly angered by this transaction, and repairing to the Duke at Rouen, boldly demanded of him the restoration of Ivri. The Duke answered that he had given his father the Castle of Brionne for it, which was a fair exchange. The Count replied, "I was no party to that bargain, and repudiate it; but what your father gave to my father that will I have, or by Saint Nicaise I will make you repent your conduct to me." The Duke, highly incensed, had him immediately arrested and imprisoned, and seizing the Castle of Brionne, gave it into the keeping of Robert, son of Baldwin de Meules. Roger de Beaumont, on receipt of these tidings, sought the Duke, and with the skill of an old courtier contrived to pacify his resentment, and obtain the release of his son and the restoration of Brionne; but Robert de Meules, who was in charge of it, refused to surrender it, and the Count de Meulent was obliged to resort to force. Siege was laid to the castle in regular form, and the garrison stoutly holding out, Gilbert du Pin, commanding the beleaguering forces, caused arrows, with their steel heads made red-hot in a furnace, to be shot over the battlements, and which, falling on the roofs of the buildings within the walls, set them on fire. The conflagration spreading, the place became no longer tenable, and Brionne remained from that period in the hands of the Counts of Meulent.
The monks of Bec now found it necessary to patch up their quarrels with the Count, who behaved generously on the occasion, confirming their privileges and those also of the Abbey of Préaux, of Jumiéges, and St. Vaudrille, remitting certain imports due to him from the wine-growers of Mantes. I mention these circumstances, which have no interest for the general reader, only to notice a singular condition the Count attached to the franchise, namely, that the masters of all boats passing the Castles of Meulent and Mantes should play on the flageolet as they shot the bridges!
On the departure of Robert Court-heuse for the Crusades, William Rufus, to whom he had confided the government of Normaudy, as a pledge for the repayment of the money the King had lent to him for the expenses of his expedition, considered it a good opportunity to recover from France the province of the Vexin. The Count of Meulent found himself awkwardly situated between the two contending parties. He owed fealty to both sovereigns: to the King of France for the Comté of Meulent, and to the King of England for his large estates, both in that country and Normandy. He decided in fayour of the latter, received into his castle the forces of the Red King, and so opened for him an entrance into France. The war ended without advantage to either side, and was followed by another between Rufus and Hélie de la FlÈche, Comte du Maine. After vainly attempting to reduce the Castle of Dangueul, the King withdrew from the siege, leaving the Count of Menlent to carry on the operations. On the 28th April, 1098, Hélie was drawn into an ambush by Count Robert, and, after a desperate defence, made prisoner, and conducted by him to the King, who was at Rouen, and who consigned his captive immediately to a dungeon in the great tower of that city.
The incidents and results of this campaign are not sufficiently connected with the personal history of Robert de Meulent to require notice here. He was one of the royal hunting party in the New Forest on the 2nd of August, 1100, when William Rufus received his mysterious death-wound, and hastened on the instant with Prince Henry to Winchester, in order to secure the royal treasure, as well as the succession to the throne of England.
Under the reign of the new King he retained the favour and influence he had enjoyed during those of the two Williams, and commanded the English army, which achieved the conquest of Normandy by Henry I in 1106, who acknowledged himself indebted for it to the advice and valour of the Earl of Leicester, to which dignity Robert de Meulent had been advanced by him at some period not distinctly ascertained, but most probably in the first year of his reign.
Orderic Vital gives the following account of the mode by which he obtained the earldom: -- "The town of Leicester had four masters -- the King, the Bishop of Lincoln, Earl Simon" (Simon de St. Liz, Earl of Huntingdon), "and Ivo, the son of Hugh" (de Grentmesnil). The latter had been heavily fined for turbulent conduct, and was in disgrace at Court. He was also galled by being nicknamed "the Rope-dancer," having been one of those who had been let down by ropes from the walls of Antioch. He therefore had resolved to rejoin the Crusade, and made an agreement with the Count of Meulent to the following effect: -- The Count was to procure his reconciliation with the King, and to advance him five hundred silver marks for the expenses of his expedition, having the whole of Ivo's domains pledged to him as a security for fifteen years. In consideration of this, the Count was to give the daughter of his brother Henry, Earl of Warwick, in marriage to Ivo's son, who was yet in his infancy, and to restore him his father's inheritance. This contract was confirmed by oath, and ratified by the King, but Ivo died on his road to the Holy Land, and Robert de Meulent, by royal favour and his own address, contrived to get the whole of Leicester into his own hands, and being in consequence created an English earl, his wealth and power surpassed those of any other peer of the realm, and he was exalted above nearly all his family." (Book xi, c. 2)
This great warrior and able man is said to have died of sorrow and mortification, caused by the infidelity of his second wife Elizabeth, otherwise Isabella, daughter of Hugh the Great, Comte de Vermandois and of Chaumont in the Vexin.
He had married -- the date at present unknown -- Godechilde de Conches, daughter of Roger de Toeni, Seigneur de Conches, but had separated from her before 1096, as in that year she, who could not then have been seventeen, became the wife of Baldwin, son of Eustace de Boulogne, who was King of Jerusalem after the decease of his brother Godfrey. Robert de Meulent, then being between fifty and sixty, and without issue, sought the hand of Elizabeth de Vermandois, who was in the bloom of youth, and was accepted by the lady; but Ivo, Bishop of Châtres, forbade the magiage on the ground of consanguinity; the Count of Vemandois and the Count of Meulent being both great-grandsons of Gautier II, surnamed "Le Blanc," Count of the Vexin. A dispensation was obtained, however, from the Pope, on condition that Count Hugh should take the Cross, and the marriage was celebrated on the eve of his departure for the Holy Land, the same year in which Robert's first wife married Baldwin de Boulogne.
The issue of Robert de Meulent by his second wife was a daughter named Emma, born, according to Orderic, in 1102; two sons (twins), baptised Waleran and Robert, born in 1104; a third son, known as Hugh the Poor, afterwards Earl of Bedford, and three other daughters, Adeline, Amicia, and Albreda, all of whom must have been born after 1104, when their father, then Earl of Leicester, was well stricken in years. Orderic, indeed, says he had five daughters, the fifth being named Isabel, after her mother.
All these children being born in wedlock, were of course in the eyes of the law legitimate, but William de Warren, Earl of Warren and Surrey, second of that name, son of the mysterious Gundred, had supplanted the Earl of Leicester for some years in the affections of his wife, and her ultimate desertion of him for his young rival affected his mind, and hurried hhn to the grave, June 5, 1118.
Henry of Huntingdon, in his "Letter to Walter," gives the following account of his last moments: -- "I will mention the Earl of Meulent, the most sagacious in political affairs of all who lived between this and Jerusalem. His mind was enlightened, his eloquence persuasive, his shrewdness acute; he was provident and wily; his prudence never failed; his counsels were profound; his wisdom great. He had extensive and noble possessions, which are commonly called honours, together witIx towns and castles, villages and farms, woods and waters, which he acquired by the exercise of the talents I have mentioned. His domains lay not only in England but in Normandy and France, so that he was able at his will to promote concord between the sovereigns of those countries, or to set them at variance and provoke them to war. If he took umbrage against any man, his enemy was humbled and crushed, while those he favoured were exalted to honour. Hence his coffers were filled with a prodigious influx of wealth in gold and silver, besides precious gems and costly furniture and apparel. But when he was in the zenith of his power it happened that a certain earl carried off the lady he had espoused, either by some intrigue or by force and stratagem. Thenceforth his mind was disturbed and clouded with grief, nor did he to the time of his death regain composure and happiness. "After days abandoned to sorrow, when he was labouring under an infirmity which was the precursor of death, and the Archbishop (of Rouen) and priests were performing their office for the confessional purification, they required of him that as a penitent he should restore the lands which by force or fraud he had wrung from others, and wash out his sins with tears of repentance, to which he replied, 'Wretched man that I am! If I dismember the domains I have acquired, what shall I have to leave to my sons?'
"Upon this the ministers of the Lord answered, 'Your hereditary estates and the lands which you have justly obtained are enough for your sons; restore the rest, or else you devote your soul to perdition.'
"The Earl replied, 'My sons shall have all. I leave it to them to act mercifully, that I may obtain mercy.'"
"Assuming the monastic habit, he then breathed his last, and was buried near his father at Préaux, his heart being sent to the monastery of Brackley in Northamptonshire, which he had founded, and there preserved in salt.
William of Malmesbury says of him, that his advice was regarded as though the oracle of God had been consulted; that he was the persuader of peace, the dissuader of strife, and capable of speedily bringing about whatever he desired by the power of his eloquence; that he possessed such mighty influence in England as to change by his single example the long established modes of dress and diet. Limiting himself on the score of his health to one meal a day, in imitation of Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, the custom was adopted generally by the nobility. In law, he was the supporter of justice; in war, the insurer of victory; urging his lord the King to enforce the statutes vigorously, he himself not only respecting those existing, but proposing new. Ever loyal to his sovereign, he was the stern avenger of treason in others.
It is a relief to read such a character of a man in these darkest days of feudalism, imperfect civilization, and demoralizing superstition.
A word or two respecting his children.
The twins, Waleran and Robert, were carefully brought up by King Henry I from the time of their father's death, "for the King loved him much, because in the beginning of his reign he had greatly aided and encouraged him." On their arriving at the proper age they received knighthood at his hands, and Waleran was put in possession of all his father's domains in France and Normandy, his brother Robert receiving the earldom of Leicester and the lands and honours in England. Three of their sisters were given in marriage by Waleran: -- Adeline to Hugh, 4th Sire de Montfort-sur-Risle, Amicia to Hugh de Château-neuf in Thimerais; and Albreda (or Aubrey) to William Louvel or Lupel, son of Ascelin Goel, Lord of Ivri. ( Vide vol. ii, p. 223)
Isabel became, according to the chronique scandaleuse of that day, one of the many mistresses of Henry I, and subsequently married Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke. What became of Emma, the eldest born, we know not. According to Orderic she was betrothed, when only a year old, to Aumari, nephew of William, Count of Evreux, but from some impediment which occurred the marriage never took place. She probably died in infancy, or entered a convent. The author of "L'Art de Vérifier les Dates," besides Hugh, Earl of Bedford, already mentioned, gives Robert, a fourth son, whom he calls Dreux, Sire de Boisemont.