Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Burning Candle: Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan

All month, learn more about the historical figures in my upcoming release, The Burning Candle. The novel's heroine is the twelfth century countess Isabel de Vermandois, a descendant of French Kings. Equally cultured and ruthless characters filled Isabel's world, but perhaps none so enigmatic as her husband, Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan.

Facts about Robert's life
Born: 1046
Father: Roger de Beaumont
Mother: Adeline de Meulan, sister to Hugh II, Comte de Meulan
Siblings: Aubree, Abbess of St. Leger de Preaux (sister); Henry, Earl of Warwick (younger brother)
Titles: Comte de Meulan (succeeded upon the death of his maternal uncle Hugh in 1081); Earl of Leicester (appointed by King Henry I of England in 1107)

To understand Robert's heritage, consider the Viking Age and the invasions of the Danes and Norwegians who carved out the Norman duchy in northern France after 911. Robert, like many of the magnates who would gain power in Normandy and later England, came from a baronial family. His great-grandfather Thorold held the lordship of Pont Audemer near the Risle River. Some historians believe Thorold was the maternal nephew of the Duchess Gunnora, wife to Robert I of Normandy (942-966). In the generation of Robert's grandfather, Humphrey, the family holdings increased, Vielles, Beaumont and Beaumontel came under their control.  Humphrey married the heiress of the forest of Brotonne, Aubree de la Haie. Of their daughter Dunelme and sons, William, Robert and Roger, the latter became a parent to Robert de Beaumont in 1046.

Medieval naming conventions have always interested me, especially among the nobility. Most took the names of their birthplaces or territories they seized or inherited. It's a fair assumption that Robert came into the world at Beaumont, where Roger had built a castle on the hill above Vielles. Roger had married Robert's mother Adeline a year before their eldest son's birth. Adeline was sister of Hugh, Comte de Meulan, a rich territory to the east in the French Vexin. Roger and Adeline also became parents to Aubree and Henry; the sons of Roger would grow to have a special closeness with each other. From an early age, Roger ensured his sons were literate and taught them about administrative functions. Robert witnessed his first recorded charter, a gift to the abbey of Marmoutier, when he was only nine years old. He also became acquainted with the ducal court from an early age.

When William the Conqueror invaded England in September 1066, Robert represented his father's interests, while Roger maintained the ducal court. Robert would have been twenty years old, newly knighted by William, when he led a devastating cavalry charge and feint at the battle of Hastings. After the defeat of the English, Henry arrived from Normandy a year later and by 1068, held the newly-constructed Warwick Castle. Robert gained honors as well; the worth of some eighty English manors. Above all, he prized the title Comte de Meulan, which came to him after the death of his maternal uncle Hugh. Robert often styled himself as "Comte de Meulan, by the grace of God."

Keep in mind that when the Normans claimed the duchy, technically, they owed fealty to the Kings of France, a fact that would have personal consequences for Robert later in life. With the accession to Meulan, Robert moved into the sphere of the French court and owed the King of France homage for the county, as he owed loyalty to the Dukes of Normandy. Despite his riches, Robert wanted more. In 1088, he appeared outside the abbey of Bec and demanded of Abbott Anselm a pledge of fealty. It would be the first of many troublesome encounters between Robert and Anselm. The new Duke of Normandy arrested Robert for threatening the abbey and without his father's intervention, Robert would have remained imprisoned. After Roger's death in the 1090's, Robert became lord of the most important castles in his family's holdings; Beaumont, Pont-Audemer, Vatteville and Brionne. Robert also served successive Norman Kings of England William Rufus and Henry I as chief counselor. Only one thing remained glaringly absent.

Nearing his fiftieth year, he had no wife despite a proposed match with Godehilde de Toeni. Since she married Baldwin, son of Comte Eustace de Boulonge and died in the Holy Land, Robert sought another bride. He chose Isabel, daughter of Comte Hugh de Vermandois. On her father's side, Isabel was a granddaughter of King Henry I of France. She would have been a teenager when Robert married her around 1096, at least forty years younger than her husband. With the births of their children, Emma (1102), the twins Waleran and Robert (1104), Hugh (around 1106), Isabel (1107-1113), Aubree (1108-1109), Adeline and Maud, plus the newly created earldom of Leicester, Robert's future seemed bright....but of course, things changed. Find out how in The Burning Candle, coming summer 2012.

Next Sunday, more on the historical figures, with William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey.   


Michelle Gregory said...

i salute you for keeping it all straight. the names alone drive me crazy.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks, Michelle, at some point the Roberts do get annoying. Since I couldn't use the nickname Bob to distinguish any of them...LOL

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