Robert, Earl Of Gloucester - Encyclopedia

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ROBERT GLOUCESTER, EARL OF (d. 1147), was a natural son of Henry I. of England. He was born, before his father's accession, at Caen in Normandy; but the exact date of his birth, and his mother's name are unknown. He received from his father the hand of a wealthy heiress, Mabel of Gloucester, daughter of Robert Fitz Hamon, and with her the lordships of Gloucester and Glamorgan. About 1121 the earldom of Gloucester was created for his benefit. His rank and territorial influence made him the natural leader of the western baronage. Hence, at his father's death, he was sedulously courted by the rival parties of his half-sister the empress Matilda and of Stephen. After some hesitation he declared for the latter, but tendered his homage upon strict conditions, the breach of which should be held to invalidate the contract. Robert afterwards alleged that he had merely feigned submission to Stephen with the object of secretly furthering his half-sister's cause among the English barons. The truth appears to be that he was mortified at finding himself excluded from the inner councils of the king, and so resolved to sell his services elsewhere. Robert left England for Normandy in 1137, renewed his relations with the Angevin party, and in 1138 sent a formal defiance to the king. Returning to England in the following year, he raised the standard of rebellion in his own earldom with such success that the greater part of western England and the south Welsh marches were soon in the possession of the empress. By the battle of Lincoln (Feb. 2, 1141), in which Stephen was taken prisoner, the earl made good Matilda's claim to the whole kingdom. He accompanied her triumphal progress to Winchester and London; but was unable to moderate the arrogance of her behaviour. Consequently she was soon expelled from London and deserted by the bishop Henry of Winchester who, as legate, controlled the policy of the English church. With Matilda the earl besieged the legate at Winchester, but was forced by the royalists to beat a hasty retreat, and in covering Matilda's flight fell into the hands of the pursuers. So great was his importance that his party purchased his freedom by the release of Stephen. The earl renewed the struggle for the crown and continued it until his death (Oct. 31, 1147); but the personal unpopularity of Matilda, and the estrangement of the Church from her cause, made his efforts unavailing. His loyalty to a lost cause must be allowed to weigh in the scale against his earlier double-dealing. But he hardly deserves the extravagant praise which is lavished upon him by William of Malmesbury. The sympathies of the chronicler are too obviously influenced by the earl's munificence towards literary men.

See the Historia novella by William of Malmesbury (Rolls edition); the Historia Anglorum by Henry of Huntingdon (Rolls edition); J. H. Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville (1892); and O. ROssler's Kaiserin Mathilde (Berlin, 1897). (H. W. C. D.)

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