16 May 2011

15 Minutes of Fame: The Rebellion of 1088

By Lisa Yarde

After the death of William the Conqueror in 1087, his sons Robert, William Rufus and Henry vied for the greatest share of their father's inheritance. The disposition of gold coins for Henry, and the duchy of Normandy to Robert and the kingdom of England to William Rufus did not resolve the matter as easily as William the Conqueror might have intended. Instead, many magnates with properties and castles on both sides of the Channel found their loyalties divided.

At the end of March 1088, around Easter, more than half of the largest landowners in England were determined to unite the Anglo-Norman aristocracy under one leader. Their choice was Robert of Normandy, who had coveted England for years. Perhaps they favored him because of his famed generosity to his supporters, as he often lavished wealth on mercenaries and knights in his retinue. Or, they thought he would be a more agreeable king than the current one. In the first six months of his reign, Robert's younger brother William Rufus had made himself one of the most hated monarchs in English history. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states, he was "hateful to almost all his people and odious to God."

Men of the king's own family led the rebellion; his uncles Odo de Bayeux and Robert de Mortain, the younger brothers of William the Conqueror. Others included Robert de Mowbray, Roger Bigod, Robert de Montgomery and his son Robert de Belleme, as well as Eustace of Boulonge. They all expected Duke Robert would sail from Normandy, but he had run out of money and appealed to his younger brother Henry for help. Henry gave Robert half of his inheritance from their father and for his trouble, he gained a county. Robert used the funds to raise reinforcements for his supporters in England, but in an unexpected move, William Rufus rallied and gained support. He besieged his uncle Odo at Pevensy Castle and captured him. Bad weather and a stalwart defense from the English navy weakened Duke Robert's invasion force. By July 1088, William Rusfus had also captured Rochester Castle. The rebellion was over, six months after it had begun. Some rebels, like Roger de Montgomery, took the bribes William Rufus offered and abandoned the cause. Other magnates, including Robert de Belleme and Roger de Bigod, forfeited their property for several years or went into temporary exile. Robert de Mowbray and Robert de Mortain received pardons, but William Rufus reserved the worse punishment for his uncle Odo. He deprived Odo of all his land and banished him from England.      

Lisa J. Yarde is a historical fiction author. Her novels ON FALCON'S WINGS, an epic medieval novel chronicling the starstruck romance between Norman and Saxon lovers, and SULTANA, set during a turbulent period of thirteenth century Spain, are available now.