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Also known as Robert Fitz Hamo
1st Earl of Gloucester 1089-1107
Lord of Glamorgan c1093-1107
Born c 1042 Died 1107

Robert's exact genealogy is somewhat uncertain, it is fairly clear that he was a direct descendant of one Haimo Dentatus1, a member of the Norman nobility who was amongst those who rebelled against William Duke of Normandy and was defeated and killed at the battle of Val-ès-Dun in 1047. What has been disputed is whether Robert was the son or grandson of this Haimo and whether or not there was an earlier Robert Fitz Hamon that was our Robert's uncle. It seems most likely that there was only one Robert Fitz Hamon, that he was the son of Haimo Dentatus and that he was born around the year 1042.

Unfortunately nothing is known regarding the early career of Fitz Hamon; despite the claim in the Chronicle of Tewkesbury2 that he accompanied William in 1066 it is almost certain that he was not present at Hastings as his name is not mentioned in the Domesday Book as having received any subsequent grant of lands. There is therefore little that can be said about his activities in the first decade and a half following the Norman Conquest.

What is certain is that he was in England by the year 1088, as during the Revolt of the Earls led by Robert of Belleme, earl of Shrewsbury, he emerged as one of the key supporters of the king William Rufus, and was instrumental in organising the military levies that helped quash the revolt in the west.

The reward for his loyalty was to be given the earldom of Gloucester 3 and effective control of that city4, and soon afterwards he married Sybil, the daughter of Roger of Montgomery and sister of the very Robert of Belleme whose rebellion he had frustrated.

The Conquest of Morgannwg

It was from his newly acquired powerbase in Gloucestershire that, sometime between the years 1089 and 1093, Robert Fitz Hamon launched a sea-borne assault on the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg. Whereas the details of his conquest are unclear (See the Norman Conquest of Morgannwg), certainly by the year 1093 he had succeeded in either driving out or killing the incumbent king Iestyn ap Gwrgan and established himself as the lord of Glamorgan as the kingdom was renamed.

Suggestions have been made that after this singular achievement, he participated in the First Crusade alongside Robert Curthose but it is unlikely that he would have joined a man who had a counterclaim to the throne given his open and vigorous support for William Rufus. In any event Fitz Hamon would have had his hands full in defending his hold on Glamorgan as general insurrection of 1094, had taken hold of much of south Wales by 1096 and was threatening to dislodge the Normans from Wales altogether. It is very probable therefore that Fitz Hamon remained in Britain quietly defending and consolidating what was to prove his greatest achievement, the conquest of the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg.

Under Henry I

In the August of the year 1100 William Rufus unexpectedly died and his brother Henry seized the throne. Once again Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William I, was elbowed out of the way, and once again Robert Curthose made attempts to gain the throne which he believed was his by right of primogeniture.5

Robert Fit Damon attempted to mediate between the two rivals for the throne of England and when this ended in failure, he returned to his holdings in Normandy, raised an army and attacked Bayeux. The attack did not go well and Fitz Hamon was captured. Fortunately, Henry soon arrived with an army, attacked Bayeux himself and managed to rescue Fitz Hamon.

Now freed Fitz Hamon and Henry joined forces and together attacked and took Caen, before laying siege to Falaise. It was during the assault on Falaise that Robert Fitz Hamon was seriously injured and was forced to return to England. He never fully recovered from his injuries and died in the March of 1107 and was buried at Tewkesbury Abbey.

Very little more is known of the life of Robert Fitz-Hamon and much of what was later written about him was largely invented. He was however, prominent among what might be termed, the 'second wave' of Norman adventurers who, having seen what wealth could be gained across the channel were eager to obtain their share. Naturally such men tended to look west to Wales and north to Scotland where the opportunities for advancement were better.

He accumulated a number of titles during his career, according to one source6 his full title was therefore;

Earl of Corbeil, Baron Thorigny and Granville, Lord of Gloucester, Bristol, Tewkesbury and Cardiff. Conquerer of Wales, near kinsman of the King, and General of his Highness' army in France

He left behind no sons, only a daughter known as Maud or Mabel, who was married off to Robert of Gloucester, one of Henry I's many illegitimate offspring, who himself became Earl of Gloucester in 1122.


NOTES

1 Also known as Hamon-aux-Dents, that is Hamon 'with the teeth'

2 The Chronicle of Tewkesbury states that "in the year of our Lord 1066 William, duke of Normandy, acquired England; he who led with him a young and noble man, Robert Fitz Hamon, lord of Astremerville in Normandy." Monasticon Anglicanum, II, 60. quoted by Lynn H. Nelson see source below. It became common for every Norman to claim that his ancestors had fought with William at Hastings, and Tewkesbury Abbey who regarded Robert Fitz Hamon as their principal benefactor and founder would have been just the place to find a compliant cleric prepared to make such a boast.

3 Whether or not he was actual Earl of Gloucester is uncertain; his son-in-law Robert of Gloucester is formally acknowledged as the first Earl of Gloucester, but Robert and William Fitz Eustace before him may also have held the titles,as well as any pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxons that may have been recognised as eaolderman.

4 Which at the time, and for some time afterwards, commanded an important strategic route between the Welsh Marches, the breeding ground for the Revolt of the Earls, and London.

5Robert Curthose was temporarily engaged on the First Crusade at the time and only returned to Normandy some weeks after Henry's coup.

6The Rev. Dan Bryant M.A. D.C.L. printed in Historical Sketches of Glamorgan. Published by The Glamorgan Society in 1912, online at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/GLA/NormanKnights.html


SOURCES

  • The Normans in South Wales 1070-1171 by Lynn H. Nelson (University of Texas Press, 1966)
  • A History of Wales by John Davies (Allen Lane 1993)
  • The Normans by David C Douglas (Folio, 2002)
  • The Welsh Kings by Kari Mundi (Tempus 2000)

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