Earl of Northumbria (1080/1090-1095)
Born c1060 Died c1125

Also known as Robert de Mowbray

Born about the year 1060, Robert was the son of Roger de Montbray the seigneur of Montbray. Roger was one of the Companions of the Conqueror, but despite his efforts on behalf of William I there appears no trace of any rewards bestowed on the elder Montbray. However Robert's uncle was Geoffrey de Montbray the Bishop of Coutances, another of the Companions of the Conqueror who had been rewarded with some 280 manors scattered across England. As a man of the church Geoffrey could not of course marry and thus father a legitimate heir to his fortune, and so it seems he chose his nephew Robert as heir to his temporal fortune.

Robert first came to notice in the year 1088 when acting in concert with his uncle Geoffrey, he joined the rebellion against the newly crowned William Rufus in 1088, preferring the claims of William's elder brother Robert Curthose. Despite the failure of the Baronial Revolt of 1088, neither Robert nor his uncle suffered because of it, as William Rufus acted with a surprising leniency towards those that sought to depose him.

Indeed it seems most likely that William Rufus sought to buy Robert's loyalty by elevating him to the status of Earl of Northumbria sometime between the years 1088 and 1090, and as such Robert was active in defending the north against the encroachments of the Scots. In 1091 he defeated the Scots at Chester-le-Street and in the year 1093 ambushed the Scottish army and defeated them at the battle of Alnwick which resulted in the death of both king Malcolm and his eldest son Edward.

This victory naturally brought great credit and renown to Robert and left him with a considerable degree of authority and power in the north which may well have gone to his head. In 1095 he seized four Norwegian vessels lying in the Tyne, and when he was called before the king to answer for this action, he refused to do so and rather broke out in rebellion. It however appears that this was merely a pretext to bring into effect a prior conspiracy to revolt against William Rufus and replace him on the throne with Stephen of Aumale, the Earl of Albemarle. (Whose mother Adeliza was William's sister.)

Demonstrating a clear determination to remove the threat to his authority William Rufus marched north with an army and laid siege to Tynemouth Castle which soon surrendered and drove Robert back to Bamburgh Castle. Bamburgh however held out against the royalist army, partly because of its superior defensive position and partly because William was forced to turn his attention to the west and left to conduct a rather ineffectual campaign in Wales. (See the The First Anti-Norman Rebellion.)

During William's absence Robert was induced to leave the safety of his stronghold and was ambushed and captured by the royalist forces. Robert managed to escaped from his captors and fled to the monastery at Tynemouth where he was cornered once more. After a short siege, during which he was wounded in the leg, Robert was recaptured and then taken before Bamburgh Castle where his wife Matilda was still resisting the best efforts of the besiegers. There he was paraded before the walls and his wife Matilda was finally persuaded to surrender Bamburgh lest those holding Roger carry out their threat of blinding him.

Having already been excused one rebellion in 1088 William Rufus was not about to give Robert another chance; he was deprived of all his estates and titles and imprisoned at Windsor Castle. Most accounts state that Robert spent the remainder of his life in prison and date his death to the year 1125, following the account of Orderic Vitalis who added that Robert "grew old while paying the penalty of his crimes". However Orderic also contradicted himself and elsewhere suggested a date of 1129, whilst William Dugdale claimed that Robert was released, became a monk at St. Albans and died in 1106. But whatever the exact truth of the matter it is clear that Robert took no part in affairs after 1095.

We are fortunate that Orderic Vitalis also provides us with an account of the character of Robert and described him as "Powerful, rich, bold, fierce in war, haughty, he despised his equals and, swollen with vanity, disdained to obey his superiors. He was of great stature, strong, swarthy and hairy. Daring and crafty, stern and grim, he was given more to meditation than speech, and in conversation scarce ever smiled".

As referred to above Robert married a Matilda, daughter of Richard de Aquila (or Richer de l'Aigle) and Judith (daughter of Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester). According to Orderic they were married only three months prior to Robert's insurrection in 1095 and there were no children. Matilda was later granted a divorce by Pope Paschal II and permitted to marry Nigel de Albini sometime after 1107, although this marriage was also annuled, this time on the grounds of consagunity in 1118, there again being no issue. Nigel de Albini did however get his hands on Robert's estates, and it was the the descendants of this Nigel (by his second marriage) who were to adopt the name of Mowbray and were the ancestors of the later Barons Mowbray and the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk.

As Earl of Northumbria

There is some degree of confusion in the historical record regarding who precisely held the position of Earl of Northumbria between the years 1080 and 1090. It is possible that Robert was made Earl by William I in 1080 in succession to Walcher, Bishop of Durham, but other accounts claim that Walcher was succeeded by a Norman named Alberic and there are suggestions that Robert's uncle Geoffrey de Montbray was placed in charge of Northumbria in the year 1086, and that Robert only assumed responsibilty in 1090 after his uncle retired to Normandy. (This is indeed the view taken in the above account.)


  • J.R. Planché The Conqueror and His Companions (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1874)
  • Mowbray family history at http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/mowbrayfh/ Itsself sourced from;
    The Mowbray Journal, eds. William Mowbray and Stephen Goslin, 1976-79.
    Burke's Extinct Peerages, pp 386 - 388.
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for MOWBRAY
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm

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