Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester

Robert of Caen
Earl of Gloucester

Effigy of Robert Consul, St James' Priory, Bristol. 1840 drawing
Spouse(s) Mabel FitzHamon


Father King Henry I
Born before 1100
Died 31 October 1147
Robartus Consull et Mabilia uxor eius ("Robert Consul and Mabel his wife"). They are shown holding churches or abbeys which they founded or were benefactors of, including Tewkesbury Abbey. The attributed arms shown quartered on his tabard and below are: Left: Gules, three clarions or (de Clare, Earl of Gloucester); Centre: Gules, three clarions or (de Clare, Earl of Gloucester) impaling Azure, a lion rampant guardant or (FitzHamon); Right: Azure, a lion rampant or. Tewkesbury Abbey Founders Book (c.1500-1525), Bodleian Library, Oxford

Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester (before 1100 – 31 October 1147[1]) (alias Robert Rufus, Robert de Caen, Robert Consul[2][3]) was an illegitimate son of King Henry I of England. He was the half-brother of the Empress Matilda, and her chief military supporter during the civil war known as The Anarchy, in which she vied with Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.

Early life

Robert was probably the eldest of Henry's many illegitimate children.[1] He was born before his father's accession to the English throne, either during the reign of his grandfather William the Conqueror or his uncle William Rufus.[4] He is sometimes and erroneously designated as a son of Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, last king of Deheubarth, although his mother has been identified as a member of "the Gay or Gayt family of north Oxfordshire",[5] possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay (fl. 1086) of Hampton Gay and Northbrook Gay in Oxfordshire. Rainald had known issue Robert Gaay of Hampton (died c. 1138) and Stephen Gay of Northbrook (died after 1154). A number of Oxfordshire women feature as the mothers of Robert's siblings.[5][6]

He may have been a native of Caen[1][7] or he may have been only Constable and Governor of that city, jure uxoris.[2]

His father had contracted him in marriage to Mabel FitzHamon, daughter and heir of Robert Fitzhamon, but the marriage was not solemnized until June 1119 at Lisieux.[1][8] His wife brought him the substantial honours of Gloucester in England and Glamorgan in Wales, and the honours of Sainte-Scholasse-sur-Sarthe and Évrecy in Normandy, as well as Creully. After the White Ship disaster late in 1120, and probably because of this marriage,[9] in 1121 or 1122 his father created him Earl of Gloucester.[10]


Robert and his wife Mabel FitzHamon had seven children:[11]

He also had four illegitimate children:

Relationship with King Stephen

There is evidence in the contemporary source, the Gesta Stephani, that Robert was proposed by some as a candidate for the throne, but his illegitimacy ruled him out:

"Among others came Robert, Earl of Gloucester, son of King Henry, but a bastard, a man of proved talent and admirable wisdom. When he was advised, as the story went, to claim the throne on his father's death, deterred by sounder advice he by no means assented, saying it was fairer to yield it to his sister's son (the future Henry II of England), than presumptuously to arrogate it to himself."

This suggestion cannot have led to any idea that he and Stephen were rivals for the Crown, as Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136 referred to Robert as one of the 'pillars' of the new King's rule.

The capture of King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141 gave the Empress Matilda the upper hand in her battle for the throne, but by alienating the citizens of London she failed to be crowned Queen. Her forces were defeated at the Rout of Winchester on 14 September 1141, and Robert of Gloucester was captured nearby at Stockbridge.

The two prisoners, King Stephen and Robert of Gloucester, were then exchanged, but by freeing Stephen, the Empress Matilda had given up her best chance of becoming queen. She later returned to France, where she died in 1167, though her son succeeded Stephen as King Henry II in 1154.

Robert of Gloucester died in 1147 at Bristol Castle, where he had previously imprisoned King Stephen, and was buried at St James' Priory, Bristol, which he had founded.

Robert of Gloucester is a figure in many of the novels by Ellis Peters in the Cadfael Chronicles (written between 1977 and 1994) where he is seen as a strong moderating force to his half-sister (see Saint Peter's Fair). His efforts to gain the crown for his sister by capturing King Stephen and her own actions in London are part of the plot in The Pilgrim of Hate. His capture by Stephen's wife Queen Mathilda is in the background of the plot of An Excellent Mystery. The exchange of the imprisoned Robert for the imprisoned Stephen is in the background of the plot of The Raven in the Foregate. Robert's travels to persuade his brother-in-law to aid Empress Maud militarily in England is in the background of the novel The Rose Rent. His return to England when Empress Maud is trapped in Oxford Castle figures in The Hermit of Eyton Forest. Robert's return to England with his young nephew Henry, years later the king succeeding Stephen, is in the background of the plot of The Confession of Brother Haluin, as the battles begin anew with Robert's military guidance. Robert's success in the Battle of Wilton (1143) leads to the death of a fictional character, part of the plot of The Potter's Field. In the last novel, he is a father who can disagree with then forgive his son Philip (see the last novel, Brother Cadfael's Penance). In that last novel, Brother Cadfael speculates on the possibly different path for England if the first son of old King Henry, the illegitimate Robert of Gloucester, had been recognised and accepted. In Wales of that era, a son was not illegitimate if recognized by his father, and to many in the novels, Robert of Gloucester seemed the best of the contenders to succeed his father.

Robert is also a central character in Sharon Penman's 1995 novel When Christ and His Saints Slept. He was also central in the struggle during The Anarchy as portrayed in Ken Follet's 2003 novel The Pillars of the Earth and in the 2010 mini-series of the same name.


  1. 1 2 3 4 David Crouch, ‘Robert, first earl of Gloucester (b. before 1100, d. 1147)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 1 Oct 2010
  2. 1 2 "Complete Peerage" Vol IV(1892), p38, "Gloucester", "Robert filius Regis" quoting Round "Consul is often used for Earl in the time of the first age of the Norman Kings"
  3. The Complete Peerage claims only that he is "described" as consul, as are most Earls of his time.
  4. William of Malmesbury
  5. 1 2 David Crouch, Historical Research, 1999
  6. C. Given-Wilson & A. Curteis. The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (London, 1984) (ISBN 0-415-02826-4), page 74
  7. Cawley, Charles, "Henry I", Medlands, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  8. "Complete Peerage", "Gloucester"
  9. "In the aftermath of the White Ship disaster of 1120, when his younger and legitimate half-brother, William, died, Robert shared in the largesse that the king distributed to reassert his political position. Robert was given the marriage of Mabel, the heir of Robert fitz Haimon, whose lands in the west country and Glamorgan had been in royal wardship since 1107. The marriage also brought Robert the Norman honours of Evrecy and St Scholasse-sur-Sarthe. Robert was raised to the rank of earl of Gloucester soon after, probably by the end of 1121." David Crouch, ‘Robert, first earl of Gloucester (b. before 1100, d. 1147)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 1 Oct 2010
  10. CP citing Round for between May 1121 and the end of 1122, but see William of Malmesbury, ed Giles who cites 1119
  11. Cawley, Charles. Cawley, Charles, Medieval Lands: England, Earls Created 1067–1122, Chapter 11, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  12. Descent of Franklin Pierce from Henry I Beauclerc


Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Gloucester
Succeeded by
William Fitz Robert
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