Robert of Normandy Invades England

Robert Curthose invaded England on July 21st, 1101.

Robert, Duke of Normandy, nicknamed Curthose for the shortness of his legs and hence his leggings, was the oldest, nicest and least effective of William the Conqueror’s three sons. Brave, generous, good-natured and trusting, he was easily outmatched in statecraft, ruthlessness and cunning by his younger brothers – William Rufus and Henry. Their father had no confidence in Robert as a ruler and arranged for Rufus to succeed him on the throne of England. Then, when Rufus died in 1100, Henry was on the scene. He seized the royal treasury instantly and had himself crowned within three days.

Robert was on his way back from crusade. Insisting that the crown was rightfully his, he won support from prominent figures in Normandy and England, including Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham and a favourite of Rufus. Henry had incarcerated the bishop in the Tower of London, but in February 1101 he got his guards drunk, shinned down a rope and got away to Normandy. Duke Robert gathered an army, with which he crossed the Channel to Portsmouth in July. Henry meanwhile had expected him at Pevensey where he had assembled his English troops, whom he personally instructed in the art of resisting Norman cavalry.

Robert headed towards London and was intercepted by Henry at Alton in Hampshire. Henry persuaded Robert to renounce his claim to England in return for a pension of 3,000 marks a year and the abandonment of any claim on Henry’s part to Normandy. It was agreed that no action would be taken against the Duke’s supporters and Flambard was duly restored to his see, though it is noticeable that from then on he took care to spend almost his entire time in Normandy.

Robert had been outmanoeuvred. Henry soon stopped paying the pension, found ingenious ways to punish his brother’s supporters and presently intervened in Normandy, ostensibly to protect the churches there against oppression. He conquered the duchy and during the campaign captured Robert, who spent the last twenty-eight years of his life as a prisoner in a succession of castles. He was treated with reasonable humanity and eked out his last years in Cardiff Castle, where he learned Welsh and wrote at least one poem in the language. It contains the line ‘Woe to him that is not old enough to die.’ Die he did, eventually, in 1134 at the age of eighty.