Yet another who should have been king…

Except that if you want to succeed your father it pays to be nice to him. Especially when that father is William the conqueror.

Robert Curthose
Robert Curthose

Born in 1061, Robert was the eldest son of William and Matilda of Flanders. He was nicknamed Curthose because of his short legs.

Robert’s first rebellion occurred when his younger brothers dumped a full chamberpot over his head. A scrap between the siblings ensued, which William had to break up. When he failed to punish the rapscallions, Robert was even further incensed – and who can blame him? Robert and his followers attempted to seize the castle of Rouen. They failed and were forced to flee to Flanders. That put an end to any hope of a close father/son relationship.

After a failed reconciliation arranged by his mother, Robert took to the life of a knight errant, traveling throughout Europe and siring a number of illegitimate children.

On his deathbed in 1087, the elder William was tempted to disinherit his eldest son, but was persuaded by his nobles to divide the Norman lands, Robert to have Normandy and William Rufus to have England. The nobles in fact preferred Robert, as he was judged the weaker of the two, more easily manipulated and defied.

The two brothers agreed to become each other’s heir. This pact lasted only a year before the nobles persuaded Robert that if there was any justice under the sun he would be King of England. The rebellion came to nothing because Robert didn’t even arrive to support the rebels. Still, the seed had been planted.

In 1096 an impoverished Robert left for the Holy Land. In order to raise money for the crusade he mortgaged his lands to William Rufus for 10,000 marks. When William died in 1100, Robert was on his way back. But younger brother Henry was already in England and able to seize the crown. That didn’t stop Robert claiming the crown for his own, based on the agreement he had made with his brother William.

Robert invaded, but he seems to have been a poor general. Henry repulsed him, forced him to renounce his claim and sent him back to Normandy, where he continued to agitate. Four years later, Henry was prompted by the continual discord between himself and his brother, as well as the unrest in Normandy, to invade. Henry decisively defeated Robert’s forces at the battle of Tinchebrai and claimed Normandy for the English Crown.

The tower in Cardiff where Robert was held prisoner.
The tower in Cardiff where Robert was held prisoner.

Robert was held prisoner by his brother for twenty-eight years and died when he was in his early eighties. He was buried in the abbey church of St. Peter in Gloucester, now Gloucester Cathedral.  His effigy carved in bog oak and lying on a mortuary chest can be seen there.

Mortuary chest
Mortuary chest
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