Da Braoses? Part III

When last we left off (see Parts One and Two of the da Braose story…right here on this very  blog!)…we had finally found some familiar names, partly because writing has come to England and we’ve now left prehistory behind.

Robert and Emma de Braose/de Brusse/Briouse had several children whose names survive in historic records.  Indeed, Robert and Emma now live in historic times, as things are getting written down.  Robert will die in 1066, the year of the Norman conquest, but as you’ve seen, he’s a Norseman and his family already “conquered” parts of Scotland and the Orkneys, and possibly would have been seen by the incoming Normans (from Normandy) as Scottish, not as Norsemen.  Whether or not they saw themselves as the same group, the Briouze/Braose family (some of Robert and Emma’s children spell it Briouse, some spell it Briouze, some spell it Braouse, some spell it Braose:  a testament to the fact that things are just now getting written down in that part of the world, in a language that captures phonemes in symbolic containers).

One of their sons fought at Hastings with William the Conqueror, Robert de Brusse/Brussi/Brusse (almost certainly the same man also listed as Robert de Buci).  We usually think of the new elite in England being comprised of Normans, from Normandy.  William began to collect his army soon after January 5, 1066, and while he had many loyal knights and liegemen with knights, he also hired a lot of mercenery soldiers (routiers).  Did Robert de Brusse come down from the North along with a lot of other Scots soldiers known to be at Hastings?  If so, why?  Was it just the money?  This was the elder son of landed Scots nobility, with his own company of knights in tow.  It seems one motivation might have been to accomplish what happened next:  acquiring land south of the Scottish border, in England.

Now, in England, there were few Celtic-speaking or Celtic-identified people left (if any) after the previous Saxon conquest (which itself was sparked by the locals’ desire to keep out marauding Norsemen; the Saxons came in and unified and defended England under Alfred the Great).  Robert’s brothers (one named William and one whose name is lost to history) probably accompanied him to Hastings.  Perhaps their mother’s connections in Brittany (her father was the Duke of Brittany) or Blois (her mother was a Lady of Blois) drew them to Normandy in the first place.  Perhaps they traveled to the continent seeking their fortunes and ran into William’s scheme.  Maybe word was sent through family networks that William’s cause was honorable and they weren’t hired at all.  Anyway, they were there, at the battle.

At any rate, Robert’s side won and he and his brothers were awarded with lands in England (or took lands in England, as after the Battle of Hastings, the intruders fanned out across England and took what they could, which was a lot).

It looks like Robert I’s grandson spelled his name William de Braose in English and/or Guillaume de Brioze in Norman French (today, he’s known in English textbooks by the former, and in French textbooks by the latter).  It is this William I de Braose who achieved a notable Norman marriage:  a woman descended from the Capet King of France, Robert II.

Agnes St. Claire came from an illustrious family, indeed.  Her father was the Earl of St. Claire and nouveau-riche.  But her mother was Helena “le Bon” of Normandy.  daughter ofRichard III, Duke of Normandy and Alice Capet, Princess of France.  Richard had been William the Conqueror’s uncle and the legitimate heir to Normandy, but he died young.  It’s thought he was poisoned, possibly in a plot involving his brother, Robert II ‘the Devil’, who became Duke of Normandy upon his death (in 1028, when Robert was 28).  Robert II was, of course, William’s father.  Had Richard III lived, Robert II would not have been Duke of Normandy, and William the Conqueror would not have been Duke of Normandy, and would never have been able to press a claim for the throne of England.

Robert ‘the Devil’, Duke of Normandy married a Danish girl (with roots in Jutland, north of Normandy, on the continent), while William was, of course, a bastard, son of Robert II’s lover, the tanner’s daughter.  But William managed to distribute his relatives, both those born in wedlock and those born outside it, in marriage alliances.  Helena ‘le Bon’, it seems, was another illegitimate child.  It seems that while Richard III (being originally the heir to Normandy and his own father’s oldest son) had been married to Alice Capet, Princess of France, he had a concubine.  Helena was apparently raised as if she were Alice’s daughter, but there were rumors that she as in fact, one of Richard’s love children.  She was, nevertheless, William the Conqueror’s first cousin, and he married her to Waldren St. Claire, the newly minted Earl of St. Claire, at which point the founding member of the great St. Claire dynasty steps into history, off of William’s battle field.  He must have been quite something at the Battle of Hastings to be rewarded with a title, lands – and the new King’s very own first cousin, an ersatz (or perhaps real) grandchild of a King of France.  Waldren and Helena’s daughter, Agnes (they also had a son, so Agnes was not an heiress) married William I de Braose, and thus brought a much closer kin tie to William the Conqueror (and the King of France) thus, if one looks at it through a certain perspective, elevating the family as high as it could go, in those ties, as considered through kin ties, without actually being in the main line of royalty themselves.

There are number of other illegitimate children along Black Will’s line, several before William I was born.  So the idea that people always waited to have sex until they are married is not only laughable, but it seems that concubinage and illicit sex were fairly common.  It’s hard to say if this was just among the upper classes or whether, like William the Conqueror’s mother, many of the concubines were the daughters of artisans or the proto-middle class.

William I da Braose had many children, but it’s not clear whether he had any boys with the illustrious Agnes.  It seems that his heir, Philip, may be the son of a mistress.  Having an “insurance policy” of boys gotten from women not-the-wife is very common in Christendom (and it was a very religious society of course) at that time (1000-now).  But again, by claiming that the child was really his wife’s child (as it seems Will the First might have done), he retains for his lineage the blood claims of the illustrious Agnes, including the tie to King William and King Robert II of France.

William managed to marry that son fairly well, but the fact that Philip didn’t marry a Norman princess or any princess at all, but instead a great grand daughter of the County of Picardy (the French province) can be viewed two ways.  The Count of Picardy was a relatively new aristocrat and had no known royal ancestors, but he was a Count and he was French.  Perhaps that’s the best William I could do for Philip da Braose, given his questionable maternity.

Philip, in his turn, managed to marry his heir, William II to a highborn lady of Norman and Welsh descent, Bertha of Gloucester de Pitres.  Bertha claimed de Pitres (Petres) ancestry, part of the larger Crepon dynasty.  Bertha may or may not have been a direct descendant of Herfast Ranulf de Crepon, but she certainly had Scandinavian aristocratic roots.  If she was Herfast’s descendant, that made her a descendant of one of the Old English Kings, Ethelred the Unready (who in turn was descended from Alfred the Great, and allegedly, from the original Brit nobility).  But with Bertha’s descent from Gruffydd ap Llyewlyn (b. 1001, Wales), Prince of All Wales may have given her black hair – and perhaps that’s how Black Will got his dark hair (apparently combined with blue eyes).

It’s hard to see how the da Braoses could have done better than this, to unite themselves with so many royal families over so few generations.

William III’s son, Reginald, married a Briwere (Brewer), a woman of the de Meschines and de Vaux clans, well tied into the Norman conquerors.  Reginald’s name was a renewal of the old Norse name, Rognvald (at last).  As it happened, Grace Briwere also belonged to the larger de Redvers clan, and could claim descent from Henry I Beauclerc, through one of his illegitimate children.  So, while the da Braoses were not rising in the constellations of English nobility, they were certainly holding steady.

But, rather drastic circumstances changed the perceptions of the da Braoses forever:  William III (the murderer) and confidante of King John would not get away with murder, not really.  When the Briwere marriage was made (and when Black Will was born), William III was still in favor with King John…that would change.


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