The first earls of Albemarle

Aumale is a territory in Normandy the name of which was rendered into Latin as 'Alba Marla' and thus into English as 'Albemarle' or 'Albermarle'. Aumale in Normandy had its own counts who, after the Norman Conquest gained ownership of the wapentake of Holderness - Holderness being that part of the East Riding of Yorkshire that lies between the North Sea and the Humber - which together with other estates in nearby Lincolnshire subsequently became known as the 'Fee and Honour of Albemarle.'

As regards the first Earls of Albemarle, conventional wisdom states that there was a gentleman named Odo of Champagne who married Adeliza, sister of William I and thereby acquired the title of Count of Aumale in Normandy. Their son Stephen subsequently obtained or inherited the Lordship of Holderness and became the first Earl of Albemarle, and Stephen was subsequently succeeded by his son William le Gros who on his death in 1189 left his wealth and titles to his eldest daughter Hawise. (Some accounts differ by suggesting that it is Odo of Champagne himself that was the first Earl of Albemarle but this does not now seem to have been the case.)

One of the main problems with this account is the existence of evidence to show that Stephen of Aumale died on crusade in 1096 at least ten years before the earliest accepted date of birth for William le Gros and therefore is most unlikely to have been his father. The best that can be said is that there are two Earls of Albemarle that can be identified with certainty; firstly a Stephen of Aumale, nephew of William I who died in 1096 and secondly a William le Gros who was Earl by 1135 and who later died in 1179.

As to what happened between the death of Stephen and the accession of William the answer may lie with one William the Butler de Albini or d'Aubigny, the ancestor of the de Albini line of Arundel who is also sometimes described as an 'Earl of Albemarle'. William the Butler is believed to have been born around the year 1070 and to have died in the mid to late 1130s; dates which fit in with the suggestion that he may well be the 'missing' Earl between Stephen and William.

William le Gros and Hawise of Aumale

William le Gros undoubtedly became Earl of Albemarle, although exactly when he was granted the title is uncertain; sometime on or before the year 1135 appears to be the best estimate. William also certainly fought at the battle of the Standard in 1138 after which some sources state that Stephen made him the 'Earl of York' for his part in the defeat of David I of Scotland.

William died in 1179 leaving no sons, and so his eldest daughter and heiress Hawise became the Countess of Albemarle. Hawise, who was described by the chronicler Richard of Devizes as 'a woman almost a man lacking nothing virile except the virile organs' subsequently married a succession of three different husbands each one of who bore the title of Earl of Albemarle. (There is one source that suggests a fourth husband, but the fourth, if he existed, never claimed the title.)

The first of these husbands was the Earl of Essex, William de Mandeville who died in 1189, the second a William de Fortibus also variously known as 'William le Force' or 'le Forza' who died in 1195, and the third and last husband a Baldwin de Betun who expired on the 13th October 1213. Having outlived three husbands, Hawise herself finally died on the 11th March 1214.

De Fortibus

Following the death of Hawise in 1214, the son of her second marriage with William de Fortibus, also named William, stepped forward to claim Albemarle and in the years 1214/1215 was confirmed by king John as Earl of Albemarle and holder of his mother's estates. As his father William was also previously Earl, this William is generally regarded as the 2nd Earl of the Fortibus line.

Shortly afterwards William appeared as the youngest of the Magna Carta sureties, but thereafter appears to have alternated between supporting John or his baronial opposition depending on what suited his interests at the time. He was twice excommunicated, at the urging of successive kings in order to bring him into line, but eventually settled down as a loyal subject and fought on behalf of Henry III at the battle of Lincoln Field.

In 1241 William set out for the Holy Land, but died at sea before he reached his destination on the 26th March 1242. He was succeeded by his son, who was also named William de Fortibus. This William married twice; firstly Christina a daughter of the Lord of Galloway by which he eventually acquired around a third of Galloway and, secondly Isabella de Redvers a daughter of Baldwin de Redvers, the Earl of Devon and Lord of the Isle of Wight. Neither marriage however produced the required son and heir.

After this third William died in 1260, his widow Isabella took the title of Countess of Albemarle, and after the death of her brother in 1262, she was described as the Countess of Devon, Albemarle and Lady of the Isle of Wight until her death in 1293. Their daughter, Aveline married Edmund Crouchback, the Earl of Lancaster but she died without issue in 1274. There was a son Thomas, who died unmarried in 1269, but he may have inacapacitated in some way (or simply over-awed by his mother) as he never seems to have succeeded to the title.

The earldom it appears, was claimed, in 1278, by one Johri de Eston, a descendant of Amicia, a younger daughter of William le Gros and sister of the fearsome Hawise referred to above, but he agreed to surrender his rights to the crown in return for the grant of some land.

Plantagenet and Beauchamp

The dignity of Albemarle therefore returned to the crown after 1293 and was subsequently granted as a Dukedom firstly to Edward Plantagenet in 1397 and secondly to Thomas Plantagenet in 1411, who was Duke until his death in 1421.

Notwithstanding the fact that Thomas Plantagenet was Duke of Albemarle, Richard de Beauchamp, the 5th Earl of Warwick was also created Earl of Albemarle in 1411, but only for life. (Although some sources give a date of 1417 for this grant.) Naturally when Richard de Beauchamp died in 1439 the title of Earl of Albemarle died with him and reverted to the crown.

The title of Albemarle was again bestowed as a Dukedom between 1660 and 1688, but became extinct with the death of Christopher Monck, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle in 1688.

Keppel

When William of Orange came over from the Netherlands in 1688 to become William III he brought with him a number of servants including a 20 year old page boy by the name of Arnold Joost van Keppel. Arnold became one of the king's favourites, and the recipient of a great number of gifts including land money and the titles of Earl of Albemarle, Viscount Bury and Baron Ashford which were granted to him in 1697.

Arnold was followed in 1741 by his eldest son William Anne who fought at the battle of Culloden in 1746 and was afterwards appointed Commander-in-Chief of the forces in Scotland. He also held the post of Governor of the Virginia colony between the years 1737 and 1754, and although he never actually set foot in Virginia itself, Albemarle County, Virginia is named after him.

He was succeeded in 1754 by his son George Keppel who had also fought in the battle of Culloden in 1746, and was responsible for bringing the official dispatches announcing that particular victory back to London. He later fought in the Seven Years War and was Commander-in-Chief of the army that captured Havana on the 4th August 1762. Afterwards he served as governor of the city for the six months that it was under British occupation and returned home to England a great deal wealthier tham when he'd left.

The 4th Earl, William Charles appears to have led a comparatively quiet life and after his death on the 30th October 1849, he was succeded in turn by two of his sons. Firstly Augustus Frederick, who died on 15 March 1851 at age 56, without issue and secondly George Thomas; both of whom served in the army and fought at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The 7th Earl William Coutts was more of a politician than a soldier and served as a member of parliament for many years and and held the office of Under-Secretary for War in 1878. The 8th and 9th Earls continued the tradition of military service; the former fought in the Boer War in 1900, whilst the latter fought in World War I. The current Rufus Arnold Alexis Keppel is the grandson of his predecessor, his father Derek William having pre-deceased his grandfather in 1968, and succeeded to the title in 1979.


Both variants Albemarle and Albermarle are 'correct' although the former seems the most common. Early sources tend to use the variant Aumale, but Albemarle is used here in deference to the modern creation of 1697 which uses that form and for the sake of consistency.


THE EARLS OF ALBEMARLE

THE FIRST EARLS

Earls by right of marriage with Hawise of Aumale

DE FORTIBUS

BEAUCHAMP

VAN KEPPEL/KEPPEL


SOURCES

  • J.R. Planché Eudes, or Odo de Champagne from The Conqueror and His Companions (Tinsley Brothers, 1874) see http://www.patpnyc.com/conq/champgne.shtml
  • Patrick Delaforce and Ken Baldry The Mysterious Earls of Albemarle and the Conqueror’s Family from http://www.art-science.com/Ken/Genealogy/Patrick/ch35.html
  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ALBEMARLE, EARLS AND DUKES OF See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Beauchamp genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/bb4ae/beauchamp01.htm
  • Information on Keppel Earls mainly from http://www.peerage.com
  • Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see http://www.dcs.hull.ac.uk/public/genealogy/royal
  • RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • THE ENGLISH PEERAGE or, a view of the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of the ENGLISH NOBILITY London: (1790) see http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/History/Barons/

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