The First Norman Earls of Gloucester

There are two possible candidates for the very first Earl of Gloucester namely;

  • one William Fitz Eustace, probably a son of Eustace, the Count of Boulogne for whom there is a rather late reference in the Welsh chronicle as being the Earl of Gloucester in 1094 and,
  • one Robert Fitz Hamon the architect of the Norman Conquest of Morgannwg who was certainly a prominent landowner in the Gloucestershire area, and is therfore sometimes loosely referred to as earl of that county.

The evidence is insufficient in neither of these cases to categorically state that either gentleman was ever an earl; the first authentic Norman Earl of Gloucester was Robert de Caen who was created Earl of Gloucester in 1122. This Robert sometimes known as 'The Consul' or as 'Robert of Gloucester' was an illegitimate son of Henry I most likely by the Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys and married Mabel Fitz Hamon, only daughter and heiress of the Robert Fitz Hamon mentioned above.

The earldom duly passed to his eldest son, William Fitz Robert, also known as 'William Mafonache' or 'William de Mellent' on his death in 1147. This William married Hawise de Beaumont a daughter of Robert de Beaumont, the 2nd Earl of Leicester, but the result of the marriage was three daughters and no sons.

Post de Caen Earls

After the death of William Fitz Robert matters become a little confusing as the title to Gloucester passed to his daughter Isabel who was recognised as the Countess of Gloucester. Isabel was actually the youngest of William's three daughters and there was no particular reason why she should have been recognised as Countess and accorded the status of sole heiress of her father, except that she was unmarried and Henry II wished to make provision for his ten year old son John. So in 1176 Isabel and John were betrothed and Henry agreed to compensate the two older daughters (which in practice meant their husbands) with the payment of large pensions.

In 1189 Isabel duly married John, who therefore became Earl of Gloucester. Of course this John later became king John in 1199, although the title did not merge with the crown, as technically speaking the title was Isabel's not John's. In any case John obtained a divorce from Isabel on the grounds of consanguinity shortly after gaining the throne. On their divorce, the title reverted once more to Isabel and when she was finally permitted to marry again in 1214 her husband Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex claimed the title Earl of Gloucester until his death in 1217, after which Isabel was married once more, this time to Hubert de Burgh, the Earl of Kent in the September of that same year.

Isabel however died on the 14th October 1217 shortly after their marriage and Hubert de Burgh appears not have made any claim on the title. Her sister Amice, the last of William Fitz Robert's daughters still living, seems to have been recognised as Countess of Gloucester and used that title until her death sometime in 1224 or 1225. As Amice had married one Richard de Clare, the Earl of Hertford, her son Gilbert de Clare, claimed the title Earl of Gloucester from the same point in time.

Nothwithstanding all of the above it appears that king John also seems to have granted the title to one Aumarie de Montfort, son of another of William Fitz Robert's daughters named Mabel in exchange for the title of Count of Evreux. (Which he wanted to grant as a dowry for one of his daughters who was marrying the king of France.) Some sources state that Aumarie (who is also referred to as 'Almeric Devereux') succeeded to the title in right of his mother in 1216 and that the title became extinct upon his death in 1226.

De Clare and the subsequent claimants

Matters then become more straightforward; irrespective of whether the year was 1217 or 1226 Gilbert de Clare the 5th Earl of Hertford eventually became the 1st Earl of Gloucester as well. The title remained within the de Clare family for the next century, and was passed down from father to son for the next four generations until the year 1314 when Gilbert de Clare, the 4th Earl of Gloucester and 8th Earl of Hertford was killed at the battle of Bannockburn.

The whole de Clare inheritance fell to be divided amongst the three daughters of Gilbert the Red, father of the last earl Gilbert. As might might be expected arguments arose amongst the various husbands of the de Clare heiresses a number of whom appear to have believed that they had the right to the title Earl of Gloucester.

The claimants appear to have included;

In any event Ralph de Monthermer appears to have died by 1325 at the latest (some sources have the date of 1305) and Hugh Despencer was certainly hanged, drawn and quartered at Hereford on the 24th November 1326. With the competition thus eliminated it is perhaps not surprising that of these three only Hugh Audley can be said to have held the title with certainty as Burke's Peerage records that he was created Earl of Gloucester in March 1336/7, and held the title until his death in 1347, at which point the earldom expired for the lack of any male heirs.

Between 1385 and 1397 Thomas of Woodstock, a younger son of Edward III held the title of Duke of Gloucester but Thomas became one of the Lords Appellant who challenged the rule of king Richard II was subsequently arrested and later killed at Calais in 1397. He was condemned as traitor and his lands and titles declared forfeit to the crown.

Thomas Despenser, a great-grandson of the Hugh Despenser, the Younger referred to above, was a supporter of Richard II, assisted him in his suppression of the Lords Appellant in 1397 and was rewarded with the grant of the earldom in 1397. Thomas Despenser was however stripped of his title by Henry IV in 1399 and after his participation in the failed Epiphany Rising of 1400 he was seized and killed by a mob at Bristol in the January of 1400.

Thomas Despenser was the last person to bear the title Earl of Goucester, thereafter the honour of Gloucester reverted to the crown and the title of Duke of Gloucester has since been periodically granted to various members of the royal family.


THE EARLS OF GLOUCESTER

DE CAEN

Earls by right of marriage to Isabel of Gloucester

DE MONTFORT

DE CLARE

Also held title of Earl of Hertford

Post de Clare Claimants

Held by Thomas of Woodstock, a half brother of Edward II, as Duke of Gloucester, between 1385 and 1397.

DESPENSER

Thereafter see Duke of Gloucester.


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for
    GLOUCESTER, EARLS AND DUKES OF See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • 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/
  • Burke's Peerage online at www.burkes-peerage.net/Sites/Peerage/ SitePages/page62-6h.asp

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