Robert II duke of Normandy (1087-1106)
also known as Robert of Normandy
Born c 1054 Died 1134

Robert was the eldest son of William I, the Conqueror and was called Curthose that is 'short trousers', for the simple reason that he was short and fat, or as J.R. Planché described him;

This rash, ungovernable young man, whose personal appearance was far from prepossessing — as he is described by contemporary writers as heavy-faced, corpulent, and with legs so short and devoid of symmetry that his father gave him the name of Gambaron, in other words, Curthose.

After the conquest

From 1066 William I was naturally preoccupied with matters in England and day-to day matters in Normandy where left in the hands of his wife Matilda of Flanders. By the year 1078 Robert had become impatient for his own taste of power and formed the idea that his father should hand over to him the government of his possessions in Normandy and Maine. William declined the suggestion, so Robert decided to take matters into his own hands, rebelled and tried to capture Rouen. He failed, the rebellion came to nothing and Robert was forced to flee into exile.

With the encouragement of the French king, Robert was soon back at Gerberoi launching raids against Normandy; William laid siege to Gerberoi, but was beaten off by the intervention of the French king. Eventually Robert's mother Matilda of Flanders interceded. The two were therefore reconciled, and Robert even spent the next three years in England assisting on his father's military expeditions in Scotland. It was on his return from one such venture in 1080 that he built a wooden 'New Castle' on the banks of the river Tyne, and thereby gave birth to what is now the city of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The death of William I

William died in September 1087 and under the terms of his will, Robert inherited the Duchy of Normandy, but William Rufus got England, whilst youngest of all Henry had to make do with five thousand pounds of silver. This was justified under the technicality that England, as it was gained by conquest, was William's personal property and not subject to the rule of primogeniture, and therefore his to do with as he willed. Which in William's case was to bequeath England to his favourite son William Rufus.

Or so goes one side of the story, others doubt that there was any such division ordained by William I and that William Rufus seized the throne in an act of opportunism. But whatever the truth of the matter, some Normans, including Odo of Bayeux, Robert of Mortain and Richard Fitz Gilbert, led a rebellion against the rule of William Rufus on Robert's behalf. However Robert himself did little to encourage or support them and William soon defeated the rebels.

With England secure, in 1090 William invaded Normandy. In truth Robert wasn't much of a ruler, he seemed indecisive and unable to entirely establish his grip on Normandy as well as losing control of Maine. But William wasn't a particularly able military commander either, and the result of the invasion was inconclusive. So he and brother Robert reached an agreement, the essence of which was that they decided to dispossess fellow sibling Henry of his lands in Normandy and to co-operate in the matter of regaining Maine.

By 1094 Robert had quarrelled with brother William once more; hence William came to Normandy once again with the same inconclusive results as before. Always hovering in the background was Philip I of France to whom the Anglo-Norman empire was a significant threat and was therefore ever promoting discord amongst the sons of William the Conqueror.

The First Crusade

Eventually a partial solution to the strife between the two brothers was arrived at; Robert was persuaded that it would be a good idea if he joined Pope Urban II's new-fangled idea of a military expedition to the eastern Mediterranean which we now call the First Crusade. Robert borrowed 10,000 marks from brother William to finance the expedition (using Normandy as his security).

With his followers he left for Constantinople to join the rest of the crusading forces which was largely composed of fellow Norman adventurers. He had what might be termed a 'good crusade', winning renown for his exploits at the siege of Nicaea, the battles of Dorylaeum and Antioch as well as siege and capture of Jersualem in June 1099, although his most famous exploit was apparently the seizing of a standard from the leader of the Egyptian army at Ascalon in August 1099.

The death of William II

On his way home Robert stopped off in Italy where he married Sibyl Of Conversano and her considerable dowry placed him very much in funds once again. (And able to redeem Normandy from pawn.) He also found himself hailed as the king of England as the news had arrived that brother William had unexpectedly died in a hunting accident.

However William had died in what might be termed suspicious circumstances', and the youngest of the three sons of William I, Henry lost no time in taking the crown for himself. Robert therefore arrived back in Normandy in Septemer 1100 with Henry already de facto king of England. Robert did raise an army and crossed the channel fully intending, presumably to challenge Henry, but after a meeting with Henry near Alton, in Hampshire, conflict was avoided. Robert agreed to relinquish his claim to England in return for Henry's surrender of his rights in Normandy together with an annual payment.

Doubtless Henry I never had much intention of leaving Robert to his own devices. Henry had problems at home in England, a significant rebellion in 1102 as well as the usual difficulties with the Welsh and Scots, but once those were out of the way he was ready to act. In 1106 Henry I launched an invasion of Normandy and made rapid progress against Robert; at the battle of Tinchenbrai on the 28th of September 1106 Robert was defeated and captured; Normandy and England where once again united under a single ruler.

The Last Days

Robert was to spend the remainder of the twenty eight years of his life in captivity. He was initially taken back to Britain and imprisoned in the Tower of London before being transferred to Devizes in 1128. Around 1132 he was taken to Cardiff Castle and held there under the watchful eye of his nephew Robert of Gloucester, where he finally died on the 10th February 1134. Robert was buried in Gloucester Cathedral where you can still see his tomb today.

All in all Robert did not really have a successful career. He was no politician and was outmanoeuvred by both his brothers and acquired a reputation whether deserved or not of squandering money. Although a popular enough character and a capable warrior he does not have seem to have been a natural leader; even during the First Crusade when it night be supposed that as Duke of Normandy he would have been recognised as leader of the Norman party amongst the crusaders, he was overshadowed by the likes of Bohemond and Tancred.

There is a tradition that during his final years at Cardiff that he spent his time learning the Welsh language and was even ascribed the authorship of a poem.

SOURCES

J.R. Planché The Conqueror and His Companions (Tinsley Brothers, 1874)
David C Douglas The Normans (Folio, 2002)

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica at http://51.1911encyclopedia.org/R/RO/ROBERT_2_DUKES_OF_NORMANDY_.htm
The Normans, a European People at http://www.mondes-normands.caen.fr/angleterre/histoires/6/histoireNorm6_3.htm

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