Pre-conquest Earls of Herefordshire
There was the Norman named Ralph appointed by Edward the Confessor to the command of the western border county of Herefordshire and who singularly failed in his attempts to control Gruffudd ap Llywelyn of Wales. Known therefore as 'Ralph the Timid', this Ralph was a son of the Count Drogo of Mantes and Goda and is often shown as an 'Earl of Hereford' between the years 1053 and 1057. His replacement was no less a person than Harold Godwinson himself, later Harold II who made rather a better job of the task of containing Gruffudd ap Llywelyn.
The Norman Earldom of Hereford
The earldom of Hereford proper was first created by William I in the year 1067 and granted to his faithful follower William Fitz Osbern. Hereford together with the earldoms of Shrewsbury and Chester, was one of the three palatine border earldoms created in the years immediately after the Norman conquest by William I with, it appears, the express intention of creating a semi-militarised buffer zone between England and the turbulence of Wales beyond.
William Fitz Osbern died at the battle of Ravenchoven on the 22nd February 1071, whilst attempting to interfere in the succession of the Count of Holland, following which in acordance the common practice of the time, it was the younger of his sons, Roger of Breteuil that inherited his English lands and with them the title of Earl of Hereford. Roger's hold on the title was brief as he was tempted to join in a conspiracy with Ralph Guader, the Earl of Norfolk, against king William in 1075. The resulting Revolt of the Earls was rapidly surpressed and Roger lost both his lands and title as a result.
Milo or Miles Fitz Walter known as Miles of Gloucester was, unsurprisingly a prominent landowner from the Gloucestershire area, whose father held the offices of both sheriff and justiciar for that county. Through his marriage to Sybil, daughter and heiress of Bernard of Neufmarche, he had come into possession of lands in Herefordshire in addition to the Marcher Lordship of Brecon in Wales. After the death of Henry I in 1135, Miles initially supported Stephen but in 1139 he switched his support to the Empress Matilda, and used his powerbase in Brecon to bring Herefordshire under Matilda's control. His reward was to be granted the title of Earl of Hereford at Matilda's coronation on the 25th July 1141, and thereafter remained loyal to the Empress despite her later defeat at the battle of Winchester. Miles later died in a hunting accident on the Christmas Day of 1143, and the title passed to his eldest son Roger.
Roger, variously known as Roger of Hereford and Roger Fitz Miles, quarelled with Henry II soon after the latter's accession, was deprived of his lands for treason, but rapidly made his peace with the king and was regranted his lands and the title of Hereford by a new charter in 1154. However in the following year it appears that he fell ill, and in contemplation of his fate, became a monk and died later that same year.
Roger died without issue, and so the succession passed to his younger brother Walter who died childless in 1159 soon after his return from the Holy Land. There appear to have been two further brothers, a Mahel and a Henry; Henry was killed by a Welsh lord from upper Gwent named Seisyll ap Dyfnwal in 1166, and brother Mahel died a few months afterwards after being struck on the head by a chunk of masonry that was dislodged by a fire at Bronllys Castle. Although Raphael Holinshed was to assert that Walter inherited the earldom, he is not generally believed to have done so and neither Mahel or Henry (who according to some accounts may have been illegitimate) were ever Earls of Hereford.
Thus not a single one of the four sons of Miles of Gloucester managed to produce a single child, still less a male heir, and therefore with death of Mahel in 1166, the family estates fell to be divided amongst the daughters of the original Miles; Margery, who married Humphrey de Bohun; Bertha, who married William de Braose, and Lucy whose husband was Herbert Fitz Herbert.
King John revived the earldom in 1199 and granted it to Henry de Bohun, who based his claim on his mother Margery one of the daughters of the aforementioned Miles. This did not prevent Henry from becoming one of the principal leaders of the Baronial opposition to king John and one of the men who 'persuaded' the king to accept the Magna Carta in 1215.
the 1st Earl Henry died whilst on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1220, and the title passed to his son Humphrey De Bohun, who also inherited the title Earl Of Essex through his mother Matilda Mandeville, heiress of William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex. The Earl Humphrey fought at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, was captured by the Scots, but was subsequently exchanged. he later became one of the leaders of the Contrariants who rose in revolt against Edward II in 1322 and was killed at the battle of Boroughbridge in March of the year. Humphrey was naturally posthumously attainted for his treasonable conduct and it was not until 1326 that John his eldest son was able to reover the earldom.
Humphrey de Bohun, the 6th Earl, died unmarried but fortunately his brother William de Bohun, the Earl of Northampton, despite predeceasing him by a year, did leave an heir, yet another Humphrey de Bohun. This Humphrey, having succeeded to his father's estates and the title of Earl of Northampton in 1360, therefore gained the Earldoms of both Hereford and Essex a year later. He was however, later implicated in the death of the Earl of Warwick and appears to have thus fallen out of favour with Edward III. He died on the 16th January 1373 at the age of only thirty-one in circumstances that are altogether unclear - there are suggestions that Edward III had Humphrey secretly executed.
In the absence of any male heirs the title of Earl of Hereford became extinct. The Bohun inheritance was divided between the 7th Earl's two daughters; Eleanor de Bohun, who became the wife of Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester, and Mary de Bohun who married Henry Bollingbroke, the Earl of Derby, and later king Henry IV. This Henry] claimed the title of Hereford for himself but was upgraded to the status of Duke and thereby became the Duke of Hereford.
The title Duke of Hereford thereafter became merged with the crown after Henry became Henry IV in 1399.
Note that Walter Devereux, the 3rd Baron Ferrars was created Viscount Hereford in 1550, whose descendants still hold that title.
THE EARLS OF HEREFORD
Also held the title of Earl of Essex
Title forfeit 1322, restored 1326
Also held the title of Earl of Northampton
As Duke of Hereford
Title merged in the crown upon the accession of Henry as Henry IV.
Thereafter see Viscount Hereford.
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for HEREFORDSHIRE
- THE ENGLISH PEERAGE or, a view of the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of the ENGLISH NOBILITY London: (1790)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Stirnet Genealogy at
- The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)