Beaumont, Robert de (d.1118) (DNB00)

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BEAUMONT, ROBERT de (d. 1118), count of Meulan, feudal statesman, was son of Roger de Beaumont ('de Bellomonte' in the latinized form) and grandson of Humfrey de Vielles, who had added to his paternal fief of Pont Audemer, by the gift of his brother, that of Beaumont, afterwards 'Beaumont-le-Roger' (including Vielles), from which his descendants took their name. Roger de Beaumont had married Adeline, the daughter of Waleran, count of Meulan ('de Mellente') in France, and was allied paternally to the ducal house of Normandy, of which he was a trusted counsellor. Being advanced in years at the time of the invasion of England, he remained in Normandy at the head of the council, and sent his sons with William. Of these, Robert fought at Senlac (14 Oct. 1066), though confused with his father by Wace (Roman de Rou, 1. 13462):–

Rogier Ii Veil, cil de Belmont,
Assalt Engleis el primier front.

He distinguished himself early in the day by a charge on the right wing, in which he was the first to break down the English palisade (Will. Poitou, 134). On William's march into the midlands in 1068, he was rewarded with large grants in Warwickshire (Domesday, 239 b) and Warwick Castle was entrusted to his brother Henry [see Newburgh, Henry de]. He then practically disappears for more than twenty years. He is said to have striven in 1079 to reconcile Robert with his father, the Conqueror (Ord. Vit.), and shortly afterwards he succeeded, in right of his mother, to his uncle, Hugh, count of Meulan. On the death of the Conqueror (1089) he and his brother espoused the cause of Rufus, and were thenceforth high in his favour. Presuming on his power, the count of Meulan is said to have haughtily demanded from Robert, then duke of Normandy, the castellanship of Ivry, which his father had consented to exchange for that of Brionne. The duke, repenting the request, arrested him, and handed over Brionne to Robert de Meules. At the intercession of the count's aged father he was released on payment of a heavy fine, and restored to the castellanship of Brionne. But he was compelled to recover the castle by a desperate siege (Ord. Vit. viii. 13). His father, Roger, not long after entered the abbey of St. Peter of Préaux (founded by his father and himself), and the count, succeeding to the family fiefs of Beaumont and Pont Audemer, was now a powerful vassal in England, in Normandy, and in France (ib. viii. 25). He and Robert de Belesme, according to Mr. Freeman, though 'of secondary importance in the tale of the conquest and of the reign of the first William, became the most prominent laymen of the reign of the second' (Will. Ruf.) In the struggle between Robert and William Rufus (1096) he sided actively in Normandy with the latter (Ord. Vit. ix. 3), and on William invading France to recover the Vexin (1097) he threw in his lot with his English lord, and by admitting him to his castle of Meulan opened the way for him to Paris (ib. x. 5). He was now the king's chief adviser, and when Hé1ias of Maine offered to come over to him, dissuaded him from accepting the offer (ib. x. 7). He and his brother were present at William's death (2 Aug. 1100), and they both accompanied Henry in his hasty ride to London (ib. x. 14, 15). The count, adhering strenuously to Henry in the general rising which followed (ib. x. 18 bis; W. Malm. v. § 394), became his 'specially trusted counsellor' (Will. Ruf.), and persuaded him in the Whitsun gémot of 1101 to temporise discreetly with his opponents by promising them all that they asked for (Ord. Vit. x. 16, 18). Ivo de Grantmesnil, who had been a leading rebel, was tried and sentenced the following year (1102), and sought the influence of the powerful count, 'qui præcipuus erat inter consiliarios regis,' for the mitigation of his penalty. The cunning minister agreed to intervene, and to advance him the means for a pilgrimage, on receiving in pledge his Leicestershire fiefs, with the town of Leicester, all which he eventually refused to return (ib. xi. 3). Having thus added to his already large possessions, he attained the height of wealth and prosperity, and is distinctly stated by Orderic (ib.) to have been created earl of Leicester ('inde consul in Angliâ factus'). But of this the Lords' committee 'found no evidence' (3rd Report on the Dignity of a Peer, p. 133). Nor does he appear to have been so styled, though he possessed the tertius denarius, and though that dignity devolved upon his son. He was now (1103) despatched by Henry on a mission to Normandy, where from his seat of Beaumont he intrigued in Henry's interest (ib. xi. 6). On Henry coming over in 1104 he headed his party among the Norman nobles (ib. xi. 10), and was again in close attendance on him during his visit of 1105 (ib. xi. 11 ), and at the great battle of Tenchebrai (28 Sept. 1106), in which he commanded the second line of the king's army (ib. xi. 20). He was again in Normandy with the king 3 Feb. 1113, persuading him to confirm the monks of St. Evreul in their possessions (ib. xi. 43). The close of his life, according to Henry of Huntingdon, was embittered by the infidelity of his wife, but the details of the story are obscure. He is also said by Henry to have been urged on his death-bed to restore the lands he had unjustly acquired, but to have characteristically replied that he would leave them to his sons that they might provide for his salvation (Hen. Hunt. 240, 306-7; W. Malm. v. § 407). He died 5 June 1118, and was buried with his fathers in the chapter-house of Préaux (Ord. Vit. xii. 1). 'On the whole,' says Mr. Freeman, 'his character stands fair' (Will. Ruf.) Almost the last survivor of the conquest generation, he strangely impressed the imagination of his contemporaries by his unbroken prosperity under successive Kings, by his steady advance in wealth and power, while those around him were being ruined (Ord. Vit. xi. 2), but above all by his unerring sagacity. 'A cold and crafty statesman.... the Achitophel of his time,' he was deemed, says Henry of Huntingdon (p. 306), 'sapientissimus omnium hinc usque in Jerusalem,' and, according to William of Malmesbury, was appealed to 'as the Oracle of God' (v. § 407). In the contest with Anselm he took the same line as his son in the contest with Becket, intervening to save him from the vengeance of Rufus, and in the council of Rockingham (1095) opposing his deposition, yet steadily supporting the right of the crown in the question of investitures (ib. v. § 417). For this, indeed he was excommunicated (Anselmi Epist. iv. 99; Eadmer, Hist. Nov. 82). Eadmer (94) complains that he disliked the English and prevented their promotion in the church. He is said to have introduced, after Alexios Comnenos, the fashion of a single meal a day in the place of the Saxon profuseness. His benefactions to the church were small, but at Leicester he rebuilt St. Mary's as a foundation for secular canons (Mon. Ang. vi. 467). The charter by which he confirmed to his 'merchants' of Leicester their guild and customs will be found in Mr. Thompson's 'Essay on Municipal History,' but the story of his abolishing trial by duel is, though accepted, probably unfounded. He had married, late in life (1096-7), Elizabeth (or Ysabel), daughter of Hugh the Great of Vermandois (or of Crépy) and niece of Philip of France (Ord. Vit. ix. 4). She married, at his death, William de Warrenne, having had by him, with five daughters, three sons (Ord. Vit. xi. 2), Robert and Waleran [see Beaumont, Robert de, 1104-1168; and Beaumont, Waleran de, 1104-1166], and Hugh, 'cognomento Pauper,' who received the earldom of Bedford from Stephen (Gest. Steph. p. 74).

[Ordericus Vitalis, lib. viii.; Henry of Huntingdon (Rolls series); William of Malmesbury; Monasticon Anglicanum; Nichols's History of Leicester (1797), pp. 22-3; Thompson's History of Leicester (pp. 27-31), and Essay on Municipal History (pp. 38-40); Third Report on the Dignity of a Peer (p. 133); Planché's The Conqueror and his Companions (i. 203-16); Freeman's Norman Conquest (v. 151, 828), and William Rufas.]

J. H. R.