Bigod, Hugh (d.1176) (DNB00)

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BIGOD, HUGH, first Earl of Norfolk (d. 1176 or 1177), was the second son of Roger Bigod, the founder of the house in England after the Conquest. The origin of the name is quite uncertain. The French called the Normans ‘bigoz e draschiers’ (Rom. De Rou, iii. 4780) in contempt. The second word is said to mean beer-drinkers; the other has been explained as a nickname derived from the oath ‘bi got’ commonly used by the early Normans. But whether the family name Bigod had any connection with this term or not, it is evident that in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was punned upon in words of profane swearing (Wright’s Political Songs, pp. 67.68’ Hemingburgh’s Chronicle, ii. 121).

The first person who, bearing the name of Bigod or Bigot, appears in history is Robert le Bigod, a poor knight, who gained the favour of William, duke of Normandy, by discovering to him the intended treachery of William, count of Mortain. This Robert may have been the father of Roger, and one or the other, or both, may have been present at the battle of Hastings. In the ‘Roman de Rou,’ iii. 8571-82, the ancestor of Hugh Bigod (perhaps the above Robert) is named as holding lands at Malitot, Loges, and Chanon in Normandy, and as serving the duke in his household as one of his seneschals. He was small of body, but brave and bold, and assaulted the English gallantly. Roger Bigod is not traced in English records before 1079, but by this time he may have been endowed with the forfeited estates of Ralph de Guader, ear of Norfolk, whose downfall took place in 1074. In Domesday he appears as holding six lordships in Essex, and 117 in Suffolk. From Henry I he received the gift of Framlingham, which became the principal stronghold of him and his descendants. He likewise held the office of king’s dapifer, or steward, under William Rufus and Henry I. He died in 1107, and was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who, however (26 Nov. 1120), was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship. Roger’s second son, Hugh, thus entered into possession of the estates.

At the time of his father’s death, whom he survived some seventy years, Hugh must have been quite a young child. Little is heard of him at first, no doubt on account of his youth, but he appears as king’s dapifer in 1123, and before that date he was constable of Norwich Castle and governor of the city down to 1122, when it obtained a charter from the crown. Passing the best years of his manhood in the distractions of the civil wars of Stephen and Matilda, when men’s oaths of fealty sat lightly on their consciences, he appears to have surpassed his fellows in acts of desertion and treachery, and to have been never more in his element than when in rebellion. His first prominent action in history was on the death of Henry I in 1135, when he is said to have hastened to England, and to have sworn to Archbishop William Corbois that the dying king, on some quarrel with his daughter Matilda, had disinherited her, and named Stephen of Blois his successor. Stephen’s prompt arrival in England settled the matter, and the wavering prelate placed the crown on his head. Hugh’s reward was the earldom of Norfolk. The new king’s energy at first kept his followers together, but before Whitsuntide in the next year Stephen was stricken with sickness, a lethargy fastened on him, and the report of his death was quickly spread abroad. A rising of turbulent barons necessarily followed, and Bigod was the first to take up arms. He seized and held Norwich; but Stephen, quickly recovering, laid siege to the city, and Hugh was compelled to surrender. Acting with unusual clemency, Stephen spared the traitor, who for a short time remained faithful. But in 1140 he is said to have declared for the empress, and to have stood a siege in his castle of Bungay; yet in the next year he is in the ranks of Stephen’s army which fought the disastrous battle of Lincoln. In the few years which followed, while the war dragged on, and Stephen’s time was fully occupied in subduing the so-called adherents of the empress, who were really fighting for their own hand, the Earl of Norfolk probably remained within his own domains, consolidating his power, and fortifying his castles, although in 1143-4 he is reported to have been concerned in the rising of Geoffrey de Mandeville. The quarrel between the king and Archbishop Theobald in 1148 gave the next occasion for Hugh to come forward; he this time sided with the archbishop, and received him in his castle of Framlingham, but joined with others in effecting a reconciliation. Five years later, in 1153, when Henry of Anjou landed to assert his claim to the throne, Bigod threw in his lot with the rising power, and held out in Ipswich against Stephen’s forces, while Henry, on the other side, laid siege to Stamford. Both places fell, but in the critical state of his fortunes Stephen was in no position to punish the rebel. Negotiations were also going on between the two parties, and Hugh again escaped.

On Henry’s accession in December 1154, Bigod at once received a confirmation of his earldom and stewardship by charter issued apparently in January of the next year. The first years of the new reign were spent in restoring order to the shattered kingdom, and in breaking the power of the independent barons. It was scarcely to be expected that Hugh should rest quiet. He showed signs of resistance, but was at once put down. In 1157 Henry marched into the eastern counties and received the earl’s submission. After this Hugh appears but little in the chronicles for some time; only in 1169 he is named among those who had been excommunicated by Becket. This, however, was in consequence of his retention of lands belonging to the monastery of Pentney in Norfolk. In 1173 the revolt of the young crowned prince Henry against his father, and the league of the English barons with the kings of France and Scotland in his favour, gave the Earl of Norfolk another opportunity for rebellion. He at once became a moving spirit in the cause, eager to revive the feudal power which Henry had curtailed. The honour of Eye and the custody of Norwich Castle were promised by the young prince as his reward. But the king’s energy and good fortune were equal to the occasion. While he held in check his rebel vassals in France, the loyal barons in England defeated his enemies here. Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester (d. 1190) [q.v.], landing at Walton, in Suffolk, on 29 Sept. 1173, had marched to Framlingham and joined forces with Hugh. Together they besieged and took, 13 Oct., the castle of Hagenet in Suffolk, held by Randal de Broc for the crown. But Leicester, setting out from Framlingham, was defeated and taken prisoner at Fornham St. Geneviève, near Bury, by the justiciar, Richard de Lucy, and other barons, who then turned their arms against Earl Hugh. Not strong enough to fight, he opened negotiations with his assailants, and, it is said, bought them off, at the same time securing for the Flemings in his service a safe passage home. In the next year, however, he was again in the field, with the aid of the troops of Philip of Flanders, and laid siege to Norwich, which he took by assault and burned. But Henry returned to England in the summer, and straightway marched into the eastern counties; and when Hugh heard that the king had already destroyed his castle of Walton, and was approaching Framlingham, he hastened to make his submission at Laleham on 25 July, surrendering his castles, which were afterwards dismantled, and paying a fine. After these events Hugh Bigod ceases to appear in history. His death is briefly recorded under the year 1177, and is generally mentioned as occurring in the Holy Land, whither he had accompanied Philip of Flanders on a pilgrimage. It is to be observed, however, that on 1 March of that year his son Roger appealed to the king on a dispute with his stepmother, Hugh being then dead, and that the date of his death is fixed ‘ante caput jejunii,’ i.e. before 9 March. If then, he died in Palestine, his death must have taken place in the preceding year, 1176, to allow time for the arrival of the news in England. Henry took advantage of Roger's appeal to seize upon the late earl's treasure. Besides the vast estates which he inherited, Hugh Bigod was in receipt of the third penny levied in the county of Norfolk. He was twice married, his first wife being Juliana, sister of Alberic de Vere, earl of Oxford, by whom he had a son, Roger, d. 1221 [q. v.], his successor; and his second, Gundreda, who after his death was married to Roger de Glanville.

[Chronicles of Henry of Huntingdon, Rog. de Hoveden, Rad. de Diceto, Benedict of Peterborough, Gervase of Canterbury (Rolls Series, passim); Dugdale's Baronage, i. 132; Blomfield's Hist. of Norfolk, iii. 24 seq.; Stubbs's Constitutional History and Early Plantagenets; Eyton's Itinerary of Henry II; Additional MS. 31939 (Eyton's Pedigrees), f. 129.]

E. M. T.