Fitzaldhelm, William (DNB00)
|←Fitzalan, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19
FITZALDHELM, WILLIAM (fl. 1157–1198), steward of Henry II and governor of Ireland, is described as the son of Aldhelm, the son of William of Mortain (Dugdale, Baronage, i. 693; 'if our best genealogists are not mistaken,' as he cautiously adds), whose father, Robert of Mortain, earl of Cornwall, was half-brother of the conqueror, but after Tenchebrai was deprived of his earldom, imprisoned for over thirty years, and only exchanged his dungeon for the habit of a Cluniac monk at Bermondsey. A brother of Aldhelm is said to have been the father of Hubert de Burgh [q. v.] But there seems no early authority for this rather improbable genealogy, and the absence of contemporary references to his family makes it probable that his descent was obscure. Fitzaldhelm first appears as king's steward (dapifer) as witnessing two charters of Henry II to the merchants of Cologne and their London house, which apparently belong to July 1157 (Lappenberg, Urkundliche Geschichte des hansischen Stahlhofes zu London, Urkunden, pp. 4-5, 'aus dem Cölner Copialbuche von 1326'). He appears as an officer of the crown in the Pipe Roll of 1159-60, 1160-1, and 1161-2 (Pipe Roll Society's publications, passim). In 1163 he attested a charter which fixed the services of certain vassals of the Count of Flanders to Henry II (Fœdera, i. 23). He again appears in the Pipe Rolls of 1163, 1165, and 1170, and about 1165 is described as one of the king's marshals and acted as a royal justice (Hearne, Liber Niger, i. 73,74; Wyton, pp. 80, 85, 139). In October 1170 he was one of the two justices consulted by Becket's agents prior to their appearance before the younger king at Westminster (Memorials of Becket, vii. 389). In July 1171 he was with Henry in Normandy and witnessed at Bur-le-Roy a charter in favour of Newstead Priory (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 966; Eyton, p. 159). Almost immediately afterwards Henry was at Valognes, whence he despatched Fitzaldhelm to Ireland to act as the royal representative until Henry obtained leisure to settle the affairs of the island in person (Fœdera, i. 36, dated by the Record commissioners' editors in 1181, but assigned to this date with more probability by Eyton, Itinerary, p. 159 ; Gilbert, Viceroys, p. 41, gives the date 1176-7). In the letter of appointment he is described as the king's steward. It cost 27s. 6d. to convey him and his associates, with their armour, to Ireland (Calendar of Documents, Ireland, 1171-1251, No. 40). On 18 Oct. he, with his followers, was at Waterford to meet the king, who had landed close by on the previous day (Benedictus Abbas, i. 25; Regan's statement that he accompanied Henry, p. 124, is of less authority). He remained in Ireland with Henry, witnessing among other acts the charter which gave Dublin to the men of Bristol (Gilbert, Historical and Municipal Documents of Ireland, p. 1). He was sent by Henry with Hugh de Lacy on a mission to Roderick O'Conor, king of Connaught, to receive his homage (Giraldus Cambrensis in Opera, v. 279, Rolls Ser.) He also made a recognition of the lands given to the monks of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, before his arrival in Ireland (Chartulary of St. Mary's, i. 138, Rolls Ser.) Giraldus also says that when Henry went home he left Fitzaldhelm behind as joint-governor of Wexford (ib. p. 286), but this may be a confusion with a later appointment (Regan, p. 39, says that Strongbow was governor of Wexford in 1174). Fitzaldhelm was also sent in 1174 or 1175 with the prior of Wallingford to Produce the bull of Pope Adrian, granting reland to Henry, and a confirmatory bull of Alexander III to a synod of bishops at Waterford (Exp. Hib. p. 315). He soon left Ireland, for he appears as a witness of the treaty of Falaise in October 1174 (Fœdera, i. 30; Bened. Abbas, i. 99), and in 1175 and 1176 he was constantly in attendance at court in discharge of his duties as steward or seneschal (Eyton, pp. 191, 194, 195, 198, from Pipe Rolls ; Lappenberg, Stahlhof, p. 5).
On 5 April 1176 Strongbow, conqueror and justiciar of Ireland, died (Diceto, i. 407), and Henry sent Fitzaldhelm to Ireland to take his place (Bened. Abbas, i. 125; Hoveden, ii. 100) and to seize all the fortresses which his predecessor had held. With him were associated several other rulers, very different lists of which are given by Giraldus (Exp. Hib. p. 334) and 'Benedict of Peterborough' (Bened. Abbas, i. 161). It was at this time that Wexford and its elaborately defined dependencies were assigned to Fitzaldhelm (ib. i. 163). It is remarkable that he is never called 'justice' of Ireland, like most viceroys of the period, but generally 'dapifer regis ' (e.g. Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. pt. v. p. 211). Giraldus calls him 'procurator' (Exp. Hib. p. 334). Fitzaldhelm had no easy task before him. John de Courci [q. v.], one of his colleagues, almost at once defied his prohibition, and, under the pretext of disgust at his inactivity, set forth on his famous expedition to Ulster (Bened. Abbas, i. 137). He also had a difference with Cardinal Vivian, the papal legate, which led to Vivian's withdrawal to Scotland (Will. Newburgh, i. 239, Rolls Ser.) But his most formidable opponents were the ring of Welsh adventurers who resented the intrusion of a royal emissary to reap the fruits of their private exploits. Their literary representative, Giraldus, draws the blackest picture of Fitzaldhelm, which, though suspicious, cannot be checked from other contemporary sources. Fitzaldhelm was fat, greedy, profligate, and gluttonous. Plausible and insinuating, he was thoroughly deceitful. He was only brave against the weak, and shirked the duties of his office. His inactivity drove De Courci and the choicer spirits into Ulster. From the day on which Raymond, the acting governor, came to meet him at Waterford he envied the bravery, the devotion, and the success of the Geraldines, and vowed to humble their pride. When Maurice Fitzgerald died he cheated his sons of their stronghold of Wicklow, though compelled ultimately to give them Ferns as an inadequate compensation. He refused to restore Offaly to Fitzstephen, and deprived Raymond of his lands in the valley of the Liffey. His nephew, Walter the German, was suborned by Irish chieftains to procure the destruction of Ferns. He went on progress through the secure coast towns, but feared to penetrate into the mountainous haunts of the natives. He had little share in Miles de Cogan's dashing raid into Connaught. The only good thing that he did was to transfer the wonder-working staff of Jesus from Armagh to Dublin. Giraldus forgets that Fitzaldhelm was also the founder of the monastery of St. Thomas of Canterbury at Donore in the western suburbs of Dublin (charter of foundation printed in Leland, Hist. of Ireland, i. 127 ; cf. Monasticon, vi. 1140). It was also during his tenure of office that John became lord of Ireland. At last Henry listened to the complaints which a deputation from Ireland laid before him at Windsor just after Christmas 1178 (Bened. Abbas, i. 221), and removed Fitzaldhelm and his colleagues from office, and for a long time withheld all marks of favour from him (ib. Exp. Hib. ccxv-xx, 334-47, for the whole history of Fitzaldhelm's government, but it should be checked by the less rhetorical and more impartial account of Bened. Abbas, with which it is often in direct conflict). This makes it probable that Fitzaldhelm was not quite equal to the difficulties of his position. Substantially his fall was a great triumph for the Geraldines.
Fitzaldhelm now resumed his duties as 'dapifer' at the English court. From 1181 onwards he was sufficiently in favour for his name to appear again in the records (e.g. Eyton, pp. 245, 267). In 1188 he became sheriff of Cumberland, and in 1189 acted also as justice in Yorkshire, Northumberland, and his own county (ib. pp. 298, 336). He remained sheriff of Cumberland until 1198 (Thirty-first Report of Deputy-Keeper of Records, p. 276). In 1189 he witnessed a charter of Christ Church, Canterbury (Gervase, Op. Hist. i. 503). In 1194 he attested a grant of lands to the cook of Queen Eleanor (Fœdera, i. 63). These are the last appearances of his name in the records. He is said to have married Juliana, daughter of Robert Doisnell (Hearne, Liber Niger Scaccarii, i. 73).
Fitzaldhelm has been generally identified with a William de Burgh (d. 1204), who occupies a very prominent position in the first years of John's reign in Ireland. A William de Burgh appears with his wife Eleanor in the 'Pipe Roll' of 1 Richard I (p. 176), but he is undoubtedly different from Fitzaldhelm, as the latter appears by his regular name in the same roll. In 1199 William de Burgh received from John large grants of land and castles in Ireland (Rot. Chart, pp. 19 b, 71 b, 84 b, 107 b ; the earliest grants of John to him were before the latter became king, Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 231). Of these Limerick was the most important. In 1200 he became the terror of the Irish of Connaught. He supported the pretender, Cathal Carrach, in his attempts to dispossess Cathal Crobhderg, the head of the O'Conors, from the throne of Connaught. 'There was no church from the Shannon westwards to the sea that they did not pillage or destroy, and they used to strip the priests in the churches and carry off the women without regard to saint or sanctuary or to any power upon earth' (Annals of Loch Cé, i. 213). Cathal Crobhderg was expelled and took refuge with John de Courci. But in 1202 he made terms with William de Burgh, and a fresh expedition from Munster again devastated Connaught (the Four Masters, iii. 129, put this expedition in 1201 ). Cathal Carrach was slain, but the treacherous Cathal Crobhderg contrived a plot to assassinate in detail the followers of De Burgh. Nine hundred or more were murdered, but the remainder rallied and the erection of the strong castle of Meelick secured some sort of conquest of Connaught for the invaders. A quarrel between De Burgh and the king's justice, Meiler Fitzhenry [q. v.], for a time favoured the Irish. In 1203, while De Burgh was in Connaught, Meiler invaded his Munster estates (Ann. Loch Cé, i. 229-31). This brought William back to Limerick, but Meiler had already seized his castles. The result was an appeal to King John. William appeared before John in Normandy (Rot. de Liberate, 5 John, p. 67, summarised in Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1171-1251, No. 187), leaving his sons as hostages in the justiciar's hands. In March 1204 a commission, at the head of which was Walter de Lacy, was appointed to hear the complaints against De Burgh (Pat. 5 John, m. 2 ; Cal. Doc. Ireland, No. 209). The result was the restoration of his Munster estates, though Connaught, 'whereof he was disseised by reason of certain appeals and the dissension between the justiciary and himself,' was retained in the king's hands 'until the king knows how he shall have discharged himself' (Pat. 6 John, m. 8 ; Cal. Doc. Ireland, No. 230). Connaught, however, had not been restored when soon after William de Burgh died, 'the destroyer of all Erinn, of nobility and chieftainship' (Ann. Loch Cé, i. 235). The Irish believed that 'God and the saints took vengeance on him, for he died of a singular disease too shameful to be described ' (Four Masters, iii. 143). He was the uncle of Hubert de Burgh [q. v.] He was the father of Richard de Burgh [q. v.] (Rot. Claus, p. 551), who in 1222-3 received a fresh grant of Connaught and became the founder of the great house of the De Burghs. He founded the abbey of Athassell for Austin canons (Archdall, Monast. Hiber. p. 640), and is said to have been buried there.[For Fitzaldhelm : Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, in Opera, vol. v. ed. Dimock (Rolls Ser.); Benedictus Abbas, ed. Stubbs (Rolls Ser.); Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i. (Record ed.); Eyton's Itinerary, &c. of Henry II ; Pipe Roll, 1 Richard I (Record ed.), and the French poem on the conquest of Ireland, ed. Michel. For De Burgh : Annals of Loch Cé, i. 211-35 (Rolls Ser.) ; Annals of the Four Masters ; Rotuli Chartarum, Rotuli Literarum Patentium, Rotuli de Oblatis, Rotuli de Liberate. For both : Sweetman's Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, 1171-1251; Book of Howth; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Dugdale's Baronage ; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland (Archdall).]