Fitzstephen, Robert (DNB00)
|←Fitzsimons, Walter||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19
FITZSTEPHEN, ROBERT (d. 1183?), one of the original Norman conquerors of Ireland, was the son of Stephen, constable of Aberteivi (Cardigan), and of Nesta, daughter of Rhys ab Tewdwr, king of South Wales. Whether Stephen was, as is sometimes stated, a second husband of Nesta is at least very doubtful (Dimock, Preface to Expugn. Hib. in Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, v. ci; cf. Cal. Carew MSS., Book of Howth, &c., p. 435). If the list of Nesta's children given by her grandson (Giraldus, De Rebus a se Gestis in Opera, i. 59) is arranged in order of their birth, her amour with Stephen must have been after her marriage with Gerald of Windsor and the birth of her eldest son, William Fitzgerald, and before the birth of her son, Meiler Fitzhenry [q. v.], by Henry I. As Aberteivi did not fall into English hands before 1110 or 1111 (Annales Cambriæ, p. 34), Robert could hardly have been born before that date. The birth of Nesta's son by King Henry must have followed his expedition to Dyved in the summer of 1114. Robert was therefore born between these two dates. In 1157 Robert followed Henry II's expedition into North Wales, and narrowly escaped the ambush in which his half-brother, the king's son, was slain. His inheritance included Cardigan and Cemmes, and he became constable of Cardigan town in succession apparently to his father. In November 1166 he was betrayed by his own men (‘dolo Rigewarc clerici,’ Ann. Cambr. p. 50) into the hands of his cousin, Rhys ab Gruffydd, with whom he was then at war. He was released after three years' captivity on the mediation of his half-brother, David II, bishop of St. David's [q. v.], and at the instance of Dermot, the exiled king of Leinster, whom he agreed to help in restoring to his kingdom as an easy release from his promise to join the ‘Lord Rhys’ in his war against the English. In the spring of 1169 Fitzstephen, with his half-brother, Maurice Fitzgerald (d. 1176) [q. v.], landed in Ireland at Baganbun or Bannow, near Wexford (Exp. Hib. p. 230; cf. Regan, p. 23, and Introduction, p. xvi). They were accompanied by thirty knights, sixty men-at-arms, and three hundred Welsh foot soldiers. In conjunction with Dermot's forces they took Wexford, which was assigned, with the two adjacent cantreds, to Fitzstephen. The successful invasion of Ossory followed, but the approach of Roderick O'Conor, king of Connaught, now caused Dermot's Irish followers to desert. But Fitzstephen contemptuously rejected Dermot's bribes, and built so strong a camp at Ferns that Roderick accepted terms that left Dermot king of Leinster. Maurice Fitzgerald now joined Fitzstephen with additional troops from Wales. Fitzstephen was busy in fortifying Carrig, two miles from Wexford, while Dermot and Fitzgerald were attacking Dublin; but he marched westwards to aid Donnell, king of Limerick, against Roderick. Dermot now, if Giraldus could be believed, offered the brothers the hand of his daughter and the succession to his throne, and on their refusal to give up their present wives he at their advice called in Strongbow [see Clare, Richard de, d. 1176], who was now encouraged by Fitzstephen's successes to undertake what he had formally feared to venture. But Giraldus is so extravagantly partial to his uncle that the constant attempt to exalt him over Strongbow fails by reason of its obvious exaggeration. Fitzstephen's exploits are reduced to more modest, though still solid, proportions by the French poet, who derived his information from Maurice Regan.
In 1171 Fitzstephen was shut up in Carrig with five knights and a few archers by his own Wexford subjects, while the mass of the invaders were besieged by Roderick in Dublin. The false intelligence, vouched for by the oath of two Irish bishops, that Dublin had surrendered to the Irish induced him to surrender. They retreated with him, murdering the inferior prisoners, to the island of Begerin (‘Little Erin,’ Regan, p. 85), when the news came of the defeat of Roderick at Dublin. There the fears or jealousy of Strongbow (Exp. Hib. p. 271) prevented his deliverance; but on the arrival of Henry II in October at Waterford the men of Wexford brought their lord bound and in chains before the king. Henry ordered him still to be kept in prison ‘in Reginald's Tower,’ ‘because he had invaded Ireland before getting his assent.’ But he released Fitzstephen before his own departure, though he took away from him Wexford and the two cantreds. Immediately afterwards Henry left him at Dublin under Hugh de Lacy. By fighting with distinction on Henry's side in the civil war in 1173 and 1174, both in France and England, Fitzstephen completely recovered the king's favour. In May 1177, at a council at Oxford, he and Miles Cogan received a grant of the kingdom of Cork on condition of the service of sixty knights. Cork city, however, the king kept in his own hands (Benedictus Abbas, i. 163; the charter is printed in Lyttleton, Henry II, app. iii. to bk. v.) If Giraldus can be trusted, Fitzstephen was actually associated with William Fitzaldhelm [q. v.] in the government of Ireland (Exp. Hib. p. 334; but cf. Ben. Abb. i. 161). On their arrival in Ireland they decided by lot that the three eastern cantreds should be the portion of Fitzstephen, while the tribute of the twenty-four cantreds farmed out and the custody of the city was common to both. Soon after he accompanied Philip de Braose on an expedition against Limerick with thirty knights, but nothing was done. Soon after Maredudd, a bastard son of Robert, a youth of great promise, died at Cork.
For the next five years Fitzstephen and Cogan reigned in peace at Cork, the modest ambition of the elderly leaders restraining the impetuosity of their youthful followers (Exp. Hib. p. 350). But in 1182 the treacherous murder of Miles Cogan and Ralph, another bastard of Fitzstephen, and Miles's son-in-law, by a chieftain called Mac Tire, was followed by a general revolt against Fitzstephen throughout all Desmond. The old warrior was now closely besieged in Cork, but was relieved by his nephew, Raymond Fitzgerald [q. v.] In 1183 he was joined by his nephews Philip and Gerald de Barri. The latter boasts of the help he gave to his uncle (ib. p. 351). Fitzstephen granted Philip three cantreds of his Desmond territory (Cal. Doc. Ireland, 1171–1251, No. 340). He probably died very soon after. Giraldus describes Fitzstephen as by turns the luckiest and most wretched of men. He was rather short in stature, stout, and full of body, liberal and pleasant in his manners. His great faults were his immoderate devotion to wine and women. He left no legitimate offspring.[The main authority is Giraldus, Expugnatio Hibernica, in Opera, vol. v. (Rolls Ser.). See also the anonymous French poem on Irish history, said to be translated from the original of Maurice Regan.]