Fitzwalter, Robert (DNB00)
|←Fitzwalter, Lord||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19
FITZWALTER, ROBERT (d. 1235), baronial leader, lord of Dunmow and Baynard's Castle, was the son of Walter Fitzrobert, by his wife Matilda, daughter of Richard de Lucy, the faithful justiciar of Henry II. Walter was the son of Robert, steward of Henry I, to whom the king had granted the lordship of Dunmow and of the honour or soke of Baynard's Castle in the south-west angle of the city of London, both of which had become forfeited to the crown by William Baynard. Robert is generally described as the younger son of Richard Fitzgilbert, founder of the great house of Clare [see Clare, Richard de, d. 1090?], who certainly had a son of that name (Ordericus Vitalis, ii. 344, ed. Le Prévost, Soc. de l'Histoire de France). This genealogy was accepted by Dugdale (Baronage, i. 218), but some doubt has been thrown upon it on chronological grounds by Mr. Eyton (Addit. MS. 31938, f. 98). If it be true, it connects Robert Fitzwalter with the Norman counts of Brionne, descendants of Richard the Fearless, and therefore with the higher ranks of the nobility of the Conquest [see Clare, Family of]. But in any case the house of Fitzwalter belongs properly to the administrative families, who in the latter part of the twelfth century had stepped into the place of the old feudal houses. Its possession of the soke of Baynard's Castle, to which the hereditary office of standard-bearer of the city was annexed, and which grew into an ordinary ward Loftie, London, pp. 74-80, Historic Towns Series), brought it into intimate relations with the Londoners. Robert Fitzwalter was himself engaged in trade, and owned wine ships which received special privileges from King John (Rot. Lit. Pat. i. 73 b.).
Baron Walter died in 1198, and was buried at Little Dunmow, in the choir of the priory of Austin canons (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 147, ed. Caley). Robert Fitzwalter now succeeded to his estates, being already more than of full age. His mother and father are said to have been married in 1148, though this hardly seems likely (ib., vi. 147). He was already married to Gunnor, daughter and heiress of Robert of Valognes (Rot. Curiæ Regis i. 157), from whom he inherited 30½ knight's fees, mainly situated in the north, so that his interests now became largely identical with the 'Aquilonares,' whom he afterwards led in the struggle against King John. He also acquired two knight's fees through her uncle Geoffry of Valognes, and about 1204 obtained livery of seisin of the lands of his own uncle, Geoffry de Lucy, bishop of Winchester (Dugdale, Baronage i. 218).
In 1200 Robert Fitzwalter was surety for half the fine incurred by his brother, Simon Fitzwalter, for marrying without the royal license (Rotuli de Oblatis p. 111). In 1201 he made an agreement in the curia regis with St. Albans Abbey with respect to the wood of Northawe ('Ann. Dunst.' in Ann. Mon. iii. 28). He was now engaged in several other lawsuits. One of these sprang from his claim to the custody of the castle of Hertford as of ancient right (Rot. Curiæ Regis, ii. 185). But he withdrew this suit for a time, though in August 1202 he procured his appointment as warden of Hertford Castle by royal letters patent (Rot. Lit. Pat. i, 17 b).
Early in 1203 Fitzwalter was in attendance on King John in Normandy. In February and March he was with John at Rouen (Rot. Norm., pp. 74, 78, 80, 82; Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. i. 353). But he was now made joint-governor of Vaudreuil Castle (near the mouth of the Eure) with Saer de Quincy [q. v.], afterwards Earl of Winchester. After Easter King Philip of France took the field. The governors of Vaudreuil were so disgusted with John that they surrendered at the first summons. They thus incurred the derision of the whole French army, and Philip, disgusted at their cowardice, shut them up in close confinement at Compiègne (Coggeshall, pp. 143-4; Matt.Paris, Hist. Major,ii. 482). There they remained until redeemed by the heavy ransom of five thousand marks. On 5 July John issued letters patent from Rouen to certify that they had surrendered the castle by his precept (Rot. Lit. Pat. i. 31). But at the end of November his cousin William of Albini was still engaged in selling some of Fitzwalter's lands to raise his ransom (ib. i, 37 b).
In October 1206 Fitzwalter witnessed the truce made between John and Philip Augustus at Thouars (Fœdera, i. 95, Record edit.) The misgovernment of John provoked his profound resentment, and in 1212 he entered into intrigues with Eustace de Vescy [q. v.] and Llewelyn ab Iorwerth [q. v.] against the king. John's suspicions were aroused by private intelligence as he was preparing at Nottingham to march against his rebellious son-in-law, the Welsh prince. Most of the barons cleared themselves, but Fitzwalter and De Vescy, who were afraid to appear, were condemned to perpetual exile Coggeshall, p. 171). But John was so much alarmed that he shut himself up from his subjects, and abandoned his projected Welsh campaign. Eustace escaped to Scotland, and Robert took refuge in France (Walt. Cov. ii. 207; 'Ann. Wav.' in Ann. Mon. ii. 268; 'Ann. Wig.' in Ann. Mon. iv. 400). John now seized upon Fitzwalter's estates, and on 14 Jan. 1213 destroyed Castle Baynard. He also demolished Robert's castle of Benington and his woods in Essex ('Ann. Dunst.' in Ann, Mon, iii. 35.
Fitzwalter remained in exile until John's submission to Innocent III. On 13 May 1213 John promised peace and security to him as part of the conditions of his reconciliation with Rome (Matt. Paris, ii. 542), and on 27 May issued letters patent informing him that he might safely come to England (Rot. Lit. Pat. i. 99,) On 19 July his estates were restored (ib. i. 101). John also granted a hundred marks to his steward as compensation (Rot. Lit. Claus. i. 146), and directed a general inquest into his losses like those made in the case of the clerks who had suffered by the interdict. Fitzwalter, however, was a vigorous opponent of John's later measures. It was said that John specially hated him, Archbishop Langton, and Saer de Quincy (Matt. Paris,ii.482). In 1215 Fitzwalter was the first mentioned in the list of barons who assembled in Easter week (April 19-26) at Stamford (ib. ii. 585; Walt. Cov. ii. 219). He accompanied the revolted lords on the march to Brackley in Northamptonshire (27 April). But John now formally refused to accept the long list of demands which they forwarded to him at Oxford. Thereupon the barons elected Fitzwalter their general, with the title of 'Marshal of the army of God and Holy Church.' They solemnly renounced their homage to John and proceeded to besiege Northampton. They failed there and at Bedford, where Fitzwalter's standard-bearer was slain. But the adhesion of London secured their success. On 17 May the lord of Baynard's Castle entered the city at the head of the 'army of God,' though the partisans of John still held out in the Tower. Fitzwalter and the Earl of Essex specially busied themselves with repairing the walls of London, using for the purpose the stones taken from the demolished houses of the Jews (Coggeshall, p. 171). On 15 June John gave way and signed the Great Charter. Fitzwalter was one of the twenty-five executors appointed to see that its provisions were really carried out (Matt. Paris. ii. 605).
For a short time nominal peace prevailed. Fitzwalter now got back the custody of Hertford Castle (Rot. Lit. Pat. i. 144 b). But the barons remained under arms, and Fitzwalter was still acting as 'Marshal of the army of God and Holy Church.' He now made a convention with John, by which London remained in the barons' hands till 15 Aug. (Fœdera, i. 133). But he was so fearful of treachery that within a fortnight of the Runnymeade meeting he thought it wise to postpone a tournament fixed to be held at Stamford on the Monday after the feast of SS. Peter and Paul (29 June) for another week, and chose as the place of its meeting Hounslow Heath, that the barons might be near enough to protect London (ib. i. 134). After the failure to arrange terms at a meeting at Staines on 26 Aug. open war brokeout. The twenty-five executors assigned to themselves various counties to secure them for their side. Fitzwalter, who with Eustace de Vescy was still the leading spirit of the movement, became responsible for Northamptonshire (Walt. Cov. ii. 224). On 17 Sept. John granted Fitzwalter's Cornish estates to his young son Henry (Rot. Lit. Claus. i. 228; of., however, i. 115b, 200). But the pope's annulling the charter had paralysed the clerical supporters of the popular side, and the thoroughgoing policy of the twenty-five under Fitzwalter's guidance had alienated of the more moderate men. Fearing Archbhishop Langton might be forced to surrender his castle of Rochester, Fitzwalter, with the assent of the warden of the castle, Reginald of Cornhill, secretly occupied it with a large force. John's troops soon approached, and strove, by burning Rochester bridge and occupying the left bank of the way, to cut off Fitzwalter from his London confederates. But Fitzwalter succeeded keeping his position, though before long he was forced (11 Oct.) to retreat to London, allow the royalists to occupy the town besiege the castle (Coggeshall, pp. 174–5). John now tried to deceive him by forged letters (ib. p. 176). Fitzwalter, conscious of the weakness of his position, sought negotiate. On 9 Nov. he received with a Earl of Hertford and the citizens of London safe-conduct for a conference ; nothing came of it. In vain the beleaguered garrison of Rochester bitterly reproached him for deserting them (Matt.Paris, ii.624). On 10 Nov. they were forced to surrender. On 16 Dec. the barons, including Fitzwalter, were excommunicated by name (Fœdera,i. 139). French help was now their only refuge. Fitzwalter went over to France with the Earl of Winchester and offered the throne to Louis, the son of King Philip, putting into his hands twenty-four hostages and assuring him of the support of their party. Fitzwalter was back in England early in 1210. Louis landed in May, and, as John made great progress in the east, Fitzwalter busied himself in compelling Essex and Suffolk, his own counties, to accept the foreign king (Matt. Paris,ii. 655-6). The tide of fortune now turned, but after John's death on 19 Oct. Fitzwalter's difficulties increased. Gradually the English went over to the side of Henry III. Those who remained in arms were not respected by the French. On 6 Dec. Louis captured Hertford Castle from the followers of the new king Henry. Fitzwalter naturally asked for the custody of a stronghold that had already been so long under his care. The French urged that a traitor to his own lord was not to be trusted, and Louis told him he must wait until the end of the war (ib. iii. 5). Fitzwalter was too deeply pledged to Louis to join the deserters. He was sent from London on 30 April 1217 at the head of a strong French force to raise the siege of Mountsorrel in Leicestershire, now closely pressed by the Earl of Chester (Walt. Cov. ii. 237). On his way he rested at St. Albans, where his hungry troops ate up all the supplies of the abbey (Matt.Paris, iii. 16). He raised the siege of Mountsorrel and advanced to Lincoln. He was met by the regent, William Marshall, whose forces were now joined by the Earl of Chester with the army that had besieged Mountsorrel. Fitzwalter was anxious for an immediate battle. On 20 May the battle of Lincoln was fought, and the baronial forces thoroughly defeated. Fitzwalter himself was taken prisoner along with his son (Gervase Cant. ii. 111) and most of the leaders of his party. The Londoners still held out until Hubert de Burgh's great naval victory on 24 Aug. On 11 Sept. the treaty of Lambeth ended the struggle. But the reissue of the charter as the result of the treaty showed that Fitzwalter's cause had triumphed in spite of his personal failure.
On 8 Oct. 1217 Fitzwalter's release from prison was ordered (Rot. Lit. Claus. i. 328 b), On 24 Jan. 1318 the king granted him his scutage (ib. i. 319 b). In July he received the custody of his nephew, Walter Fitzsimon Fitzwalter, whose father was now dead (ib. i. 379 b; Excerpta e Rot. Finium, i. 15). In the same year he witnessed the undertaking that the great seal was to be affixed to no letters patent or charters until the king came of age (Fœdera, i. 152). But the fifth crusade must have offered a convenient opportunity to him and others. In 1219 he sailed for the Holy Land along with Earl Saer of Winchester and Earl William of Arundel. Before he arrived the crusading host had been diverted to the siege of Damietta. There he seems to have arrived along with Saer de Quincy and other English, at the same time as the cardinal legate Pelagius (Flores Hist. iv. 44; Matt. Paris, iii. 41). This was in the autumn of 1219 (Kugler, Geschichte der Kreuzzüge, p. 319). Saer de Quincy died on 3 Nov.('Ann. Wav.' in Ann. Mon. ii. 292). This date makes impossible the statement of Walter of Coventry that they only arrived after Damietta had been captured (ii. 246). The town fell into the crusaders' hands on 6 Nov. Fitzwalter, therefore, though he is not mentioned, must have taken part in the latter part of the siege (see for all points connected with; the crusade Röhricht, 'Die Belagerung von Damiette' in Von Raumer's Hist. Taschenbuch for 1876, and his other article in Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte, 1876). Eracles, in 'Recueil des Histor. des Croisades,' ii. 343, says that Fitzwalter arrived in the seventh month of 1219 (cf. also Publications de la Société de l'Orient Latin, Série Historique, iii. 66, 62, 65, 69).
The crusaders remained in Egypt until August 1221. But Fitzwalter had gone home sick ('Ann. Dunst.' in Ann, Mon, iii. 66), probably at some earlier period. He spent the rest of his life peaceably in England, thoroughly reconciled now to the government of Henry III. He must have by this time become well advanced in years. He was called 'Robert Fitzwalter, senior,' in the list of executors of the charter, and his son, presumably Robert Fitzwalter, junior, was taken prisoner along with him at Lincoln. On 11 Feb. 1225 Fitzwalter was one of the witnesses of Henry III's third confirmation of the great charter ('Ann. Burton.' in Ann. Mon. i. 232). In June 1230 he was one of those assigned to hold the assize of arms in Essex and Hertfordshire (Shirley, Royal Letters, i. 375). He died on 9 Dec. 1235 ('Ann. Theok.' in Ann, Mon. i. 99; Matt. Paris, iii. 334), and was buried before the high altar at Dunmow priory, the chief foundation of his house. He is described by Matthew Paris (iii. 334) as a 'noble baron, illustrious by his birth, and renowned for his martial deeds.' Administration of his goods and chattels was granted to his executors on 16 Dec. (Excerpta e Rot. Finium, i. 294). His heir, Walter, was at the time under age, so that the son who fought with him at Lincoln must have been dead (ib. i. 301). This Walter (d. 1257) must have been either a younger son or a grandson. After the death of Gunnor (she was alive in 1207) it is said that Fitzwalter married a second wife, Rohese, who survived him. He had also a daughter, Christina, who married William Mandeville, earl of Essex (Doyle, Official Baronage, i. 685).
A large legendary and romantic history gradually gathered round the memory of the first champion of English liberty. A picturesque tale, first found in the manuscript chronicle of Dunmow (MS. Cotton. Cleop. C. 3, f. 29), and reproduced in substance m the 'Monasticon' (ed. Caley, Ellis, and Bandinel, vi. 147), tells how Fitzwalter had a very beautiful daughter named Matilda, who indignantly rejected the immoral advances of King John. At last, as the maiden proved obdurate, John caused her to be poisoned, so that the bitterest sense of personal wrong drove Fitzwalter to take up the part of a constitutional leader. So generally was the story believed that an alabaster figure on a grey altar-tomb in Little Dunmow Church is still sometimes pointed out as the effigy of the unfortunate Matilda. Several poems and plays have been based upon this picturesque romance. In them the chaste Matilda is curiously mixed up with Maid Marian, the mistress of Robin Hood. Such are the plays called 'The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, afterwards called Robin Hood, with his Love to Chaste Matilda, the Lord Fitzwater's daughter, afterwards his faire Maid Marian,' and 'The Death of Robin Hood with the lamentable Tragedy of Chaste Matilda, his faire Maid Marian, poisoned at Dunmowe by King John.' Both were printed in 1601, and were written by Henry Chettle [q. v.] and Anthony Munday [q. v.] They are reprinted in the eighth volume of Hazlitt's 'Dodsley.' Michael Drayton [q. v.] also published in 1594 a poetical account of 'Matilda, the faire and chaste Daughter of the Lord Robert Fitzwalter,' as well as two letters in verse, purporting to be written between her and King John. Before 1639 Robert Davenport [q. v.] wrote another play, 'The Tragedy of King John and Matilda.' It was also believed in the seventeenth century that Robert Fitzwalter, 'or one of his successors,' was the founder of the famous Dunmow custom of giving a flitch of bacon to the couple that had never repented of their union for a year and a day.
[Matthew Paris's Hist. Major, vols. ii. and iii., ed. Luard; Flores Historiarum, vols. iii. and iv. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); R. de Coggeshall's Chronicon Anglicanum (Rolls Ser.); Walter of Coventry's Memorials (Rolls Ser.); Annales Monastici (Rolls Ser.); Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i., Record ed.; Rotuli Literarum Patentium, Rotuli Literarum Clausarum, Record Commission; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 209, 218-20; Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 147-9, ed. Caley, Ellis, and Bandinel; Thomson's Essay on Magna Carta, especially pp.504-11.]