Mowbray, Robert de (DNB00)
|←Mowbray, John (1415-1461)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Mowbray, Robert de
|Mowbray, Roger de→|
MOWBRAY, ROBERT de, Earl of Northumberland (d. 1125?), was a son of Roger de Montbrai (in the Cotentin near St. Lô), who came over with the Conqueror, and was nephew of a far more prominent follower, Geoffrey (d. 1093) [q. v.], bishop of Coutances (Orderic Vitalis, ii. 223, iii. 406, ed. Prévost; Dugdale, Baronage, i. 56). Mowbray, a grim and turbulent baron, was, if we may believe Orderic (ii. 381), engaged in Robert's rebellion against his father in 1078. If this was so, it did not prevent his appointment between 1080 and 1082 to the earldom of Northumberland (Simeon of Durham, p. 98). In all probability he succeeded directly to Earl Aubrey, though Dugdale and Freeman, on insufficient grounds, have interposed a brief tenure of the earldom by his uncle, Bishop Geoffrey (ib. with Mr. Hinde's note; Dugdale, i. 56; Freeman, Norman Conquest, iv. 673).
In 1088 both uncle and nephew sided with Robert against his brother, William Rufus (Chronicon Angliæ Petriburgense, ed. J. A. Giles, s. a. 1088; Florence of Worcester, ii. 24), though Orderic (iii. 273) asserts that Mowbray remained loyal to the king. From the bishop's strong castle at Bristol the earl marched upon and burnt Bath, whence he ravaged western Wiltshire, and, making a circuit over the high ground to the southwest, besieged Ilchester, but was repulsed (Florence, ii. 24 ; Proceedings of Bath Nat. Hist, and Antiquarian Club, ii. 3, 1872 ; Freeman, William Rufus, i. 41-4). The rising collapsed, but the king did not feel strong enough to punish the earl.
Soon after Mowbray quarrelled with his neighbour, William of Saint Calais, bishop of Durham, over lands claimed by both, and he revenged himself upon the bishop by ordering the expulsion of Turchill, a Durham monk, from the church of St. Oswine, which belonged to the priory of Durham, but stood within the circuit of the earl's castle at Tynemouth (Simeon of Durham, Hist. Ecclesice Dunelmensis, p. 228 ; Gesta Regum, pp. 115-10). Moreover, in spite of the protests of the monks of Durham, Mowbray gave the church of St. Oswine to the Benedictines of Saint Albans to be a cell of their house, and it became the priory of Tynemouth (ib. ; Monasticon Anglicanum, iii. 312; Simeon, Gesta Regum, p. 116; Hist. Translations S. Cuthberti, ib. p. 180). In the opinion, however, of the St. Albans historians the earl was divinely inspired in his gift. The foundation of Tynemouth priory is dated by Roger of Wendover (ii. 39) about 1091, the year of the return from exile of Bishop William of Durham ; but according to Matthew Paris it was founded with the approval of Lanfranc, who died in 1089 (Gesta Abb. Sti. Albani, ed. Riley, i. 57). On the other hand, there are some grounds for believing that the earl and the bishop had not quarrelled by so early a date, and Simeon of Durham implies that the death of Abbot Paul of Saint Albans, which took place in 1093, was not long after the foundation (Simeon, Hist. Eccl. p. 228 ; Monasticon, i. 249; cf. Matthew Paris, Hist. Angl. i. 41, Historia Major, ii. 31, vi. 372).
Mowbray was probably prevented from taking part with the other barons of the Cotentin in the struggle between Prince Henry and his brothers in 1091 by the invasion of Malcolm, king of Scots, whom he seems to have driven back from Chester-le-Street in May of that year (Oderic, iii. 351 ; Chron. Petriburgense, 1091). When Malcolm repeated his invasion in 1093, he was surprised and slain by Mowbray near Alnwick on St. Brice's day (13 Nov.) (ib. ; Florence, ii. 31 ; William of Malmesbury, ii. 309, 366 ; Orderic, iii. 396 ; Matthew Paris, Hist. Angl. i. 47 ; William of Jumièges, viii. 8; Freeman, William Rufus, ii. 595 ; cf. Fordun, i. 218, ed. Skene). The earl buried Malcolm in the priory church at Tynemouth.
Elated by this success, and by the great addition to his power which had just accrued to him by the death (2 Feb. 1093) of his uncle, Bishop Geoffrey, whose 280 manors all came to him, Mowbray seems to have become a party to the conspiracy of 1095, whose object was to transfer the crown from the Conqueror's sons to their cousin, Count Stephen of Aumale (Florence, ii. 38 ; Henry of Huntington, p. 218 ; Epistolæ Anselmi, iii. 35-6). Orderic (iii. 406) says that Mowbray began the insurrection by seizing four Norwegian vessels in a Northumbrian haven, and by refusing to give satisfaction or to appear at court at the king's command. He certainly disobeyed a special summons to the Easter court at Winchester (25 March), and, though threatened with outlawry, absented himself from the Whitsun feast at Windsor, the king having refused his request for hostages and a safe-conduct (Chron. Petriburgense, 1095 ; cf. Freeman, ii. 41-2). Rufus then took a force of mercenaries and English militia into the North against him, captured the New Castle on the Tyne, the frontier fortress of Mowbray's earldom, containing the main body of the earl's forces, and laid siege to Tynemouth castle, which guarded the entrance of the river (Florence, ii. 38 ; Freeman, ii. 47). Tynemouth, which was defended by the earl's brother, fell after a siege of two months (July ?), and the king advanced to attack Mowbray himself in his great coast castle at Bamborough (ib.) Barnborough being virtually impregnable, Rufus built and garrisoned a tower on the land side, which he called Malveisin, or the Evil Neighbour, and went off to the Welsh war. Not long after his departure the royal garrison of the New Castle drew Mowbray into an ambush by a false promise to surrender that fortress, and took him prisoner. But in some way not explained he contrived to escape to his monastery at Tynemouth, and stood there a siege of six days, until he was wounded in the leg and dragged from the church in which he had taken refuge (Florence, ii. 38 ; Hist. Translations S. Cuthberti, in Surtees edit, of Simeon, p. 180). The Durham writers regard this as the punishment of heaven for his having robbed Saint Cuthbert of this church (ib. pp. 115-16, 180-1). Meanwhile Bamborough was manfully defended by his newly married wife, Mathilda de Laigle, with the assistance of his nephew, Morel, and it was not until her husband was led before the walls with a threat that, unless the castle was surrendered, his eyes should be seared out in her presence, that she gave up the keys (Chron. Petriburgense, 1095; Florence, ii. 39; Orderic, iii. 410).
Mowbray was deprived of his earldom and all his possessions, and imprisoned at Windsor (Chron. Petriburgense ; Florence, ii. 39; Henry of Huntington, p.218). Some authorities state or imply that he was kept in prison until his death, or at least far into the next reign (Orderic, iii. 199, 410; Malmesbury, ii. 372; Cont. of William of Jumièges, viii. 8; Hist. Translationis S. Cuthberti, p. 181). Orderic says in one place that he was imprisoned for nearly thirty years, in another for nearly thirty-four years. The story that Henry allowed him to spend his last years as a monk at Saint Albans appears in only one contemporary authority, the Magdalen manuscript of the Durham 'Libel lus de Regibus Saxonicis,' printed with Simeon in the Surtees Society edition (p. 213), and deemed by its editor to have been written in 1138-9 either at Saint Albans itself or at Tynemouth. It is also found with additional details in later Saint Albans accounts of the foundation of Tynemouth priory, one of which, apparently by Matthew Paris, adds that Mowbray was blind for some years before his death, and was buried near the chapter-house where Abbot Simon afterwards built the chapel of Saint Simeon (Matthew Paris, vi. 372, ed. Luard; Hist. Angl. iii. 175; Monasticon, iii. 312-13; Freeman, ii. 612). Mr. Doyle, accepting this version, seeks to reconcile the contradictory statements of Orderic by supposing that Mowbray became a monk in 1125 and died in 1129 (Official Baronage).
Mowbray had only been married three months before his capture. His wife was Mathilda, a daughter of Richer de Laigle (de Aquila) by Judith, sister of Hugh, earl of Chester (Orderic. iii. 406). Pope Paschal II afterwards allowed her as a widow in all but name to marry Nigel de Albini [see under Mowbray, Roger I de], a relative, probably a cousin of her husband, who founded the second house of Mowbray (ib. iii. 410; William of Jumièges, viii. 8; Freeman, ii. 612). She apparently survived both husbands, as she was still living in 1130 (Pipe Roll, 31 Henry I, pp. 16, 76, ed. Hunter).
Orderic has left a graphic portrait of Mowbray: 'Powerful, rich, bold, fierce in war, haughty, he despised his equals, and, swollen with vanity, disdained to obey his superiors. He was of great stature, strong, swarthy, and hairy. Daring and crafty, stern and grim of mien, he was more given to meditation than to speech, and in conversation scarce ever smiled ' (Orderic, iii. 406; cf. Monasticon, iii. 311). If he is not maligned by the Durham historians, his motives in founding Tynemouth priory scarcely entitled him to Matthew Paris's praise as 'vir quidem Deo devotus.'
[Chronicon Angliæ Petriburgense, ed. J. A. Giles; Florence of Worcester and Roger of Wendover, ed. English Historical Society; Ordericus Vitalis's Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. Le Prévost, for the Société de l'Histoire de France; Simeon of Durham's Gesta Regum, with the Historia Translationis S. Cuthberti and other Durham writings, ed. Hinde, for the Surtees Society; his Historia Ecclesiæ Dunelmensis, ed. Bedford (1732); William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Matthew Paris's Works, ed. Madden and Luard, and the Gesta Abbatum Sancti Albani (the earlier part of which is by Matthew Paris), all in the Rolls Series; the Continuator of William of Jumièges in Duchesne's Scriptores Normannorum. The chief incidents in Mowbray's career are exhaustively dealt with by Freeman in his William Rufus, especially Appendices CC, FF.]