Ralph of Toesny (DNB00)
|←Ralph of Wader||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47
Ralph of Toesny
|Ralph, Baron of Mortemer→|
RALPH of Toesny (d. 1102), Norman baron, came in the female line of the stock of Malahulc, uncle of Rollo, the conqueror of Normandy (Ord. Vit.. i. 181 n.) His father Roger fought against Odo of Chartres under Richard II of Normandy (William of Jumièges, p. 253), and afterwards went to Spain, with the intention of carving out a principality for himself, as other Normans were doing in Southern Italy. He married a daughter of the widowed Countess of Barcelona, but, though he won a terrible repute by his hard-fought victories over the Saracens and his cannibal ferocity, his plans came to nought, and he returned to Normandy, soon after the succession of William to the Norman duchy (ib. p. 268; Ademar ap. Pertz, Mon. Hist. Germ. iv. 140). Roger, who was hereditary standard-bearer of Normandy, and is described as a proud and powerful man, declared he would not have a bastard for his duke. So he began to lay waste the lands of his neighbours, until Robert de Beaumont defeated and slew Roger and his sons Helbert and Elinand (the date must have been after 1040; cf. Ord. Vit. ii. 370 n.) Roger's widow, Adeline or Helen, married Richard, count of Evreux. His daughter Adelina was wife of William Fitz-Osbern [q. v.]
Ralph succeeded his father, Roger, at Toesny and as standard-bearer of Normandy. In 1050 he witnessed a charter of William to the monastery of St. Evroul (Ord. Vit. ii. 40). In 1054, after the defeat of the French at Mortemer, Ralph was sent by William to announce the news in the camp of the French king. His message, delivered from a rock hard by in the dead of the night, struck the invading host with panic, and they hastily retreated to their own land. About 1060 Ralph was accused before William, by Roger of Montgomery [q. v.], and in consequence disinherited and exiled. He seems to have joined with Arnald de Escalfoy in an attack on the monastery of St. Evroul; afterwards he went on a journey to Spain, but before his departure came to St. Evroul and begged pardon for his conduct, promising if he returned in safety to make compensation to the monks (ib. ii. 401). About 1063 he was restored to favour, at the petition of Simon de Montfort and Waleran de Breteuil (ib. ii. 93). Ralph was present at the council of Lillebonne in 1066, when the invasion of England was decided on. Before the battle of Hastings, William bade him, as standard-bearer, take the standard which the pope had sent him. But Ralph refused the honour, that he might be more free to bear his part in the fight (Wace, 7601–20).
After the conquest of England he was rewarded with lands in Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Worcestershire, and other counties (Domesday, i. 62, 138, 168, 176, 183, ii. 91, 235). It was probably not Ralph, but his son, also named Ralph, who supported Robert of Normandy against his father in 1077. In 1081 Ralph was with William at Winchester. After William's death in 1087 he expelled the ducal garrisons from his castles. In the following year, however, he fought under Duke Robert in Maine. In 1090 Heloise, countess of Evreux, out of jealousy of Isabel, wife of Ralph of Toesny, stirred up war between her husband, William of Evreux, and Ralph of Toesny, his half-brother. Ralph, after appealing in vain to Duke Robert, sought assistance from William Rufus. In November William of Evreux, with his nephew, William of Breteuil, besieged Conches. William of Breteuil was taken prisoner, and eventually a peace was arranged, the two Williams agreeing to take their kinsman Roger, Ralph of Toesny's second son, for their heir. Ralph's warfare forms ‘an immediate part of the tale of William Rufus’ (Freeman, William Rufus, i. 240), and six years later he was again found supporting William against his brother Robert. Two years later the English king when in Normandy visited Ralph at Conches (ib. ii. 246). In 1100 Ralph was engaged in warfare with Robert de Beaumont, count of Meulan, in alliance with William of Evreux. He died on 24 March 1102, and was buried in the abbey of Conches.
Ralph is commonly spoken of as Ralph of Conches, and it is possible that he, and not his father, founded the abbey and built the castle of Conches. When Ralph went to Spain he left his physician, Goisbert, to become a monk at St. Evroul. Some years later he took Goisbert to England, and gave the monks Caldecot in Norfolk, and Alton in the parish of Rock, Worcestershire. His wife, Isabel or Elizabeth de Montfort, had taken an active part in her husband's warfare with William of Evreux, riding, like another Penthesilea in armour, among the knights; she survived her husband, and spent her last years in the monastery of Haute Bruyère. Ralph's eldest son, Ralph, succeeded him, and married Adeliza, daughter of Waltheof, earl of Huntingdon; he supported Henry I in his warfare with Robert of Normandy, and died in 1126, leaving two sons, Roger and Hugh.
Ralph of Toesny was ancestor of the Robert de Tony who was summoned to parliament on 10 April 1299 (Burke, Extinct Peerage). He had two brothers, who settled in England—Robert, ancestor of the Staffords, earls of Stafford and dukes of Buckingham; and Nigel, ancestor of the Gresleys of Gresley.[Ordericus Vitalis (Soc. de l'Hist. de France); William of Jumièges ap. Duchesne's Historiæ Normannorum Scriptores; Wace's Roman de Rou; Freeman's Norman Conquest and William Rufus; Battle Abbey Roll. iii. 171–7, ed. Duchess of Cleveland; Planché's Conqueror and his Companions, i. 217–27.]