1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chester, Earls of

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CHESTER, EARLS OF. The important palatine earldom of Chester was first held by a certain Fleming named Gherbod (fl. 1070), and then by Hugh of Avranches (d. 1101), a son of Richard, viscount of Avranches. Hugh, who was probably one of William the Conqueror’s companions, was made earl of Chester in 1071; he had special privileges in his earldom, and he held land in twenty counties. He was called Le Gros on account of his great bulk and Lupus on account of his ferocity. However, he regarded St Anselm as his friend, and he showed the customary liberality to religious houses. His life was mainly spent in fighting the Welsh and in Normandy, and he died on the 27th of July 1101. Hugh’s only son Richard, who was childless, was drowned in the White Ship in November 1120. Among subsequent holders were Ralph, or Randulph, de Gernon (d. 1153), who took a prominent part in the civil wars of the reign of Stephen, fighting first on one side and then on the other; and his son Hugh de Kevelioc (1147–1181), who shared in the rising against Henry II. in 1173. But perhaps the most celebrated of the early earls was Ralph, Ranulf, or Randulph, de Blundevill (c. 1172–1232), who succeeded his father Hugh de Kevelioc as earl in 1181, and was created earl of Lincoln in 1217. Ranulf married Constance, widow of Henry II.’s son, Geoffrey of Brittany, and is sometimes called duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond. He fought in Wales, was on the side of John during his struggle with the barons over Magna Carta, and was one of this king’s executors; he also fought for the young king Henry III. against the French invaders and their allies. In 1218 he went on crusade to the Holy Land and took part in the capture of Damietta; then returning to England he died at Wallingford in October 1232. After speaking of Ranulf’s unique position in the kingdom, which “fitted him for the part of a leader of opposition to royal or ministerial tyranny,” Stubbs sums up his character in these words: “On more than one occasion he refused his consent to taxation which he deemed unjust; his jealousy of Hubert (de Burgh), although it led him to join the foreign party in 1223, did not prevent him from more than once interposing to prevent his overthrow. He was, moreover, almost the last relic of the great feudal aristocracy of the Conquest.” Although twice married he left no children, and his immense possessions passed to his four sisters. The earl’s memory remained green for a long time, and in the Vision of Piers Plowman his name is linked with that of Robin Hood. In November 1232 the earldom of Chester was granted to his nephew John the Scot, earl of Huntingdon (c. 1207–1237), and in 1246, nine years after John had died childless, it was annexed to the English crown “lest so fair a dominion should be divided among women.”

In 1254 Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward I., was created earl of Chester, and since this date the earldom has always been held by the heirs apparent to the English crown with the single exception of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Since 1399 the earls of Chester have been also princes of Wales, although the act of Richard II. (1398), which created Chester into a principality to be held by the king’s eldest son, was revoked by Henry IV.