Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hugh (d.1101)

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HUGH (d. 1101), called of Avranches, Earl of Chester, son of Richard, called Goz, viscount of Avranches, is said to have been a nephew of William the Conqueror, his mother, to whom the name of Emma is given, being a daughter of Herleva (Ormerod; Doyle); but for this there seems to be no authority earlier than the fourteenth century. His father, Richard, was the son of Thurstan Goz, lord of Hiesmes, son of Ansfrid, a Dane. Thurstan was unfaithful to Duke William in 1040, and helped Henry, king of France, in his invasion of Normandy. His son Richard remained loyal and made his father's peace with the duke. When the duke was about to invade England, Hugh, who had by that time succeeded to his father's viscounty, was one of his chief councillors, and contributed sixty ships to the invading fleet (William of Poitiers, ap. Gesta Willelmi I, p. 121, see also p. 22). He was richly rewarded with grants of English land. When Gerbod, earl of Chester, left England in 1071, the Conqueror bestowed his earldom on Hugh, who was invested with singular power, for he was overlord of all the land in his earldom save what belonged to the bishop, he had a court of his barons or greater tenants in chief, offences were committed against his peace not against the king's, and writs ran in his name. These characteristics became recognised as constituting apalatine earldom. The exceptional power which he held was designed to strengthen him against the Welsh, against whom he carried on frequent and sanguinary wars in conjunction especially with Robert of Rhuddlan [q.v.] and his own baronial tenant Robert of Malpas; he fought successfully in North Wales, invaded Anglesey, and built the castle of Aberlleiniog on the eastern coast of the island. Besides his earldom he held lands in twenty shires.

Extravagant without being liberal he loved show, was always ready for war, and kept an army rather than a household. An inordinate craving for sport led him to lay waste his own lands that he might have more space for hunting and hawking. He was gluttonous and sensual, became so unwieldy that he could scarcely walk, and was generally styled Hugh the Fat; he had many children by different mistresses. His wars with the Welsh were carried on with a savage ferocity, which makes the name Wolf (Lupus) bestowed on him in later days an appropriate designation. At the same time he was a wise counsellor, a loyal subject, and not without strong religious feelings; his household contained several men of high character, his chaplain was a learned and holy man, and both the earl and his countess, Ermentrude, daughter of Hugh of Claremont, count of Beauvais, were friends and admirers of Anselm (Orderic, pp. 522, 598; Eadmer, Historia Novorum, ii. 363). When in 1082 Bishop Odo was planning an expedition to Italy, Hugh prepared to accompany him, but the scheme came to nothing. In the rebellion of 1088 he remained faithful to William Rufus. As viscount of Avranches he upheld the cause of his count Henry [see Henry I], though when both Rufus and Duke Robert marched against the count in 1091, he surrendered his castle to them. The story that it was by his advice that Henry occupied Mont St. Michel is probably without foundation (Wace,1. 14624; Freeman, William Rufus, ii. 530). In 1092 he designed to turn out the secular canons of St. Werburgh's, Chester, and establish in their place a body of monks from the abbey of Bec. Accordingly he sent to Anselm, then abbot of Bec, who spoke of him as an old friend, asking him to come and help him, and his request was supported by other nobles. Anselm refused to visit England at that time [see under Anselm], and the earl fell sick, and sent him another message urging him to come for the good of his soul. After a third message Anselm came, and helped the earl, who was then recovered, in his work. Hugh rebuilt the church in conjunction with his countess, endowed the monastery, and made Anselm's chaplain the first abbot. When Henry's fortunes mended in 1094, Hugh was again one of his chief supporters, and received from him the castle of St. James on the Beuvron in the south of the Avranchin, of which he had previously been constable, as his father had been before him. On 31 Oct. he was summoned by Rufus to accompany Henry to Eu, where the king then was; they, however, sailed to England, and remained in London over Christmas. During his absence in Normandy the Welsh rebelled; they invaded and wasted Cheshire, took the earl's towns, and destroyed his castle in Anglesey. During the wars of the next three years North Wales, with which the earl must have been most concerned, remained unsubdued. In January 1096 he was at the king's court at Salisbury, where he advised that William of Eu, who had been defeated in judicial combat, should be mutilated, for William had married the earl's sister and had been unfaithful to her. In 1098 he joined Hugh of Montgomery [q. v.], earl of Shrewsbury, in an invasion of Anglesey; they bribed the Norse pirates from Ireland, who were in alliance with the Welsh, to help them to enter the island, rebuilt the castle of Aberlleiniog, slaughtered large numbers, and mutilated their captives. An old priest named Cenred, who had given counsel to the Welsh, was dragged out of church, and after he had suffered other mutilations his tongue was cut out. More than a century and a half later it was commonly believed that the Earl of Chester (or perhaps his fellow-earl) kennelled his hounds for a night in the church of St. Tyfrydog, and the next morning found them all mad. When the fleet of Magnus Barefoot, king of Norway, appeared off the island, the earls led a large force to prevent the Northmen from landing. The Earl of Shrewsbury was slain, and Magnus made peace with the Earl of Chester, declaring that he meant no harm to England, and had come to take possession of the islands which belonged to him. Hugh completed the conquest of Anglesey and subdued the larger part of North Wales. He was in Normandy when he heard of the death of Rufus in 1100; he crossed at once to England and was one of the principal councillors of Henry. The next year he fell sick, assumed the Benedictine habit at St. Werburgh's, and three days afterwards died on 27 July. His body was first buried in the cemetery of the abbey, and was afterwards removed by his nephew Ranulf, earl of Chester, called le Meschin (d. 1129 ?), into the chapter-house. The report that his remains were discovered in 1724 seems doubtful (Ormerod, i. 218).

By his wife Ermentrude he had one son, Richard, who succeeded him, receiving investiture of the earldom about 1107. Richard, who was handsome, loyal, and amiable, married Matilda, daughter of Stephen, count of Blois, by Adela, daughter of the Conqueror, and while still a young man was drowned with his wife when the White Ship foundered on 27 Nov. 1119. Also probably by his wife Hugh had a daughter named Giva, who married Geoffrey Ridell, lord of Wittering, Northamptonshire, one of Henry's justices, and after her husband was drowned in the White Ship founded the Benedictine priory of Canwell, Staffordshire (Monasticon, iv. 104; Tanner, Notitia, p. 496).

Of his illegitimate children, Robert became a monk of St. Evroul's, and was in 1100 wrongfully made abbot of St. Edmund's, whence he was removed by Anselm's authority (Orderic, pp. 602, 783; Liebermann, Annals of St. Edmund's, p. 130; St. Anselm, Epp. iv. 14), and Othere was tutor to the sons of Henry I and was drowned in the White Ship.

[Orderic, pp. 522, 598,602, 704, 768, 783, 787, 870(Duchesne); William of Poitiers, Gesta Willelmi Conq.pp. 22,121 (Giles); Will.'of Jumièges,vii. 6, viii. 4 (Duchesne); Anglo-Sax.Chron. ann. 1094, 1098; Florence of Worc. ii. 42 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, iv. 329 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Hen. of Huntingdon, Hist.p.242, De Contemptu Mundi, p.304 (Rolls Ser.); Eadmer's Hist. Nov. pp. 362, 363, and Anselmi Epp.iv. 14, 81 (Migne); Liebermann's Ungedruckte Anglo-Normann. Geschichtsquellen, p. 130; Wace's Roman de Rou, l. 14624 sq.; Ann. Cambriæ, an. 1098, and Brut y Tywysogion, ann.1092 (1094), 1096 (1098), both Rolls Ser.; Laing's Heimskringla, iii. 129-33; Giraldi Cambr. Itin. Kambr. ii. 7, Op. vi. 128, 129 (Rolls Ser.); Freeman's Norman Conq. iv. passim, Will. Rufus, i. 11, passim; Stuḃbs's Const. Hist. i. 363, 364; Ellis's Introd.to Domesday,i. 437; Ormerod's Hist. of Cheshire, i.11,12, 123, 124, 218; Doyle's Official Baronage, i. 362; Dugdale's Monasticon, ii. 271 sqq.iv. 104; Tanner's Notitia, p. 496.]

W. H.