Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Warenne, William (d.1088)
WARENNE or WARREN, WILLIAM, first Earl of Surrey (d. 1088), appears to have been the son of Rodulf or Ralph, called ‘filius episcopi,’ by his second wife, Emma, Rodulf himself being the son of Hugh (d. 1020), bishop of Coutances, by a sister of Gunnor, wife of Richard I (d. 996), duke of the Normans (C. Waters, Gundrada de Warenne, p. 11; Archæological Journal, iii. 7; Cont. of Will. of Jumièges, viii. 37, makes his mother a niece of Gunnor). His name was derived from his fortress situated on the left bank of the Varenne, and called after that river, though later called Bellencombre (Seine-Inférieure), where there are some ruins of a castle of the eleventh century. He was a knight at the battle of Mortemer in 1054; and when, after the battle, Roger de Mortemer, his kinsman (he is incorrectly called his brother, ib.; Stapleton says that he was uncle), offended Duke William, the duke gave the castle of Mortemer to William Warenne (Orderic, p. 658).
He was one of the lords consulted by the duke with reference to his complaints against Harold (d. 1066) [q. v.], and was present at the battle of Hastings (Will. of Poitiers, p. 135). When the Conqueror returned to Normandy in March 1067 he appointed William, with other lords, to assist the two viceroys in England. Grants of land were given him by the king; in Sussex he held Lewes, where he erected a castle, and about a sixth part of the county. He is said to have built another castle at Reigate in Surrey, and a third at Castle Acre in Norfolk. In 1069 he received Conisborough in the West Riding, with its appendages, and he became wealthy, for in 1086 he held lands in twelve counties (Ellis, Introduction to Domesday, i. 213; Watson). He fought against the rebels in the Isle of Ely in 1071, and is represented as having a special grudge against Hereward, who is said to have slain his brother Frederic (Liber de Hyda, p. 295; Gesta Herewardi, pp. 46, 54, 61; Liber Eliensis, c. 105; Frederic occurs as a landholder in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, see Domesday, ff. 196, ii, 465 b, 170 b, 172 b, but was dead in 1086). During the absence of the king in 1075 Warenne was joint chief justiciar with Richard de Clare (d. 1090?) [q. v.], and took a leading part in suppressing the rebellion of the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk. In 1077 he and his wife Gundrada [q. v.] founded the priory of St. Pancras at Lewes, the first house of the Cluniac order that was founded in England; and in that year Lanzo was sent over by the mother-house of Cluni as the first prior (for the first and genuine charter of foundation see Sir G. Duckett, Charters and Records of Cluni, i. 44–5). In a spurious charter of foundation recited in 1417 (ib. pp. 47–53; Monasticon, v. 12), which should not entirely be disregarded, William is made to say that he and his wife had been advised by Lanfranc [q. v.] to found a religious house, and that they determined on their foundation in consequence of a visit that they made to Cluni when they were intending to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, but were prevented by the war between the pope and the emperor, and when they were admitted into the brotherhood of the house. William made large grants to his priory (Manuscript Register of Lewes); it received a charter from the Conqueror, and held a high place among the ‘daughters of Cluni’ (Duckett, u.s.). In January 1085 William and other lords were engaged in the siege of Ste.-Susanne in Maine, which was held against the Normans by the viscount Hubert de Beaumont; they had no success, and were most of them wounded (Orderic, p. 649).
William of Warenne remained faithful to William Rufus in the rebellion of 1088, and the position of his castle at Lewes rendered his loyalty especially useful to the king (ib. p. 667; Freeman, William Rufus, i. 59). Probably in that year Rufus gave him the earldom of Surrey; Orderic (p. 680) represents the grants as made at an assembly that the king held at Winchester in 1090, probably at Easter (see Freeman, u.s.), and adds that the earl died shortly afterwards. He also (p. 522) speaks of a grant of ‘Surrey’ as made to him by the Conqueror, and William's name occurs in the testes of two charters of the Conqueror to Battle Abbey as ‘comes de Warr’ (see Monasticon, iii. 244–5); but these testes are certainly spurious, indeed the charters themselves are not above suspicion. Nor does Orderic's notice of the grant of ‘Surrey’ necessarily imply a grant of the earldom; taken with his account of the grant by Rufus, it seems rather to exclude such a grant. Freeman indeed considers that William must have received a grant of the earldom from the Conqueror, and accordingly gives him the title of earl before 1087 (see Norman Conquest, iv. 471 n., 584, 659); but considering the number of times that his name occurs in genuine records of the Conqueror's time without the title of earl, as specially in ‘Domesday,’ there is no valid reason for Freeman's supposition. (The question is well discussed by Mr. Round in the Complete Peerage, vii. 322, art. ‘Surrey.’ The assertion of some genealogists that William held a Norman earldom of Warenne is contrary to an invariable Norman usage. On the custom of describing English earls by their christian names followed by their title, and in some cases with a distinctive suffix, as ‘Willelmus comes Warenna,’ where Warenne is used as a surname to distinguish Earl William from other earls of the same name, see Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 145.)
It is said that the earl was wounded in the leg by an arrow at the siege of Pevensey, and was carried to Lewes, where he died, after leaving his estates in England to his elder, and in Flanders to his younger, son (Liber de Hyda, p. 299; the authority, though late, may be accepted, see William Rufus, i. 76n.; the estates in Flanders must have come to the earl by his marriage). The earl's death may then be dated 24 June 1088, for Pevensey was surrendered probably in May in that year (the day is given in the Manuscript Register of Lewes Priory, f. 105, and the date is also noted in Annales de Lewes ap. Sussex Archæological Collections, ii. 24; Dugdale, followed by Doyle, gives 24 June 1089). He was buried in the chapter-house of Lewes, with an epitaph given by Orderic (p. 680). He is described as remarkably valiant (Benoit de Ste. More, i. 189).
He married (1) Gundrada [q. v.], sister of Gerbod, a Fleming, earl of Chester, and by her had two sons, William de Warenne (d. 1138) [q. v.] and Rainald or Reginald, who fought on the side of Duke Robert in 1090, was taken prisoner at Dive in 1106, and pardoned by Henry I (Orderic, pp. 690, 819, 821), and a daughter Edith [see under Gundrada], whose daughter Gundred married Nigel de Albini, and was mother of Roger de Mowbray I (d. 1188?) [q. v.] After the death of Gundrada in 1085, William married (2) a sister of Richard Goet, or Gouet, of Perche Gouet (Eure et Loire) (C. Waters, u.s., p. 20; Bermondsey Annals, iii. 420).
Besides the priory of Lewes, he founded the priory of Castle Acre as a dependency of Lewes (Monasticon, v. 49), and is said to have been a benefactor of St. Mary's at York (ib. iii. 546, 550). He is accused of having unjustly held lands belonging to the abbey of Ely, and it is related that on the night of his death the abbot heard his soul crying for mercy, and that shortly afterwards his widow sent a hundred shillings to the church, which the monks refused to receive as the money of one who was damned (Liber Eliensis, c. 119). The story is no doubt connected with a long dispute between his descendants and the monastery. His remains were discovered at Lewes in 1845, and were reinterred at Southover in that borough (Sussex Archæological Collections, ii. 11, xl. 170; Archœologia, xxxi. 439).[Authorities cited in the text; Watson's Earls of Warren and Surrey; Stapleton's Norm. Excheq. and ap. Archæol. Journal, iii. 1; Registrum de Lewes, Cotton. MS. Vespasian, F. xv.; Addit. MS. (Eyton's MSS.) 31939.]