Fitzcount, Brian (DNB00)

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FITZCOUNT, BRIAN (fl. 1125–1142), warrior and author, was the son of Count Alan 'Fergan' (Anglo-Saxon Chron. 1127) of Brittany (d. 1119), but apparently illegitimate. From a most interesting letter addressed to him by Gilbert Foliot (vide infra), we learn that Henry I reared him from his youth up, knighted him, and provided for him in life. A chief means by which he was provided for was his marriage with 'Matilda de Wallingford,' as she was styled, who brought him the lands of Miles Crispin (Testa de Nevill, p. 115), whose widow (ib.) or daughter she was. He was further made firmarius of Wallingford (but not, as asserted, given it for himself), then an important town with a strong fortress. This post he held at least as early as 1127 (Pipe Roll, 31 Hen. I, p. 139). He was despatched in that year (1127) with the Earl of Gloucester to escort the Empress Maud to Normandy (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), and was engaged with him shortly afterwards in auditing the national accounts at the treasury at Winchester (Pipe Roll, 31 Hen. I, pp. 130–1). He also purchased for himself the office and part of the land of Nigel de Oilli (ib. p. 139), and held land by 1130 in at least twelve counties (ib. passim). From the evidence of charters it is clear that he was constantly at court for the last ten years of the reign. Though a devoted adherent of the Empress Maud, he witnessed as a 'constable' Stephen's charter of liberties (1136), as did the Earl of Gloucester. On her landing (1139), however, he at once declared for her (Gesta, p. 57), met the Earl of Gloucester as he marched from Arundel to Bristol, and concerted with him their plans (Will. Malm. ii. 725). Stephen promptly besieged Wallingford, but failing to take it, retired, leaving a blockading force (Gesta, pp. 57–8). But the blockade was raised, and Brian relieved by a dashing attack from Gloucester (ib. p. 59). Thenceforth Wallingford, throughout the war, was a thorn in Stephen's side, and Brian was one of the three chief supporters of the empress, the other five being her brother Robert and Miles of Gloucester [q. v.] These three attended her on her first visit to Winchester (March 1141), and were sureties for her to the legate (Will. Malm. ii. 743). Charters prove that Brian accompanied her to London (June 1141), and that at Oxford he was with her again (25 July 1141). Thence he marched with her to Winchester (Gesta, p. 80), and on her defeat fled with her to Devizes, 'showing that as before they had loved one another, so now neither adversity nor danger could sever them' (ib. p. 83).

A Brien de Walingofort
Commanda a mener la dame
E dist, sor la peril de s'alme,
Qu'en mil lieu ne s'aresteiisent. (MEYER)

He is again found with her at Bristol towards the close of the year (Monasticon, vi. 137), and at Oxford in the spring of 1142. And when escaping from Oxford in December following, it was to Brian's castle that the empress fled (Hen. Hunt. p. 276).

It was at some time after the landing of the empress (1139) that Gilbert Foliot wrote to Brian that long and instructive letter, from which we learn that this fighting baron had apparently composed an eloquent treatise in defence of the rights of the empress (ed. Giles, ep. lxxix.) Another ecclesiastic, the Bishop of Winchester, endeavoured in vain to shake his allegiance on behalf of the king, his brother. Their correspondence is still extant in the 'Liber Epistolaris' of Richard de Bury (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 390 b). Brian must therefore have received, for these days, an unusually good education, probably at the court of Henry 'Beauclerc.'

His later history is very obscure. On the capture of William Martel at Wilton in 1143 he was sent prisoner to Brian, who placed him in a special dungeon, which he named 'clœre Brien' (Matt. Paris, ii. 174). In 1146 he was again besieged by Stephen, who was joined by the Earl of Chester (Hen. Hunt. p. 279), but he surprised and captured shortly after a castle of the Bishop of Winchester (Gesta, p. 133). In 1152 Stephen besieged him a third time, and he found himself hard pressed; but in 1153 he was brilliantly relieved by Henry (Hen. Hunt. pp. 284, 287). Thus the 'clever Breton,' as Gervase (i. 153) terms him, held his fortress to the end. At this point he disappears from view.

The story that he went on crusade comes from the utterly untrustworthy account of him in the 'Abergavenny Chronicle' (Mon. Angl. iv. 615). An authentic charter of 1141–2 (Pipe Roll Soc.) proves that he held Abergavenny, but, like everything else, in right of his wife. She, who died without issue (Notebook, iii. 536), founded Oakburn Priory, Wiltshire, circa 1151 (Mon. Angl. vi. 1016).

[Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Rolls Series); Gesta Stephani (ib.); Henry of Huntingdon (ib.); Matt. Paris's Chronica Major (ib.); Gervase of Canterbury (ib.); Pipe Roll of 31 Hen. I (Record Commission); Testa de Nevill (ib.); William of Malmesbury (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Monasticon Anglicanum (new edit.); Round's Charters (Pipe Roll Soc.); Maitland's Bracton's Note-book; Meyer's L'histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal (Romania, vol. xi.); Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep.; Giles's Letters of Foliot (Patres Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ); Athenæum, 22 Oct. 1887; the Rev. A. D. Crake's Brian Fitzcount (1888) is an historical romance, founded on Brian's legendary career.]

J. H. R.