Ralph the Timid (DNB00)

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RALPH the Timid, Earl of Hereford (d. 1057), younger son of Drogo or Dreux (d. 1035), count of the Vexin, by Godgifu or Goda, daughter of Ethelred II, came over to England in 1041, during the reign of Hardecanute (Historia Ramesiensis, p. 171), with his uncle, Edward the Confessor. The latter, who came to the throne the next year, regarded the young man with favour, and he was entrusted with the earldom of Worcestershire, probably in subordination to Leofric, earl of Mercia [q. v.] (Codex Diplomaticus, iv. 123, No. 792; Norman Conquest, ii. 111); he was in command there in July 1049, when a force of pirates from Ireland and Welsh under Gruffydd ab Rhydderch [q. v.] invaded the shire. He fled before them, leaving Worcester to be burnt by the invaders, and gaining for himself the appellation of ‘the timid earl’ (Will. Malm. Gesta Regum, ii. c. 199; Flor. Wig. an. 1055). On the outbreak of the quarrel between the king and Earl Godwin [q. v.], which arose out of the outrage committed by Ralph's stepfather, Count Eustace of Boulogne, at Dover in 1051, he marched to Gloucester to uphold the king (ib. an. 1051). When Godwin and his sons were banished he received Swegen's earldom of Herefordshire (Norman Conquest, ii. 160, 561), and it was thought possible at this time that, in spite of the fact that Ralph had an elder brother living (Count Walter III, who died in 1063), Edward might fix upon him as his successor (ib. pp. 298, 367). It was known in June 1052 that Godwin was about to attempt to return to England, and Ralph, in conjunction with Earl Odda, another of the king's kinsmen, was put in command of a fleet at Sandwich to prevent his landing. The weather was bad, and Godwin returned with his vessels to Flanders; but Ralph was held to have displayed little activity, and both he and Odda were replaced in their command (Anglo-Saxon Chron. an. 1052, Peterborough). Ralph was the only foreign earl that was allowed to retain his earldom after Godwin's return. In 1055 his earldom was invaded and ravaged by Ælfgar [q. v.], the dispossessed earl of East Anglia, and his Welsh allies under Gruffydd. He met the invaders on 24 Oct., two miles from Hereford, at the head of an army composed partly of the English of his earldom and partly of French and Normans. He commanded the English to fight on horseback, contrary to their custom. He was the first to flee, and it is said that his French and Normans fled with him, and that the English followed their example; four or five hundred of them were slain, and Hereford was sacked and set on fire (Flor. Wig. an. 1055; Anglo-Saxon Chron. an. 1055, Abingdon; Norman Conquest, ii. 388–90). Ralph died on 21 Dec. 1057, and was buried in Peterborough Abbey, to which he was a benefactor (Anglo-Saxon Chron. an. 1057; Hugo Candidus, Cœnob. Burgi Historia, p. 44). He was inert, cowardly (Gesta Regum, ii. c. 199), and, it may be inferred from his order to the English at the battle of Hereford, arbitrary and headstrong.

[Orderic, p. 655, ed. Duchesne; Freeman's Norman Conquest, i. 584, ii. passim; authorities in text.]

W. H.