William de Breteuil


The ruins of the Ch‚teau d'Ivry-la-Bataille.

The ruins of the castle of Ivry-la-Bataille. Once a formidable border fortress and possibly an inspiration for the White Tower in London.
(I, Nitot; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chateau-Ivry-la-bataille-le-donjon.jpg)

The Lovells of Titchmarsh

Titchmarsh Castle

Minster Lovell Hall

Old Wardour Castle

Other Lovell Castles
William de Breteuil was the eldest son of William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford and Adeliza de Tosny. William fitzOsbern was one of William the Conqueror's most loyal and important supporters and had gained great wealth in England and Normandy. After William FitzOsbern's death in 1071, his lands were split between two of his sons William and Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford. It was Roger who inherited William FitzOsbern's earldom of Hereford while William inherited the lands in Normandy. Another son, Rodul, was a monk at Cormeilles, and his only daughter Emma married Ralph de Gael.[1]

Francis, Viscount Lovell and Sir Thomas Lovell

Francis Lovell as
Protagonist in Historic

In 1078, William de Breteuil joined the rebellion against William the Conqueror led by the Conqueror's eldest son Robert Curthose. William the Conqueror attacked his rebellious son and his allies but was beaten at Gerberoi. Negotiations between father and son ensured their reconciliation, and William renewed his grant of succession in Normandy to Robert.[2]

The Great Lord Lovell?
After the death of William the Conqueror, William de Breteuil was one of the nobles who expelled the royal garrisons from their castles. To assure his support, Robert Curthose, as the new Duke of Normandy, granted him possession of the Ch‚teau d'Ivry-la-Bataille, a strong castle on the river Eure.[3] William de Breteuil installed Ascelin GoŽl, Lord of Brťval as castellan of Ivry, a decision he must have later regretted bitterly. In 1089, Ascelin GoŽl deprived William de Breteuil of the Castle of Ivry and handed it over to Robert Curthose. William only recovered the castle by paying the duke of several thousand livres.

This was the beginning of a long feud between William and Ascelin GoŽl and 'and the entire neighbourhood was troubled by plundering, burning and slaughter.'[4] In February 1091 or 1090, Ascelin GoŽl secured the support of Richard de Montfort and King Philip I of France who sent some of his household troops. With them Ascelin defeated William de Breteuil and his troops. William himself, Roger de Glos, and many other soldiers were captured. They were incarcerated at Brťval and for three months Ascelin submitted his prisoners to various tortures. Orderic Vitalis describes that often, in the most severe cold in winter, he would expose them to the north or north-west wind in the window of his upper hall, clad only in shirts soaked with water, until the whole garment was frozen stiff round the prisoners' bodies'.[5]

Several noblemen, including Richard the Montfort and Hugh Montgomery, arranged a truce, but William de Breteuil had to pay a high price for regaining his freedom: He had to pay a large ransom, surrender the castle of Ivry to his Ascelin GoŽl and marry his illegitimate daughter Isabel to him.[6]

William de Breteuil tried to regain Ivry in the following year but was not successful. He then gained support from Robert Curthose, King Philip of France, and Robert of BellÍme, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury. They besieged Ascelin GoŽl at his castle at Brťval, who was forced to surrender, after an intense siege of two months, and hand the castle of Ivry back to his father-in-law.[7]

William de Breteuil was a staunch supporter of Robert Curthose. In 1089, William was one of Robert's captains during the duke's war against the count of Eu and Gerard of Gourney. In the following year, William II of England attempted to conquer Normandy and fomented rebellion among his brother's disgruntled subjects. His supporters instigated a revolt in Rouen, but Robert was able to recapture the city with the help of his loyal barons, including William de Breteuil. William was one of the barons, alongside Robert de BellÍme and Gilbert Laigle, who behaved like foreign invaders, looting the city and taking a large number of citizens with them as prisoners whom they released only after they had paid a considerable ransom.[8]

When Robert Curthose left Normandy for the First Crusade, William II became regent of Normandy. William de Breteuil was a member of the king's hunting company on 2 August 1100, when William was fatally hit by an arrow. When it was clear that the king was dead, William de Breteuil raced to Winchester, where he arrived even before the king's younger brother Henry I of England. William reminded Henry and the other barons that they had all sworn homage to Robert Curthose, who was at this time on his way back from crusade. Despite this reminder, Henry I retained the support of the barons, assumed control of the castle of Winchester, the treasure stored in it, and was acclaimed king.[9]

William de Breteuil married Adeline de Montfort-sur-Risle. They had no children. William died on 12 January 1103 at Bec Abbey.[10]

William de Breteuil had two illegitimate children, a son and a daughter. Their mother is unknown. His son Eustace de Breteuil, married Juliane de Fontevrault, one of the illegitimate daughters of Henry I. Eustace eventually inherited his father's estates, but lost most of them after he rebelled against Henry I.

Isabel de Breteuil, William de Breteuil's illegitimate daughter, was married Ascelin GoŽl, Lord of Brťval. Her hand had been the price William de Breteuil had paid to regain his freedom. What her reaction to this development was is unknown. According to Orderic Vitalis, they had seven sons who 'continually grew in wickedness and caused widows and poor people to weep bitterly by their brutal acts'.[11]

1. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, William fitz Osbern, earl.
2. David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror. The Norman Impact upon England (London, 1966), 237-39.
3. Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. and trans. Marjorie Chibnall, vol. iv (Books vii and viii), (Oxford, 1973), 114-15.
4. Orderic Vitalis, vol. iv, 199.
5. Orderic Vitalis, vol. iv, 287.
6. Gesta Normanorum Ducum, vol. ii, p. 229; Orderic Vitalis, vol. iii, p. 209, vol. iv, p. 286.
7. Orderic Vitalis, vol. iv, 287-91.
8. Frank Barlow, William Rufus (London, 1983), 273-75; C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (New Haven and London, 2001), 75.
9. C. Warren Hollister, Henry I, 103-4.
10. Orderic Vitalis, vol. v, 41.
11. Orderic Vitalis, vol. iv, p. 203.

For more details about the feud between William de Breteuil, his son Eustace, and Ascelin GoŽl and more about the fascinating history of the Lovells of Titchmarsh and beyond see also my book: From Robber Barons to Courtiers. The Changing World of the Lovells of Titchmarsh (Pen & Sword Books, 2021).

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For a more scholarly approach see also my thesis, Monika E. Simon, 'The Lovells of Titchmarsh. A Late Medieval Baronial Family (1297-148?)', (unpubl. DPhil Thesis, University of York, 1999), and all my other published and unpublished works.

e-mail: info@monikasimon.eu
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