Robert I, Duke of Normandy
Duke of Normandy
Name: Robert I, the Magnificent
Birth: 22 June 1000
Place of Birth: Normandy
Father: Richard II, Duke of Normandy
Mother: Judith of Brittany
Herleva of Falaise
William the Conqueror
Adelaide of Normandy
Duke of Normandy
Death: 3 July 1035 (aged about 35)
Place of Death: Nicaea
House: House of Normandy
Heraldry: Blason du duché de Normandie
My Family Connection: 30th Great Grandfather
Life and times of Robert I, Duke of Normandy (1000 – 1035)
Who is Robert I?
Also referred to as Robert the Magnificent, and Robert the Devil, Robert I is known as the sixth Duke of Normandy. He ruled the French region from 1027 up until his death in 1035.
Robert I was born on June 22,1000 in Rouen, Seine Inferieure, Haute-Normandie, France to Richard II the Good, who also reigned as the fourth Duke of Normandy, and Judith, daughter of Conan I, the Duke of Brittany. He is the father of William the Conqueror – the first King of England from Normandy. Richard I, Count of Rouen is his grandfather, William I Longsword, second duke of Normandy, his great-grandfather, and Rollo who founded Normandy is his great great-grandfather.
Before the reign
With the demise of his father in 1026, his brother Richard III succeeded him as the fifth Duke of Normandy. Even while Richard II was still alive, he has already decided for Richard III to inherit his throne, with Robert I becoming the Count of Hiemois, which consequently happened. However. Robert I was unhappy with his province territory and fought against Richard III. He placed the town of Falaise under siege, but was captured by his brother nonetheless. As such, he had no choice but to swear allegiance to his brother’s dukedom.
As Duke of Normandy
Richard III passed away a year within his reign, which made Robert I the new Duke of Normandy in 1027. There were insinuations of a foul play surrounding his death, however, implicating Robert I. Rumors have it that he poisoned Richard II to claim the duke title, but there was no solid evidence to prove it.
Shortly after his ascendency to the duke throne, he waged a battle against his uncle Robert the Dane, Archbishop of Rouen and Count of Évreux. While he performed a major role in the church, the Archbishop was also heavily involved in Normandy political affairs. He wanted to restrain his nephew who claimed the throne after his brother’s death.
Robert the Dane has previously provided full support to his now deceased nephew against Robert I. As his way of exacting revenge, the Archbishop has been exiled from the region who in turn, excommunicated Robert I in the process and issued an interdict on the entire Normandy. Robert I did not spare his cousin as well Hugo III d’Ivry, Bishop of Bayeux, who, like the Archbishop, questioned his duke authority, and was banished from Normandy in doing so.
After coming to terms, Robert I and the Archbishop have lifted each other’s ban. Robert I restored his uncle’s Archbishop position and returned all his seized properties, some of them he even restored, as a sign of truce.
Rise of aristocracy in Normandy
With the civil war Robert brought against his brother, instability in the duchy has ensued. Neighboring barons waged private wars against one another. As such, a new aristocracy emerged in Normandy. During this time, many members of the lesser nobility moved to Southern Italy and other regions to seek better lives for themselves.
Role in Flanders civil war
While embroiled in battles against his relatives, Robert I provided military support for Baldwin IV, who is the father of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. The Baldwins are engaged in a civil war against each other, with Baldwin V, who has the backing of Robert II King of the Franks, banishing Baldwin IV from Flanders. With Robert I’s interference, however, Baldwin V was forced to end the war with his father in 1030.
Robert I provided shelter for Henry I, who is not in his mother Queen Constance’s good graces. The queen favored his younger son Robert II to succeed his father’s throne. As a sign of gratitude to Robert I, Henry I gave him the French Vexin, a historic county in the northwest.
His cousin, Allan III, Duke of Brittany was in the process of expanding his empire from Rennes to the surrounding Mont Saint-Michel. This prompted Robert I to launch a fight against him. Alan sought the assistance of Robert, their archbishop uncle to mediate, which was quite successful.
Robert I also planned to invade England on behalf of his cousins Edward and Alfred Atheling, who are sons of Athelred, King of England. At the time, Edward and Alfred were residing in the Norman Court because they were exiled by Cnut the Great, King of Denmark. Unfortunately, the weather had not been in his favor, so Robert I did not succeed in his plan, and put it on hold until after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was also believed that the Danish king sent his envoys to Robert I for a settlement, which involved giving half of the English kingdom to his cousins.
Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
After lifting his excommunication from the church, and his reconciliation with his Archbishop uncle Robert, Robert I’s view of the church has significantly changed. He decided to make amends by restoring the confiscated properties and returning the ones seized from the Fecamp abbey. He even rebuilt the cathedral at Rouen and has been giving help to the poor.
Robert I then went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem via Constantinople according to Gesta Normannorum Ducum, right after picking out his son William to be his heir. He also assigned his Archbishop uncle to be the guardian of William as he was no longer return to Normandy after his pilgrimage. And as fate would have it, this turned out to be the case eventually.
The Duke of Normandy took on a mistress Herleva, who is the daughter of Fulbert of Falaise, a tanner. According to several stories that have been passed on for many generations, Herleva caught the eye of Robert I while she was washing clothes by the river, with her skirt hiked up so it didn’t get wet. They bore a son, who happens to be the one known as William the Conqueror, sometime in 1028; and a daughter named Adelaide.
In spite of their children and Fulbert becoming a chamberlain to Robert I, they never married. They belonged to different social classes that marriage was deemed impossible. Herleva went on to marry Herluin, Viscount of Conteville and have three children, namely, Odo, who became the Bishop of Bayeux, Robert who was the second Earl of Cornwall, and Emma who was wife to Richard Goz, Viscount of Avranches.
With several monikers attached to his persona, Robert I is also being referred to as Robert II. This is because his Viking forefather Rollo The Ganger, was often addressed as Robert I. The nickname of Robert the Devil (or le Diable in French) is said to be a fictional character who has just been confused with Robert I towards the end of the Middle ages.
At age 35, Robert I died on July 3,1035 at Nicaea during his journey back, after falling ill on his arrival in Jerusalem with the pilgrimage he had set out. There were talks that he died of poisoning, but considering it was not unusual at the time to regard any unexplainable death as such, this has not been proven.
Decades later, his son William, who succeeded him in the throne, sent envoys to bring his body back to Normandy from his place of burial in Nicaea Cathedral in Turkey. While in Apulia, Italy on their way back, William the Conqueror succumbed to death himself. As such, Robert was buried again in Italy and has remained there since.
Stephen Robert Kuta