Robert Curthose

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Robert Curthose's monument at Gloucester Cathedral

Robert (called Curthose for his short squat appearance) (c. 1054February 10, 1134) was a Duke of Normandy. He was the eldest son of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, an unsuccessful claimant to the throne of England, and a participant in the First Crusade. His reign as Duke is noted for the discord with his brothers in England, eventually leading to the absorption of Normandy as a possession of England.

His nickname, Curthose, seems to have been a reference to his height; William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis report that Robert's father, King William, called him brevis-ocrea (short-boot) in derision.

His birthdate is usually given as 1054, but may have been in 1051. As a child he was betrothed to the heiress of Maine, but she died before they could be wed, and Robert didn't marry until his late forties. In his youth, he was reported to be courageous and skillful in military exercises. He was, however, also prone to a laziness and weakness of character that discontented nobles and the King of France exploited to stir discord with his father William. He was unsatisfied with the share of power alloted to him, and quarreled with his father and brothers fiercely.

In 1077, he instigated his first insurrection against his father as the result of a prank played by his younger brothers William Rufus and Henry, who had dumped fetid water on him. Robert was enraged, and urged on by his companions, started a brawl with his brothers that was only interrupted by the incession of their father. Feeling that his dignity was wounded, Robert was further angered when King William failed to punish his brothers. The next day Robert and his followers attempted to seize the castle of Rouen. The siege failed, but when King William ordered their arrest, Robert and his companions took refuge with Hugh of Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais. They were forced to flee again when King William attacked their base at Rémalard.

Robert fled to his uncle's court in Flanders before plundering the county of the Vexin and causing such mayhem that his father King William allied himself with King Philip I of France to stop his rebellious son. Relations were not helped when King William discovered that Robert's mother, Queen Matilda, was secretly sending her son money. At a battle in January 1079 Robert unhorsed King William in combat and succeeded in wounding him, stopping his attack only when he recognized his father's voice. Humiliated, King William cursed his son, then raised the siege and returned to Rouen.

At Easter 1080 father and son were reunited and a truce lasted until 1083. Robert seems to have left court soon after the death of his mother, Queen Matilda, and spent several years traveling throughout France, Germany and Flanders. He visited Italy seeking the hand of Matilda of Tuscany, but was unsuccessful.

During this period as a wandering knight, Robert sired several illegitimate children. His illegitimate son, Richard, seems to have spent much of his life at the royal court of his uncle, William Rufus. Like his namesake uncle, this Richard was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest in 1099. An illegitimate daughter was married to Helias of Saint-Saens.

In 1087, the father died, having divided the Norman dominions between his two eldest sons. To Robert, he granted the Duchy of Normandy and to William Rufus he granted the Kingdom of England. Of the two soééns, Robert was considered to be much the weaker and was generally preferred by the nobles who held lands on both sides of the English Channel, since they could more easily circumvent his authority. At the time of their father's death, the two brothers made an agreement to be each other's heir. However, this peace lasted less than a year when barons joined with Robert to displace Rufus in the Rebellion of 1088. It was not a success, in part because Robert never showed up to support the English rebels.

Robert married Sybilla, daughter of Geoffrey of Brindisi, Count of Conversano (and a grandniece of Robert Guiscard). Their son, William Clito, was born October 25, 1102 and became heir to the Duchy of Normandy. Sybilla, who was admired and often praised by the chroniclers of the time, died shortly after the birth. William of Malmesbury claims she died as a result of binding her breasts too tightly; both Robert of Torigny and Orderic Vitalis suggest she was murdered by a cabal of noblewomen led by her husband's mistress, Agnes Giffard.

Robert took as his close advisor Ranulf Flambard, who had been previously a close advisor to this father.

In 1096, Robert left for the Holy Land on the First Crusade. At the time of his departure he was reportedly so poor that he often had to stay in bed for lack of clothes. In order to raise money for the crusade, he mortaged his duchy to his brother William for the sum of 10,000 marks.

He had agreed with William II to name each other the Heir Presumptive of England and Normandy respectively. When William II died on August 2, 1100, Robert should have inherited the throne of England. But he was on his return journey from the Crusade, allowing their younger brother Henry to seize the crown of England for himself. Upon his return, Robert, urged by Flambard, led an invasion of England to retake the crown from his brother Henry. In 1101, Robert landed at Portsmouth with his army, but his lack of popular support among the English enabled Henry to resist the invasion. Robert was forced by diplomacy to renounce his claim to the English throne in the Treaty of Alton.

In 1105, however, Robert's continual stirring of discord with his brother in England prompted Henry to invade Normandy. Orderic reports on an incident at Easter 1105, when Robert was supposed to hear a sermon by the venerable Serlo, Bishop of Sées. Robert spent the night before sporting with harlots and jesters, and while he lay in bed, sleeping off his drunkenness, his unworthy friends stole his clothes. He awoke to find himself naked, and had to remain in bed and missed the sermon.

In 1106, Henry defeated Robert's army decisively at the Battle of Tinchebray and claimed Normandy as a possession of the English crown, a situation that endured for almost a century. Captured after the battle, Robert was imprisoned for the rest of his life.

In 1134, he died while imprisoned in Cardiff Castle. He was buried in the abbey church of St. Peter in Gloucester, where an elaborate sepulchre was later built. The church subsequently has become Gloucester Cathedral.

Preceded by:
William I of England
Duke of Normandy
Succeeded by:
Henry I of England

Template:End box


  • Barlow, Frank. William Rufus, 2000
  • David, Charles Wendell. Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University, 1920.
  • Green, Judith. "Robert Curthose Reassessed". Anglo-Norman Studies, 22 (1999).
  • Mooers, Stephanie L. " 'Backers and Stabbers' : Problems of Loyalty in Robert Curthose's Entourage". Journal of British Studies, 21.1 (1981): 1-17.

da:Robert II af Normandiet de:Robert von der Normandie fr:Robert II de Normandie pt:Roberto II, Duque da Normandia nl:Robert Curthose


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