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Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsburylocked

(d. 1094)
  • J. F. A. Mason

Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1094), soldier and magnate, came from St Germain de Montgommeri and St Foy de Montgommeri (modern French usage prefers Montgommery) near Troarn in Calvados, in an area between Caen and Rouen where place names suggest intensive Scandinavian settlement: in a charter to Troarn Abbey of as late as c.1080 Roger proudly described himself as a Norseman of Norsemen—'ex Northmannis Northmannus' (Round, no. 465).

A loyal servant in ducal Normandy

Roger de Montgomery's father was also Roger, whose tenure of lands round the lower reaches of the River Dives can be traced to Duke Robert (I)'s time (1027–35), and his mother (still alive in 1068) may have been called Emma. The elder Roger's descent is among the most problematical of all the connections of the Duchess Gunnor, second wife of Duke Richard (I) (d. 996), who were so prominent in the landed aristocracy of eleventh- and twelfth-century Normandy and England. However, the problem is soluble in his case by acceptance of the outline genealogy given at the end of a letter written a century later by Ivo, bishop of Chartres, to prevent a marriage within the prohibited degrees of a descendant of Earl Roger's daughter Mabel. According to this, one of Gunnor's sisters (Wevie, not Senfrie) herself had a daughter, Joscelina, who married c.990–1000 Hugh de Montgommeri (of whom otherwise nothing is known) and was mother by him of Earl Roger's father. Whatever the exact relationship to the dukes, who hoped to find Gunnor's kin more loyal supporters than members of the ducal house itself, the elder Roger was a leading member (1033) of Duke Robert's administration as vicomte of the Hièmois. Under Robert's son William, the younger Roger (according to Orderic Vitalis) eventually held the same position and was a frequent witness of ducal acta (usually after his kinsman William fitz Osbern but once immediately before him). The two made their mark as youths (tirones) by loyalty to the equally youthful duke at the siege of Domfront (of uncertain date but perhaps 1051–2).

Probably about 1050, the younger Roger had married Mabel de Bellême (d. 1077), daughter of Guillaume Talvas and ultimately heiress of Bellême, on the south-eastern frontier of the duchy. His reputation in the duchy was made by his success in enforcing his wife's rights as heiress, thus showing that constant activity on a borderland which his overlord was to require of him elsewhere after 1066. Mabel, however, was hostile to the monastery of St Evroult, in the Pays d'Ouche, as a result of the Talvas feud with the family of Giroie, benefactors of St Evroult; and this hostility gained for her the strong dislike of the historian Orderic Vitalis, a monk of St Evroult, who, though a prime source for her husband, Roger, never concealed his distaste for Roger's violent and aggressive wife, as Orderic (rightly) thought her. In Roger himself, however, Orderic found much to praise: his benefactions to St Evroult, his expulsion from Troarn of the secular canons established there by his father and his foundation of an abbey in their place, his foundation of the nunnery at Alménêches, and his foundation, with Mabel, of a priory at Sées in the sphere of influence of Mabel's family.

Lordships in Anglo-Norman England

In the years before 1066 Roger de Montgomery extended his influence in the Hièmois and the Alençonnais; his career culminated, in the duchy at least, in his appointment as adviser (with Roger de Beaumont, (d. in or after 1090)) to Duchess Matilda in the government of Normandy during Duke William's invasion of England (1066–7). Hence neither Roger himself nor his teenage elder sons were present at Hastings. When King William returned to England in November 1067 after his visit to Normandy, Roger returned with him, and grants to him of lands in England quickly followed. Orderic says twice that this happened in two stages: Roger received first Arundel and Chichester, and afterwards Shropshire. With responsibilities on both the south coast and the Welsh border, Roger was thus put in the same position as that already held by his kinsman and associate William fitz Osbern (in the Isle of Wight and Herefordshire), and by no one else. By Arundel and Chichester are meant the rapes in west Sussex of those two titles, but not the earldom of Arundel, which Roger de Montgomery never held; the grant must be dated to 1067–8 and Roger may temporarily have held somewhat more land than the two rapes covered in Domesday Book. The grant to Roger of most of Shropshire probably followed in 1070–71, after the revolt and defeat of Earl Eadwine of Mercia. Fairly soon afterwards Roger was made earl of Shrewsbury, thus becoming one of two vicomtes from Normandy who in England received the higher title of earl, the other being Hugh d'Avranches who became earl of Chester. The date of Roger's creation was long thought to be 1071, but L. C. Loyd deduced from charters that it took place between 1 and 24 December 1074. More recently, however, C. P. Lewis has argued for 1068 as the date of Roger's creation as earl, perhaps even of the grant of Shropshire lands. There is no warrant for describing Roger's comital status as ‘palatine’.

Roger de Montgomery's eminence is reflected in the fact that among his vassals were a dozen men who were themselves tenants-in-chief of varying levels of endowment. His sixty or so tenants in Sussex included very few tenants-in-chief and, with one important exception, do not seem to have followed him to Shropshire, where, however, his vassals included no fewer than eleven tenants-in-chief. Three of these, in the south of the county, had probably secured a footing in Herefordshire before Roger's advent; further north there were three others from much further afield, among them one kinsman of Roger (William de Warenne) who was himself nearly as well endowed as Roger himself. Perhaps even Roger was running out of followers of his own to whom he could enfeoff his estates.

Curiously, men connected with Roger de Montgomery in Normandy are found not so much in Sussex (where his Domesday tenants are seldom given toponymic or patronymic descriptions), as in Shropshire. It was three of these who were enfeoffed by the earl with fairly compact holdings on the border with the Welsh of Powys: north of the Severn, Warin and then Reinaud de Bailleul-en-Gouffern, successive husbands of the earl's niece Amieria and also successive sheriffs of Shropshire, held manors in Ruesset hundred between the Severn and Cheshire, notably Oswestry with its new castle, Luvre (L'oeuvre), built by Reinaud; Corbet, possibly from the Pays de Caux, was installed in the broken country south of the river round Caus and Longden; and Picot de Sai, from near Argentan, in the valleys of the Clun and Onny rivers. (A similar eye for country had been shown in west Sussex: of Roger's leading tenants there, Robert fitz Tetbald, sheriff of the rape of Arundel, held over thirty manors north of the Downs, including Pulborough, which commanded an important ford over the marshy Arun; and William de Ansleville, perhaps from Valognes in the Cotentin, held about half of that number south of the Downs, some of them straddling the line of Stane Street, which led from Chichester to London.) Of 230 hides held by the earl in the Shropshire border hundreds, 196 were held by these three vassals, whose descendants or representatives were dominant in western Shropshire for some centuries.

Wealth and power on the Shropshire march

In the valley of the Severn, Roger de Montgomery had three main centres of power and administration. The selection of Shrewsbury itself, in the middle of the county, as the site of a castle had been made before the arrival of the earl. Further up the Severn, Roger, possibly before 1073, began the construction of the Hen Domen (‘the old mound’) near the ford at Rhydwhiman, 2 miles from Montgomery. This timber castle was to have a life of over a century and shows how durable and complex such a wooden fortress might be, with its first-floor hall, large granary, and about seventy other buildings. In the south-east of the county, Roger had in 1086 a new house (nova domus) at Quatford, built on the first eminence commanding a ford over the Severn in Shropshire on the approach from the south. The earl's interest in his final years in this corner of his earldom is also evidenced by the story of his foundation nearby of Quatford church, allegedly (though the tale follows a well-known pattern) at the spot where he met his second wife on her coming to Shropshire.

From his forward base at Montgomery, supported by the vassals who held border tenancies behind him, Earl Roger was well placed to harry the Welsh. The versions of the Welsh Brut state two facts about Roger: that he ill-treated the Welsh, and that he began a castle at ‘Dingeraint’ (Cardigan). The castle may have resulted from one of the expeditions of 'Franci' dispatched by Roger in 1073 or 1074, or more probably from his last thrust in 1093. The earl aimed to control the Welsh of Powys by a steady penetration along the upper valleys of the Dee and Severn. In the north, the commotes of Cynllaith and Edeyrnion bordering the Dee were by 1086 subject to Roger's sheriff, and nephew by marriage, Reinaud, the castellan of Oswestry. The tenure of the nearby commote of Ial by the earl of Chester as Earl Roger's vassal is among the evidence that the Normans could co-operate with each other in these efforts. Roger himself held Arwystli in the very centre of Wales, through which ran the main lines of approach to the Welsh coast at Aberystwyth and Cardigan; and his forces once went even further afield, when his sheriff Warin led a raid into Llŷn.

Earl Roger's extensive lands were administered with the help of a number of officials. There appear to have been three distinct sets of these, one in Normandy, one in Sussex, and one in Shropshire. He had a sheriff in Sussex; and in Shropshire another sheriff, probably a steward, a landless constable, two huntsmen, and a butler, each of the last three holding (as though in conformity with the rules of some unknown establishment) tenancies assessed at 10 hides. The earl was served by various clerks (including those in the castle chapels of Arundel and Shrewsbury) and by others, including Odelerius, who was the father of the historian Orderic Vitalis, and, probably, Richard de Belmeis, who was to be in effect the successor in Shropshire of Roger's two eldest sons.

Roger de Montgomery was forward-looking in the economic exploitation of his lands: for instance he founded bourgs in Normandy and new towns in Shropshire, brought French burgesses to Shrewsbury, and exploited his demesnes profitably. In consequence he and his sons had at their disposal considerable amounts of cash, and could employ large numbers of knights, import horses, and pay the fines demanded by kings.

In England, Earl Roger's major ecclesiastical benefactions were limited to Shropshire; in Sussex he granted manors to Norman houses, notably to his own foundation of Alménêches. In Shropshire, probably with the aid of monks from La Charité sur Loire, he refounded (c.1079–82) the existing well-endowed minster of secular clerks at Much Wenlock as a Cluniac priory. In 1083 he publicly and ceremoniously announced his intention to found a Benedictine abbey at Shrewsbury itself, on the site of the wooden church of St Peter and St Paul, just east of the English bridge; this church was then held by Odelerius. Work was begun on a new stone church and two monks from Sées were brought in to begin the new foundation, which was endowed with the churches of Roger's Shropshire demesne manors and two-thirds of the tithes of his demesnes in the county. Lastly, Roger founded a collegiate church at Quatford as a companion foundation to his new house and borough there; the church was dedicated at an impressive ceremony in 1086. At Montgomery, with its more exposed site, the earl did not set up a new religious house.

The richest tenant-in-chief of William I and William II

His lands in west Sussex and Shropshire, with a number in ten other scattered counties (especially in Staffordshire), made Roger de Montgomery one of the eleven best-endowed tenants-in-chief of William I in 1086. By C. W. Hollister's calculations of the figures given in Domesday Book, the total annual value of Earl Roger's honour at that date (£2078) was exceeded only by that of the honour of Odo of Bayeux, the Conqueror's half-brother, and the value of the estates still held in demesne by Roger in that year (£1031) was greater, often considerably greater, than that still held in demesne by Odo himself or by any other of William's greatest non-ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief. As Odo had been in disgrace since 1082, Roger thus disposed of more landed wealth than anyone in England after the Conqueror, and was therefore a key figure in any alignment of political forces.

Earl Roger spent the last fifteen years of the Conqueror's reign on his estates in England, at the king's court in England and Normandy, and on the affairs of Wales. The death of William I posed for Roger the same conflict of loyalties as it did for many of the Anglo-Norman baronage: in his case, Orderic Vitalis says that William I and his son William Rufus had an affection for both the earl and Mabel, but also that Roger was among those who pleaded with the Conqueror on behalf of the king's eldest son, Robert Curthose. In 1088 the earl was openly in rebellion against Rufus, as were some of his sons; Roger joined at the persuasion of Rufus's uncles, Odo of Bayeux and Robert de Mortain, who was the earl's son-in-law (and contemporary). Orderic implies that the conspiracy was hatched in Normandy and that Roger then crossed to England. He soon went over to Rufus, probably because his eldest son, Robert de Bellême, who had been assigned a chief place in the plot, had been arrested by Duke Robert; with Rufus's permission Roger rushed to Normandy to fortify his own castles against the duke. Roger's efforts on his son's behalf were successful and he resumed support of the king. Rufus wisely imposed no penalty on Roger, who was taken back into favour; so too, at about that time, was his third son, Roger the Poitevin [see below]. In 1093 the earl dispatched another raid into west Wales; and at the very end of that year he was again at court. The final scenes took place at Shrewsbury Abbey, which Roger had founded. Here, as death approached, he took the monastic habit and here he died, on 27 July 1094, probably in his mid-sixties; he was buried 'between the altars', in a fine tomb which no longer survives.

Orderic Vitalis once, when first noting Earl Roger's rise in England, pauses to record his merits: 'sapiens et moderatus et amator aequitatis fuit, et comitatem sapientium atque modestorum dilexit' ('a wise and prudent man and lover of justice, who loved the company of learned and sober men'; Ordericus Vitalis, Eccl. hist., 2.262–3). This was admittedly a prelude to recording the earl's reliance on Orderic's own father, but he goes on to note Roger's wise choices of men for positions of authority and command. Orderic allows a conclusion that Roger was (despite problems) uxorious and that he cared for the interests of his children. R. W. Eyton caught up Orderic's first words on Roger, whom he called 'wise and politic' (Eyton, 2.191). H. F. M. Prescott, the only novelist to use Roger in a novel (Son of Dust, 1938), stresses the earl's loyalty; in this regard wisdom deserted him only once, in 1088, but his position, connections, and past services were such that prudence dictated that no penalty could be imposed. Alone of all the Conqueror's vassals, Roger de Montgomery gave his name to a British county, appropriately in Wales.

Wives and younger sons

Earl Roger's first wife, Mabel de Bellême, has been depicted unforgettably for posterity by Orderic Vitalis, though that historian never saw her. He describes her as 'a forceful and worldly woman, cunning, garrulous, and extremely cruel', 'a perfidious woman', and 'a cruel woman, who had shed the blood of many and had forcibly disinherited many lords' (Ordericus Vitalis, Eccl. hist., 2.48–9; 3.134–7); and he recounts several stories to her discredit related to him by colleagues at St Evroult. Whatever allowances can be made for Mabel there must have been something particularly aggressive and brutal about her for four of her vassals to ride at night into her castle at Bures [-sur-Dives] and cut off her head as she lay in bed after a bath (Chibnall, 107–8). Her murderer Hugh Bunel was among those whom she had disinherited and was never caught. The date of the murder must be December 1077, not 1082 as long accepted from a marginal note in the editio princeps of Orderic. There is evidence that Mabel, like a very few other baronial wives, was a tenant-in-chief in England, but no evidence that she ever visited that land or the Montgomery estates there.

Roger quickly remarried, probably by 1080; his second wife was the high-born Adelais du Puiset from the Île-de-France, who survived him. Orderic naturally made the most of the differences between Mabel and Adelais; he could have added that Adelais (admittedly in a much later account) did come to England, indeed to Shropshire, where she was the cause not of disinheritance but of the foundation of a church, and where probably she witnessed a land-grant of 1085 by the bishop of Hereford.

Orderic gives Roger and Mabel five sons and four daughters, and lists the sons first, as Robert de Bellême, Hugh de Montgomery, Roger the Poitevin, Philip [see below], and Arnulf de Montgomery. Robert, Hugh, and Roger attested a charter in that order; but Orderic's list omits the eldest son, also Roger, who attested a Le Mans charter as Rogerio parvulo and presumably lived a few years; on his death a younger brother was given his baptismal name.

Roger the Poitevin (b. c. 1065, d. before 1140), the third surviving son of Earl Roger and Mabel, was probably born in the mid-1060s. In Domesday Book he appears as Roger the Poitevin (Pictavensis), by reason of his marriage, made on his father's advice, to Almodis, sister of Boso (III), count of La Marche (d. 1091); but the Domesday entries for his large honour present problems. In five counties (Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Essex, and Suffolk) he is entered as a normal tenant-in-chief; but in four others (the land between the Ribble and the Mersey, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Norfolk) his tenure is entered as a thing of the past: thus at the end of his Derbyshire fee is a note that Roger used to hold the lands, but they are now in the hand of the king. This and other entries suggest that Roger's lands were all ordered to be taken into the king's hand late in 1086, but that in some cases the order was not known locally in time to be recorded in Domesday, or recorded in full. In view of his age, Roger cannot have held this honour for long; why he should so soon have lost it, at a time when as far as is known he and his father were loyal to the Conqueror, is not stated. The land between the Ribble and the Mersey was later enlarged to become modern Lancashire. By 1086 Roger had installed a body of tenants and built a castle at Penwortham, at a crossing of the Ribble which might be used by an invading king of Scots; at Lancaster he later founded a priory with the aid of monks from his parents' foundation at Sées.

Roger the Poitevin may have joined the revolt of 1088 against William Rufus, but if so soon made his peace; Rufus restored all or most of the honour which Roger held before Domesday and soon added to it the honour of Eye (mainly in East Anglia), previously held by Robert Malet. Rufus entrusted him with two demanding tasks: a military command in 1088 against William of St Calais, bishop of Durham, with whom Roger also negotiated on the king's behalf before the bishop came to trial, and in 1094 the defence of Argentan. Roger's quick surrender of the town to Philippe I of France, despite the size of his own forces, has been thought 'pathetic', but is explained if the French king was then his direct overlord. Roger continued loyal to Rufus, but in 1102 joined, ineffectively, his eldest brother's unsuccessful rebellion against Henry I. In consequence he was expelled from England, which he visited again only in 1109. The rest of his life was spent in the politics of La Marche; his sons bore names (Aldebert, Boso) which do not appear in the Montgomery family tree. Roger died before 1140.

Earl Roger's fourth surviving son, Philip de Montgomery (d. 1097/8), was presumably named after King Philippe of France. He is variously styled (clericus) and (grammaticus'the grammarian') by Orderic Vitalis, but for some years at least was destined for a secular career: he joined his two eldest brothers in confirming a paternal grant, and in another charter is described as the holder of an island in Normandy. He may have supported Robert Curthose in 1088, being indeed imprisoned, according to John of Worcester, and followed him on the first crusade, dying at Antioch, presumably in 1097 or 1098. He was the only son of Earl Roger to die while actually serving Curthose. It is not known whether he ever married, but his daughter Matilda succeeded her aunt Emma as abbess of Alménêches in 1113.

Orderic's list of four daughters of Roger and Mabel follows that of their brothers, in an order which is probably that of their birth: Emma (d. 1113), a nun at and later (perhaps as early as c.1074, when she was probably in her early twenties) abbess of her father's foundation at Alménêches; Matilda (d. 1082×4), who married before 1066 the Conqueror's half-brother Robert de Mortain; Mabel, who married Hugues de Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais; and Sybil, who married Robert fitz Hamon from south Wales.

With his second wife Earl Roger had one son, Ebrard, who was described by Orderic Vitalis, writing in 1127, as well educated and as among the royal chaplains in the households of William II and Henry I. If Ebrard served Rufus he was probably born soon after his parents' marriage; but his tentative identification with the Everard, or Eborard (d. 1147), who became bishop of Norwich in 1121 seems most unlikely.


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