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date: 13 August 2020

Eustace the Monkfree

(c. 1170–1217)
  • D. A. Carpenter
  • , revised

Eustace the Monk (c. 1170–1217)

drawing [far right]

Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Eustace the Monk (c. 1170–1217), Benedictine monk, sea captain, and pirate, was the son of Baudoin Busket, a lord of the county of Boulogne. According to his biography, Eustace studied black magic in Toledo, returned home to become a monk at the abbey of St Samer near Calais, and then left the monastery to avenge the murder of his father. Other evidence suggests that his father died soon after 1190 and proves that by the early 1200s Eustace was the seneschal of the count of Boulogne, Renaud de Dammartin. About 1204, however, the two quarrelled and Eustace became a fugitive: it is with his adventures in the next year or so that the thirteenth-century romance biography, composed between 1223 and 1284 by an unknown poet from Picardy, is principally concerned. Hiding out in the forest, Eustace duped and humiliated Renaud in a series of daring escapades, appearing before him in numerous disguises, ambushing him and his men, and time and again making off with his horses. These adventures have obvious links both with the romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn and the tales of Robin Hood.

From 1205 onwards the main outlines of Eustace's career can be followed in the records of the English government as well as in the biography. He established himself in the Channel Islands and from there preyed upon shipping in the channel. Much of this was piracy on his own account, but from 1205 until 1212 Eustace was also employed intermittently by King John, whose conflict with Philip Augustus, king of France, was reaching its climax. Indeed, the biography asserts that when Eustace first offered his services to John (probably in 1205), he was given command of thirty ships.

A decisive change of allegiance, however, took place in 1212, when Renaud Dammartin became John's ally and turned the king against Eustace, who consequently entered the service of King Philip. In 1216 it was Eustace who commanded the fleet that ferried Philip's son, Louis, across to England when the latter mounted his bid for the English throne. In August of the following year he commanded another fleet bringing Louis much needed reinforcements. This was met off Sandwich on 24 August 1217 by an English force under Hubert de Burgh. Eustace's flagship was surrounded and captured. Eustace himself, discovered hiding in the ship's bilges, offered huge sums for his life but, hated as he was by the men of the Cinque Ports, he was given only one choice: whether to have his head cut off on the ship's rail or on the side of the trebuchet that was being brought as deck cargo to England. Matthew Paris included the beheading in his dramatic account of the battle without revealing the preferred block.

Under the treaty of Kingston–Lambeth, in the following month, Louis promised to ensure that Eustace's brothers vacated the Channel Islands. Eustace had played a significant part in the struggle between Angevin and Capetian royal houses, but, as with the case of his contemporary, Fulk Fitzwarine, it was his exploits as a fugitive on the run from authority that really appealed to his biographer.

Sources

  • D. J. Conlon, ed., Li romans de Witasse le Moine, University of North Carolina, Studies in Romance Languages and Literature, 126 (1972)
  • J. C. Holt, Robin Hood (1982)

Likenesses

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
H. R. Luard, ed., , 7 vols., RS, 57 (1872–83)