CONQUEST - 30: WILLIAM'S KINDRED, Alan 'Rufus', Breton Lord Of Richmond
Alan 'Rufus' owed much to his cousin, Duke of Normandy, King of EnglandClick thumbnail to view full-size
Alan 'Rufus' was born around AD 1040 in Britanny
His father was Eudon or Odo, a Count of Brittany, grandmother Hawise of Normandy was daughter to Duke Richard I of Normandy who wedded Geoffrey I, Duke of Brittany, great-grandparents included Richard I, Duke of Normandy and Conan I of Rennes.
The paramount Breton leaders such as Alan 'Rufus' were of the House of Vannes (known as the House of Rennes). Vannes (Morbihan) was the Gallic-speaking county of Brittany. Alan's father Eudon called himself 'Penteur', meaning clan chief in modern standard Breton.
The first castellan of Richmond Castle was Enisant Musard, husband to the half-sister of Alan 'Rufus'. Enisant was also Lord of Cheveley in Cambridgeshire. Downriver on the River Swale near Richmond Catterick was already an important military base in the days of Alan 'Rufus', and before him for the Romans when it was also a supply base for the garrisons on Hadrian's Wall. It is thought Count Alan had an important manor at Catterick, 'acquired' from predecessor Earl Eadwin of Mercia. The site of Richmond's castle overlooked the site of baptisms on the River Swale in the days when Northumbria was a kingdom, the Yorkshire side (south of the River Tees) being the northern boundary of Deira (see also the second and third part of the series: NORTHUMBRIA).
Nearby Middleham Castle, another of Alan's demesne, was rebuilt lower down the dale from its original site on a bluff near the approach to Coverdale. The original castle had been given by Alan 'Rufus' to his half-brother Ribald.
It is unclear from primary sources what role - if any - he had in the 'Harrying of the North' in AD 1069-70. His name is not mentioned in connection with it. If we credit the Register of the Honour of Richmond* it seems Eadwin forfeited his lands in the region at the same time, a year earlier, as his younger brother Morkere who had been made Earl of Northumbria by the old king Eadward to replace Harold's younger brother Tostig.
The Register thanks William's queen, Matthilde or Matilda for the recommendation that Alan be granted those estates in the North Riding of Yorkshire (not long after giving birth to son Henry 'Beauclerc' at Selby). It would not have been in Alan's interests to devastate prosperous estates he had only recently been granted. Ruthless barons who had no land in the region, such as Geoffrey of Coutances and Eudo of Bayeux (or Odo, Earl of Kent) have been named as responsible, and again in AD 1080. This may have been the cause of animosity between Alan and Eudo, leading eventually to cross-channel conflict in AD 1088-91. Alan won, although he did not exult in his victory, and it would have remained unknown but for the witness of William de St Calais' unknown biographer, who ranked Alan with Prince Henry at the head of the barons in charters of William II. Alan's epitaph stated that he was 'second to the king'.
Alan 'Rufus' and Alan 'Fergant', which was which?
Henry I 'Beauclerc' was astute, and lucky to begin with. He inherited the crown of England despite being the fourth son born to the then King William I to reach manhood. Comprehensive royal victory over many powerful barons in AD 1088 greatly strengthened his authority. Henry completed the re-conquest of Normandy from England [that was] begun vigorously by William II and Alan - both known also as 'Rufus. Henry was known to promote his followers on merit, not by birth status which prompted a professional administration. The Exchequer gives a classic example of (an) emergent and effective government department.
Some confusion between Alan 'Rufus' and Alan 'Fergant' is persistent and dates back to the Norman chronicler known to us as 'Wace'. Most historians get it right, although the error has filtered into popular genealogy - much like Hereward 'the Wake' in romances such as Jean Plaidy;s Norman Conquest trilogy.
The exact relationship between the two is that Alan 'Rufus'', maternal uncle Hoel of Cornouaille was father to 'Fergant', whose mother Duchess Hawise of Brittany was maternal first cousin to 'Rufus'. They were therefore first cousins on one side and first cousins once removed on the other. Both were russet-haired and formidable military leaders. William I had no success against 'Fergant', so he gave the Breton his daughter Constance in appeasement.
Where does the name 'Fergant' come from? Most knights in those days wore gloves which wore out often with heavy riding and fighting. Whilst under siege for rebelling against the young Duke William, Roger of Montgomerie had a pair of replacement gloves poisoned in order to kill Alan III of Brittany, great grandfather of 'Fergant' and former guardian to William. The poison may - or not - have been Gallium, that enters the bloodstream through the pores of the skin, or it may be ingested when the wearer wipes their mouth after removing the glove.
Roger II of Montgomerie did the same to Conan II, son of Alan III. William was blamed for this although he was in England at the time. 'Fergant' probably realised this ruse, so he wore fine chain mail gloves that did not wear out. Alan 'Rufus' was smart enough not to fall for the ruse when Roger II rebelled AD 1088 against William II, (also 'Rufus'). He may have also worn fine chain gloves. Wace may have been right in a way, although he has succeeded in confusing others down the years.
That fateful battleClick thumbnail to view full-size
Stephen Morillo (editor of the Battle Conference) has an interesting analysis of the turning point of the battle on Caldbec Hill.
According to several items of documentary evidence, Gyrth Godwinson - Harold's next younger brother and Earl of East Anglia - led an unmounted frontal assault on William's position. William's horse was cut from under him and he landed face downward in the mud. Seeing this, Gyrth sought to kill him but someone stopped him and Gyrth fell instead. Without his brother's experienced leadership at the front of the shieldwall Harold lost momentum (the next younger brother Leofric, Earl of Essex and North Kent had already fallen by this time).
William's chroniclers say he cut Gyrth down but Domesday evidence tells us that one of William's Breton allies rode to his rescue - either Ralph 'the Staller' or Alan 'Rufus'. Alan led William's household knights whilst Alan's brother Brian/Breon led the left wing with Haimo, Viscomte of Thouars. This put Alan in the perfect position to co-ordinate feints with Brian. The one would draw the inexperienced South Saxon fyrdmen forward, the other would follow in behind and isolate them. This was a modification of tactics used by the Bretons for centuries. A spectacular example of this comes in the Battle of Jengland, AD 851.
Alan 'Rufus' went on to fight many of William's battles (William owned up later to only leading his armies into battle twice in his life).
Richmond - certainly worth anyone's money
Due to his uniquely magnanimous approach and treatment of the beaten, he won the respect and admiration of the English.
He also somehow won the affection of Harold's younger daughter Gunnhild, who according to one account ran away from the nunnery at Wilton to which she had been taken for her safety, in order to be with him. Another version tells it differently, that in AD 1093 he had her abducted namely to secure his lands, formerly belonging to Gunnhild's mother Eadgytha 'Swan-neck' and left to her daughter.
His winsome ways also made enemies amongst the Normans. In AD 1088 Alan led a force that included Englishmen loyal to him, that defeated Odo and barons allied to him. This was followed AD 1091 with the annexation of half of Normandy on behalf of Henry I.
The year of his death varies in different sources, some saying he died August 4th, AD 1089, others AD 1093. At the age of 53 he would still have been in a position to abduct or have Gunnhild abducted. A namesake and cousin, Count Alan 'the Black' assumed control over his estate after his death, so possibly one of the chroniclers of the time was confused between the two.