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CONQUEST - 30: WILLIAM'S KINDRED, Alan 'Rufus', Breton Lord Of Richmond

Updated on March 10, 2017

Alan 'Rufus' owed much to his cousin, Duke of Normandy, King of England

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Section from the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned by Odo of Bayeux to mark his half-brother William's victory, made probably by the widows of men killed with HaroldThe area of Richemont in Normandy, pleasant, hilly, just like that of its namesake in England  The counties of 9th Century Brittany, as 'lively' then as Brittany was in the time of Duke William fitzRobert
Section from the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned by Odo of Bayeux to mark his half-brother William's victory, made probably by the widows of men killed with Harold
Section from the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned by Odo of Bayeux to mark his half-brother William's victory, made probably by the widows of men killed with Harold
The area of Richemont in Normandy, pleasant, hilly, just like that of its namesake in England
The area of Richemont in Normandy, pleasant, hilly, just like that of its namesake in England | Source
The counties of 9th Century Brittany, as 'lively' then as Brittany was in the time of Duke William fitzRobert
The counties of 9th Century Brittany, as 'lively' then as Brittany was in the time of Duke William fitzRobert
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Alan 'Rufus' swears fealty to his cousin, King William I of EnglandDetail from another work shows Count Alan, Lord of the Honour of Richmond, named after Richemont in Normandy
Alan 'Rufus' swears fealty to his cousin, King William I of England
Alan 'Rufus' swears fealty to his cousin, King William I of England | Source
Detail from another work shows Count Alan, Lord of the Honour of Richmond, named after Richemont in Normandy
Detail from another work shows Count Alan, Lord of the Honour of Richmond, named after Richemont in Normandy | Source

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'.

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Early days of Richmond Castle by the River Swale, reconstruction of the original building and its surrounds. The imposing keep was built in this near corner. As a royalist castle, Richmond was made untenable on Oliver Cromwell's orders. At least you get an idea of the size of the site, compared to the reconstruction above
Early days of Richmond Castle by the River Swale, reconstruction of the original building and its surrounds. The imposing keep was built in this near corner.
Early days of Richmond Castle by the River Swale, reconstruction of the original building and its surrounds. The imposing keep was built in this near corner. | Source
As a royalist castle, Richmond was made untenable on Oliver Cromwell's orders. At least you get an idea of the size of the site, compared to the reconstruction above
As a royalist castle, Richmond was made untenable on Oliver Cromwell's orders. At least you get an idea of the size of the site, compared to the reconstruction above | Source

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 battle

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Opening gambit? When the Bretons fell back local fyrdmen chased downhill after them, to be cut off by William's cavalry and killed under the eyes of the others on the hill Battle of Hastings - physical elements show the lie of the land: Caldbec Hill - King Harold's shieldwall was ranged on the ridge - and Telham Hill where the Normans and their allies were ranged before engaging. Alan 'Rufus' and his Bretons were left The two sides, lines drawn up. William had many more archers, and crossbowmen as well as cavalry. Nevertheless it took the duke all day to defeat Harold from 'terce' (9 am) until dusk
Opening gambit? When the Bretons fell back local fyrdmen chased downhill after them, to be cut off by William's cavalry and killed under the eyes of the others on the hill
Opening gambit? When the Bretons fell back local fyrdmen chased downhill after them, to be cut off by William's cavalry and killed under the eyes of the others on the hill | Source
Battle of Hastings - physical elements show the lie of the land: Caldbec Hill - King Harold's shieldwall was ranged on the ridge - and Telham Hill where the Normans and their allies were ranged before engaging. Alan 'Rufus' and his Bretons were left
Battle of Hastings - physical elements show the lie of the land: Caldbec Hill - King Harold's shieldwall was ranged on the ridge - and Telham Hill where the Normans and their allies were ranged before engaging. Alan 'Rufus' and his Bretons were left | Source
The two sides, lines drawn up. William had many more archers, and crossbowmen as well as cavalry. Nevertheless it took the duke all day to defeat Harold from 'terce' (9 am) until dusk
The two sides, lines drawn up. William had many more archers, and crossbowmen as well as cavalry. Nevertheless it took the duke all day to defeat Harold from 'terce' (9 am) until dusk | Source

Battle deeds

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

View from the keep overlooking the town of Richmond, that grew around the north side of its walls. The oldest part of town is closest to the castle, although much was rebuilt in Georgian times as reflected in the architecture around the market square
View from the keep overlooking the town of Richmond, that grew around the north side of its walls. The oldest part of town is closest to the castle, although much was rebuilt in Georgian times as reflected in the architecture around the market square | Source

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.

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 5 months ago

      Alan 'Rufus' was an interesting person. Was promotion by merit unusual in that time?

    • alancaster149 profile image
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      Alan Robert Lancaster 5 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      In Normandy, Flanders and Frankia (early France), if your surname was prefixed by 'De' chances were men listened to you and did what they were told. In times of war, though they had to prove themselves. By and large they were aggressive after years of training, but there were always those behind them, hungry for what their lords had. A common man-at-arms expected to "do or die, not to reason why".

      After seven hundred years the De Montgomeries, the De Grays and FitzWalters were colonels, majors and captains in Cornwallis' army in New England, fighting the irregulars and Washington's troops. Their fathers bought their commissions. In Wellington's army that was on the way out, although even in WWI, even with colleges such as Sandhurst turning out professional officers, if you'd been to Eton, Harrow or Marlborough College you were instantly 'officer material'.

      By WWII promotion came with outstanding performance, but unusual for men (or women by that time) who'd come up through the ranks. A private might hope at best to be Regimental Sergeant Major after years in the army, very few were 'booted up the ladder' to officer status. You had to have been at University or college (such as Eton or Harrow) and then Sandhurst to climb the ladder to Generalship.

      Even now if 'Daddy' was a General chances are you might be... one day, if the terrorists don't get you first. If Dad was sergeant major you might aspire to get that far.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 5 months ago

      That seems about the same in Europe and U.S. history. There are variations of course.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 5 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Cost a lot of lives, though. Earl Haig (WWI) who took over from Sir John French had connections at court through his wife, who was a Lady-in-Waiting to George V's queen Mary. That's how he came to be Field Marshal on the Western Front. He single-handedly emptied half the towns in England of their menfolk (the 'Pals' Battalions' were drawn from industrial towns and villages, who knew one another from work or football teams). The Durham Light Infantry lost 80% of its men in one battle on the Somme. In subsequent wars the general staff have been more mindful of losing men, if not the ministers.

      The Germans in WWI put it this way: "Lions led by donkeys"

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 5 months ago

      Yes, one of the worst combinations is good soldiers with bad leaders.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm thinking, Alan, that I wasted my time taking European History in college. I didn't like the prof anyway, and nothing stuck in my gray matter. Now, with you, everything sticks, and I get it for free.

      Lesson learned, albeit a bit late in life. :)

      Happy Weekend, friend.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 5 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Bill, with readers such as you it's a pleasure presenting history.

      That's what it's all about, presentation. Trouble with most profs is they can see it but the art's in putting it across to them as can't. There's a Northern Irish comedian called Frank Carson, whose catchphrase is, "It's the way I tell 'em(arf-arf)!"

      Now I'm no comedian - although some might argue that point - but p-r-e-s-e-n-t-a-t-i-o-n has to be the key to getting the message across, eh?

      Sleep on that, enjoy your weekend too.

    • profile image

      Geoffrey Tobin 3 months ago

      Robert Sacchi is right about Alan Rufus: he was far ahead of his time.

      William I granted all of Alan's tenants and employees the privilege of trading free of tolls, portage, cartage, customs fees, etc (the list of exemptions is long) across all of England. Court records show that this remained Law until the English Civil War of the mid-1600s.

      The Honour of Richmond still existed when the English settled America, as reflected by the names of Boston and its suburb Cambridge where Harvard and MIT are. The surrounding counties are named after the counties in the Earldom of East Anglia.

      Soon after Hastings, a commoner named Orwen, who had been wet-nurse to the infant Alan Rufus, sailed across the Channel to boldly petition him for a reward. He gave her the manor of Sibton in Suffolk.

      After the Revolt of the Earls in 1075, Ralph de Gael's former soldier Mainard joined Alan's staff and became his Chamberlain. Orwen and Mainard met and fell in love, and Alan gave them his blessing to marry. Although Orwen was advanced in years, she bore two daughters; the elder, Gemma, inherited and her descendants held Sibton manor into the 1200s. Henry V had charters from Sibton Abbey concerning them and their serfs, the Dere family, copied into his royal records near the start of his reign, a couple of years before Agincourt.

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan Robert Lancaster 3 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Geoffrey, your comment is very detailed, thanks. There will be a few who benefit from that extra detail. He was ahead of his time, and was well respected by his English tenants for his fairness.

      I restricted myself to Alan's own time in order to align the theme more directly to his overlord in England, and events linked to the 'Harrying of the North' in 1069-70. William's half-brother Odo did his level best to upset everyone by attacking Alan Rufus' land in 1069 after the rising. William tried to keep certain individuals onside - including Waltheof, who wedded the king's niece Judith but was implicated in the Revolt of the Earls and paid with his life outside the burh wall at Winchester.

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