Points of Interest at Gloucester Cathedral: Who was Robert Curthose?

DSC07919On the right hand side of the altar, in the East End of Gloucester Cathedral, there is an elaborate effigy of a knight, dressed in full battle armour, and lying in an unusual position.

It has been heavily restored over the years, and the colour and pose of the effigy makes it stand out from everything else around it.

I was keen to find out about who was the man behind the kooky posing effigy!

It is of Robert Curthose, or Robert of Normandy, the oldest son of William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066.

Robert Curthose was born Normandy,1051/1054 which was soon after William’s marriage to Matilda of Flanders.

The Norman Nave of Gloucester Cathedral

Where did the Curthose come from? Apparently his father teased him for having short legs and therefore, short hose!

Not much is written of his early life other than he was always expected to succeed his father as the Duke of Normandy.

Dependent on what you read, it was said he was skilled at military exercises at a young age, whilst displaying a weakness of character in later life.

It is also said he was brave and trusting, and easily outmatched by his devious brothers William Rufus (later William II of England) and Henry (later Henry I of England).

Robert’s Effigy from the North, not the easiest subject to photograph!

As a child Robert was betrothed to Margaret the heiress of Maine, with William making him the Count of Maine. However Margaret died before their marriage, and Robert lost the position.

Robert was named as the heir to the Dukedom of Normandy at a young age, but remained unsatisfied with his share of power and often rebelled against or came into conflict with his father and brothers.

In 1077, Robert was on the unfortunate end of a prank by his brothers and ended up with the contents of a chamber pot over his head.. he was so furious that he stormed off and tried to seize Rouen Castle, only to fail and be forced to flee. Poor disgruntled Robert.

More skirmishes occurred between Robert and his father over the next few years, and in 1079 he met his father in battle and ended up unhorsing him, much to William’s humiliation.

Streets of Rouen

Robert and William did eventually reconcile, and by 1087 William was dying in Rouen having been mortally injured during the seize of Mantes.

He summoned his sons to his deathbed, William and Henry were present, but Robert was at the court of the French King.

William was bequeathed the crown of England, Henry was gifted £5,000 and Robert inherited the Dukedom of Normandy.

Gloucester Cathedral from the Cloisters

There was an uneasy peace made between the brothers, with each agreeing to be the others heir, however this wasn’t to last long as  in 1088, Robert rebelled against his brother William.

The rebellion failed, partially because Robert didn’t show up to join the other rebels, and William to invaded Robert’s territory three years later.

Eventually the reconciled to join forces against their other brother Henry, who ended up having to surrender territory.

In 1096 Robert left for a Crusade in the Holy Land and mortgaged the duchy of Normandy to William to raise the money.

In 1100, William Rufus was killed hunting in the New Forest whilst Robert was returning

The Cloisters at Gloucester

from the Crusade. Robert was returning from the Crusade and his younger wily brother was able to seize the crown in a hurry and became King of England.

Robert finally married in the same year to a woman called Sibylla of Conversano, a town in Southern Italy. They later went on to have a son called William.

Robert invaded England in 1101, landing at Portsmouth. He then started to march on London. However, his support was lacking and he was intercepted by Henry and forced to surrender his claim to the throne, in return for a pension.

You can probably guess, peace didn’t last between the brothers and in 1105 Henry lost patience with Robert and invaded Normandy, meeting Robert’s army at the Battle of Tinchebray in 1106.

Robert Curthose

Henry soundly defeated Robert, and Normandy became a possession of the English Crown. Robert was to spend more than 20 years imprisoned in various castles, finally dying in his 80’s at Cardiff Castle in 1134.

Robert was buried at the Abbey Church of St Peter’s, later to become Gloucester Cathedral and it is thought he was laid to rest somewhere near the high altar.

Robert’s effigy dates to about 100 years after his death, and the tomb chest the effigy lies on dates to the 15th century. The unusual pose of the effigy is supposed to depict the figure in action, drawing his sword.

The Great East Window, Gloucester

I enjoyed learning about Robert, a man with a very active long life in fractious times. He seemed to consistently have ill luck, partially due to poor decisions, but also including being so poor at times he had no clothes so couldn’t leave his bed!

On another unfortunate occasion, he missed an important sermon by the Bishop of Sees as whilst he was sleeping off a rather debauched, drunken evening, his friends stole his clothes and he had to stay in bed, rather than attend the sermon nude!

It is said he wrote poetry during his captivity, and the following is attributed to him:

‘Woe to him that is not old enough to die.’

If you would like to see more photos from my visit to Gloucester, please visit my flickr

Wikipedia – Robert Curthose















3 thoughts on “Points of Interest at Gloucester Cathedral: Who was Robert Curthose?

  1. I enjoyed your blog on Robert Curthose. I found your blog site on my friend’s site (Susan Abernethy). Looks like the two of you cover England. I was interested in Robert’s story because of the connection to France. I hope you’ll visit my site (stewross.com) and let me know what you think. Perhaps we could discuss having you guest blog with something that ties England and France together. Let me know. STEW

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