My short essay on the connection between King Steven, Empress Matilda and William D'Albini - the builder of Castle Rising Castle

Castle Rising, Stephen, Matilda and the
Angevin connection
(The forgotten civil war)

The reason for this work was inspired by the simple phrase; ‘William D’Albini fought at Tichebrai’ cited in Blomefield’s History of Norfolk. This record fits neither our accepted timeline nor the person I am studying associated with the building of Castle Rising Castle.

Based upon a wider documentary study of national events I now feel that William D’Albini built his keep at Rising in sporadic stages whilst really focusing on his Buckenham site as a power base.

Following the death of William the Conqueror in 1087 only a year after the completion of the great Domesday Survey, William (Rufus) the eldest son was crowned king of England and his younger brother Henry (Beauclerck – otherwise known as ‘the learned’ probably because he could read?) inherited a huge fortune as a result of his father’s exploits.

Rufus granted William D’Albini (Pincena or Butler) the estate of ‘Risinga’ circa 1088, together with lands in Snettisham and Buckenham. William was also granted various properties within the hundreds of Freebridge and Smithdon which are also located in west Norfolk.

As a result of a rather dubious hunting accident in the New Forest, Rufus was killed in 1100 and Henry seized the treasury at Winchester with unforgivable haste, following which his coronation occurred only three days after his brother’s death.

William the Butler seems to have maintained his status within Henry’s court and subsequently saw his entitlement to Rising and other lands re-enforced by the new king.

William also appears to have held lands by tenure of ‘Grand Sergeantry’ which probably meant he was regarded as a direct agent of the king in Norfolk. The lands awarded included both Kenninghall and Wymondham, the latter would form much more importance within the progress of this history.

The year 1100 may mark changes to the first stone structure on the castle site, namely the church located close to the northern boundary of the castle yard we know today.

There raged a major dispute between Henry and his eldest brother Robert (Curthose or short trousers) within the first few years of Henry’s reign over a legitimate claim to the English crown. Robert inherited his father’s position as Duke of Normandy and the two brothers ultimately fought each other at the castle of Tichebrai in Normandy, during which Robert was ultimately defeated, captured and imprisoned for twenty-eight years until his death. The same year as that decisive battle also witnessed the founding of Wymondham priory by William the Butler.

This same William also built a stone castle at Buckenham in Norfolk and his brother Nigel is credited as erecting a motte and bailey defence at Denton within the same county.

Both William and Nigel witnessed charters circa 1120 together with William D’Aubigné (Brito), who’s power-base was Belvoir castle in Leicestershire. Also, the year 1120 is significant as Henry I lost his only legitimate male heir to the throne together with his youngest son in the tragedy known as ‘The wreck of the white ship.’

As a result of that disaster, the line of accession naturally led to Matilda who had previously married Henry V (Holy Roman Emperor) at the tender age of eleven in 1114.

It seems relevant at this point of the story to introduce Stephen of Blois. Stephen born in 1090 and was the grandson of William the Conqueror, he married Matilda of Boulogne in 1124 and the following year the Empress Matilda was widowed.
In 1127 Stephen swore an oath recognizing the Empress as the rightful heir to the English crown but this act of allegiance quickly dissolved once she married Geoffrey of Anjou. Matilda’s and Geoffrey’s union produced to four children, the eldest male ultimately became King Henry II of England.

Henry I died 1st December 1135 supposedly from ‘a surfeit of lamphreys’, but by 22nd December of that year Stephen had himself crowned and Henry’s salted remains were eventually interred at Reading Abbey on the 4th January 1136.

It is highly likely that William the Butler maintained his position further until his death in 1139. More importantly, his son William II had the great fortune of marrying Adeliza, Henry I’s widow a year earlier at the age early of 28.
1139 was also the year king Stephen granted the earldom of Lincoln to William Stronghand and the two men were together elsewhere when Empress Matilda entered England and ultimately Arundel on the 30th September of that year.

William was clearly loyal to his king whilst Adeliza felt some allegiance towards her step-daughter; this may have caused some friction between William and his new bride.

Matilda was accompanied by Robert of Gloucester a close relative together with 140 knights who all slipped into Arundel via the low, flat meadow land which surrounds it.

Stephen saw Robert of Gloucester as the true threat but it was Matilda’s arrival in England which sparked a variety of conflicts largely focused upon the south west of England and included the particularly nasty siege of Exeter castle which forced both man and beast to drink only wine due to Stephen’s deliberate stoppage of drinking water to the castle.

The Battle of Lincoln on 2nd February 1141 witnessed Stephen’s siege of Lincoln castle. The events leading to this certainly included William D’Albini who was relieved of his first earldom of Lincoln in favour of William of Roumar but was then awarded Sussex as recompense. Strangely, both William of Roumar and his half-brother Ranulf of Chester took possession of Lincoln castle in direct opposition to Stephen at that time.

The ensuing battle between Stephen’s troops and the newly formed Angevin army led by Robert of Gloucester eventually culminated in the capture of the king by enemy hands.

The Treaty of Winchester drawn-up in October 1141 agreeing to a mutual exchange of Robert of Gloucester in return for king Stephen’s release; thus the twelfth-century English civil war was returned to a position of square one.

As a result of Stronghand’s marriage to Adeliza, he was granted the earldom of Arundel as part of her dowry in 1143. By 1146 William founded the priory of SS Mary and James together with the church of All Saints at Buckenham in Norfolk. It seems the motivation for these foundations simply came from his desire to build a second castle at the extremity of the parish boundary. William was granted his wish by the king providing he demolished his father’s earlier fortification. The demolition of the Butler’s castle provided building material for the new priory granted to Augustinian canons.

In 1150 William’s wife withdrew to her native Flanders and resided in a nunnery at Afflighem until her death on 24th March the following year.

King Stephen’s wife Matilda of Boulogne died in 1151 together with his eldest son Eustace. That presented a potential power vacuum should Stephen also die.

Around that period, Stephen experienced increased opposition to his reign in East Anglia largely led by Geoffrey de Mandeville who ironically had been previously awarded the earldom of Essex by Stephen himself. The king’s other major opponent was a high ranking cleric named Nigel who was the bishop of Ely and personally installed by Matilda.

As a result of this resistance, Stephen instigated a programme of new castle building to defend his realm. Apart from Burwell in Cambridgeshire, none of the other sites have been securely been identified but they may have been located around Ely, the Fens but one location could possibly include Rising owing to its ancient importance. The minting of Stephen coins at Rising between 1141 and 1147 clearly re-enforces William D’Albini’s loyalty to his king; particularly as none of the surviving coins are defaced as they were at other East Anglian mints.
Geoffrey de Mandeville had earlier seized Ramsey Abbey in Cambridgeshire around 1143. During the occupation of his men damaged the monastery and both abused and ejected the resident monks. A charter issued by Thomas Becket dated to 1163 successfully recompensed the abbey for damages caused by de Mandeville during the anarchy.

Peace between the two factions was finally achieved with the Treaty of Winchester of 1153 and it is generally acknowledged that Robert of Leicester and William D’Albini were the principle figures associated with the negotiation process but neither men were required to add their witnessing signatures.

By 1166, the Honour of Buckenham was valued at 42 knight’s fees which represented a high status. King Stephen died in 1154 and Henry II was crowned.

William D’Albini progressed to act as adviser to the king and provided military service against the rebellious son between 1173 and 1174. William is also known to have been present at the battle of Fornham St Genevieve in Suffolk against the rebel earls of Bigod and Leicester in 1173.

William ‘Stronghand’ died 12th October 1176 at Waverley and his son William III inherited his titles and lands including Castle Rising.
© Norman Fahy 2012