I've been preparing a permanent piece for my website about Roger Bigod II, the hero of THE TIME OF SINGING. It'll be up at the website soon, but in the meantime here it is for my blog.
Roger Bigod II
I set out to write about him after being made curious by a remark in a reference work mentioning that his career path was in many ways similar to that of the great William Marshal. They were both self-made men, if for different reasons. Both had clawed their way up the ladder of fame and fortune. Both had been born in troubled times and had cut their political teeth at the courts of the Angevin kings and their familiers. Each of them was to marry an heiress in the King’s gift and wield great power that would help shape England’s future.
William Marshal is fortunate and almost unique in having a history written about him shortly after he died; thus his deeds and his life story have remained for posterity.
Roger of Norfolk has no such history to track his days on earth Even so, there are traces of his tale in chronicles and charters and these can be pieced together to make a larger body of knowledge. Roger’s son and heir married William Marshal’s eldest daughter and so we get a brief glimpse of him in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, where Roger is called ‘a man who was never very slow in doing what was to his advantage and honour, when it was appropriate for him to do so.
So what was Roger Bigod’s story? What kind of man was he, and what sort of life did he live?
Roger Bigod has no known birth date or year, but was probably born somewhere between 1140 and 1146. He came from a family of obscure origins but whom we know were vassals of the Bishop of Bayeux prior to the Norman Conquest and haled from the Calvados region of Normandy.
An ancestor called Hugh Bigod who was very likely Roger’s great grandfather was described by Wace in the Roman de Rou, as ‘The lord of Montfiquet’ and was apparently a forester and a steward to Duke William of Normandy. ‘He was small in stature, but very bold and valiant.’
Roger’s ancestors followed their overlord to England and settled, although they still held onto their Norman fiefs. Roger’s grandfather, also called Roger, was one of the mainstays of the Norman government. Although not at this stage made Earl of Norfolk, he was sheriff of the county and was apportioned vast lands there and in Suffolk and Essex. The Bigod family became the rulers of what had once been the kingdom of the East Angles. The first Roger Bigod founded a Priory of Cluniac monks at Thetford and built the first castle at Framlingham. He married twice and had three daughters and two sons by his wives. The eldest son, William, was the product of his first marriage. The younger son, Hugh was born to his second wife, Alais. When William drowned in the disaster of the White Ship http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Ship the second son, Hugh, inherited everything. Prior to this, Hugh had stood to gain nothing. Now suddenly, he got the lot.
Hugh Bigod does not seem to have had a good reputation in history. He had an eye to the main chance and a determination to get to the top that left little room for courtesy or finesse. By changing sides to his own advantage, he did very well out of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda and at this time was created Earl of Norfolk. Here’s a brief article giving an overview of The Anarchy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anarchy Like his father, Hugh married twice. His first match was to Juliana de Vere, sister of the earl of Oxford and it was from this match that Roger Bigod, hero of the Time of Singing was born, probably at Framlingham in the stone great hall there, the ruined remains of which can still be seen today. The photo on the left shows the remains of the hall where my Roger Bigod would have lived when he was first married. The white parts of the chimney stacks are original Norman chimneys, with later Tudor brickwork on top.
For reasons unknown, Hugh divorced Juliana at some point in before the early 1150’s and married instead Gundreda, sister of the Earl of Warwick. By Gundreda, Hugh Bigod went on to have two more sons, Hugh and William.
Roger would have been raised at the family home of Framlingham, but would have been without his natural mother from his mid-childhood. Instead he grew up with his stepmother Gundreda and his two half-brothers. Roger would appear to have been educated both in the knightly arts and those pertaining to the pen. From his later career, we know he had a sound knowledge of the law and was frequently used as a judge on the bench by successive kings of England. He was present at the Assize of Clarendon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assize_of_Clarendon so was familiar with the working of the judicial system from an early age It’s interesting to note that around the time Roger was receiving his grounding in the law, William Marshal was setting out to serve his uncle Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, as a hearth knight in Poitou.
In 1173, King Henry’s son rebelled against his father. Roger’s own father, Hugh, threw in his lot with the young man and his faction. Henry II had sought to limit Hugh’s vast power in East Anglia and to this end had built a dominant castle at Orford to oppose Hugh’s castles at Framlingham and Bungay. Hugh was not best pleased at this restriction and voted with his sword. Roger Bigod took a different view to his father. It seems rather ironic that Hugh of Norfolk, well into his seventies, supported the Young King, and Roger, a young man, supported King Henry’s established monarchy. We don’t know when Roger and Hugh parted company, or how the conversation went, but obviously father and son faced each other on opposite sides of a divide. I suspect the fact that they chose opposite sides was one of personal acrimony rather than a mutual ploy.
Matters came to a head when the country rose in rebellion against King Henry on the Young King’s behalf. The Earl of Leicester and Hugh of Norfolk forged an alliance and imported Flemish mercenaries to fight for the cause. The royalists, led by among others the justiciar Richard de Luci and Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Roger’s uncle) were hard pressed to contain the rebellion, but contain it they did. Having defeated and turned back the Scots who had put their oar into the general unrest by heading over the border, de Luci turned his army southwards to deal with the rebels in East Anglia, who were now branching out into the Midlands. Roger joined the royalist army as they prepared to meet the advancing rebel contingent at the bridge over the river Lark at Fornham St. Genevieve in October 1176. Roger was given the privilege of bearing the banner of Saint Edmund into battle. The Bigod family owed knights’ service to the Abbey of Saint Edmund, so Roger had every right to bear the banner in that role. Saint Edmund was the closest thing England had to a patron saint in the twelfth century. He was an Anglo Saxon king murdered by the Vikings, and his cult had a strong following. The shrine of Saint Edmund was covered in beaten silver and gems, and pilgrims came from far and wide to pray at the tomb. For Roger to bear that banner was a great honour, responsibility and privilege. Roger’s own blazon was that of a red cross on a gold background.
The royalist army was outnumbered four to one by the rebels. However, the latter consisted of hired men, many of them untrained out of work Flemish weavers, covering their deficits with a soldier’s pay until the looms picked up. They weren’t accustomed to standing hard. To get to the bridge across the lark, they had to cross marshy ground that split and scattered them. In contrast, the core of de Luci’s men were hard-bitten soldiers. They had been joined by a posse of locals, probably no more qualified to fight than the weavers, but in this case, their homesteads were at risk and there was a strong desire to be rid of these foreign parasites.
The battle was a disaster for the rebels and a massive success for the royalists.
The earl of Leicester was taken prisoner and with him, his Amazon wife Petronilla, who is supposed to have worn a hauberk at the battle. When the royalist men closed in on her, she took off her rings and tossed them into the spated river, saying that no one was going to have them. Perhaps they are still there now!
Following the battle, the rebels surrendered. Roger’s father was made to pay a fine of around 500 marks and the defences at Framlingham, the seat of his earldom, were torn down in punishment and his castle at Bungay was taken away. He was a broken old man by this time. One source says that he went on pilgrimage to the Holy land, but given his age, the state of his health and the fact that he was buried at the Priory of St Mary’s Thetford, it is unlikely. Wherever his demise, he was dead by the spring of 1177. Immediately a dispute arose between his three sons as to who inherited what. Hugh had not divided his lands between them and the whole should have gone to Roger. But Roger’s mother in law contested the will, saying that her eldest son was due all the land that her former husband had acquired during his lifetime as earl.
The dispute came before King Henry, who was no man’s fool when it came to matters of money and inheritance. He knew a good thing when he saw it and although the case was set in motion, he deferred judgement pending further investigation and kept the lands in his own administration. However, not to lose a good man who could both fight and administer, he utilised Roger’s skills and Roger was often at court, involved in legal administration and serving in a military capacity. His stepmother made her own plans to keep her cause alive. She married Robert de Glanville, a court lawyer who’s brother Ranulf was the King’s justiciar (he ruled the country in Henry’s absence). Her eldest son, for whom she was fighting chose to abscond the battle for a while at least, and went on crusade.
Henry also refused to grant Roger the earldom of Norfolk and the privileges that went with it – such as the third penny of the shire. This was a perk granted to an earl, whereby every third penny taken in tolls on markets and goods and passage was given to the earl of that shire. It becomes obvious when you look at the history that Henry was having his cake and eating it. It also appears that while Henry valued Roger, he was also suspicious of the Bigod name by now. Roger’s father had been rebellious and untrustworthy. Henry had had terrible problems with his own sons in that respect, so why should someone else’s son be any different? Roger was not about to get his full inheritance any day soon.
At the time Roger was serving the King and following the court, Henry had a young mistress. Her name was Ida de Tosney and she was one of his wards. This meant that he was her guardian. Her father, Ralph de Tosney had died when she was a small child. She had a brother, Roger (called Goscelin in The Time of Singing) who was also in wardship. Ida was probably in her mid teens when she became Henry’s mistress and bore him a son who was to grow up to become William Longespée, earl of Salisbury. The photo on the left is of his tomb effigy in Salisbury Cathedral.
From burrowing in charters, we know that Roger and Ida married around Christmas time 1181. Had Henry grown tired of his poppet and moved on? Was Ida a reward to Roger? Was there mutual attraction going on? We can’t say from this distance using conventional history. What is known is that Henry released several of the disputed manors to Roger as part of the bride’s marriage portion. It is not recorded what Gundreda and her sons thought about this, but they can hardly have been thrilled. What is also known is that Roger and Ida’s firstborn son Hugh, turned up within a year of the marriage and that it continued to be a fruitful one. Hugh was joined by two sisters, Marie and Marguerite, then three more brothers, Roger, William and Ralph. There may have been a couple of others, - John and Ida, but their existence is on less solid ground and they pop in and out of genealogical tables.
Henry still had no intention of returning the Earldom of Norfolk to Roger, but he continued to work him hard. Towards the end of Henry’s reign in 1187, Roger was serving at the King’s Court (Curia Regis) at Westminster and hearing pleas.
Henry died in 1189 and Richard I became King. Richard had need of funds for his crusade and he also needed a firm government to serve him. It was time for a new broom to sweep clean and to issue promotions to likely men. Roger finally got his reward and twelve years after his family lost the earldom of Norfolk, it was restored to them for a thousand marks. He was granted permission to rebuild Framlingham castle and immediately began doing so on a grand scale. You can see a photo gallery here.
http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Books/Framlingham%20Castle%20Photo%20Gallery/index.html Here is an url to a site about building works at Framlingham. You can click through to an archaeological report. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1238
The shell of the castle still stands today with its thirteen great towers. There are also the remains of the hall where Roger and his wife Ida lived in the early years of their marriage. The second, grander hall where they dwelt as a more mature couple has largely gone, but small bits remain as part of the Visitor centre. Photo of Framlingham
Once Roger had been granted an earldom, the hard work really began and he had to shift gears. Not only had he a new castle to build and a growing family to support, but Richard sent him out travelling on the judicial circuit, hearing pleas and making judgements at various stopping places up and down England. The pipe roll of 1190-91 shows him busy in Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Wiltshire. At this time too, he was given custody of Hereford Castle. In 1194 he was in Yorkshire, Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancaster. In 1195 he covered nine counties, with two more added in 1197. Northumberland, Yorkshire, Westmorland, Lancashire, Cumberland, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Herefordshire with Warwickshire and Leicestershire added later. On top of this, he had to support the appointed justiciars while Richard was away on crusade and try to help keep the peace – not always an easy task. The King’s brother John had made a play for his brother’s throne and Richard’s chancellor, William Longchamp who was opposing John, was hated by the barons. Roger, together with men such as William Marshal and the Archbishop of Rouen had to find the strength, the tact and diplomacy to deal with the situation, maintain stability, and manage their own lives.
On his way home from crusade, Richard had been captured crossing enemy territory in Austria, and was now the prisoner of Emperor Henry of Germany. A ransom was finally negotiated, but before Richard was released, he had to provide sureties for delivery of the money. Various nobles from England came to his aid and Roger was on the shipping list. There is no concrete evidence of his actual presence in Germany, but we do know he was on the shipping list. Did he go? With his experienced handling of the law and judicial subjects, I suspect he was present. No proof either way at the moment.
Richard returned to England to find that his brother John had risen up against him – and then run away to France to summon aid, leaving his castellans to ride it out as best they could. Richard swiftly set up military campaigns to deal with the insurrection and headed to Nottingham to deal with the rebels there. Roger was there with him in a military capacity.
When Richard died in 1199 and John came to the throne, Roger offered his loyalty. He went to Scotland for him as an envoy to King William and was frequently at court. He helped the town of Ipswich, in which he had a firm trading interest, to secure a charter of liberties from John in 1200. This gave the town various rights and privileges including permission to elect its two bailiffs who had previously been crown nominees. Four coroners were also created to watch over crown rights in the borough. In return for his assistance, Roger was admitted as the first foreign burgess of the town. In token payment he gave one ox, one bull, two quarters of corn and two of malt. For this, he and his heirs were then exempt on paying tolls in the town on the corn and grain reaped on their demesne lands.
Roger once again went on the judicial circuit early in John’s reign – 1201, but this was his last time on eyre as it was called.
Roger was a cautious, canny operator. His family had always been stewards to the royal family – also known as dapifers. One of Roger’s hereditary jobs and of ceremonial prestige, was to set the first dish before the King at official banquets and also to bear one of the ceremonial swords at the coronation. However, the Earl of Leicester thought he should have this privilege too and disputed the position. Roger had a think and decided to settle the matter amicably. He would renounce the title providing Leicester gave him ten knights’ fees. Leicester agreed to do so and Roger gave up the stewardship. He did have some follow up problems as getting Leicester to agree was the easy bit. Making him disgorge the manors was a different matter entirely and even after Roger II’s death (1221) the dispute rumbled on because Leicester had only paid seven and a half of the fees (1236).
In 1207 Roger consolidated his family’s prestige by marrying his heir, Hugh, to Mahelt, William Marshal’s eldest daughter. When she became the last of the Marshal’s children to survive, the title of Marshal came down to her and was passed on to her eldest son, Roger.
Throughout the early and mid part of John’s reign, Roger served the King faithfully. He answered the summons to battle campaigns, performed necessary stints at court and generally led a steady life. In 1213, the King visited him at Framlingham and all seemed well between them. However, as the political problems facing the king escalated and John’s behaviour deteriorated, Roger and his eldest son Hugh, had second thoughts about their support. At the time of the Magna Carta crisis in 1215, Roger renounced his support of John and joined the rebel barons. The rebels were probably delighted to have him among their number, because he was a consummate lawyer and could help oversee the wording and drafting of their demands. Why did Roger rebel against King John? Conventional history doesn’t tell us. He didn’t change sides until late in the day, but once he made up his mind, he stayed on the opposing side until after John was dead. Having turned rebel, he faced both excommunication and hostilities against his magnificent thirteen-towered castle at Framlingham.
The royal army came to Framlingham in March 1216 and prepared to lay siege to it. Although the castle was a state of the art fortress and the garrison boasted deadly crossbowmen among its numbers, Roger obviously preferred not to put it to the test and after only two days, the fortress was yielded to King John by Roger’s castellan, William Lenveise. Roger himself was in London at the time, because his huntsmen and dogs were apparently sent there to join him. Unfortunately, his young grandson was at Framlingham and was taken hostage by King John. However, this fact didn’t bring Roger to heel and he continued in rebellion. John died in October 1216, but Roger did not come to terms of peace with the royalist government until September of 1217 when he was finally restored to his earldom and Framlingham was returned to the family. By yielding the castle rather than putting up a fight, Roger secured the inheritance for the next generation. His hostage grandson was also the grandchild of William Marshal and this probably helped to secure the child’s safety during the ongoing hostilities, particularly after the Marshal was named regent following John’s death.
Roger died somewhere between the end of April and August 1221. He was well into his seventies and his son Hugh had taken over many of the duties of the earldom by then. His wife, Ida had predeceased him because there is no mention of any provision being made for her widowhood and it is not known where she is buried.
Like his contemporary William Marshal, Roger Bigod had been born into uncertain times during the regnal battle between Stephen and Matilda. He had learned statecraft at the court of Henry II and woven his way through the often difficult rule of Richard and John. History leaves us quiet traces of a man capable, firm and honourable. An understated man in his personality, who nevertheless knew and appreciated the value of display. The thirteen towers of Framlingham castle still standing today, and the remains of the stone hall he first shared with Ida are testament to both traits of Roger’s personality – unsung but shining. Visitors to the House of Lords will also find his statue looking down from the gallery in the company of William Marshal and his stepson William Longespée among others. He can also be found in slightly less exalted places! Photo here of Roger Bigod Mews.
The Bigod Family, an investigation into their lands and activities 1066-1306
PHD Thesis by Susan A. J. Atkin University of Reading
The Bigod Earls of Norfolk in the Thirteenth Century by Marc Morris/Boydell
History of William Marshal Vol II/Anglo Norman Text Society
The History of the Norman People: Wace’s Roman de Rou