‘He seems to have been without personal ambition’ Marjorie Chibnall: The Empress Matilda.
‘But she (the Empress Matilda) and Brian gained…a title to boundless fame, since as their affection for each other had before been unbroken, so even in adversity, great though the obstacle that danger might be, they were in no wise divided.’ Gesta Stephani
‘She (the Empress) gave the monks (of
‘I wish to have a great love of truth, and to obey in all things when I can. And I know to the best of my power and knowledge I do not deserve henceforth to be ranked among the unfaithful. I am sorry for the poor and their plight, when the church provides scarcely any refuge for them, for they will die if peace be longer delayed.’ Brian FitzCount in a letter to Henry Bishop of
“He’s dark haired and his hair is slightly wavy. He’s got very dark eyes with a twinkle. More than the twinkle is the passion. He’s got very passionate eyes. When he speaks, when he’s fired up by an idea, he’s passionate. It’s not just ideas that fire him up either. It’s a good song, a good story. He loves the artistic side of life, the culture. And is somewhat of a performer himself. He has a rich voice when he sings.” The Akashic Records, accessed by consultant Alison King
Brien FitzCount, lord of
Brian’s father was Alain IV, Duke of Brittany, who had married in succession
We do know that Henry I took him under his wing and raised him at the English and Norman royal court, seeing to his education and advancement. Brian says in a letter to Gilbert Foliot, bishop of
Henry would have seen in Brian a suitable companion for his own son, William the Atheling, and someone he could mould. Brian was being groomed for a life in royal service. Other companions at that time would have included Stephen of Blois, future king of England, David, who was Henry’s young brother in law and future King of Scotland, Robert and Richard, Henry’s favourite bastard sons, the Beaumont twins, Robert and Waleran and Richard Earl of Chester. Professor Crouch in his biography of King Stephen calls them ‘A brat pack of able youths of lineage and ambition.’ Brian was highly intelligent and received the best education that 12th century society could provide. Later in his career, Brian displayed the thoroughness of this education. Gilbert Foliot, Abbot of Gloucester and bishop of
As a youth at court, Brian would also for a time have known the king’s daughter, Matilda. She would have been a child while he was an adolescent growing to manhood. At the age of 8, Matilda left
To elevate Brian to a status suitable for the companion of a prince, King Henry sought a rich marriage for him, but in his usual parsimonious fashion, one that was likely to revert to the crown after Brian’s lifetime. Historical sources are contradictory and scanty, but we do know that Brian married heiress Matilda of Wallingford, widow of the baron Miles Crispin. We don’t know when, other than it was between 1107 and 1119. Brian would have been a young man or adolescent at the time. His wife’s age is just as unknown, but she would have been considerably older than him. The main question concerning the age gap, is whether she was old enough to be his mother, or his grandmother?
Various theories have been coined about Matilda of Wallingford. One school believes that her father was Robert D’oilley, one of the Conqueror’s companions, who married the daughter of Wigod of Wallingford, a survivor of the Norman Conquest. Robert and his wife produced Matilda, who married Norman lord Miles Crispin in 1184. Since 12 was the age of consent for marriage, a birth date for Matilda can be postulated from 1172 backwards to 1066. When Miles died in 1107, Matilda married Brian FitzCount. That would make her at the youngest, 35 when her husband died, and Brien would have been 17 at the oldest when this happened, but probably considerably younger. Another theory is that Miles Crispin and Matilda D’oilley had a daughter themselves, also named Matilda. If she was born in 1185, she would have been older than Brian, but only by about 10 -15 years. The evidence at the moment still comes down more on the side of the original, older Matilda being the right one. At their marriage she might just have had a twilight window of fertility remaining. In the event she did not conceive and
In 1126, the Empress Matilda returned to her father’s court as a young widow and her father’s sole heir, her brother having drowned at sea in the notorious sinking of the White Ship when it hit a rock on Barfleur harbour while returning from
Once the marriage alliance was agreed, the Empress was escorted to
When Henry I died, Stephen Count of
However, when Matilda made it plain that she intended fighting for her inheritance and that of her son, the future Henry II, letters began to fly between
Brian has often been portrayed as a warrior par excellence, but I have a suspicion that he was actually rather conservative in battle and that his strengths were more in the area of political negotiations and aspects of law and policy.
Brian is known to have written a tract putting forward the argument for the Empress’s right to inherit the throne. The work has since been lost, but was highly thought of by Gilbert Foliot, abbot of
In 1147, the Empress finally left
Why did Brian give up the fight in 1147? Was he ill? Did he believe that now the Empress had gone the situation was hopeless? (although other men such as his vassal John Fitzgilbert the Marshal fought on and ultimately won through). Was his loyalty solely to the Empress and not her line? No one can say. In A Place Beyond Courage, I had Brian retire to a monastery with a terminal illness, but further research means that I may tweak this in Lady of the English. My alternative studies via the Akashic Records certainly point towards him taking monastic vows, and I definitely think that 1147 was a crisis point, if not a breaking point for him and something I hope to address in fiction.
It has been a frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience, piecing together Brian FitzCount the man from the tiny mosaic fragments presented by the historical record where evidence is scanty and often contradictory and even made up. From what I have gleaned, Brian FitzCount served Henry I and the Empress as part of their policy making machine- a role that might translate today to that of high ranking civil service mandarin. He was highly educated and intelligent, easily able to hold his own in intellectual circles and at home with the fiscal dealings of the exchequeur. He was a courtier and a soldier when he had to be, although not a natural fighter like some of his contemporaries. He was devoted to Henry I, and also to the Empress. Was there ever a romance between them? I suspect (but this is only my opinion), that there was strong mutual affection, perhaps even desire, but honour, duty, position and moral fibre prevented the relationship from crossing the boundaries. Awareness was known but unspoken, and never acted upon.
As a novelist, my vision of Brian begins in my mind's eye as a handsome, vibrant young courtier, preparing to ride out in the dawn mist with one of
Select Bibliography - a few of the books consulted.
King Stephen – David Crouch published by Longman
Empress Matilda – Marjorie Chibnall published by Blackwell
The government of
History of William Marshal vol 1 published by the Anglo Norman Text Societh
Stephen and Matilda, the Civil War of 1139-53 – Jim Bradbury published by Sutton
The Memory of Brian FitzCount – Edmund King: Haskins Society Journal published by Boydell.
Who’s Who in Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman published by Shepheard Walwyn.