Alain le Roux, Count of Brittany (Earl of Richmond)

November 24, 2010 by Mercedes Rochelle | Filed under General Topics.

Alain le Roux (c. 1040–1094) is one of my favorite historical characters who seems to have been relatively important in his time, but nobody seems to have heard of him.  Why do I like him so much?  Well, as I see it he went with  the flow (so to speak), amassed an incredible fortune (according to Wikipedia, at the time of his death he was worth around $166.9 billion, the equivalent of 7% of England’s national income.  Forbes placed him 9th in the list of most wealthy historical figures) and modestly did his thing, managing to keep King William happy as well as historians.

Alain – called le Roux because of his red beard – hits  the historical stage around the time of the Norman Conquest.  He was in charge of the Breton contingent, a sizeable part of William’s invasion force.  If you recall, the Breton wing of the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings nearly lost the day: they were the first to panic and flee from the ferocity of the Saxons.  For a moment all was in chaos, then many of the inexperienced Saxon fyrd broke the shield wall and pursued the Bretons.  However, William rallied his men and cut off the Saxons from the rest of the army, wiping them out to a man.  Seeing the success of the maneuver, William instructed the Bretons to do it a couple of times more throughout the battle, with great success.

After William become king he rewarded his supporters with grants of land and titles.  Alain was created the first Earl of Richmond, and a Norman keep stands on the site of his original castle overlooking the River Swale. In 1069, during the great Harrying of the North after the insurrection of Durham, Alain was the man William appointed to do the job.  By the end of his career, he had amassed over 250,000 acres in land grants.  Yet he is said to have died childless and his estate was inherited by his brother Alain le Noir (so- called because of his black beard).

Early in my research for my upcoming novel,  “Heir to a Prophecy” I unearthed a story that my protagonist Walter actually went to Brittany and married Alain’s daughter, later taking her to Scotland and the court of Malcolm III where he was a favorite.  Although this is probably apocryphal, I did recently find an anecdote that makes me wonder if it could be true.

Just the other day I was reading the book “The House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty” (by Emma Mason) which was written 5 years ago.  Four pages from the end, the author states that King Malcolm planned to marry his daughter Edith to Count Alan the Red in 1093 (she was in the Wilton nunnery at the time), and King William Rufus forbid the union, causing Malcolm to storm out of the royal court. Now, why would Malcolm care about Alain unless there was some sort of connection between them (Walter)?

Even more interesting (to me, that is), instead of Malcolm’s daughter, Alain actually took a fancy to another important novice at Wilton: Gunhild, daughter of Harold Godwineson and Edith Swanneck.  At the same time Malcolm took his daughter out of Wilton, Alain removed Gunhild (by then well into her 30s) and brought her to live with him…on the very estates he had taken over from her wealthy mother after Hastings.  When Alain died around 1094, Gunhild stayed and became the partner of Alain’s brother Le Noir, who succeeded to the estates.  What did she have to lose, after all?

348 Responses to “Alain le Roux, Count of Brittany (Earl of Richmond)”

  1. Great post. Glad to see a blog that isn’t so generic looking.

  2. […] the old Anglo-Saxon dynasty).   This is the same Edith that Malcolm earlier tried to marry to Alain le Roux.  If you saw  the recent series Pillars of the Earth, it’s hard to forget the scene where […]

  3. Thomas Wisse says:

    Good post. Its’ good to come to a site that doen’t look like a canned template.

  4. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Alain le Roux’s son died before him. Alain le Noir also died without a son to inherit, so the lands went to Stephen their third brother.

    At the Battle of Hastings, the Bretons formed the left wing, and the Normans the right wing, of William’s army.

    It was an ancient practice of the Breton knights to feint a retreat, scatter, then simultaneously turn and regroup to attack the opportunistic enemy’s pursuing troops. This time-honoured trick, which requires impeccable discipline and precise timing, is what devastated the Saxon infantry.

    Remember that the Bretons had fended off the Saxons, Franks, Vikings and other assilants for centuries, and had periodically sent troops to shore up the defences of Cornwall and Wales, at which they were successful. An impressive achievement, given that the Breton ruling family were also often at war with each other. So they knew a thing or two about how to fight a battle.

    Incidentally, William the Conqueror’s family tree has more Bretons than any other single line of descent, and he shared a common ancestor with their rulers, namely Rollo the 1st Duke of Normandy.

    The Dukes of Brittany also supported the Tudors’ rise to power.

    I became interested in the history of the Bretons when I was researching the Tweed family tree. One compiler indicated that they were descended from the family of Alain le Roux. Other genealogical evidence from marriages, locations, and travels, is suggestive of this, so I checked the surname’s distribution in the 1891 UK census.

    The Tweeds, unlike my other lines of ancestry, were heavily concentrated in all the counties where William the Conqueror granted lands to Alain le Roux. 10% lived in Scotland, mostly around Lanarkshire; a handful lived in Peeblesshire near the source of the river Tweed. However, 90% lived in England, especially in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Yorkshire, with 10% in London. The Tweeds who migrated to Australia in the 1800’s (before that UK census) came principally from farming properties near Duxford, Cambridge and Newmarket.

    Given the association with SE England, I suspect that the name Tweed is not derived from the river (perhaps the reverse?), but we can agree that it is probably an ancient British name, whatever its meaning. I do note that the Welsh spelling of Tudor is “Twydr”, meaning “Theodore”, and that the first Bretons originated from Cornwall, Devon and Wales in AD 383.

    We can be so precise about these Bretons because they were the Southern contingent of the Roman army in Britain under the command of Magnus Clemens Maximus who was Western emperor for 5 years, and their actions are attested by many records: Roman, Byzantine, Breton and Welsh.

    There is another family, the Tweedies, who might or might not be related, but their 1891 population distribution was very different.

    If the genealogies are correct, the Scottish Tweeds more than once married Stewart and Douglas women in the 1200s and 1300s. I don’t know what the Tweeds thought of the English-Scottish Wars, but they must have been perplexed due to having residences and loyalties in both countries.

    What I can say about my Tweed grandmother and her father is that they were strict disciplinarians, very neat, orderly and precise. They owned several tracts of land in Queensland for cattle farming, and loved horse-riding. Uncle Tony, a car mechanic, owned a race-horse, Gay Port, which won the Theo Marks Stakes in 1958, the Flemington Futurity Stakes and the Caulfield Futurity Stakes in 1960, and came second (to Todman) in the VRC Lightning Stakes in 1959 I think.

    • Hi Geoffrey,
      Thanks for your impressively researched supplement to the Alain Le Roux line! I never knew there was a third brother Stephen. Did he also fight at the Battle of Hastings?

      Of course, since we are using secondary sources (or later), it’s easy to perpetrate a myth or misunderstanding, and how do we know when this is the case? The story of the Breton contingent breaking first at Hastings and nearly losing the day is commonly referred to in many sources (including Edward A. Freeman). You could be right that the maneuver was planned from the beginning and that the Anglo-Saxons might never have seen it before. It is also commonly agreed that the trick was subsequently used during the battle a couple of times to great effect. I can see where there might be confusion among historians, and nothing personal against the Bretons!

  5. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Stephen was a child in 1066. My guess is that he was in Brittany during the early years of the Norman-Breton (re)conquest of Britain.

    Let me quote holus-bolus from Wikipedia:

    “Stephen, Count of Treguier,” [a town near the central north coast of Brittany], “Lord of Richmond (1058/62- 21 April 1136)[1] was a Breton noble and a younger son of Odo, Count of Penthièvre and Agnes of Cornwall,” [that’s actually Cornouaille, a region of Brittany, named after Cornwall in Britain and settled by Cornish emigrants in the 4th to 6th centuries], “sister of Hoel II, Duke of Brittany.

    In 1093, he succeeded to the title of Count of Tréguier; in 1098, he succeeded his brother Alain” [that’s Alan the Black, younger brother of Alan the Red] “as Lord of Richmond in Yorkshire, England.[2]

    He married Hawise of Guingamp and their children were:

    Geoffrey II “Boterel”, Count of Penthièvre, who married Hawise de Dol, by whom he had issue.

    Henry, Count of Tréguier, married Mathilde de Vendome, by whom he had issue.

    Alan de Bretagne, 1st Earl of Richmond (died 15 September 1146) married Bertha of Brittany, by whom he had issue, including his heir Conan IV, Duke of Brittany; he had also four illegitimate sons.

    Maud, married Walter de Gand, by whom she had issue.

    Olive, married firstly Henry de Fougères, by whom she had issue; secondly William de St. John.

    Tiphanie, married Rabel de Tancarville, Chamberlain of Normandy.

    Eléonore, married Alan de Dinan, by whom she had issue.

    Stephen was a benefactor of religious houses. In 1110, he and his wife, Hawise founded the Augustine Abbey of St Croix in Guingamp; and on an unknown date, he is recorded as having donated property to Rumbaugh Priory for the souls of his wife and children.[3]

    He died on 21 April 1136 and was buried in York.[4]


    1-4: Charles Cawley, Medieval Lands, Brittany, retrieved 18-04-10″

    I really must visit both Richmond Castle (built by Alan the Red) in North Yorkshire. Incidentally, I read that the toilet Alan had built there is still the one regularly used by the visitors!

    Stephen’s burial site in York is another must-see, assuming it can still be found.

    I love that name “Tiphanie”, it’s so much classier in French.

    What, I was wondering, is so special about Lanarkshire, that the Tweeds wanted to be Lords there? So I checked the 1891 UK census, and found that 15 out of 16 of the surnames of my great-great grandparents are found in significant numbers there. Whoa! There must be a reason, I thought. So I checked Google maps. In 1891, Lanarkshire included … Glasgow! The Tweeds were Lords of the biggest town and of the most populous region in Scotland!

    Many of my other relatives (particularly on my father’s side) were largely maritime (mariners and ship-builders) so their families presumably went there for the shipyards. Other relatives, who may or may not have been of a nautical persuasion, came from Ireland, so they may have been paying passengers.

    It turns out that most of family, on both sides, are of Breton or Norman descent. Even the Tobins came from upper Normandy, where they were called “de Saint Aubyn”. Since that means St Alban, who was the “first British saint and martyr”, it does suggest that the Tobins may have been Bretons too, despite the proximity of their residences to Paris. I know that many Normans had Breton ancestry, and inherited properties in Brittany. William the Conqueror himself (who disliked being called that) was more Breton than Norman, when one counts his ancestors.

    Why, I have been asked, are the Tweeds not fabulously wealthy? After all, William not only granted them most of Eastern England and one of the choicest parts of Scotland to rule, but they owned large parts of London as well. They should put the Dukes of Westminster in the shade.

    Firstly, the Earls of Richmond, as you may have gathered, were very astute at accumulating wealth, whereas the Kings of England, like those of France, were lousy financial managers. Whenever the King had a fiscal crisis, he would look with avarice to the Honour of Richmond, and confiscate it, squeeze it dry, then hand it back. In a generation or two these estates were rich again, but England’s treasury was empty, so the cycle continued.

    Then there was the run-in with King John. The histories don’t say that he executed a member of my family in order to seize his wealth, they straight-out use the word “murder”.

    Later Kings decided to permanently confiscate all the territories that had belonged to the descendants of the Dukes of Brittany. They “justified” this by saying that they had married into the family, so it was theirs anyway.

    In addition to that, whereas the usual Breton custom is to give all the inheritance to the eldest male heir, I gather that the Tweeds developed the habit of subdividing their property among all children, male and female alike. So by the present day, with many thousands of Tweed descendants, each owns very little.

    On the other hand, it does make it easy to trace the Tweeds, because they are distributed according to the division of landholdings, precisely over the counties where Alan the Red governed.

    As you can imagine, it is with some mixed feelings that I note that Prince Charles is “Duke of Cornwall” and Harry is “Duke of Cambridge”, etc.

    On the other hand, again quoting Wikipedia: “The title Duke of Richmond is named after Richmond and its surrounding district of Richmondshire, and has been created several times in the Peerage of England for members of the royal Tudor and Stuart families. The current lineage and title was created in 1675 for Charles Lennox, the illegitimate son of King Charles II of England and a Breton noblewoman called Louise de Kérouaille.”

    So at least the Honour of Richmond is being kept within the Breton lineage. The Stuarts descend from a Breton knight who served under Alan the Red, and the Tweeds intermarried with the Stewarts in the early days (around 1200-1300) when the latter were the stewards of the Kings of Scotland.

    The Tudors, as far as I know, were not actually relatives of the Tweeds, despite the similarity of name (Twydr, meaning Theodore), but the Dukes of Brittany did provide as much support as they could for their rise to power. Perhaps that was just because of their ancient fondness for the Welsh, as they trace one of their lines back to Conan Meriadoc, prince of Powys, and other lines back to Gwynnedd. The Welsh say that Conan M’s sister Elen was the wife of Magnus Clemens Maximus, who brought his legions from Britain to Armorica (Brittany) in AD 383.

    Magnus became a very popular and _mostly_ wise Western Emperor. He won most of his battles because the enemy’s troops defected to him, as he treated his subjects and soldiers better. This worked until his defeat against the Eastern Emperor in 388. (Even in that last battle, some soldiers defected to his side, to share his defeat.) He and his son Flavius Victor were subsequently (separately) tried and executed. However, his mother, wife and daughters are not mentioned, so they may have survived.

    In any case, my grandmother’s name was Ellen May Tweed, so maybe there’s a faint recollection there. She was six feet tall and strong as an ox, as they say. (Rather like the other Ellie May, from the Beverley Hillbillies!) Strangely her father was quite short, though there are some tall people earlier in the family line.

    One of the characteristics of the Tweeds is that commonly one child (e.g my mother, Constance May) will have black hair, while a sibling (e.g. my aunt Audrey Gwendoline) has auburn hair. This is true also in earlier generations. Just like Alan the Red and Alan the Black.

    My father’s side were very maritime. Among others, there is a William Foy who was lighthouse superintendant of Port Phillip Heads in the 1850s, Daniel Driscoll a mariner, a possible relative George Tobin who was the founder of the Port Phillip pilots and who worked with William Foy, and a certain Captain Chapman, who judging by electoral address records from 1856 was quite possibly Thomas George Chapman the British India Torres Strait pilot.

    My father related that the Chapmans came from Sweden. That makes some sense as he was blond into his teens, and I was blond in childhood before my hair darkened to the brown that the stylists call “dark blond”.

    He also said that his great grandfather, was not only a ship’s captain but also owned a ship, and used to sail between Stockholm to Port Adelaide. In addition, he stated that we are entitled to use the suffix “esquire”, though I failed to ask him why.

    When I researched the maritime Chapmans of Sweden, I found that there was a Vice-Admiral Fredrik Henrik (af) Chapman, Esquire (1721-1808), who was a leading naval architect and a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. He was a very capable mathematician and engineer: he invented flotation tanks, sea wave simulations, the parabolic method for constructing retaining walls, and the relaxation method for solving partial differential equations (decades before Gauss and Jacobi), in order to build more seaworthy and more manoeuvrable naval vessels capable of carrying twice as many cannon, so as to defend Sweden from Russia and Germany simultaneously. (The late Vasa Kings of Sweden seem to have been even more stupid than those of England and France, initiating multiple major border conflicts at the same time.) This worked until Fredrik Henrik died, after which the King decided Sweden should open a third front by taking on Napoleonic France too.

    Fredrik Henrik’s parents were Lieutenant Thomas Chapman, a Yorkshireman who served in the British fleet that captured Gibraltar from the Spanish, and Susannah Colson, whose father William Colson was a London shipwright.

    The Chapmans of Whitby were a family of bankers, ship-builders and ship-owners. Their family line is one of the oldest attested among the Angles who settled eastern England, and is traced back to about AD 500, when they already had that surname, so they were already well-known merchants even then.

    The Chapmans must have had interactions with Alan the Red. Since they survived the harrying of the North, when it’s estimated 150,000 Angles died, and the Chapmans were not displaced but evidently continued to prosper, they must have avoided angering either the Angle and Dane rebels or the Norman and Breton victors. Quite a balancing act!

  6. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    Oh, I forgot two other brothers of Alan the Red, Geoffrey and Brian. Here is Wikipedia again [with my explanatory edits and additional comments] :

    “Odo of Rennes (Breton: Eozen Penteur, French: Eudes/Éon de Penthièvre) (999–1079), Count of Penthièvre, was the youngest son of Duke Geoffrey I of Brittany and Hawise of Normandy, daughter of Richard I of Normandy. Following the death of his brother Duke Alan III, Eudes ruled as regent of Brittany in the name of his nephew Conan II, between 1040 and 1062. Eudes married Agnes of [Cornouaille], sister of Hoel II of Brittany. At least two of Eudes’ sons (Alain [the Red] and Brian) participated in the Norman conquest of England.[1]

    His children include:

    Geoffrey I, count of Penthièvre.

    Alain Le Roux.

    Stephen, Count of Tréguier, who married Havise of Guingamp.

    Brian (French: Brien; Latin: Briennius), who defeated a second raid in the southwest of England, launched from Ireland by Harold’s sons in 1069. Brian participated in the conquest of England and afterwards held the Honour of Richmond, but died without issue. He is presumed to have been illegitimate and is recorded as a witness to a document in 1084. He spent the latter part of his life as an invalid [with his wife] in Brittany.[2]

    [Odo of Rennes’s] descendants became the junior branch of the Breton ducal family, which assumed control of the duchy in 1156 under Conan IV of Brittany.”

    Constance May, daughter of Ellen May Tweed, chose the names “Geoffrey Richard” well!

    The Breton Dukes were also closely related to the ruling house of Anjou, the (Basque) royal family of Navarre and the (originally Basque) ruling house of Aquitaine. So I expect that’s one reason Henry II (1133-1189) whose father was from Anjou and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) named one of their sons Geoffrey. A pity that King Richard I was so costly to maintain, and that King John such a dastardly fellow (from many people’s perspective).

    Here are the children of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, as there are further connections to Brittany and Navarre. (Again I’m robbing Wikipedia blind. It’s just quicker than checking the books.)

    “William IX, Count of Poitiers 17 August 1153 April 1156 never married; no issue. [Well, he was only 2 y.o. when he died.]

    Henry the Young King 28 February 1155 11 June 1183 married Margaret of France; no surviving issue.

    Matilda, Duchess of Saxony June 1156 13 July 1189 married Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony; had issue.

    Richard I of England 8 September 1157 6 April 1199 married Berengaria of Navarre; one illegitimate son.

    [There’s Navarre again. Good Basque stock. But who was the son?]

    Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany 23 September 1158 19 August 1186 married Constance, Duchess of Brittany; had issue.

    [Geoffrey II and Constance, Duke and Duchess of Brittany. Familiar names again. Yay. I should check who the children were: I seem to recall seeing them listed in the “Dukes of Brittany” family tree.]

    Eleanor, Queen of Castile 13 October 1162 31 October 1214 married Alfonso VIII of Castile; had issue.

    Joan, Queen of Sicily October 1165 4 September 1199 married 1) William II of Sicily 2) Raymond VI of Toulouse; had issue.

    John of England 27 December 1166 19 October 1216 married:
    1) Isabella, Countess of Gloucester
    2) Isabella, Countess of Angoulême; had issue.”

    Hmm, talking of Gloucester, the Tobins of St Aubyn du Thenney in upper Normandy later spent some time in Gloucester, but their main residence at this time in England (1100s to early 1200s) was Place Barton manor in Ashton in Devon (another ancient Breton county of origin), before they moved over to conquer central Ireland and become “more trouble to the English than were the native Irish”. Because of their rank the Tobins were virtually untouchable by ordinary English soldiers; indeed the family motto is “Noli me tangere”.

  7. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    Looking at the list of children of Eozen Penteur (to use the native form of his name), I notice: (1) they are not in order of birth date, and (2) Alan the Black was omitted. I haven’t given much thought to the correct order of the sons, but Stephen seems much the youngest, whereas Geoffrey inherited his father’s title as Count of Penthievre, and Brian and Alan the Red were both adults at Hastings.

    There’ information about these generations of the Ducal family scattered around the web. has some info about their movements between England and Brittany and their contentions with various aristocrats and bishops. For example, they gained and lost Cornwall (in England) at least twice. That must have hurt, because that’s the third county from which their ancestors came. (My grandfather, husband of Ellen May Tweed, was descended from a Cornish family of miners and farmers who had migrated to Queensland. So Cornwall still matters to us.)

  8. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    Here’s a nice family tree someone constructed of Geoffrey the 1st, Count of Penthievre, brother of Alan the Red et al.

  9. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    It may have been noticed by now that Tolkien scavenged the family tree of the Dukes of Brittany relentlessly in his search for names for hobbits and the riders of Rohan, and even for the elvish legends of the “first age”.

    The very term “Lay” as in Tolkien’s “Lay of Beleriand” is Breton. Breton lays are the direct ancestors of the minstrel songs of the high middle ages, and also of the modern novel. As a scholar of (not only) Anglo-Saxon (but also Welsh), and as one of the authors of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, he would have known this.

  10. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    At the risk of over-labouring the point about Breton cavalry tactics, here is an excerpt from the (again) WIkipedia article on the Battle of Jengland between the armies of Charles the Bald (the Holy Roman Emperor and King of the Franks), and Erispoe (Duke of Britanny).

    “In August 851, Charles left Maine to enter Brittany by the Roman road from Nantes to Corseul. The king arranged his troops in two lines: at the rear were the Franks; in front were Saxon mercenaries whose role was to break the assault of the Breton cavalry, which was known for its mobility and tenacity.[2]

    In the initial engagement, a javelin assault forced Saxons to retreat behind the more heavily armoured Frankish line. The Franks were taken by surprise. Rather than engage in a melée, the Bretons harassed the heavily armed Franks from a distance, in a manner comparable to Parthian tactics, but with javelins rather than archers. They alternated furious charges, feints and sudden withdrawals, drawing out the Franks and encircling over-extended groups.

    After two days of this sort of fighting, Frankish losses in men and horses were mounting to catastrophic levels, while the Bretons suffered few casualties. With his force disintegrating, Charles withdrew from the field during the night. When his disappearance was noticed the following morning, panic seized the Frankish soldiers. The Bretons quickly raided the camp, taking booty and weapons and killing as many fugitives as they could.[1]”


    1. Smith, Julia M. H. Province and Empire: Brittany and the Carolingians. Cambridge University Press: 1992.

    2. Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, Routledge, 2003. P. 101.

    3. Annales de Saint-Bertin quoted in Histoire de la Bretagne, tome 1, Des Mégalithes aux Cathédrales, collectif, éditions Skol Vreizh.”

    Much of this methodology should sound familiar from accounts of Hastings and the subsequent battles fought by the Bretons on William I’s behalf in the south-west (led by Brian, in conjunction with Robert Count of Mortain a half-brother of William I) and north-east (by Alan the Red) of England.

  11. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    Constance, heiress and Duchess of Brittany, and her husband Geoffrey II, who by his marriage became Duke of Brittany and who was a son of Henry II and a brother of Kings Richard I and King John, had one son, Arthur II of Brittany, who was a strong claimant to the throne of England, being Richard I’s nominated heir.

    Arthur was still in his minority when Richard died, so John took the throne and imprisoned Arthur, who subsequently disappeared mysteriously. Many historians suspect that John had him killed, and some chroniclers from that time claim that John himself murdered Arthur.

  12. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    The javelins used by Erispoe’s cavalry were likely of the Roman “pilum” or “spiculum” sort, as the Breton horsemen originated as the light cavalry of the Roman army in Britain and Armorica.

    The following passage helps us to understand how they would have used the javelin, and why it was effective against Emperor Charles’ Franks.

    “The pilum (plural pila) was a javelin commonly used by the Roman army in ancient times. It was generally about two metres long overall, consisting of an iron (or, rather, “soft” steel) [1] shank about 7 mm in diameter and 60 cm long with pyramidal head. The shank was joined to the wooded shaft by either a socket or a flat tang.

    The total weight of a pilum was between two and five kilograms, with the versions produced during the Empire being a bit lighter than those dating from the previous Republican era.

    The iron shank was the key to the function of the pilum. The weapon had a hard barbed tip but the shank itself was not properly tempered. This deliberate ‘un-tempering’ would cause the shank to bend after impact, thus rendering the weapon useless to the enemy. More importantly, If the pilum struck the shield of an enemy it would embed itself into the shield’s fabric, and this along with the bending of the shank would cause the shield to become unwieldy, forcing the enemy to discard it or waste time trying to pull it out. The former action tended to happen more often than the latter as affected soldiers couldn’t risk removing the pilum without disrupting their formation during an advance or losing their lives during a melee.

    Pila were divided into two models: heavy and light. Pictorial evidence suggests that some versions of the weapon were weighted by a lead ball to increase penetrative power but archeological specimens of this design variant are not so far known.[2] Recent experiments have shown pila to have a range of approximately 30 metres (100 ft), although the effective range is up to 15–20 m (50–70 ft).

    Legionaries of the Late Republic and Early Empire often carried two pila, with one sometimes being lighter than the other. Standard tactics called for Roman soldiers to throw one of them (both if time permitted) at the enemy, just before charging to engage with the gladius.

    The effect of the pila throw was to disrupt the enemy formation by attrition and by causing gaps to appear in its protective shield wall.”

    If similar tactics were later employed against King Harold’s Anglo-Saxons, it would have assisted in first weakening then breaking up his defences.

    As the Battle of Jengland showed, the Bretons were very patient and methodical, so defeating Harold in several hours instead of days was a quick victory by their standards.

    On the other hand, William may have been anxious about the time the battle was taking, as he could not be sure that his reinforcements would arrive from the Continent before Harold’s arrived from other parts of England. Harold had opted for a quick emplacement rather than waiting, as his Earls advised, to accumulate a force four times as strong. (Whether that would have helped in the long run, given that the Bretons had inexorably crushed a disciplined force four times their size at Jengland, is another matter.)

    • Well, Geoffrey, I am certainly overwhelmed by the depth of your research. As for the field at Hastings, one of the accounts I read stated that the narrow width of the ridge where he deployed his shield wall was more than enough to accommodate the numbers who had shown up to fight. In fact, it was said that some of the late comers turned around and went home because there was no room for them. I don’t know whether this was true, but it gives food for thought.

  13. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    Two days ago, I was continuing my inquiry into the Bretons and read a description (at of a surviving letter from AD 470 by Sidonius Apollinaris, former prefect of the city of Rome and at this time Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, to Riothamus King of Britons in AD 470. I quote:

    “The letter, written in the late 460’s or early 470’s, is an appeal to Riothamus, whom Sidonius apparently knows to be a fair-minded and honourable ruler, for justice for “an obscure and humble person,” who has suffered a wrong. The wrongdoers, in this case, are Bretons who are enticing the man’s slaves away, perhaps encouraged to do so by the slave-owner’s own meekness and vulnerability. The Bretons are armed, aggressive and numerous and he, unarmed and impecunious, is no match for them.

    Perhaps this unfortunate man came to Sidonius for justice in his capacity as Bishop of Clermont, but, as we learn from the letter, Sidonius commends his case on to Riothamus. We get no hint that there is anything irregular or unusual in his doing so, and we are left to conclude that ordinary due process is being done. The Gothic History of Jordanes tells us that Riothamus, king of the Brittones, came at the head of a 12,000 man force at the behest of Anthemius, the Roman Emperor, to aid in combatting the Visigoths.”

    The article considers the question: does Brittones mean Britons (in Britain) or Bretons (in Gaul)? For, if Riothamus were king in Britain, he would have no jurisdiction in Gaul, where this law case arose. It continues:

    “Our problem of Riothamus’ presence in Gaul and questionable legal jurisdiction goes away if he is a Breton, rather than a Briton. In the late 450’s, there were mass migrations of upper-crust Britons from Britain to Brittany. Some scholars of the period have made Riothamus the leader of that wave of migrations and the founder of the dynasties of the Breton kingdom of Dumnonie (2). If a Breton, Riothamus had a perfect right to be located there, north of the Loire, and would have been the obvious person to whom Sidonius should refer a grievance involving other Bretons.”

    Here is a translation from Latin of Sidonius Apollinaris’s letter to Riothamus.

    “I will write once more in my usual strain, mingling compliment with grievance. Not that I at all desire to follow up the first words of greeting with disagreeable subjects, but things seem to be always happening which a man of my order and in my position can neither mention without unpleasantness, nor pass over without neglect of duty. Yet I do my best to remember the burdensome and delicate sense of honour which makes you so ready to blush for others’ faults. The bearer of this is an obscure and humble person, so harmless, insignificant, and helpless that he seems to invite his own discomfiture; his grievance is that the Bretons are secretly enticing his slaves away. Whether his indictment is a true one, I cannot say; but, if you can only confront the parties and decide the matter on its merits, I think the unfortunate man may be able to make good his charge, if indeed a stranger from the country unarmed, abject and impecunious to boot, has ever a chance of a fair or kindly hearing against adversaries with all the advantages he lacks: arms, astuteness, turbulences, and the aggressive spirit of men backed by numerous friends. Farewell.” (3)

    Here are the references cited by the article:

    (1) Ashe, Geoffrey, “The Discovery of King Arthur,” Guild Publishing, London, 1985.

    (2) Morris, John, “The Age of Arthur,” Charles Scribner’s & Sons, New York, 1973, pp. 90, 251, 256.

    (3) “The Letters of Sidonius,” Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1915, p.76.

  14. Geoffrey (Richard Driscoll) Tobin says:

    Mercedes, it would appear from the accounts you mention above that the reason that the archers were less effective in the early part of the battle at Hastings may have been that there were so many Anglo-Saxon axemen forming a very thick shield-wall on Senlac Ridge that either the arrows couldn’t travel far enough to reach Harold or perhaps the shields formed a dense overlay that couldn’t be penetrated.

    As for the Bretons, the most often cited accounts of Hastings do not mention a use of javelins by the Breton cavalry. Indeed, I came across the book “Hastings 1066” by Robert Gravett in which he claims that there is no record of the Bretons using javelins since they lost a major battle to the Vikings in the 9th century.

    However, at the “Total War” mods website which is devoted to historic recreations, there are statements that not only did the Breton light cavalry use javelins against Harold’s shield wall, but that they also brought (Norman-style) heavy cavalry and axemen, all of whom were professional soldiers. They also brought conscript spearman. Most interestingly, the Breton archers were Duke William’s best. Not only were they renowned for their accuracy, they were also rapid-fire: they had to be resupplied repeatedly while the Normans, French and Flemish were still firing their first salvo.

    So, not only did the Breton light cavalry use feints to entice the less disciplined Anglo-Saxon troops to break ranks, but they also used the medium-range javelin tactic (which we noted had been so effective against the Franks) to make the remaining shields unwieldy and the formidable Saxon axemen holding them much less mobile. Then in the final stage of the battle, when the shield wall had thinned and William ordered the archers to fire over it to strike Harold’s personal guard, the Breton archers were likely the most devastating.

    Let me quote from J.P. Sommerville’s website (

    “Harold had marched south rapidly and possibly hoped to surprise William, but was immediately confronted by the Norman forces. Harold drew up his troops in a strong defensive position on Senlac Ridge, not far from Hastings. Thickly wooded country behind made an attack from the rear impracticable.”

    That, combined with the steep slopes on the sides of the Ridge, explains why William began the battle at a disadvantage.

    “William made an initial attack with flights of arrows followed by an infantry charge, but this was easily repulsed by the axe-wielding housecarls.”

    I guess the Breton conscript spearman were among the infantry in this charge, because it’s said elsewhere that they “routed”.

    “Many of the undisciplined shire levies broke ranks in pursuit of the retreating Normans, and were cut down by Norman horsemen.”

    By “Norman”, Somerville evidently includes “Breton”: he labels all the troops in his diagram as “Norman”.

    “The close ranks of Harold’s infantry were well deployed to withstand frontal assault, but vulnerable to the continual waves of arrows launched by William’s Breton archers.”


    “This missile attack was combined with the shock tactics of cavalry charge.”

    At least some of the heavy cavalry who galloped right into the shield-wall were Bretons. Don’t forget that while this was happening, the light cavalry were applying their arsenal of tricks (javelins and feints) to weaken the wall.

    “But it seems that the arrow may have been the decisive weapon on the day, for some evidence suggests that Harold was killed by a shot in the eye.”

    Those Bretons yet again!

    “The fighting raged all day and it is far from clear that victory would have gone to the Normans had it not been for Harold’s death. The effect of his death on morale was considerable, as it left the English withot an effective commander, for Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine had died earlier in the day’s fighting.”

    That was after the Breton tactics had thinned the shield wall sufficiently that the heavy cavalry could make forays against the Earls.

    “A few English tried to rally behind Edgar the Ætheling in a final attempt at resistance centered on London, but William’s army was too strong, and he was crowned king in Westminster Abbey, 25 December 1066.”

    Now that we have a clearer picture of what transpired at Hastings, and combining that with the detailed record of who suppressed the subsequent rebellions in both the South and the North of England, it’s evident why the Bretons, especially Alan Le Roux and his immediate family, were granted the lion’s share of territory in post-conquest Britain. It was not, in truth, a Norman Conquest; instead it was indeed, principally, a Breton Re-Conquest.

    That both the Bretons and Normans were fluent in the official languages French and Latin, wore the same armour, and were often seen together, must have made it hard to distinguish them.

    Besides, calling the “conquerors” Bretons would have totally undermined the Anglo-Saxon claim of being unjustly divested.

    What was the role of the Breton cavalry after 1066? Well, it was a major player in the Hundred Years War.

    King John’s persistent misconduct caused many of the nobles in his French territories to favour the French King Philip. For the Bretons, this shift of allegiances may have begun with the disappearance of John’s nephew and rival, Arthur II of Brittany, while in John’s personal custody.

    With such behaviour, King John eventually caused the loss of most of the Plantagenet crown’s territory in France.

    I quote now from the Wikipedia article on the “Hundred Years War”.

    “The reign of Charles V (1369-1389) [of France] saw the English steadily pushed back. Although the Breton war [of succession, which had begun the Hundred Years War] ended in favour of the English at the Battle of Auray, the dukes of Brittany eventually reconciled with the French throne. The Breton soldier [and cavalry leader] Bertrand du Guesclin became one of the most successful French generals of the Hundred Years’ War.”

    In 1453, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, led the last major English military expedition of the Hundred Years War.

    “The attempt by Talbot to retake Gascony, though initially welcomed by the locals, was crushed by Jean Bureau and his cannon at the Battle of Castillon in 1453 where Talbot had led a small Anglo-Gascon force in a frontal attack on an entrenched camp. This is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years’ War.”

    The English had bravely held on against the onslaught of the cannonballs, until the Breton cavalry swept in from the rear, right on cue, to finish them off.

    The glamorous romances of King Arthur aside, it’s fair to say that the historic role of the Breton soldiers, especially the knights and archers, has been greatly underestimated.

    Mercedes, thank you for your patience in allowing me to write at such length on this topic, in what is, after all, your blog.

    • Hi Geoffrey. I’m inclined to agree with the theory that the Norman strategy sending succeeding waves of archers/infantry/cavalry gave the fighters an opportunity to catch their breath (even rest) between attacks, whereas the Anglo-Saxons behind their shield wall were obliged to fight a constant battle without a break. I can’t even imagine how they managed to sustain their defence for a whole day. Since it was said that the press was so thick that the dead couldn’t fall to the ground, I don’t know how the front line of shield-wall fighters could move aside for fresher replacements.

      I believe it’s far from certain that Harold took an arrow in the eye, even though the Bayeux Tapestry seems to indicate that this is the case. Not every scholar believes this theory, especially since it was so difficult to locate his partially-dismembered body in the aftermath of the battle. I find it interesting that the chroniclers who mention the discovery of Harold’s corpse did not allude to an arrow in his eye, which should by all rights still be intact.

  15. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    According to royal genealogists, Alan Le Roux’s youngest brother, Stephen Count of Treguier, is ancestral to the British royal family, and to Winston Churchill, George Washington, Barack Obama and presumably just about all of us who have some British ancestry. Not only that, but all of his children are ancestral to the British royals, and so far as I’ve investigated, so are his grandchildren. This compensates nicely for Alan Le Roux and Alan Le Noir having no descendants.
    On a somewhat relevant topic, I’m a Driscoll by male-line descent (John Tobin Senior, a London and Tyneside shipwright, being my step-great-grandfather). The Driscolls are the most senior line of the ancient Irish Dairine clan (called Darini by Claudius Ptolemy the geographer). The British royal family proudly descend from Malcolm III’s House of Dunkeld which from the outset claimed nobility by virtue of descent from a cadet line of the Dairine.
    The Dairine are said to descend from a certain Daire which is the same as the Irish spelling of Darios (Darius) the name of several ancient kings of Persia. There’s a peculiar Irish story of Daire Donn, the King of the World, trying to conquer Ireland and being eventually beaten off by Finn mac Cumhail with the help of the Tuatha De Danaan. The Tuath De Danaan were one of the earlier tribes who settled Ireland, though in legends they are sometimes portrayed as minor “gods” or as “magically” gifted beings like Tolkien’s elves.
    “Tuatha” is Irish for “folk” or “people”, as is “Tweed”.
    I suspect that the Daire Donn story is an imaginative transplant to Ireland of the Battle of Marathon in 390 BC between Athens and Darius the Great. The Greeks had spread across the Mediterranean and beyond for several centuries at this point, and the Celts were militarily very active throughout central Europe at this time (they would sack Rome in 387 BC), so one would expect they’d quickly hear of Darius’s defeat.
    Curiously, Homer calls the people of the prominent Greek city of Argos “Danaans” after their mythical founder Danaus, so one is left to wonder how much classical legend the ancient Celts (including the Irish) did adapt.

  16. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Clarification: I don’t mean that “Tweed” is Irish; it’s not. However, I am suggesting that it may derive from the ancient Proto-Indo-European word for “family”, “kin”, “tribe” or “people”, reconstructed as “tewteh”, which has derivations in many Indo-European languages. Examples include “Theod” in Gothic, old Bavarian and Saxon; “Thede” in Middle English; “Tud” in Breton (pronounced “Ty:d”, the vowel being a rounded long “e”); “Tud” in Welsh; “Tuath” in Irish; “Tuda” in Persian; and “Deutsch” in German.

  17. Interesting about Stephen Count of Treguier… he must have been very prolific!

  18. sami casler says:

    I came upon your site by accident and was thrilled to read it. However, my husband’s family was FitzRandolph and I have spent a year researching them. Many sources confirm that Ribald was Alan le Roux’s bastard brother (he began the FitzRandolph line) and that he inherited Alan’s holdings. Can anyone tell me more?

  19. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    For the times, Stephen Count of Treguier had an ordinary number of children (that we know of, and that lived to have children of their own), just seven: three sons and four daughters, as I listed here on 19 Sep last. But each of those had a several sons and daughters who in turn had several sons and daughters, and so on, with a degree of persistent regularity. As Aesop remarked, “slow and steady wins the race.” That they married well, and avoided the worst consequences of the troubles of their times, helped a lot. Otherwise (key portentously dramatic music) which of us would be here?

  20. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    I have no definitive to Sami Casler’s question. I have encountered genealogy websites that refer to a “Ribald” as a brother of Alan Le Roux and claim (contrary to my best evidence) that he inherited the Honour of Richmond, but I’ve not found any other references to him, nor any explanation of how he fits into the Alan the Red -> Alan the Black -> Stephen -> Stephen’s descendants sequence.

    At a guess, if there was a Ribald, he might have been one of “the Men of Count Alan” who occupy so much of the Domesday book.

    For, often a Constable of a Castle is mistaken by amateur genealogists for its owner.

    A case in point: the family Oliver from the Scottish Borders were so-named because they were the Constables of Oliver Castle which was owned by the Frasers and then, after intermarriage, by the Tweedie family. (All three of these families may have been Breton.)

    Similarly, I suspect that the Richmond family were in origin the Constables of Richmond Castle which was ordered built by Alan the Red.

  21. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Sami, I’ve found evidence for Ribald. At
    the following information is offered.

    34209792 Ribald Lord of Middleham & Spennithorne.708,709,710,486,711,712,713 b. circa 1050. d. about 1121.487

    He received the lands of Middleham and Spennithorne from his brother Count Allen [should be spelt “Alan”] of Richmond in 1086, which were then in waste.

    Ribald was called a brother of count Alan (Rufus) in a charter of Alan for the soul of his father count Eudo [“Eozen” in Breton] and others [Early Yorkshire Charters 4:no.1]. Before the Domesday Survey, Alan Rufus granted to Ribald lands in Yorkshire, Norfolk, and possibly elsewhere [EYC 5:297-8]; the caput was Middleham, [in] Richmondshire, [in] Yorkshire. About 1121 Ribald made a gift to St. Mary’s, York, for the souls of his brother count Alan and his own wife Beatrice (who may have died before 1112), with the consent of his son and heir Ralph Taillebois [EYC 5:no. 358]. Ralph fitz Ribald had succeeded by 1130 [“Pipe Roll 31 Henry I”, 1929, p.27]. A 15th century account states Ribald was a monk at St. Mary’s before he died [T.D. Whitaker, “Richmondshire”, 1823, 1:331].

    He m. Beatrice Taillebois 486,711,714,713, before 1093.

    They had the following children:
    17104896 i. Ralph (ca1080->1168)
    ii. Hervey486
    iii. Henry486
    iv. Rainald486
    v. William486

  22. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Wikipedia cites the Domesday book for Ribald:

    “Hunworth has an entry in the Domesday Book of 1085.[3] In the great book Edgefield is recorded by the name of Hunaworda, Huneworda or Huneworde . The parish is Kings land with main landholders being Alstan, who had been the pre-conquest holder, and his main tenant is said to be Ribald from count Alan and Walter Gifford. There is said to be 4½ Mills. In the Domesday survey fractions[4] were used to indicate that the entry, in this case a Mill, was situated within more than one parish.”

    [3] The Domesday Book, England’s Heritage, Then and Now, (Editor: Thomas Hinde), Norfolk, page 191, Hunworth, ISBN 1-85833-440-3

    [4] The Normans in Norfolk, By Sue Margeson, Fabienne Seillier and Andrew Rogerson, Pub:1994, Page 21, ISBN 0-903101-62-9

  23. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    For definitive proof, see:

    “Name: Ribald brother of Count Alan
    Gender: Male

    This name is associated with 0 places before the Conquest; 30 after the Conquest. (Please note: these references may not necessarily be to the same person, especially for common names.)

    After the Conquest

    Lord in 1086:

    Beechamwell, Clackclose, Norfolk
    Stoke [Ferry], Clackclose, Norfolk
    Tochestorp, Forehoe, Norfolk
    [Ash]wicken, Freebridge, Norfolk
    Bawsey, Freebridge, Norfolk
    [East] Walton, Freebridge, Norfolk
    Middleton, Freebridge, Norfolk
    Hethersett, Humbleyard, Norfolk
    Allerthorpe [Hall], Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    [Castle] Bolton, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    [East] Hauxwell, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    [Low] Swainby, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    Middleham, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    Redmire, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    Spennithorne, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    Thornton [Watlass], Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    Thornton [Watlass], Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    [West] Scrafton, Land of Count Alan, Yorkshire
    [Field] Dalling, [North] Greenhoe, Essex / Norfolk
    Holkham, [North] Greenhoe, Norfolk
    Warham [All Saints and St Mary], [North] Greenhoe, Norfolk
    Wells [next the Sea], [North] Greenhoe, Norfolk
    Matlask, South Erpingham, Norfolk
    Matlask, South Erpingham, Norfolk
    Saxthorpe, South Erpingham, Norfolk
    Scottow, South Erpingham, Norfolk
    Foulden, [South] Greenhoe, Norfolk
    [Great] Cressingham, [South] Greenhoe, Norfolk
    [North and South] Pickenham, [South] Greenhoe, Norfolk
    other Pickenham, [South] Greenhoe, Norfolk”

  24. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Page 156 of the book “Castles from the Air” by Reginald Allen Brown, Cambridge University Press, discusses the Manor of Middleham, given to Ribald by his brother Count Alan.

    Also of interest may be this article on Matilda, wife of Walter I Deincourt, first Lord d’Eyncourt, which speculates on the basis of her property holdings that she was a sister of Count Alan:

  25. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Many more contributions about Ribald (and Alan Rufus and the rest of their family) occur here:

  26. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Count Alan Rufus is described in glowing terms in the book “Benedictine Houses” cited in

    “He was ever studious for peace, a great lover of the poor, and an especial honorer of the religious.”

    Wow! Mercedes’ assessment of him (“modestly did his thing, managing to keep King William happy as well as historians”) was as accurate as a Breton archer, if an understatement.

    For a military man of such dire prowess in a violent era and of such great personal wealth in a devastated land, to be remembered after death as “studious for peace”, and “a great lover of the poor” is rather a surprise.

    Moreover, Count Alan Rufus and his family seem to have spent much more time praying for King William’s soul (and each others’) than they were in conquering Britain for him.

    Paintings from the era invariably show Count Alan smiling pleasantly. He’s wearing a crown, but looks most interested in other people, as though unaware of his own importance.

    Such a character perhaps explains why Alan was able to maintain such good terms with everyone – Normans, Scots, even the Anglo-Saxons and Irish-Norse whom he’d defeated.

    “He left four brothers;
    Alan Niger, Stephen, Ribald (lord of Middleham), and Randolph.”

    “Then there is the Ancestry of Christopher Fitz-Randolph, ca. 1495-1570, by William Sutton Carley, 7804 Moorland Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814, 1989. Page 9, shows parents of Ribald as: Euds or Eudon, C. de Penthievre, b. ca. 999, d. 1/7/1079, m. Agnes of Onguen, daughter of Alain de Caignard, C. de Cornouailles, d. 1058, m. Judith de Nantes, d. 1064.”

  27. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    In the wake of the “Norman Conquest”, what was the impact of the Bretons, in particular of Count Alan Rufus and his brothers? Such facts as that the Royal Stuarts were descended from one of the “Men of Count Alan” commends us to dig deeper.

    As to Count Alan’s holdings, he is found as the chief land owner on at least 25% of the pages of Domesday, often with a contingent of his men owning land in their own right, presumably as a garrison – how many troops must he have commanded by 1086? What’s striking is that even when King William owned land in the district, the only soldiers there were Alan’s. Why was that?

    William made Count Alan “Overlord” and “First Subject”, i.e. the chief military and civil official in “Norman” Britain; according to the Norman chroniclers, he was William’s most loyal and most valiant “knight”. Indeed, Alan’s family remained staunch supporters of William and his heirs, even on those occasions when William’s own half-brothers, Bishop Odo of Bayeux and the normally placid Robert of Mortain, and some lower-ranked Breton lords, such as Ralph of Gael, rebelled.

    Alan Rufus’s father Eozen and uncle Alan III had the same four grandparents as Duke Richard of Normandy who was William’s father, so Alan was William’s second cousin, but through a double marriage that makes him genetically a first cousin. Consequently, Alan’s family were William’s equal closest relations, together with the King’s half-siblings, parents and children.

    The Breton brilliance at Hastings, and their swift and decisive suppression of the rebellions in the south and north of England, and their staunch loyalty to William, despite their strong claim to William’s throne, which was acknowledged by the King’s own Norman scribes, come what may, even when the Crown infringed their rights, greatly compounded William’s debt to them.

    One might ask, if the Bretons were so important, did they, like the Normans, affect the development of the English language?

    Well, at that time, the common Romance language of eastern Brittany, southern Normandy, Anjou and Maine was Gallo (which I guess is short for Gallo-Roman). Gallo steadfastly resisted all Norse influence, and retains an ancient “French” vocabulary. (Gallo songs do sound pleasantly like Parisian French, though the words are different.)

    It’s plausible that Alan and William conversed in their common language, Gallo, especially as William was born in Falaise in central Lower Normandy, where one might expect Gallo to have been spoken.

    Most etymologies claim that the English word “lip” is from Anglo-Saxon “lippa”, but the Gallo word is precisely “lip”.

    Although Modern English is claimed as a Germanic language, that’s an exaggeration. Most of the words in English have their origin in Greek, Latin or “French” (i.e. Gallo-Roman with some Frankish). Even the simplified grammar of English as we know it is closest to that of late Romano-British, with almost no resemblance to the complex inflected grammars of German and French.

    Middle English seemed to emerge very quickly once the Bretons and Normans ousted the Saxon rulers – too quickly to be a new development.

    Evidence now is that “Middle English” is the language that was eventually spoken by the British in the wake of the Saxon conquest: they kept their native grammar but adopted the imposed vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon words.

    When William and Alan took over, Anglo-Saxon was no longer the compulsory language of all documents, and suddenly the scribes of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle started writing in “Middle English”, because they were now free to record their spoken tongue.

    In 1133, the mighty King Henry II was born in Anjou, so when he spoke conversational “French”, it was actually Gallo.

  28. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Sir William Marshal (aka Guillaume le Maréchal), 1st Earl of Pembroke (1147 – 14 May 1219) was described as the “greatest knight that ever lived” by Stephen Langton (c. 1150 – 9 July 1228) who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207.

    William was son of John fitzGilbert the hereditary Marshal (keeper of the king’s horses) for King Henry I (4th son of King William I), who despite this association with royalty had no great wealth or power. In the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, he changed sides from Stephen to Matilda, then lost an eye and was prepare to lose his captured son, but King Stephen was impressed by the young boy and spared him.

    According to Wikipedia:

    “As a younger son of a minor nobleman, William had no lands or fortune to inherit, and had to make his own way in life. Around the age of twelve, when his father’s career was faltering, he was sent to Normandy to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William’s mother. Here he began his training as a knight.”

    William de Tancarville, hereditary Chamberlain of the Dukes of Normandy and Kings of England, was son of Rabel de Tancarville and Theophania Penteur (Tiphanie de Penthievre), daughter of our Stephen Penteur, Count of Treguier.

  29. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    In researching the wars of the Mongols in Asia and Europe, I was surprised to read that Genghis Khan had red hair and green eyes, and that Genghis had met his young grandson, the future Kublai Khan, and expressed surprise that Kublai had black hair and brown eyes.

    According to “Different Matrilineal Contributions to Genetic Structure of Ethnic Groups in the Silk Road Region in China”, by Yong-Gang Yao, Qing-Peng Kong, Cheng-Ye Wang, Chun-Ling Zhu and Ya-Ping Zhang, published in the Oxford Journal on Molecular Biology and Evolution (2004) volume 21 number 12, pages 2265-2280, western Eurasian matrilineal DNA has a prevalence of 14.3% among Mongols.

    According to the Persian historian, Rashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (1247-1318), Genghis’s family, the Borjigin clan, claimed descent from a woman named Alan-Ko, who had “an affair between Alan-ko and a stranger to her land, a glittering man who had red hair and bluish-green eyes”.

    Alan-Ko’s name suggests the Alans of Eastern Iran, of whom a westward-travelling branch were among the ancestors to the Bretons (and contributors to their cavalry skills), and who I suspect are honoured in the Breton name Alan.

    An ancient Borjigin descent from the Alans might explain why Kublai Khan’s personal bodyguard were Alans.

  30. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    In following up leads for the ancestry of the Tweeds, I was expecting to find Stephen the Count of Treguier and hence Eozen Penteur the father of Alan Rufus. Instead I found William I through his son King Henry I and his illegitimate son Robert, the first Earl of Gloucester, from whom King Robert de Bruce’s father descends through numerous distinguished Norman and Breton families, and thence through a younger brother of King Robert via the Randolphs, Dunbars, Stewarts, and Douglases to the Tweedies, from whom many genealogies assert the Tweeds descend.

    Even though William the Marshal figures as an ancestor of the Tweedies through one of his female descendants, I haven’t yet found the Tancarvilles or anyone else for whom I know a genetic link to Alan Rufus. Nonetheless, there’s very probably one to be discovered, given that many deeply researched family trees do have this connection.

  31. David Darney says:

    Mercedes, I have been researching the family of Abernethy, in particular their origin. The note below came from a letter written by Alexander Hastie of Edinburgh in 1843. I have been stuck on who Alan of Brittany is. It seemed to me that the best fit is Alan, the second cousin of William the Conqueror. Anyway, Hastie’s notes mention a Walter marrying a daughter of Alan Lord of Brittany. I would be interested in your thoughts.

    “1061. The origine of the ancient and noble family of Abernethie was Davidem Dardier who came from Normandy and settled in Scotland, in the reign of Malcolm the third, and in the year one thousand and sixty one was created Baron of Abernethie in the parish of Fife, in parliament convened at Forfar and also received the lands of Abernethie in the said shire of fife for his services to the Crown and according to the custom of the time took the surname of Abernethie from these lands, David Baron of Abernethie left a son Alexander who married Helen third daughter of Walter first Lord High Steward of Scotland, by a daughter of Alan Lord of Brittany, who left issue Larentaus”

    • WOW. Thanks for the post! I did some serious research while writing “Thou Shalt ‘Get Kings” some thirty-odd years ago, and although I retained the bibliography I have lost the notes along the way. What I found (I think it was in Percy Enderbie’s Cambria Triumphans) was that Walter, bastard son of Fleance (from Macbeth) made his way from Wales over to Brittany, married the daughter of Alain le Rouge, fought with Alain at the Battle of Hastings, then went to Scotland where he became first Steward of Scotland and ancestor of the royal Stewarts. This is the plot of my novel, but I was very puzzled as to why and how he would go to Brittany! I believe that I found a possible distant blood relationship between Alain le Rouge and Walter’s grandmother (Ealdgyth, wife of Prince Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, and daughter of Aelfgar Earl of Mercia) but could have been grasping at straws to make my plot work. Regardless, I never found reference to any daughter of Walter, so I am quite intrigued. I was wondering whether the whole Walter story was apocryphal, but maybe not!

  32. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Alan continues to be a fairly popular name in English (number 163 in the USA in 2011). It’s known that it was introduced by the Breton contingent of William I’s forces, so Alan Rufus is the source of the name’s popularity.

    On Monday, while in Dymocks bookstore, I perused a description of why the Mongol military were so devastating, even when greatly outnumbered. They were combining agile light cavalry, cleverly orchestrated feints, berserkers, and fast, accurate, mounted archers.

    The light cavalry’s use of feints resemble Breton tactics, suggesting that both nations learnt from the Alans, the eastern Iranian people who had formed a strong kingdom in central Asia by 100 BC before migrating simultaneously into the Caucasus (the modern Ossetians), Europe (settling in Pannonia on the Danube and central Gaul), Mongolia and China.

    Both the Alans and the Huns had mounted archers, so it’s likely they both made an impression on military trainers. However, the Alans were builders not destroyers, and, as we’ve seen, both the Bretons and the Mongols held them in high esteem and trust.

    The word “Alan” means “deer” in Old Welsh. The agility of the deer and the consequent pun may have been a factor in making the Alan light cavalry seem a propitious ally to the Bretons, who welcomed them with open arms, so much so that a Saint Alan was Bishop of Quimper in the 5th century, soon after the Alans immigrated.

    In Breton “alan” is now colloquially used to mean a “fox”, possibly after the wily Duke Alan II “Wrybeard”, called “the Fox”.

    Alan II was a child when the Danish Vikings betrayed the Bretons in 907 and overran the country. His retainers whisked him away to Britain, where he and his contemporary Louis IV of France remained refugees for 30 years under the protection of the Saxon King Edward the Elder. (Louis’s mother Eadgifu was a daughter of Edward’s.)

    The early Bretons were a musical, literate and learned people. Tragically, “most of the early Breton language medieval manuscripts were lost during the Viking invasions”. (Wikipedia article on the history of Brittany.)

    Even so, “the earliest [surviving] text known in the Breton language, a botanical treatise, dates from 590 (for comparison, the earliest text in French dates from 843)”.

    The Breton records had ironically suffered a similar fate as those of Rome when Brennus (Brian) the Gaul sacked the city in 387 BC. The phrase “Vae victis!” (“Woe to the vanquished!”) is a quote from Brennus.

    According to the Chronicle of Nantes (translated from Latin), in the time of Edward’s successor Athelstan,

    “[Alan II] collected a few ships and came by the king’s permission with those Bretons who were still living there, to revisit Brittany.”

    Sounds like a nostalgic vacation for Alan and a handful of friends, but they meant business.

    “He landed at Dol in 936, at the invitation of the monk Jean de Landévennec. By 937 he was master of most of Brittany, having forced the Vikings back to the Loire.”

    He had campaigned all over Brittany, and finally attacked the Viking naval base at Nantes, destroying their longboats, and driving the Vikings into the river Loire, where they drowned.

    This also improved Louis’s fortunes. According to the chronicler Flodoard, Annales 936, ed. P. Lauer:

    “The Bretons, returning from the lands across the sea with the support of King Athelstan, came back to their country. Duke Hugh sent across the sea to summon Louis, son of Charles, to be received as king …”

    The Duke of Normandy must now have been thinking as follows. “Even when they’ve lost both their countries, Britain and Brittany, to the most formidable of invaders, a few Breton refugees still contrive a smashing victory. We’d best make fast friends with these neighbours!”

  33. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Alan Rufus founded the castle and town of Richmond just 15 km south of the river Tees, which was then the Scottish border, and overlooking Dere street, the Roman road that still runs from York to the Antonine Wall near Edinburgh.

    Richmondshire was governed as a separate border state until Henry 8th merged its administration with that of England in the period (1535-1542) that he did the same to Wales.

    The nearby town of Catterick (Roman Cataractonium, which was a fort protecting the crossing of the Great North Road and Dere Street over the River Swale) is now the largest British army base in the world, with a permanent garrison of 12,000.

    Robert Baden-Powell was billeted at Richmond Castle when he proposed the site of Catterick for the army base.

    Of Richmond, Wikipedia says:

    “Richmond is a market town and civil parish on the River Swale in North Yorkshire, England and is the administrative centre of the district of Richmondshire. It is situated on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and serves as the Park’s main tourist centre. It is the most duplicated UK placename, with 57 occurrences worldwide.

    The Rough Guide describes the entire town as ‘an absolute gem’. Betty James wrote that ‘without any doubt Richmond is the most romantic place in the whole of the North East [of England]’. Joseph E Morris agreed, although went further to say ‘Richmond is, beyond all question, the most romantic town in the North of England’. The town was named the UK town of the year for 2009.”

    Prominent people born in Richmond over the past century or three include:

    Christopher Cradock, Rear Admiral.
    Henry Greathead, inventor of the lifeboat.
    Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
    John Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence, viceroy of India.

    Some-time residents include:

    John Bathurst, physician to Oliver Cromwell.
    Marcus Beresford, Primate of Ireland.
    Lewis Carroll, author, attended Richmond School, lived in nearby Croft on Tees.
    Henry Butler Clarke, historian of Spain.
    Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister, educated at Richmond School, abolished slavery throughout the British empire, and has Earl Grey tea named after him.
    Angela Harris, Baroness Harris of Richmond, Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords.
    Peter Inge, Baron Inge, head of the British army.
    Philip Mayne, last surviving British officer of the First World War.
    George Peacock, mathematician, attended a school in Richmond, one of “Tate’s invincibles”.
    James Raine, antiquarian, educated at Richmond School, one of “Tate’s invincibles”.
    Richard Sheepshanks, astronomer. Educated at Richmond School, one of “Tate’s invincibles”.
    Stanley Vann, composer.
    John Warburton, herald and antiquary.
    William Young Ottley, writer on art and collector. Educated at Richmond School.
    Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement.

  34. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    A large and remarkable collection of letters in Latin to and from women in the middle ages (from the 300s to the 1200s) is available at Epistolae:

    Among these are letters between Anselm the Archbishop of Canterbury and Matilda (Edith) of Scotland, Malcolm III’s daughter, when she was Henry I’s Queen in the early 1100s. There are also two letters dated 1093-1094 to Alan Rufus’s and subsequently Alan Niger’s mistress, King Harold’s daughter, Gunnhild, the second of which has already been cited in part.

    When addressing Gunnhild, Anselm is exceptionally strict, saying that she cannot marry (either) Alan, and must return to the convent, even though she’s not taken vows, because she’s been seen wearing a nun’s habit. Anselm then makes a series of dire threats.

    After the two Alans died, Anselm had a run-in with King William II Rufus (the king who had countermanded Alan Rufus’s betrothal to Matilda), who confiscated the bishop’s church property and and banished him in 1097. In 1100 when William II died of an arrow wound while hunting.

    When Henry I succeeded William II, Henry permitted Anselm’s return. In the same year, Henry requested the hand of Matilda, and this time Anselm was more submissive, convening a conference of bishops who agreed that although Matilda had worn the veil, she had not taken vows, and therefore was free to marry the King.

    In relation to the disparity in Anselm’s treatments of Gunnhild in 1093-94 versus Matilda in 1100 (and thus of the Alans versus Henry I), the phrase “double standard” comes readily to mind.

  35. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    At one finds lists and maps of where the Norman, Breton and other landlords had manors and other properties before 1066 and by 1086, as recorded in the Domesday surveys.

    For example, Ribald, a brother of Count Alan (Rufus), was the lord of 30 locations, all in Norfolk or Yorkshire, as depicted in: These were granted to him by Alan.

    Many people by the name of Walter were lords in 1086, even one Walter Cnut, who was lord and tenant-in-chief of Tibenham, Depwade, Norfolk.

    That William was already a very popular name is evident: there are several screensful of Williams.

    King William of course had the lion’s share of England’s land; he was lord of over 5000 locations across the entire country. Curiously his son who was to be William II “Rufus” appears to have held no land titles at all in 1086.

    The King’s sister, Adelaide, held a band of land immediately to the west of Alan’s lands in East Anglia.

    William’s half-brothers were richly rewarded: Odo of Bayeux with over 700 properties in the south-east, and Robert of Mortain with over 1300, half of which had previously belonged to Alan’s brother Brian before he retired from his position as Earl of Cornwall.

    Alan himself was landlord of over 1000 locations in a wide band across East England, from the Thames to the Tees (the northern border of England then).

    In addition, Alan governed East London, perhaps including the City and the Docks, which are not recorded because Domesday didn’t survey London (William’s capital) or Winchester (the Anglo-Saxon capital), perhaps because the task was too daunting. He also owned properties in Scotland, Brittany and Normandy.

    Many other properties were recorded as held by “The Men of Count Alan”, these presumably being his local garrisons.

    I read somewhere that “Alan was in constant attendance on the King”, but elsewhere that when William was attempting to conquer Anjou, he gave Alan the charge of the Norman garrison there. The most stubborn city was massively fortified, probably like those in Brittany that were built after the Vikings were finally expelled in 937. So Alan built a castle opposite it, with equally solid walls. After 4 years, neither the city nor Alan’s base looked like falling to the enemy. How patient he and the soldiers must have been! Finally, political changes intervened and the siege was lifted.

  36. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    This is intriguing. According to the Domesday book map website cited above, the towns in Cambridgeshire of which Count Alan was tenant-in-chief includes all the locations where the Cambridgeshire Tweeds lived during the past several centuries. To name a few: Duxford, Cheveley, Stetchworth, Woodditton, Cambridge. The record also states that Cheveley was very prosperous in 1086. Nowadays it is the home to three of the leading racehorse studs associated with Newmarket, including the Darley stud. Horses are very important to this side of the family, down to my mother’s generation, and maybe that’s one reason they lived in these places.

  37. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Count Alan Rufus retained most of the former Anglo-Saxon and Danish landlords of East Anglia, as sub-tenants, according to the Domesday book’s records. Such strange names they had!

    Many pre-1066 lords held reduced holdings, for example Lady Godiva still kept some lands in central England.

    In the great events of the reigns of Kings William I and II, there are rarely any hints of what Count Alan was doing. He wasn’t involved in any of the several rebellions against them, but it’s unsaid whether he fought against the rebels. He might have been occupied in Normandy, Anjou or Maine, on King’s business. For instance, one needs to find the dates of William the Conqueror’s invasion of Anjou in which Alan was occupied for 4 years.

    Malcolm III’s attempt to betroth his daughter Edith to Alan Rufus occurred close to the time that he visited her in Wilton Abbey en route to the territorial negotiations at Gloucester with William II Rufus. Discussions were to commence on Malcolm’s arrival on 24 August 1093 but ended abruptly with William II’s refusal to compromise. War soon followed, in which Malcolm and Edward, his eldest son by Margaret, died as a result of the ambush by Robert de Mowbray’s forces at Alnwick (13 November 1093).

  38. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Mercedes and David, I am sorely perplexed how to reconcile a date of 1061 with the life events of Walter fitz-Alan (born 1106, died June 1177) the first hereditary stewart of Scotland (whose father was Alan fitz-Flaad Baron of Oswestry in Shropshire, born 1070, died in 1114) or of Count Alan Rufus.

    Alan Rufus would have been about 21 in 1061, so even if he’d had a daughter (and no such daughter or her mother have been identified), she would have been at most an infant at the time.

    “Alan Lord of Brittany” could either be a reference to an Alan, “Lord of the Honour of Brittany”, which was the family’s official title in England, or to one of the related Alans who were Dukes of Brittany. Setting aside the date of 1061 as problematic and therefore inconclusive, the Alan referred to could have been Alan III Duke of Brittany, Count Alan Rufus, Count Alan Niger, or Alan IV “Fergant” Duke of Brittany from 1084 to 1112 (died 13 October 1119).

    However, for none of the above have I found a son-in-law named “Walter”.

    Flaad was the son of Alan the Dapifer of the Archbishop of Dol in Brittany. This last Alan was a crusader in 1097-8 and was a witness to a charter in Brittany dated 1086; just maybe this makes him old enough to have a marriagable daughter in 1061, but we need evidence.

    Alan fitz-Flaad was favored by King Henry I and was given “forfeited lands in Norfolk and Shropshire, including some which had previously belonged to Ernulf de Hesdin and Robert de Belleme”, and was an ancestor of the Royal Stewarts/Stuarts and the “fitz-Alan” Earls of Arundel.

  39. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    The dates of Duke Alan III are: born 997, died 1 October 1040, so he died roughly when Alan Rufus is estimated to have been born.

    His daughter Hawise Duchess of Brittany (c. 1037 – 19 August 1072) married (before 1058) Count Hoel of Cornouaille (c. 1031 to 1084), whose son was Duke Alan IV.

  40. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Richard Sharpe (the Oxford historian, not the Bernard Cornwell rifleman) wrote an article entitled “King Harold’s Daughter” in the Haskins Society Journal: Studies in Medieval History (volume 19, published in 2008) in which he writes of Walter d’Aincourt and of Count Alan Rufus.

    Alan was with William I in Rouen in 1070.

    Some of Alan’s Norfolk, Suffolk and Hertfordshire lands had been held by his Breton subordinate Ralph de Gael, who forfeited them when he rebelled. Ralph had married Emma the daughter of another magnate, William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford, while William was out of England. William refused to sanction this marriage, and the Revolt of the Earls followed (1075).

    Ralph’s lands were divided by an agreement between William and Alan, with William taking most of them.

    Ralph and his wife went on Crusade under the leadership of Robert Curthose (a son of William I), and died on the road to Palestine.

    Count Alan Rufus died on 4 August 1093; he was buried (suitably) in Bury St Edmunds, in West Suffolk. Coincidentally, Alan’s eldest brother, Geoffrey Boterel, was killed at Dol in Brittany, on 24 August 1093.

    Richard Sharpe’s article continues with three contemporary accounts of King Malcolm III’s visit in 1093 to his daughter Edith/Matilda in Wilton Abbey. In one account he said that he was angry to see her in a veil, and that he’d rather she married Count Alan. Of her later wedding to King Henry I, it was claimed that Archbishop Anselm was heard to say that “no good would come of it”.

  41. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Perhaps the Walter in David Darney’s story is Walter d’Aincourt?

    Richard Sharpe has made a careful study of the documentary evidence for the dates of the events of 1093, on the basis of which he proposes that Malcolm III’s and William II’s meeting was scheduled for St Bartholomew’s Feast Day which is 24 August (1093) in the Latin calendar (incidentally, the same date that Geoffrey Boterel was slain). By then, Count Alan Rufus had been dead for 20 days, which could have been one reason why William II decided he could safely refuse to see Malcolm.

    William d’Aincourt and his wife Matilda gave tithes to St Mary’s Abbey in York (founded by Alan) and did so on Count Alan’s behalf, even though William d’Aincourt had no major properties in Yorkshire and no direct dependence on Alan.

    Sharpe hypothesises that Matilda was the daughter of Alan Rufus and Gunnhild, who he suggests left the abbey to live with him circa 1072. Gunnhild’s mother was Edgiva Pulchra (“Edith the Beautiful” or “the Fair”)), also known as Edith Swannesha (“Gentle Swan”) who was King Harold Godwinson’s consort.

    It’s a fact that many of Alan’s earliest acquisitions in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk had been Edgiva’s landholdings prior to 1066.

    So I speculate that Alan would have seen Edith’s sorrow at the state of her husband’s body when she was the one who identified it after the Battle of Hastings, and may have taken pity on her and her family.

    Wm. d’Aincourt and Matilda probably married during 1089-1091 as their son, also William, was fostered in King William II’s court.

    Since the relationship between Alan and Gunnhild was never solemnised, though Alan purposed it in 1093, Matilda and her son William did not inherit Alan’s estates, except those that Matilda had apparently received from Alan while he was alive.

  42. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    I’m reading an online excerpt of Richard Sharpe’s article, which omits 2 or 3 pages. Sharpe’s understanding of William II’s purpose in arranging the meeting with Malcolm III is tantalisingly detailed on an omitted page!

    Alan’s land valuation is often described as the 4th highest of the tenants-in-chiefs in England, after those of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Robert of Mortain and Roger de Montgomery, although only Robert held more land, and the valuation neglects Alan’s rule of East London.

    Significantly, when all those other major magnates rebelled against the new king William II around Easter 1088, only Alan Rufus stood firmly for the new King. Evidently this was enough, politically and militarily. So, William II absolutely needed Alan’s support and favour (even had Malcolm III not been a factor).

  43. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    These early Barons Deincourt are reported as ancestors of the Royal Family, Winston Churchill and US Presidents, so if the suggested Deincourt descent is correct, most of us are descendants of Alan Rufus and Gunnhild, and thus of Harold Godwinson and Edith the Fair.

    Alan played such a forceful role in ending the Anglo-Saxon rule of Britain, which was dreamt of by the Britons in the desperate Arthurian fantasises of the sixth century.

    Deeply ironic, then, if, driven by compassion and a sense of justice, Alan is responsible for continuing Harold’s line among hundreds of millions of people to the present day.

  44. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    A correction: the elder Baron d’Ayncourt was named Walter; he was a proven companion of William I at Hastings. His family came from the small village of Aincourt which is now in Vexin Natural Park about 15 km north-west of the Paris outskirts.

    For a discussion of Sharpe’s hypothesis concerning Alan, Gunnhild, Matilda and Walter, an issue with its dates, and a possible resolution, see:

  45. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    The Bretons’ exploits merit a legend, and theirs is true, so with your permission, I will wax lyrical a while.

    King Vortigern is reputed as the one who invited an army of Saxons to Britain to fend off the Picts and the Irish. In the story of Vortigern’s castles which kept collapsing, the boy Merlin, of whom Vortigern had wanted to make sacrifice, revealed that under the castles’ foundation was a cave. A white dragon had struggled with, defeated and killed a red dragon, and some people had hastily buried the two dragons in the cave, but the red dragon had since revived and the fight had resumed.

    Merlin persuaded Vortigern to demolish the castle and remove its foundation. The cave was revealed, and the two dragons emerged. After a long and terrifying battle, the red dragon finally was victorious. With an undisturbed and thus sound foundation, the next castle stood firm.

    Merlin explained that the white dragon represented the Saxons, and the red dragon the Britons who would be utterly defeated, but amazingly recover, then conquer the Saxons.

    In one emblem depicting the conflict, the red “dragon” is drawn as a phoenix, which is appropriate as the Bretons and their ancestors were subject to many cycles of destruction and renewal.

    If one credits the descent of the Breton sovereign house from the aristocratic houses of republican Rome (and there is consistent historical and genetic evidence for this), then their ancestors have endured the fall of Troy and participated in both sides of the Gauls’ Sack of Rome, and were heavily involved in the Roman Civil Wars.

    When Rome invaded first Armorica, then Britain, their Celtic ancestors were overcome, but joined the Roman army and later established independent states. The Armorican archers were alluded to by historians as a decisive factor in the Western Empire’s last great battle, against Attila the Hun, in which Roman General Aetius wanted the Alans to be annihilated, but the Armoricans saved them.

    Other alleged ancestors of the Bretons include St John’s brother St James, who was the first apostle martyred, and, in a proof that no generalogy is without shame, Herod the Great. The Bretons remembered this Jewish line of descent in the names of their leaders, Salaun (Solomon), Hoel (Joel) and others. The Jewish people of course have also undergone many dramatic ups and downs in their history.

    After Rome’s fall, Armorica was continually beleaguered by another Roman ally against Attila, the Franks. Meanwhile, the Saxons did subdue the Britons, some of whom fled to their relatives in Armorica to establish Brittany.

    The Franks repeatedly invaded Brittany, taking all of the eastern Armorican territory, but were repeatedly repelled from western Brittany.

    In 851 the West Frankish King Charles the Bald (who would later become Emperor of all the Franks) led an army of Franks and Saxons to crush Brittany once and for all, but Duke Erispoe’s much smaller force tactically outwitted Charles and in a battle lasting three days destroyed the entire invading army, with minimal Breton losses. On the second night, Charles escaped, without informing his troops.

    The Bretons then recovered most of their lost territory, including nantes, Maine, Anjou, eastern Brittany, and what would become western Normandy.

    In an effort to rid themselves forever of the Frankish menace, the Armoricans allied with the Vikings, who in 907 suddenly turned on them, taking Brittany for their own. The Breton sovereign house were now landless, Brittany laid waste, and centuries of historical documents irretrievably lost in the fires that burnt their abbeys and their towns.

    The Franks took advantage of this, and retook much of eastern Armorica (Maine, Anjou and Normandy), before handing Normandy to one of the Seine river Vikings, Rollo, who had been harassing Paris.

    But in 937, the exiled Alan II returned, and in a great effort lasting one year, he rallied the survivors and drove the Vikings out of Brittany.

    Rollo and his son both married native Bretons, so the Viking blood was greatly diluted by the time the two ruling houses of Normandy and Brittany conducted the double wedding that united the bloodlines. So were born the (genetic) brothers, Duke Alan III and Count Eozen of Brittany and Duke Robert I the Magnificent of Normandy.

    Duke Alan II “the Fox” and Count Alan Rufus (the Red) therefore are fitting representatives of the red phoenix of the Britons which rose from the ashes of Brittany’s utter destruction, to reclaim both Brittany and Britain from the white dragon of the Germanic tribes.

  46. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Humorously, the breed of dog known as the Brittany has characteristics reminiscient of Alan Rufus. I quote from the wikipedia article on “Brittany (dog)”:

    “A Brittany is typically quite athletic, compact, energetic, and solidly built without being heavy … Their expressions are usually of intelligence, vigour, and alertness. Their gait is elastic, long, and free. They generally learn quickly and are known for being sensitive, loyal, and attached to their owners.”

  47. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Hopefully I’m not alone in finding this amusing, because the bizarrely accurate analogy of the Brittany hunting dog with the behaviour of dear Alan and his family continues!

    “The breed sometimes gets a reputation for being crazy or uncontrollable, but these problems are almost invariably due to lack of exercise and training, and are not commonly seen in well cared-for dogs.

    Brittanys can become very shy if not thoroughly socialized, and even among well-socialized dogs there is significant variation in levels of friendliness. Socialization is very important, and they must be socialized at a young age. These breeds are easy to train, and are eager to please.

    With more American dual champions (dogs with titles in both conformation shows and field trials) than any other breed, the Brittany maintains strong hunting instincts in all bloodlines.”

  48. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    On 2 August 1100, William II died in a hunting accident, allegedly due to an arrow loosed at a deer by the expert marksman Walter Tirel which deflected off a tree and punctured William’s lung. Walter escaped to France. Leaving William’s body to lie on the forest floor, his brother Henry rushed from the scene to secure the Treasury and the Crown, and was crowned in London just 3 days later, on 5 August 1100.

    The archbishops of Canterbury and York could not make it to London in time to attend the coronation; however, three bishops and eight barons were present: Maurice bishop of London, William bishop elect of Winchester, Gerard bishop of Hereford, earl Henry, earl Simon, Walter Giffard, Robert de Montfort, Roger Bigot, Eudo the steward, Robert son of Hamo, and Robert Malet.

    These eleven men also witnessed and signed the charter he issued on the same occasion, called the Charter of Liberties, which has as its third clause:

    “Any baron or earl who wishes to betroth his daughter or other women kinsfolk in marriage should consult me first, but I will not stand in the way of any prudent marriage. Any widow who wishes to remarry should consult with me, but I shall abide by the wishes of her close relatives, the other barons and earls. I will not allow her to marry one of my enemies.”

    On 11 November 1100, Henry married Edith daughter of the late Malcolm III.

    Although the two brothes Alan had died, and their heir Count Stephen, surely at this time the most powerful of the Earls, was absent, nonetheless clause 3 hints at a recognition of the wrongdoing perpetrated when William II hindered Malcolm III’s wishes, and also William II’s purported refusal to allow Alan Rufus to marry whom he chose, for the caveat about “one of my enemies” was not applicable to either Malcolm or Alan at that time.

  49. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Robin Hood. The name has come to represent valiant Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Norman tyranny exemplified by King John.

    However, the names of the Merry Men are not Saxon. Robin is a familiar form of Robert, a Norman name.

    Little John has a name that could be from Normandy or France (Jean), or Brittany (Yann).

    “Alan”-a-Dale is distinctly Breton.

    Will Scarlet bears a Norman name.

    Maid Marian’s name is Latin. According to the wikipedia article, there was a “French tradition of a shepherdess named Marion and her shepherd lover Robin (not Robin Hood). The best known example of this tradition is Adam de la Halle’s `Le Jeu de Robin et Marion’, circa 1283.”

    In “an Elizabethan play, Anthony Munday made Maid Marian a pseudonym of Matilda Fitzwalter, the historical daughter of Robert Fitzwalter, who had to flee England because of an attempt to assassinate King John.”

    Robert Fitzwalter was descended from the Anglo-Saxon Earl of Northumbria, Waltheof, and his wife the Norman lady Judith of Lens, through their daughter Maud, Countess of Huntingdon and her first husband, the Picard nobelman Simon I de Senlis (St Liz), and thence through the de Clare and otehr Norman families.

    Friar Tuck is anachronous, as the England of Kings Richard and John did not have friars yet. Tellingly, in all versions of his tale, he was a friar either at Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, or at its parent abbey, “St Mary’s Abbey in York, which is also the scene of some other Robin Hood tales”. Who laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Abbey in York in 1088? None other than our Count Alan Rufus!

    As the Merry Men were popular characters in Scotland in plays performed during the May Day festival from the 1300s to the 1600s, it is unlikely that they were perceived as hated Sassenachs.

    So, how did Robin Hood come to be thought of as Saxon? I think this idea is a product of the 1800s. Again according to Wikipedia, Sir Walter Scott wrote the popular novel “Ivanhoe” (published in 1820), about a noble Saxon knight in the 12th century. I suspect this greatly influenced how people viewed the period. In particular, two of the major characters in the novel are “Rowena and Locksley (Robin Hood), representing the dispossessed Saxon aristocracy”.

    Why did Scott promote the Saxon cause? As a shameless self-promoter and currier of favours, he was vigorously eager to ingratiate himself with the royal family, who (since 1714) were the House of Hanover and ethnic Saxons.

    Also, as a promoter of Scottish romanticism, in 1818 Scott rediscovered the Scottish crown jewels for George IV and to celebrate this, in just 3 weeks he organised an elaborate pageant for the king, whom he persuaded to wear tartan, thus reversing the proscription against highland dress that had applied since 1745.

  50. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Among the ancestors of the Bretons were of course the ancient people of Armorica, who make an interesting tale in their own right.

    During the Roman Republic, before Roman soldiers had reached north-west Gaul, an Armorican tribe called the Veneti were accorded “fraternal” status. It would be interesting indeed to know why.

    “The Veneti inhabited southern Armorica, along the Morbihan bay. They built their strongholds on coastal eminences, which were islands when the tide was in, and peninsulas when the tide was out.”

    Familiar examples of this are Mont St Michel and its English counterpart St Michael’s Mount.

    “Their most notable city, and probably their capital, was Darioritum (now known as Gwened in Breton or Vannes in French), mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geography.”

    Brittany in the modern era is famous for seafarers, such as Jacques Cartier, the explorer who claimed what is now Canada for France, and the notable yachtsmen Eric Tabarly and Olivier de Kersauson. The Jules Verne trophy in yachting is named after another famous Breton.

    “The Veneti built their ships of oak with large transoms fixed by iron nails of a thumb’s thickness. They navigated and powered their ships through the use of leather sails. This made their ships strong, sturdy and structurally sound, capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the Atlantic.”

    Falling foul of Julius Caesar in 56 BC, the Veneti by virtue of their strong fortresses, mobility and naval expertise sorely vexed the Romans, who tried everything in their playbook to no avail, until Caesar’s navy under his legate Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus devised grappling hooks to haul down their ships’ sails.

    It’s said that Caesar slaughtered the Veneti, selling the survivors into slavery, but regardless of whether that is the entire truth, their living habits and nautical skills lived on in the same coastlands.

    In Britain, two of the regions that contributed to the Breton sovereign house were Powys in Wales (Cymru) and Dumnonia (Cornwall, Devon, and parts of Somerset and Dorset) in what is now England.

    When the Romans invaded Britain starting in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, the Dumnonii promptly offered their services and were granted citizen status.

    The Ordovices of central Wales, which included the inhabitants of Powys, put up a stout resistance, repelling the Roman army for an astonishing 30 years. The Romans were so impressed by the valour and skill displayed by their opponents, that when they eventually overcame the Ordovices, they granted them citizenship too.

    Conan Meriadoc from Powys, who was related by marriage to the western emperor (AD 383 to 388) Magnus Flavius Clemens Maximus, was assigned to the defence of Armorica.

    When people fled to Armorica from Britain due to the advancing Saxons, the descendants of the Dumnonii established the states of Dumnonea and Kernev (named after Cornwall), which were the power bases for many of the Dukes of Brittany.

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