Austin Hernon Interviews Robert, Duke of Normandy
Robert, Duke of Normandy and eldest son of William the Conqueror, was captured through treachery by his brother Henry in September 1106. There had been a battle of sorts outside the castle at Tinchebray, but the ground was such that it turned into a shoving match, descending into chaos as the soldiers began to fraternise and Robert’s supposed ally, Robert de Belleme deserted the field leaving Robert in the crush. Henry is King of England & Wales and imprisons Robert in Cardiff.
Cardiff Castle – the year of our Lord 1120.
AH: Good morning, your grace, a fine morning. Lady Tegwin said that I might approach you. I wondered if I may ask some questions?
AH: You, your grace, your life.
R: You are a scribe?
AH: I am, I like to record events directly from those who experienced them.
R: That’s new. Get on with your questions.
AH: I understand that you have nearly seventy years behind you.
R: No need to remind me, my bones do that.
AH: Bones have memories, so I have heard. But you, your grace, must have many memories, you have led a most distinguished life and you seem well enough for it.
R: Humph. I’m still somewhat of an embarrassment for a distinguished person, don’t you think?
AH: No, not at all, your grace, you enhance us all by your presence, the way that you have become quite a bard. You knew Welsh before you came here, did you not? For a man born in Rouen that is quite a skill.
R: I did. My princess, Tegwin, taught me. We’ve been together now for forty years or so, I don’t quite remember. She has been the best friend a man could have hoped for.
AH: Indeed, she is charming.
R: Hah! Don’t tell her that, she likes to believe that she is fierce.
AH: That I don’t know about. I have the idea of writing the story of the relieving of Jerusalem, the crusade, as some call it now. You were admired throughout Europe for the part you played.
R: Little good it did me. I trust that the Lord was watching, for the Church surely was not – else it hath a short memory.
AH: I wondered about that. You returned a hero, yet found the crown of England on a different head. A surprise, I imagine.’
R: Different! The wrong head. We had an agreement, my brother Rufus and I, and I had a duchess with me when I returned, all was set fair for the future. If I outlived Rufus the crown would be mine, then one of my children would inherit.
AH: Many wonder why you did not reach out and take it.
R: I sometimes wonder about that now. I did cross to England to face Henry, but there was no evidence; the man who downed Rufus disappeared. But most important, the Church had anointed and proclaimed Henry king. There’s no gainsaying that, only the Pope can un-anoint him, if that’s the word.
AH: He might excommunicate him.
R: He chose not to, and if I had chosen to unseat the little turd, I might have been excommunicated.
AH: Little turd?
R: No, sorry, scheming little turd. He waited all his plotting little life for the opportunity, it all fell too easily into his hands – or rather on to his head.
AH: Have you not thought about writing down your story … if Henry’s version of things is wrong?
R: Might have, but I’m not very good at it, never have been, can’t be doin’ with all that scribbling.
AH: You wouldn’t mind if it was written down on your behalf?
R: I’m not sure. Truth to tell, I’m a bit lacking in the skill, can’t see the thing properly, all the words just mess together.
AH: I’ve heard that you did not like administering to things; towns, ordinances, charters, and such.
R: That’s true. Pain in the bum. What would you want to know?
AH: How you felt about things, what were your thoughts at the time. What you would want to have written. For instance about your father – you didn’t get along very well?
R: He was always angry about something, told me I was too short for a prince.
AH: That bothered you?
R: Not after a while, got used to it. That annoyed him, only two people in the world weren’t bothered by his foul temper, my mother and me. That amused us both.
AH: He used you, though, sent you to Scotland to tame King Malcolm.
R: That was after I knocked him off his horse.
AH: What, a practice joust?
R: No, it was serious. We had an argument, I wanted to give little brother Henry a thrashing – he was a sneaky nuisance even then – but Father intervened. I went as a guest into France and some knights came to winkle me out. I was challenged and knocked their leader off his horse. Turned out it was King William the Conqueror himself.
AH: I thought that he was invincible.
R: Not to me, I am undefeated as a cavalryman and he was ill advised to challenge me; I have never been unhorsed.
AH: What happened in Scotland?
R: King Malcolm agreed to remain behind the border and I became a godfather to Princess Edith. I became friends with Queen Margaret too. That annoyed Father. Then he sent me to Italy to marry Contessa Matilda – stretch his empire from Scotland to Sicily – he thought.
AH: You didn’t marry Matilda.
R: We agreed that it would be best not to, it might have compromised her position with the cardinals in Rome. They were looking for opportunities to prise her away from the Pope.
AH: Didn’t Henry marry the Scottish princess?
R: Aye, he forced her to marry him and gave her a new name, Matilda.
AH: Your mother’s name?
R: Aye. The turd is odd, I would not have thought of doing that. But the marriage has been odd all along. I did speak to Edith at one point, she was unhappy.
AH: Poor lady. You did marry in Italy, eventually, but not to another Matilda.
R: No, we were best friends, Contessa Matilda and I, very good friends for many years and it was she who matched me to my wife, Sybil di Conversano.
AH: The very beautiful Sybil. Was she not your junior?
R: By twenty years. She gave us our son, William Clito.
AH: She must have loved you, despite the age difference.
R: Very much in love. She waited three years whilst I went off to the Holy Lands on that bloody expedition to rescue Jerusalem.
AH: Jerusalem, the city saved, then almost lost the next day.
R: Not quite the next day, but soon afterwards the Egyptians landed a huge army on the coast at Askelon. We were in trouble, we could not have withstood a siege, the place was a bloody wreck with supplies exhausted.
AH: But you led a decisive action to save the city.
R: Everybody knows what I did – win or die, or die winning, that’s how I see it.
AH: Not everyone has that as a motto.
R: No. D’ye think that I am lacking in sense?
AH: Your grace, I, and most others, consider you very brave and undervalued.
R: Thank you, but here I am, a bard, living in one of Henry’s castles. Tis very nice, but lacking in adventure.
AH: You’d like another adventure?
R: No, but I like to think that I would – besides, Tegwin wouldn’t let me.
AH: You mentioned sons.
R: Three; two by Tegwin and one with Sybil.
AH: William Clito, Sybil’s son, isn’t he in Flanders, causing his Uncle Henry a great deal of trouble?
R: Hah! The more trouble the better I shall be. Henry tried to seize him after the battle of Tinchebray, when he captured me. He missed him, a four-year-old who was spirited away into Flanders. The turd messed up his chance. I hope he regrets it.
AH: What of Lady Tegwin’s sons?
R: William went off to the Holy Lands, he is Lord of Tortusa now. Richard … Richard is another heartache for me.
AH: How so?
R: The agreement I had with Rufus would have had young Richard appointed as Prince of Wales when the time was right; that’s why he was at court in Winchester with Tegwin when I went off to Jerusalem.
AH: He was killed, an accident, it was said?
R: Another accident? Really? A few weeks before his Uncle Rufus was killed – by the same ‘accident,’ a stray crossbow bolt? And no court of enquiry. Gets coincidence a bad name, don’t you think?
AH: May I return to your relationships with women?
AH: I can see how you and Lady Tegwin are very much attached. She has been very patient in the early days, if I may say so, and loyal and constant over many years. How was she different from the much younger Duchess Sybil?
R: True, we are very attached. Well, Tegwin was the result of my fathers’ ambition, he arranged for us to meet. She is from the family of a king of North Wales, Gruffydd ap Cynan, and the Conqueror wanted to see if we could produce a son who would unite the north and south of Wales.
AH: And you did.
R: That wasn’t our idea. We both resisted it when we worked out why we were thrown at each other.
AH: I see. So why did you not walk away from your father’s ambitions?
R: That, my friend, was also not our idea. Passion took over, we have been unthinking mad for each other for forty years.
AH: Thank you for your candour, your grace.
R: Everyone can see our love, don’t you?
AH: I can, but others can only see it if you will allow me to record it.
R: You will write it down?
AH: Only with your permission, your grace.
R: Then do it. What else d’ye want to know?
AH: About you now. What would you tell your past self, knowing what you know now?
R: Jesu! That’s a big question.
AH: You’ve had a big life.
R: Had? I’m not leaving yet.
AH: Sorry. What do you regret?
R: I trusted too easily, I listened to weasel words and believed them, I thought all men to be honest.
R: No woman has ever betrayed me.
AH: And those who knew you loved you?’
R: Still might. Except they die.
AH: Duchess Sybil?
R: And Morberga, and Contessa Matilda, Mother, all gone. Only my Tegwin remains.
R: I count her my first companion, a lover, died in child birth, oh … many years ago.
The duke looked away and I gave him time to clear a tear from his eye. He sniffed and nodded at me, so I resumed.
AH: Apart from women, what else remains clear in your memory?
R: The so-called Holy Lands, bloodstained sands, thirst and starvation, the screams of dying horses and disembowelled men, the treachery and venality of – of my fellow travellers, the …
AH: Don’t go on, your grace, I can see that it distresses you.
R: It wasn’t something that I could countenance on English soil, to prise the crown of the English off my brother’s head – another bloody event, for what, vanity?
AH: No, not that.
R: Will you write anything down for me?
AH: Indeed, your grace, anything.
R: My poems?
AH: That would be a great pleasure.
R: Here’s the start of one, tis not finished, you understand?
AH: Start it.
R: Dar a dyfwys ar y clawdd,
Gwedi, gwaedffrau gwedi ffrawdd;
Gwae! Wrth win ymtrin ymtrawdd.
AH: ‘Oak that grew on battle mound,
Where crimson torrents drenched the ground;
Woe waits the maddening broils where sparkling wine goes round!
Oak that grew…’ Is that you, your grace?
R: Might be. Might be the cry of anyone left standing when all his friends have deserted him, don’t you think?
AH: There’s friends aplenty hereabouts, your grace. Here’s one coming now.
Lady Tegwin, lithe and still dark haired, swept towards us.
T: How’re you two getting on, Rob?
R: Fine. He’s going to write down my story. Good idea of yours, vixen.
T: Keep you busy!
The story of Robert, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, can be found in three volumes, paperback and ebook, through the usual channels. More information can be found via the links below.
See also Facebook pages: ‘Battle 1066’ and ‘Lincoln 1217’
Latest publication news: The Renegade Son, the third in Austin’s trilogy, will shortly be published as a paperback on Amazon and as an ebook by Endeavour Press.