Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester was the illegitimate son of King Henry I of England. He fought for Matilda his half-sister during the Anarchy in which she warred against Stephen of Blois for the English crown.
It is believed that Robert was the eldest of Henry’s illegitimate sons born before 1100 and before his father accession to the throne. The name of his mother is disputed, it is believed that she may have been Nest ferch Rhys a Welsh Princess, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr. It is also stated that it may be a member of the Gay or Gayt family of North Oxfordshire. A number of Robert’s illegitimate siblings also had mothers from this region.
He had been contracted by his father to marry Mabel FitzHamon daughter and heir of Robert FitzHamon. His wife brought with her Gloucester in England, Glamorgan in Wales and also lands in Normandy. It was after the White Ship disaster and the marriage that Henry then created Robert, Earl of Gloucester.
He had seven different children with Mabel, of which included; William who succeeded as the 2nd Earl of Gloucester, Robert who became Bishop of Worcester and Matilda who married Ranulf the 4th Earl of Chester. He also had four known illegitimate children.
There is evidence that Robert was considered as a candidate for the throne but due to his illegitimacy he was ruled out. It is written within the Gesta Stephani (unknown author, 12th Century manuscript)
‘Among others came Robert, Earl of Gloucester, son of King Henry, but a bastard, a man of proved talent and admirable wisdom. When he was advised, as the story went, to claim the throne on his father’s death, deterred by sounder advice he by no means assented, saying it was fairer to yield it to his sister’s son (the future Henry II of England), than presumptuously to arrogate it to himself’
Robert went on to become Matilda his sister’s main military commander during the Anarchy. At the Battle of Lincoln on 2nd February 1141 Robert led an army to victory breaking King Stephen’s siege of the castle at Lincoln and went on to capture and take prisoner King Stephen. This led to Matilda taking control of the country for a short period of time. Robert’s forces were then defeated at the Rout of Winchester on 14th September 1141 leading to his capture near Stocksbrige.
Robert was exchanged for King Stephen which then led to King Stephen taking back power and Matilda giving up her best chance of becoming Queen. She later returned to France where she died in 1167.
Robert of Gloucester died in 1147 at Bristol Castle. He was later buried at St James Priory in Bristol which he had founded and was succeeded by his son William FitzRobert as the 2nd Earl of Gloucester.
Chimneypiece of the Banqueting Hall, Cardiff Castle, carved by Thomas Nicholls to instructions by the architect William Burges. 1870s. .