Ralph de Gael - Earl of Norfolk - Seigneur de Gael et Montfort (c. 1042 -c. 1096 ), Earl of Norfolk and Suffolk, Lord of Gael, Ralph of Wader.

Norwich Castle
Norwich Castle - photo © Gill Rickson, June 2006

Ralph de Gael was one of the principal leaders of the Bretons in the Battle of Hastings, himself being a Breton and for his services received the earldoms of Norfolk and Suffolk. He married Emma, the daughter of William Fitz Osbern, by whom he had a son Roger de Breteuil. It is said that on his wedding day Ralph de Gael joined his brother-in-law Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland in a plot against King William. Waltheof, regretting his actions denounced the conspirators, the result of which Roger, Earl of Hereford was seized and imprisoned. Ralph de Gael managed to escape to Denmark, eventually making his way to Brittany where he found refuge with Hoel V Count of Brittany.

In 1075, Ralph de Gael took up arms, in company with Alain Fergant, Hoel V’s son, against King William at the siege of Dol. Eventually Ralph and his faithful Countess made a pilgrimage to the holy land, from which they never returned.

Ralph de Gael was the son of Goda, sister of Edward the Confessor, by her first husband Dreux, Count of the Vexin. His eldest brother was Walter de Mantes, Count of Pontoise. Walter and his wife Biota were poisoned by William the Conqueror in 1065 after having consumed the fatal ‘bride-ale’ of Ixingham. It was for this act of treachery that Ralph conspired against the Conqueror. --

Ralph de Gael - Birth

He was probably born before 1040, as not later than 1060 he attested, in company with other Bretons, a notification at Angers as Ralph son of Ralph the Englishman, most probably in 1042 in Hereford .


He inherited the great Breton barony of Gael , which comprised more than forty parishes. In England, whether by inheritance or by grant from the Crown, he held large estates in Norfolk, as well as property in Suffolk, Essex, Hertford, and possibly other counties. In some of these estates he certainly succeeded his father, but it is doubtful whether he obtained the Earldom immediately on his father's death.

Up to 1074

Ralph built a church in Norwich , in the new town, and give it to his chaplains; but there is not record of religious benefactions by him in Brittany.

Marriage and revolt

He married, before 1080 , Emma , daughter of William Fitzosbern, 1st Earl of Hereford and Adelissa de Tosny.

In 1075 the king's refusal to sanction this marriage caused a revolt in his absence by Ralph, his new brother-in-law Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford and Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northumberland . The revolt was plagued by disaster. Waltheof lost heart and confessed the conspiracy to Lanfranc , who urged Earl Roger to return to his allegiance, and finally excommunicated him and his adherents - Waltheof was later executed by William. Ralph encountered a much superior force under the warrior bishops Odo of Bayeux and Geoffrey de Montbray (the latter ordered that all rebels should have their right foot cut off!) near Cambridge and retreated hurriedly to Norwich , hotly pursued by the royal army. Leaving his wife to defend Norwich Castle , he sailed for Denmark in search of help, and eventually returned to England with a fleet of 200 ships under Cnut and Hakon , which failed to do anything effective.

Meanwhile the Countess held out in Norwich until she obtained terms for herself and her followers, who were deprived of their lands, but were allowed forty days to leave the realm. Thereupon the Countess retired to her estate in Brittany, where she was rejoined by her husband. Ralph was deprived of all his lands and of his Earldom.

Baron of Britanny

For the rest of his life he remained a great baron of Brittany, with no interests in England. In 1076 , having plotted against Duke Hoel of Brittany , he was besieged at Dol , and the Conqueror came to Hoel's aid; but Ralph finally made his peace.

In 1089 he attested the judgment in a dispute between the monks of Redon, Ille-et-Vilaine and the chaplains of the Duke of Brittany . He also attested a charter of Alan IV, Duke of Brittany , in favour of St.Georges at Rennes ( 1084 - 1096 ). The Conqueror being dead, Ralph appears in Normandy c. 1093 as a witness in the record of a suit between the abbots of Lonlay and St.Florent. There is, however, no record of religious benefactions by him in Brittany.


In 1096 , accompanied by his wife and under Robert Curthose , he went on Crusade . He was one of the Breton leaders who took part in the siege of Nicaea , after which he joined Bohemund I of Antioch's division of the army.

Both Ralph and his wife Emma died on the road to Palestine in the course of the Crusade.

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