Robert of Rhuddlan

Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle, Denbighshire, Wales
Photo © Dot Potter, July 2005

Robert of Rhuddlan (Roelent), son of Humphrey de Tilleul, was one of the largest landholders in Wirral, being under-tenant of Earl Hugh Lupus (the Wolf) of Chester. Robert had been a squire of the court of King Eadward the Confessor and had received 'the belt of knighthood' at his hands. He held the office of armour-bearer to the Confessor. At the time of the conquest Robert was a lord of high importance in William's ruling council. A new motte-and-bailey castle was built at Rhuddlan in 1073 by Robert, who was a kinsman and lieutenant of Hugh d'Avaranches, earl of Chester, and for fifteen years carried out attacks against the Welsh. In 1088, during Robert's absence, the castle was attacked. He hurried home to find the Welsh ravaging the land below the fortress.

Robert was roused from his noon-day sleep by the people's cries, which made him aware of this hostile inroad on his territories. He sprung up quickly, unarmed as he was, and without delay despatched messengers to summon his vassals to army through all the district. Meanwhile, he pursued the Welsh, without further preparation, at the head of a few soldiers, and reaching the top of mount Horma-heva, which is very lofty, saw, beneath, the pirates binding the captives and driving them to their ships with the cattle. Upon this, the noble lord-marcher, bold as a lion, shouted aloud to his small hand of followers, few and unarmed as they were, calling on them to rush on the Welsh on the dry sands before the return of the tide. They however excused themselves on account of their scanty numbers and the difficulty of descending the precipitous face of the mountain. Upon this, Robert, who saw that the enemy was only waiting the return of the sea to make their escape, was overwhelmed with grief; and impatient of delay, scrambled down the mountain side to throw himself on the enemy without armour and with only one follower, a man-at-arms whose name was Osbern d'Orgeres. Seeing him coming to attack them, protected by his shield only and supported by a single soldier, the Welsh in a body hurled their spears at him, and, piercing the shield with the insupportable weight, mortally wounded the brave Osbern. But as long as Robert was able to stand and clasp his shield, no one ventured to come to close quarters and attack him sword in hand. At length the intrepid warrior fell on his knees, pierced with darts, and his strength failing, the shield, heavy with the weight which clung to it, dropped from his hand; and he commended his soul to the Almighty and St. Mary, mother of God. Then the whole band rushed on him, and cutting off his head in the sight of his people, fixed it at the mast-head as a trophy of their victory. Many witnessed this spectacle from the summit of the mountain with grief and rage, but they were unable to render their lord any succour. At last the country people flocked in from the whole district; but it was too late; they were unable to save their lord-marcher, who was already slain. However, they manned some ships and pursued the pirates, as they were making their course over the sea, in a tumult of grief at seeing their lord's head carried off on the mast of the enemy's ship. Gryffyth and his crew, finding that they were chased, and observing that their pursuers' rage was inflamed by the insult to their lord, took down his head from the mast and threw it into the sea. On seeing this, Robert's followers ceased the fruitless chace. His body was lifted from the sea-shore with loud lamentations both of the English and Normans, and being carried to Chester, was buried in the abbey of St. Werburgh the virgin.

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