William Fitzosbern, 1st Earl of Hereford

Carisbrooke Castle Gate

Chepstow Castle

William fitzOsbern (cir 1020February 22, 1071), Seigneur de Breteuil, was a relative and close counsellor of William the Conqueror who became one of the great magnates of early Norman England. He was created Earl of Hereford in 1067, one of the first peerage titles in the English peerage.

He was the son of Osbern the Steward, a nephew of Duchess Gunnor, the wife of Duke Richard I of Normandy. Osbern became the steward of his cousin Duke Robert I of Normandy, and when Robert left the duchy to his young son William, Osbern was one of duke William's guardians. He was killed defending the person of duke William against an assassination attempt, sometime around 1040.

Osbern had married Emma, a daughter of count Rodolf of Ivry, who was a half-brother of Richard I. Through her he inherited a large property in central Normandy, including the honors of Pacy and Breteuil.

William fitzOsbern was probably raised at the court of his cousin and namesake duke William, and like his father became one of the ducal stewards. He was one of the earliest and most vigorous advocates of the invasion of England, and tradition holds that he convinced the doubters amongst the Norman barons of the feasibility of the invasion.

fitzOsbern's younger brother Osbern was one of Edward the Confessor's chaplains, and possessed the rich church of Bosham in Sussex, and was well-placed to pass along intelligence on the situation in England. He later became bishop of Exeter.

As duke William took control of England (becoming William I of England), fitzOsbern was given charge of the Isle of Wight, and then in 1067 was given the status of an earl. He is generally considered earl of Hereford, though his authority may have extended to some of the neighbouring shires as well. In any case, that part of England was not yet under Norman control; the understanding must have been that fitzOsbern was to take charge of their conquest when he was able.

Also for the central part of 1067 the king returned to Normandy, leaving fitzOsbern (along with Odo of Bayeux) in charge of England. The king was back in England in 1068, and fitzOsbern accompanied him in the subdual of southwest England. He attended the king's Whitsun court in May, and then himself paid a visit to Normandy, where he fell ill for some months.

In February or March of 1069 fitzOsbern was given charge of the new castle at York, but he returned south in time to attend the king's Easter court in April. Anglo-Saxon resistance in the west Midlands was subdued later in 1069, and it is likely fitzOsbern played a major part in this, though the details are not certain. During this time fitzOsbern and his followers pushed on into Wales, beginning the conquest of Gwent.

As part of the assertion of Norman control over England (and Wales), fitzOsbern was one of the major Norman castle builders. Early castles attributed to him include Carisbrooke, Chepstow, Wigmore, Monmouth, and Striguil, as well as creating or improving the fortifications of the towns of Hereford and Shrewsbury.

In 1070 trouble arose in Flanders, where king William's brother-in-law Baldwin VI of Flanders had died, leaving his county and his young sons in the hands of his widow Richildis of Hannonia. Her control of Flanders was challenged by the brother of her late husband, Robert the Frisian. Looking for help, she offered herself in marriage to fitzOsbern. He could not resist the chance to become also count of the rich principality in the German Empire, close to Normandy. He hurried with his army, but nevertheless was defeated by the Count of Flanders: fitzOsbern lost his life in the Battle of Cassel on February 22, 1071.

fitzOsbern married first Adeliza, daughter of Roger I of Tosny. One assumes that he also married Richilde, Countess of Mons and Hainaut shortly before the Battle of Cassel. He was succeeded in Normandy by his eldest son, William of Breteuil, and in England and Wales by his younger son, Roger de Breteuil. His daughter Emma married Ralph de Gael, 1st Earl of Norfolk .

He lived in carisbrooke castle

See Also

William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford


  • David C. Douglas, "The Ancestors of William Fitz Osbern", English Historical Review, 59 (1944), 62-79
  • Chris P. Lewis, "The early earls of Norman England", Anglo-Norman Studies, 13 (1991), 207-23
  • Lynn Nelson, The Normans in South Wales, 1070-1171 (see especially pages 24-33 in chapter 2)
  • W.E. Wightman, "The palatine earldom of William fitz Osbern in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire (1066-1071)", English Historical Review, 77 (1962), 6-17


Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Hereford Succeeded by:
Roger de Breteuil
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