Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent.

Rochester Castle engraved by H.Adlard 1836

First amongst the companions of the Conqueror must be ranked William's half brothers Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent. Odo was some years younger than William, his mother, Herleve, having married Herluin de Conteville, by whom she had, as well as Odo, one other son, Robert and two daughters, one named Emma, wife of Richard, Viscount of the Avranchin and the other named Muriel, who became the wife of Eudo al Chapel. Of Odo's early years there is no record, but it is thought he would have been about nineteen at the time of his consecration in 1049 and thirty six at the time of the conquest. Odo's relationship to Duke William procured for him the bishopric while he was very young, and he held the post for forty-eight years.

Odo provided one hundred vessels towards the fleet and it is recorded that he fought with great bravery at Hastings. Mounted on a white horse and wearing a white albe, he rode wherever the battle raged most fiercely, and, wielding a club, charged with his knights wherever aid was needed, and did signal service that day. Odo, " the good priest," observed the disorder, and galloping up, exclaimed, " Stand fast! stand fast ! move not a foot! Fear nothing, for please God we shall conquer yet! " The edict of the council of Rheims, AD 1049, prohibited the bearing of arms by the clergy ; but the war-club seems not to fall into that category.

Odo was one of the first of William's companions to receive the rewards of his service in the gift of lands, honours, and official power. In all he was granted four hundred and thirty-nine lordships. He was also given the custody of Dover Castle and was created Earl of Kent. As Justice of England he was responsible for the administration of the law and in conjunction with William Fitz Osbern exercised control of all the military forces of the kingdom. On William's visit to Normandy after his coronation, the custody of the kingdom was left in the hands of Odo and William Fitz Osbern, with authority to erect castles at their discretion in all parts of the kingdom. Odo's sudden wealth and power had an evil influence over his ambitious nature. He took forcible possession of lands belonging to Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, only to have them restored after Lanfranc complained to William. He continued in power and favour for some years; marching with Geoffrey of Coutances against the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk in 1074, and four years later leading an army into Northumberland to avenge the murder of Walcher, Bishop of Durham. In this expedition Odo was accused of cruelty and sacrilegious acts against the Cathedral of Durham.

Upon William's return from Normandy in 1082 Odo was arrested, conveyed to Rouen and imprisoned, where he remained for the rest of William's life. William, upon his death-bed reluctantly consented to his release. He was restored to his Earldom by his nephew, William Rufus, but irritated by a considerable loss of power set about conspiring against Rufus in favour of Robert. He claimed that William Rufus was effeminately brought up, cruel in disposition, and a coward at heart. By these and other claims he won the support of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, Robert de Mowbray, and other powerful persons, including the Bishop of Coutances. Odo now broke out into open rebellion, plundering the royal possessions in Kent and the lands of Archbishop Lanfranc. After storing the treasure in his castle at Rochester, Odo marched to Pevensey held by his brother Robert, Count of Mortain. At the end of six weeks Odo surrendered, offering the King not only Pevensey, but Rochester Castle as well. Odo was sent into exile, upon oath to William Rufus never to return without his permission. -- Planche

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