1st Earl of Gloucester. He is also known as Robert of Gloucester. He was called "the Consul." He was an illegitimate son of King Henry I, born to "an unknown Frenchwoman" before Henry became king. Cokayne is of the opinion that his mother was most likely Sybil Corbet, but others believe she was an unknown woman from Caen. He was acknowledged by his father King Henry I from his birth, and was raised at court from the time of his fatherÕs accession to the throne and educated under his direct supervision. Robert had a reputation for learning and literary appreciation, rare attributes at this time, which were undoubedly fostered by his scholarly father. By the time he was in his early twenties he was one of his fatherÕs leading military captains and advisers. In 1107 he received from Henry the hand of a wealthy heiress, Mabel of Gloucester, daughter of Robert FitzHamon, who brought with her the barony of Gloucester and lordship of Glamorgan. They had a mansion at Tewkesbury. He fought at the battle of Bremule in 1119, in which Henry I defeated King Louis VI of France. In 1122, after the death of his legitimate half brothers, the earldom of Gloucester was created for his benefit. In 1123, he led a force to assist in the capture of the castle of Brionne, which was held by rebel Norman barons. In 1126 he had custody of his uncle, the imprisoned rebel, Robert, Duke of Normandy. In 1127 he did homage to his half sister, the Empress Matilda, recognizing her as his father's successor to the English throne. Henry looked to him to protect MatildaÕs interests after his death. Robert was with his father when he died in 1135, and it was Robert who made the funeral arrangements.
Robert was a significant figure in the struggle for succession between his cousin Stephen and Matilda. Robert and Stephen had been fierce rivals at the English court since 1127, and some barons encouraged Robert to claim the throne himself (after all, his grandfather William the Conqueror had also been illegitimate), but when Stephen was chosen as king, Robert eventually did conditional homage to him for his English lands. In 1137 he accompanied King Stephen to Normandy, where Matilda was raising support, and a quarrel ensued between the men when Stephen tried to ambush Robert. Robert then threw his support behind Matilda, who was in Normandy, and obtained the surrender of Caen and Bayeux to her husband Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. In September 1139 Robert landed in England with Matilda and took her to Arundel Castle. He then made his way to Bristol Castle, which had remained loyal to him, and was later joined there by Matilda. Robert became her commander-in-chief in the civil war which followed. Unlike most barons of the time, he fought his battles within the rules of warfare and was not unnecessarily violent or cruel, but was also regarded as brave and a good commander. He was also known for his respect for law and justice, and his integrity and chivalry. Between
1139 and 1141, he progressively took control of most of the south-west. In early 1141, Robert obtained word that Stephen was besieging Lincoln Castle. Robert quickly moved there and forced battle by personally swimming across the River Trent and requiring his troops to follow. In the battle, many of StephenÕs knights fled and Stephen was captured by Robert; he was imprisoned at Bristol in the care of RobertÕs wife Mabel. Matilda went to London to be crowned, but she made herself unpopular with the Londoners and they were forced to flee. While beseiging Winchester, they themselves were surrounded. Robert engaged StephenÕs queenÕs army for long enough to allow Matilda to escape, but he himself was captured and place in the custody of StephenÕs queen at Rochester. Stephen and Robert were then returned to their respective camps in an even exchange, although Robert had wanted some of his supporters released to compensate for his lower status. The even exchange reflected RobertÕs value to Matilda as her main supporter and battle leader.
In 1142 Matilda sent Robert to Anjou to attempt to convince her husband Geoffrey to come to her aid. Geoffrey declined to help until he had conquered Normandy, so Robert joined in his campaign. However, hearing that Matilda was besieged at Oxford, he hurried back to her assistance. He took Matilda and GeoffreyÕs son, nine year old Henry (the future King Henry II), with him. Despite some more victories, MatildaÕs support had gradually dwindled; Robert was unable to continue to press her cause, although he continued to support his nephew Henry. He did however retain control of most of the West Country, imposing law and order there. In 1144 one of RobertÕs sons, Philip, rebelled against his father in support of Stephen. In 1147 thirteen year old Henry arrived in England with mercenary troops, meaning to conquer England. After a couple of weeks he turned up on RobertÕs doorstep in Bristol asking for money to pay the troops. Robert marched him straight to Wareham and put him on a ship, paying the captain to make sure he got back to his father in Normandy. Henry later regarded Robert as one of the formative influences on his life, the man who had made it possible for him to become king of England. Later in 1147 Robert died of a rapid fever at Bristol, even though he was still very fit and able to lead an army himself. After his death MatildaÕs cause collapsed completely, a measure of his indispensability to her.
Robert was a patron of scholars, including some of the best-known medieval chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury and Geoffrey of Monmouth, and was known for his own cleverness and literary ability. One of his enemies, Baldwin fitz Gilbert, described him in terms which suggested he was all bark and no bite - a man who threatened much but did little, eloquent but lazy. His record as a soldier would tend to refute this last point, at the very least. He was also a generous benefactor of the Church, founding the Benedictine priory of St. James just outside Bristol and a Cistercian abbey at Margam, South Wales, and suppporting abbeys at Tewkesbury, Gloucester, and Neath. He was buried in a magnificent green jasper tomb at his foundation of St. James, although Cokayne questions the site of his burial, which is also claimed for Tewkesbury.