Robert II was the eldest son of William the Conqueror, the famous Duke of Normandy who conquered England in 1066. Although Robert was designated to eventually inherit his father’s dukedom of Normandy, he was impatient for power and wanted to be given a realm to govern as soon as possible. William the Conqueror, however, was staunchly unwilling to delegate the governance of his Norman lands to Robert, and as the years rolled by, the repudiated son became more and more frustrated. By 1077, Robert had run out of patience, and he reportedly stormed out of his father’s court and went into a self-imposed exile, hoping he could take control of Normandy with the help of his father’s enemies in France.
In 1079, Robert II returned to Normandy with the help of troops from Flanders, and with the support of King Philip I of France. Robert’s reappearance caused such a stir in Normandy that William the Conqueror was forced to mobilize an army and take to the field against his wayward child. Father and son clashed near Gerberoi castle, a fort granted to Robert by King Philip I. The battle was apparently quite chaotic, and William the Conqueror was reported to have been unhorsed during the fray. Before or during the fall from his horse, William was said to have also suffered an injury to his arm or hand. Worst of all, when King William’s foes realized that he had fallen from his mount, Robert became fully aware of his father’s vulnerable position.
With William the Conqueror at his mercy, Robert supposedly made an honorable choice—he wanted land, not his father’s death, and decided to let King William escape. According to the Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, “Robert, recognizing his father’s voice, instantly dismounted, and, bidding him to mount his own charger, suffered him to depart. The king soon afterward retreated having had many of his men slain and some taken prisoner, and his son William [II Rufus] and serval others wounded” (entry for AD 1079). Despite Robert’s victory in the battle at Gerberoi, which was also attested to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, William the Conqueror eventually regained momentum and won the war, forcing Robert II to retreat once more to Flanders. Although he would continue trying to seize Normandy by force, Robert would not succeed in claiming the dukedom until after William the Conqueror’s death in 1087.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Bayeux Tapestry scene of Battle of Hastings showing knights and horses, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester translated by Thomas Forester. London: Petter and Galpin, originally published 1854.