Robert, Count of Evreux, Archbishop of Rouen
Men face choices in life, to pursue faith or secular interests. To cast all one’s energies in a gamble to reach ever-greater heights, or to counter disruptive elements to foster unity, strength and growth that will exist beyond the individual. One such individual stood at the door of the Norman century a thousand years ago, and his decisions ensured that Normandy would be a force to reckon with throughout the European world. This man was Robert D’Evreux, Archbishop of Rouen. A man who stood tall in both the religious and secular worlds at a time when being a devout man of the church did not exclude the possibility of a family and the worldly title of Count of Evreux.
Robert was the second son of Richard, Duke of Normandy, great-grandson of the famed Viking adventurer Rollo, founder of the Norman dynasty. During his lifetime he was a strong supporter of his brother, and arguably the second most powerful man in Normandy. He no doubt learned from his father, though, how precarious that position was. His father had nearly lost the Duchy to internal discord when the succession occurred while he was still a minor, and only the timely intervention of the King of France salvaged the dynasty. This aid came at a cost as France re-asserted some of their feudal control over the generally autonomously functioning duchy.
Archbishop Robert watched this play out again as Normandy was thrust once more into turmoil. His brother’s sons, Richard and Robert, could not find balance after Richard’s succession. When Richard mysteriously died, the future Robert the Magnificent became Duke setting the stage for even more discord. Duke Robert commenced his reign by moving against the only man powerful enough to resist him, his uncle the Archbishop, laying siege to his castles and casting him out of Normandy. It was soon apparent though that his uncle was essential to holding the other contentious lords of Normandy in check. The pragmatic Archbishop engineered a compromise, and returned to support his nephew’s consolidation of power and glorious rise. Within 20 years Duke Robert was firmly in control.
At the point when Duke Robert’s position was secure, he chose to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Some would suggest this was brought on by guilt over the murder of his brother. Irregardless, the Archbishop counseled strongly against his absence from the Duchy, but recognizing that he could not be turned from this course strove to insure the succession. He obtained official recognition of William, Duke Robert’s illegitimate but only son, William, as his heir by the Duke’s overlord, the King of France, and the great lords of the Duchy. This move was prescient for Duke Robert died on his journey to the Holy Land, and the Duchy was left again with a minor to succeed as its Duke.
The Great families as they had done nearly 100 years before began to maneuver for power, but there was a difference this time, the Archbishop. His claim to the title of Duke was as strong as any other if not the strongest, and he had the wealth and power as Archbishop and Count of Evreux to hold Normandy together. The Archbishop stood by his grandnephew, insured his recognition as Duke, and protected him from the contentious nobles.
Shortly after the Archbishop died in March 1137, Normandy experienced a struggle for power, but William the Bastard had been given time to reach an age old enough to survive and solidify a following. His survival remained tenuous, though, as enemies of the Archbishop moved to separate the D’Evreux’s from the boy Duke, but they fought back. History records how Raoul, Sire de Gace, had several guardians of the William the Bastard murdered in the boys bedchamber during this renewed struggle, but ultimately he and the Archbishop’s other sons stood with the young Duke throughout his ultimately successful rise to power, invasion of England, and ongoing Norman expansion throughout the Western World. The Archbishops descendents would go to England, settle with the Marcher Lords on the border of Wales, and give rise to the Devereux family.
The children of Robert Devereux were Richard Devereux, his heir and the 2nd Count of Evreux; Raoul, Sire de Gace; and William Devereux. For further information on his family please see their respective wikipedia pages.