Hugh d'Avranches, 1st Earl of Chester

Hugh d'Avranches, 1st Earl of Chester

Hugh d'Avranches, 1st Earl of Chester (died July 27, 1101) was one of the great magnates of early Norman England.

Early career

Hugh was the son of Richard Goz, Viscount of Avranches, in the far southwest of Normandy, and inherited from his father a large estate, not just in the Avranchin but scattered throughout western Normandy.

Hugh became an important councillor of William, Duke of Normandy. He contributed sixty ships to the invasion of England, but did not fight at Hastings, instead being one of those trusted to stay behind and govern Normandy.

Earl of Chester

After William became king of England, Hugh was given the command of Tutbury Castle Staffordshire but in 1070 he was promoted to become Earl of Chester, with palatine powers in view of Cheshire's situation on the Welsh border. Tutbury with its surrounding lands was passed to Henry de Ferrers. [C. P. Lewis, ‘Avranches, Hugh d', first earl of Chester (d. 1101)’, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 28 Oct 2007] ]

Hugh spent much of his time fighting savagely with his neighbours in Wales. Together with his cousin Robert of Rhuddlan he subdued a good part of northern Wales. Initially Robert of Rhuddlan held north-east Wales as a vassal of Hugh. However in 1081 Gruffydd ap Cynan King of Kingdom of Gwynedd was captured by treachery at a meeting near Corwen. Gruffydd was imprisoned by Earl Hugh in his castle at Chester, but it was Robert who took over his kingdom, holding it directly from the king. When Robert was killed by a Welsh raiding party in 1088 Hugh took over these lands, becoming ruler of most of North Wales, but he lost Anglesey and much of the rest of Gwynedd in the Welsh revolt of 1094, led by Gruffydd ap Cynan, who had escaped from captivity.

In time Hugh became so fat he could hardly walk; he is often referred to as "Hugh the Fat". The Welsh called him "Hugh Flaidd" ("Hugh the Wolf" or "Hugh Lupus").

Norwegian invasion

In the summer of 1098 Hugh joined with Hugh of Montgomery, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury in an attempt to recover his losses in Gwynedd. Gruffydd ap Cynan retreated to Anglesey, but then was forced to flee to Ireland when a fleet he had hired from the Danish settlement in Ireland changed sides. The situation was changed by the arrival of a Norwegian fleet under the command of King Magnus III of Norway, also known as Magnus Barefoot, who attacked the Norman forces near the eastern end of the Menai Straits. Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury was killed by an arrow said to have been shot by Magnus himself. The Normans were obliged to evacuate Anglesey, and the following year Gruffydd returned from Ireland to take possession again. Hugh apparently made an agreement with him and did not again try to recover these lands.

Marriage and succession

Hugh married Ermentrude of Claremont, by whom he had one son, Richard, who succeeded him. Richard married Matilda of Blois, daughter of Stephen, Count of Blois and Adela, a daughter of William the Conqueror. Both Richard and Matilda died in the White Ship disaster (1120), and he was succeeded by his first cousin Ranulph le Meschin, Earl of Chester.


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