Ranulph de Gernon, 2nd Earl of Chester


Ranulph de Gernon, 2nd Earl of Chester

Ranulf IV, also known as Sir Ranulph de Meschines or Ranulph de Gernon inherited his palatine earldom in 1128 aged 28, upon the death of his father who was descended from the Counts of Bayeux, Calvados Normandy.

Infobox_succession_combo
subject_name = Ranulph "de Gernon" de Meschines,
2nd Earl of Chester


image_caption = Norman Crest
date_of_birth = 1099
place_of_birth = Gernon castle, Normandy, France
date_of_death = 1153
place_of_death = Cheshire, England
office = Earl of Chester
years = 1128-1153|
preceded = Ranulph le Meschin, 1st Earl of Chester
succeeded = Hugh de Kevelioc, 3rd Earl of Chester

Early life

Ranulph was born at Gernon castle, Normandy around 1100AD to Ranulph le Meschin, 1st Earl of Chester (otherwise known as Ranulph III de Meschines "le Briquessart", Vicompte d'Avranches; 1st Earl of Chester) and Lucia Taillebois of Mercia, England. His parents were both significant landowners and he had considerable autonomy within the Paletine.

Chronology of Ranulph's life

The loss of the Earl’s northern lands to King David of Scotland (1136-1139)

In late January 1136, during the first months of King Stephen of England's reign, David I of Scotland crossed the border and reached Durham. He took Carlisle, Wark, Alnwick, Norham and Newcastle upon Tyne. On the 5 February 1136, Stephen reached Durham with a large force of mercenaries from Flanders, and the Scottish king was forced to "parley" (talk). The King was returned Wark, Alnwick, Norham and Newcastle, but the Scottish King was granted Carlisle and Doncaster. With Carlisle went much of Cumberland and the honour of Lancaster. These lands were especially important to Earl Ranulf as they were the lands of his father before he was forced to surrender them. The Earl still coveted them and surely would have hoped to regain them via concessions from the new king, who would have needed his strong support as he was of the major magnates in the country. The Earl, once hearing of the concessions to the Scottish King, left the court in rage.

In 1139 King Stephen re-negotiated with David King of the Scots. With the second Treaty of Durham Stephen was even more generous to the Scottish King, granting him the Earldom of Northumbria which included Carlisle, Cumberland, Westmoorland and Lancashire north of the Ribble. One magnate who may well have served Stephen more faithfully was Ranulf, Earl of Chester, had he been given part of the Earldom of Northumbria (Ranulf claimed these lands through his father, who had been forced to surrender them to the crown so he could inherit the Earldom of Chester). He claimed that Henry I had disinherited his father, though in fact this had been apparently been agreed between the them. To Ranulf it seems, it was irrelevant that the Earldom of Chester was far "more important" than Carlisle, it was a matter of principle; he believed the lands in the north were his "by right".

Ranulf apparently "lived for the day" he could recover his northern lands and if Stephen had given back the lands to Ranulf, he would have defended them and the whole Scottish frontier with his life. However, Now that Stephen had given the Earldom of Northumbria to Prince Henry (David’s son) , he was prepared instead to revolt in order to win back his fathers possession.

Ranulf takes Lincoln (1140)

Prince Henry attended Stephen’s court at Michaelmas, and it was Ranulf’s plan to overwhelm on his return to Scotland. Stephen’s queen heard about the plot and being a woman of honour, persuaded her husband to escort the Scottish Prince back to Scotland. However the damage had been done, Ranulf had contrived to seize Lincoln Castle, either in preparation to ambush the Scottish Prince or else in an attempt to outface the Royal Escort. According to the Orderic he and his half-brother William de Roumare sent their wives to visit the constable’s wife in the castle. When they had been there some time Ranulf also arrived, being dressed in ordinary clothes and escorted by only three knights it appeared he had arrived to fetch the ladies. As soon as they arrived they seized every weapon they could, admitted the men of William de Roumare into the castle and ejected the Royal Garrison.

The king eventually made some sort of pact with the two brothers and left Lincolnshire in peace returning to London before Christmas 1140. It can be deduced that Stephen’s advisors had probably urged leniency because Ranulf had not joined with the Empress at this time, and the king did not want to push one of the most important magnates in the land into her alliance. Also if the Scottish alliance fell apart, Ranulf could be used against the Scottish king, using the northern lands as a bargaining piece. Therefore Stephen humbled his pride and bestowed fresh honours onto the brothers. William de Roumare was made Earl of Lincoln and Ranulf was rewarded with administrative and military powers over Lincolnshire and the town and castle of Derby.

However when Stephen returned to London, the citizens of Lincoln secretly sent him a message complaining about the treatment they were receiving from Ranulf, and informing him that the brothers were completely off guard and if the King came quickly he could easily surround the whole lot and capture them before they could seek aid elsewhere. The King had recently made peace with the brothers but this type of exercise always appealed to him, and with the temptation of recovering Lincoln, one of the most important towns in the realm, he immediately made a dash for Lincoln. One of his key pretexts for the conflict is that in Stephen’s settlement Lincoln Castle was to revert back to royal ownership, and that the half-brothers had reneged on this and had not given up the castle. He arrived on the 6 January 1141 and as expected found the place scantiliy garrisoned. The citizens of Lincoln admitted him into the town and he immediately set siege to the castle, but although he had been quick, he had not been quick enough to prevent the escape of Ranulf, who made for his Cheshire Earldom. Stephen captured seventeen knights and began to batter down the garrison with his siege engines.

The Earl collected his Cheshire retainers and Welsh retainers, and appealed to his father-in-law, Robert of Gloucester. Robert's daughter Maud was besieged in Lincoln, this may well have been a deliberate ploy by Ranulf to ensure Robert's assistance. In return for Robert's aid, Ranulf agreed to promise fidelity to the Empress.

The Battle of Lincoln (2 February 1141)

To Robert and the other supporters of the Empress this was good news, as Ranulf was a major magnate, and gave their cause more momentum, and additional resources. Robert acted swiftly and raised an army and immediately set out for Lincoln, joining forces on the way with Ranulf. Stephen held a council of war in Lincoln and his advisors counselled that he leave a force to protect the town and watch the castle, and depart to safety. Stephen, very conscious of his own father's reputation in front of Antioch during the first Crusade, disregarded the odds and decided to fight.

Even before the royal troops had finished listening to the exhortations of Stephen's lieutenant Baldwin fitz Gilbert, the shouts of the advancing enemy were heard, mingled with the blasts of their trumpets, and the trampling of their horses which made the ground quake. Soon the disinherited Angevin knights charged the cavalry of the five earls. The earls, outnumbered and outfought, were soon put to flight, and many of their men who were not killed were captured. With nothing to lose and all to gain the 'proscribed' made a formidable fighting force. The earls, however, had much to lose. On the left Earl William Aumale of York and William Ypres charged and smashed the poorly armed, 'but full of spirits', Welsh division, but were themselves in turn routed 'in a moment' by the well-ordered military might of Earl Ranulf who stood out from the mass in 'his bright armour'.

The Welsh contingent was easily overthrown (see above) by the opposing division of the royal army at Lincoln. The poor showing of the generally spear- or knife-armed Welsh infantry against armoured knights had been shown on more than one occasion.

Now only King Stephen remained with his numerous dismounted knights and they were rapidly surrounded by the now overwhelming Angevin force. The royalist square was then assaulted on every side "just in the way that an attack is made upon a fortified place". What follows is a graphic account of the last stand:

"Then might you have seen a dreadful aspect of battle, on every quarter around the king's troop fire flashing from the meeting of swords and helmets - a dreadful crash, a terrific clamour - at which the hills re-echoed, the city walls resounded. With horses spurred on, they charged the king's troop, slew some, wounded others, and dragging some away, made them prisoners.

No rest, no breathing time was granted them, except in the quarter where stood that most valiant king, as the foe dreaded the incomparable force of his blows. The earl of Chester, on perceiving this, envying the king his glory, rushed upon him with all the weight of his armed men. Then was seen the might of the king, equal to a thunderbolt, slaying some with his immense battle-axe, and striking others down. Then arose the shouts afresh, all rushing against him and him against all. At length through the number of the blows, the king's battle-axe was broken asunder. Instantly, with his right hand, drawing his sword, well worthy of a king, he marvellously waged the combat, until the sword as well was broken asunder. On seeing this William Kahamnes, a most powerful knight, rushed upon the king, and seizing him by the helmet, cried with a loud voice, 'Hither, all of you come hither! I have taken the king!'"

All flew to the spot and the king was taken. King Stephen, foaming at the mouth in his rage, finally recognising the inevitable, surrendered to the Earl of Gloucester. The rest of his division fought on with no hope of escape until all were killed or surrendered. Baldwin fitz Richard and Richard fitz Urse 'having received many wounds, and, by their determined resistance, having gained immortal honour' were taken prisoner. In one short day all had been lost for the royalists.

Earl Robert’s army consisted of three divisions, his own, the Earl of Chester’s and those disinherited by Stephen. The latter were granted the honour of striking the first blow, while on the flank was a mass of ill-organised Welsh. Stephen’s force included William of Ypres; Simon of Senlis; Gilbert of Hertford; William of Aumale, Alan of Richmond and Hugh Bigod, but it was markedly short of cavalry.

As soon as the battle was joined the majority of the leading magnates, fled the king. Other important magnates captured with the king were Baldwin fitz Gilbert; Bernard de Balliol, Roger de Mowbray; Richard de Courcy; William Peverel of Nottingham; Gilbert de Grant; Ingelram de Say; Ilbert de Lacy and Richard fitz Urse, all men of respected baronial families, it had only been the Earls who had fled.

The Earl of Chester took advantage of the confusion and disarray of the King’s followers to take the Earl of Richmond’s northern castles in the weeks after the momentus battle. The Earl tried to ambush Ranulf, but was captured in turn, put in chains and tortured in a dungeon until he submitted to Ranulf and did him homage.

The capture of Robert of Gloucester

In September 1141 the Earl was with the Empress at Winchester, where her force was besieging the town. Queen Matilda responded quickly and rushed to Winchester with her own army, commanded by the professional soldier William of Ypres. The Queen’s forces surrounded the army of the Empress, which in turn was still besieging Winchester. Earl Robert, the commander of the Empress’ forces, decided to fight his way out on the 14 September 1141. The battle was a disaster for the Empress’ forces. Robert of Gloucester was captured, and the magnates following the Empress were forced to flee the surrounding land or be taken. Earl Ranulf managed to escape and fled back to Chester. Later that year Robert was exchanged for Stephen, and both sides were back to square one.

The second siege of Lincoln (1144)

Stephen once again laid siege to Lincoln castle in 1144 after Ranulf had recovered control of the place. Stephen make preparations for a long siege but when eighty of his men were killed working on a siege tower which fell down on them knocking them into a trench and suffocating them, Stephen abandoned the attempt.

Ranulf defects to the King (1145-1146)

Ranulf defected from the Empress to Stephen in 1145. This was rather surprising as he had extensive estates in Normandy, which was now under the control of Geoffrey of Anjou, husband to the Empress. It was believed he had suffered greatly to Welsh incursions into his lands. He was also seen as the arch-rebel, as he had precipitated the capture of the king at Lincoln. However, on the other hand, Ranulf could exercise his quarrel with David King of Scotland regarding his coveted northern lands. Since 1141 David had been allied to the Empress, so it is unsurprising that Ranulf switched sides. It is probable that Phillip the son of Earl Robert, Ranulfs brother-in-law, may well have acted as an intermediary with the king, as Phillip had defected to the king, standing against his own father. Ranulf came to the king at Stamford, repented his previous crimes and was restored to favour in late 1145 or early 1146. Ranulf was allowed to retain Lincoln Castle until he could recover his Normandy lands. Ranulf demonstrated his good will by helping Stephen to capture Bedford from Miles de Beauchamp and by bringing 300 knights to the siege of Wallingford.

Although Ranulf’s support was welcomed by Stephen, it was not so welcomed by some of Stephen’s other supporters, whom Ranulf had seized land from. Those magnates especially jealous of Ranulf were William de Clerfeith, Gilbert de Gant, Earl Alan of Richmond, William Peverel of Nottingham, William d'Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel, and John, Count of Eu. Many of the magnates were alarmed when it was discovered that Ranulf wanted the King to take part in a campaign against the Welsh. His opponents councilled the king that Wales was ideal for an ambush, and that the Earl might be planning treachery since he had offered no hostages or security for his good faith. So far as Stephen went suspicions never fell on deaf ears, and it gave him the opportunity to practise his special technique of the contrived quarrel at court. In this case the quarrel was at Northampton and was provoked by an unnamed advisor who told the Earl that the king would not assist him unless he restored all the property he had taken and delivered hosatges for his future loyalty. The Earl refused the request, stating that this was not why he had come back to court and he had not been given notice of the matter. In the ensuing quarrel he was accused of treason, arrested and imprisoned in chains until his friends succeeded in coming to terms with the King (28 August 1146). It was then agreed that the earl should be released provided he surrendered all the royal lands and castles he had seized (Lincoln included), gave hostages and took a solemn oath not to resist the king in future.

Ranulf was understandably angered as he was arrested whilst in the king’s peace and protection and in contravention of the oath which the king had sworn to him at Stamford. He revolted as soon as he regained his liberty having learnt it was useless to try to come to terms with a king who did not keep his word. When was set free he “burst into a blind fury of rebellion scarcely discriminating between friend or foe”.

When Ranulf made abortive attacks on Coventry and Lincoln (see below) the king seized his hostages. The most important of these was Ranulf’s nephew Gilbert fitz Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford whom Stephen refused to release unless he surrendered his castles. Gilbert reacted to this in the customary method, agreeing to the condition and then revolting as soon as he was at liberty. This action pushed the Clares into the conflict, from which they had previously remained aloof.

One of Ranulf’s actions was to recover Lincoln back from the king (he had given it away as part of the bargain which gained his release). He brought many men to Lincoln to recover the town by rapid means but failed when trying to break into the north gate of the town. His chief lieutenant was slain in the fighting. Ranulf also tried to recover the castle at Coventry, by building a counter castle. The King came to Coventry to relieve it, and was wounded in the fighting. He did however drive Ranulf off, winning a victory against the Earl.

Agreement between King David and Earl Ranulf

In May 1149 the young Henry met the King of Scotland and Ranulf at Carlisle where they agreed to attack York. In the meantime Stephen had hurried north with a large force his opponents dispersed; in fact they had almost reached York before they had to abandon their intention. In response to Ranulf’s aggression Stephen appointed a new Earl of Lincoln – Gilbert de Gant. Whilst in Carlisle Ranulf resolved his territorial disputes with the King of Scotland and a suitable compromise was reached. The southern portion of the honour of Lancaster, the land between the Ribble and the Mersey, was conceded to Ranulf, who claimed the land through his father and in return resigned his claim on Carlisle. In addition a marriage was arranged between one of the Earl’s sons and one of David’s granddaughters. It was genuine compromise and the only way in which the conflicting claims could be reconciled. By its means the Angevin cause at last secured the whole-hearted loyalty of Earl Ranulf.

In the same year, the young Prince Henry, whilst trying to escape south after the aborted attack on York, was forced to avoid the ambushes of Eustace, King Stephen’s son. Ranulf, now the loyal retainer to Prince Henry, assisted Henry by creating a major diversion by attacking Lincoln in force, he did not succeed in taking Lincoln , but he did draw Stephen to Lincoln and kept him busy there allowing Henry to escape.

Ranulf's treaty with Robert Earl of Leicester

The Earl’s territorial power protruded into Leicestershire and Warwickshire and he was brought face to face with another Earl only scarcely less influential than himself, Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester. Robert and his family controlled a large area in the south Midlands, his cousin was the Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick and his brother Waleran de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Worcester. These two Earls handled the potentially combustiable situation by establishing an elaborate treaty between the years 1149 to 1153 detailing exactly the appropriate conduct between them. The Bishops of Chester and Leicester were entrusted with two pledges, which were to be surrendered if either party infringed the agreement.

Monastic foundation

He founded a North Welsh Cistercian Abbey in 1131 which was colonised by monks from the Norman house, the Congregation of Savigny.

The death of the Earl (1153)

In 1153 Ranulf survived a failed attempt at murder by poison by one of his arch-enemies, William Peverel the Younger, when he was guest at Peverel’s house. William had poisoned the wine that Ranulf and his men had drunk. Three of Ranulf’s men died but the Earl recovered, though he suffered agonizingly, as he had drunk less than his men. William was exiled from England after Henry took the crown as he was accused of poisoning Ranulf and his retainers. The Earl died the same year (due to the poisoning?), on the 16 December 1153. One other notable event of 1153, was that Duke Henry granted Ranulf Staffordshire. After his death, the Earl’s son and heir Hugh was allowed to inherit Ranulf’s lands as held in 1135, and other honours bestowed upon Ranulf were revoked. His descendants are located in the United States from around the areas of Wisconsin, and New York.


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