The death of his father in 1198 made Robert one of the wealthiest and most powerful English Barons. He inherited the Barony of Little Dunmow, based in Essex. His lands - spread across a number of counties - comprised 66 knights' fees.
Through his marriage Robert also held the Barony of Benington, based in Hertfordshire and held a further 32 knights' fees.
In 1204 Robert was co-heir to Kentish lands of his uncle Godfrey de Lucy. In 1207 his wife inherited lands in Yorkshire from the widow of her uncle Geoffrey de Valoines.
By 1213 he also held 11 knights' fees in Cornwall, inherited from another de Lucy uncle, Richard de Lucy.
Besides estates in England, Robert held knights' fees in Poitou.
Robert appears in records from 1200. That year he confirmed a gift by his father and was surety for half the fine imposed on his brother Simon for marrying without royal permission.
In 1203 Robert and Saher de Quincy were entrusted with the castle of Vaudreuil in Normandy. Even though this was a strong fortification, they surrendered to Philippe Auguste of France without a blow being fought. He and Saher de Quincy were held captive: he agreed to a ransom of 5000 marks.
Robert was with King John on his 1206 expedition to Poitou, and, in October 1206, was a witness to a truce between King John and Philippe Auguste. Four years later, in 1210, he served with King John in Ireland.
In 1212 Robert, along with Eustace de Vescy and Llyweyn ap Iorwerth, was a leading figure in a plot to assassinate King John. The conspiracy never prospered, and Robert fled to France. He was outlawed, his estates were seized several of his castles were demolished. A reconciliation with King John was patched up the next year, as part of a wide-ranging agreement between King John the Pope, and his lands were restored.
Magna Carta and Rebellion
In 1215 Robert was one of the group of Barons who compelled King John to sign the Magna Carta, and became a main leader, being termed "Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church".
That summer the Barons entrusted Northamptonshire to Robert. Soon afterwards open rebellion broke out. In October 1215, Robert was defending the bridge at Rochester, Kent against royal forces, but was forced to retreat to London. In December 1215 he and other rebel Barons were excommunicated.
Robert and Saher de Quincy went to France to enlist the support of Prince Louis, returning with French troops in January 1216. Robert continued in rebellion the rebels' defeat at the second Battle of Lincoln in 1217, when he was taken prisoner. He was released in October 1217, and his lands were restored.
In 1219 Robert went on crusade, taking part in the siege of Damietta during the 5th Crusade. He returned home sick. In 1223 he fought in Wales with the forces of the government of Henry III.
In 1225 he was a witness to Henry III's confirmation of Magna Carta rights.
In 1230 Robert was among those appointed to hold an assize of arms in Essex and Hertfordshire.
Marriages and Children
Robert married twice. Before 13 October 1199 he married Gunnora de Valoines as her second husband. They had at least two children:
Gunner was still alive in 1208.
The Histoire des ducs de Normandie et des rois d’Angleterre mentions also an unnamed son, who, assuming he existed, must have died in his father's lifetime as it was Robert's son by his second marriage who inherited.
Robert's second wife was Rohese, whose family origins are uncertain. They had one son:
Walter, who was born in about 1219 as he came of age in 1240, and who was Robert's main heir
Death and Burial
Robert died on 9 December 1235 and was buried at Dunmow Priory, Essex. He was survived by his second wife Rohese, who may have lived on to 1256.
Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Biography
by Professor Nigel Saul
"Robert FitzWalter (d. 1235) has as good a claim as anyone to being regarded as the leader of the baronial opposition to John, styling himself in letters ‘Marshal of the Army of God’. An enigmatic personality, by turns shifty, querulous, conspiratorial and high principled, he played a major part in the events of 1215 and so contributed substantially to Magna Carta becoming part of the fabric of English political society.
"Robert was born around 1180, the son of Walter FitzRobert, lord of Dunmow (Essex) and Baynard’s Castle, London, and Matilda, daughter of Henry II’s justiciar, Richard de Lucy. Robert’s grandfather, another Robert, the king’s steward, was a younger son of Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, a relationship which meant that Robert himself had ties of cousinage with greatest baronial family in Essex and Suffolk and another family involved in the rebellion of 1215. When he succeeded his father in 1198, Robert inherited a barony of over 66 knights’ fees, to which he could add another 32 fees brought to him by his wife Gunnora, daughter and heiress of Robert de Valognes. The combined barony made him, in the words of the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie 'one of the greatest men in England and one of the most powerful'.
"The most controversial episode of Robert’s early life was one in which he was involved with Saer de Quincy, later earl of Winchester, and a fellow member of the Twenty Five. The pair had been entrusted with the command of the castle of Vaudreuil in the Seine valley, a key point in the defence of Normandy against the French. In 1203, however, they surrendered the stronghold to King Philip and his forces without striking a blow, provoking accusations of cowardice and even of collusion with the enemy. The episode is a mysterious one, and it is not at all clear what lay behind the men’s move. On 5 July the pair obtained letters from the king saying that the castle had been surrendered at his command and that the castellans and garrison were to be unmolested. Robert and Saer were to remain close allies. Robert’s later use of the Quincy arms on his heraldic seal indicates that the two had become brothers-in-arms, a chivalric relationship signifying mutual assistance and protection in the field and the sharing of any of the profits of war afterwards.
"Robert’s relations with John came to a crisis point in 1212. Again, what lies behind the story is obscure, and we have only the uncertain testimony of the chroniclers to guide us. According to the St Albans and Dunstable writers, as John was mustering an army at Chester for an expedition against the Welsh, word reached him of a plot on his life, causing him suddenly to abandon his plans and instead march north to crush the sources of insurrection there. Apparently the two ringleaders were Eustace de Vesci and Robert FitzWalter, both of whom then fled the realm, in the latter’s case to France. What lay behind Robert’s disaffection is not clear. The chroniclers’ explanations appear scarcely to go to the heart of the matter. According to Wendover at St Albans, the cause of the problem was a quarrel between FitzWalter and his own abbey over his rights in their dependent house of Binham Priory, in which he felt let down by the king. FitzWalter alleged that, contrary to the priory’s foundation charter granted by his wife’s ancestor, the abbot of St Albans had demanded excessive hospitality, had installed too many monks and had taken far too much revenue; worse still, during FitzWalter’s absence with the king on service in Ireland, he had installed a new abbot. FitzWalter responded by laying siege to the priory, provoking the king, on the abbot’s appeal, to send troops against him. Whether or not events unfolded exactly as the chronicler records, the episode hardly seems important enough to justify a plot on the king’s life. Another source, the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie offers alternative explanations for FitzWalter’s flight. According to one story, told apparently by the Englishman to the French king, the former was resentful that John had attempted to seduce his daughter Matilda, the wife of Geoffrey de Mandeville, while, according to another, more plausible account, he was angry that John had threatened to hang de Mandeville for killing an esquire at court, threatening 'You’ll see 2,000 knights in your land before you hang him!'. Perhaps of greater relevance than either of these stories is the matter of his ties with the Braose family, who were bitter enemies of John. FitzWalter’s brother Walter was archdeacon of Hereford and thus an associate of Giles de Braose, bishop of Hereford, brother of William de Braose, whom John in a venomous feud had driven from the realm.
"In 1213 Robert and his fellow conspirator, Eustace de Vesci, were both reconciled with the king, and restored to their lands, as part of the general settlement John negotiated with the Church. Robert’s relations with John remained testy, however, and he did not accompany the latter on his expedition to Poitou in 1214; nor did he contribute to the scutage levied to defray the costs of the expedition. Wendover, the St Albans writer, records that he attended the celebrated meeting at Bury St Edmunds in November 1214, at which the barons swore to compel the king to confirm the coronation charter of Henry I. By early 1215 the signs are that he was moving to the forefront of the baronial leadership. In January he was present at the barons’ meeting with the king at which John pledged to answer their grievances at Easter. By the end of April, after John had refused satisfaction, he took up arms with the other eastern lords and somewhere between Stamford and Northampton linked up with the Northerners, who were making their own way south. On 5 May, probably at Brackley, the rebels formally defied John, renouncing their oaths of homage, and chose Robert FitzWalter as their leader. After the fall of London Robert was involved in strengthening the city’s defences, demolishing the houses of the Jews for building material. At Runnymede after the making of the Great Charter he was named to the committee of Twenty Five. On 19 June he was named first among the barons with whom John made a treaty laying down that unless he violated the Charter, London would be yielded to him by15 August.
"FitzWalter’s main priority in the war that followed King John’s rejection of Magna Carta in the autumn was to ensure the retention of baronial control of London. In October, to prevent an assault by the king’s mercenary force on London, he and his allies seized Rochester Castle, placing William d’Albini in charge of its defence. As soon as the king laid siege to the castle, however, and in the process destroyed the bridge over the Medway, FitzWalter was forced to withdraw, judging that he would be the loser in any confrontation with the royalists. Early the next year, with the king quickly regaining the military initiative, FitzWalter and his comrade-in-arms Saer de Quincy travelled to France to seek the help of the French king’s son, Louis, to whom they offered the crown. Louis landed at Pegwell Bay on 21 May, and on 3 June, the day after his arrival in London, FitzWalter and the mayor, William Hardel, led the barons and citizens in performing homage to him.
"FitzWalter remained firmly in the rebel camp in the wake of John’s death in October 1216, and in April 1217 led the relief of the earl of Chester’s siege of de Quincy’s castle at Mountsorrel (Leics.). Once the earl had withdrawn his men, he and his French allies turned east to Lincoln to assist in their siege of Lincoln Castle, which was being held for the king. On 19 May, however, a royalist relieving force under the Marshal arrived, and there was a difference of opinion in the baronial camp over how to respond. FitzWalter is reported to have advised an attacking strategy, but he was overruled, and the barons, playing for safety, withdrew into the walled city. The decision turned out to be a terrible misjudgement. The royalists found a way in, routed their opponents, and virtually the whole of the baronial leadership were taken prisoner. FitzWalter regained his freedom under the terms of the general settlement negotiated at Kingston in September, and he was at large again by the following month. He attended a great council held at Westminster at the end of October at which the former rebels performed homage and fealty to the king. In 1219 he and his old partner Saer embarked on the Fifth Crusade and took part in the siege of the Egyptian city of Damietta. After his return to England he actively involved himself in the politics of the Minority, evidently reconciled to the court, and witnessed the final and definitive reissue of the Charter on 11 February 1225. He died on 9 December 1235 and was buried in Dunmow Priory. His elder son Robert, who had fought with him at Lincoln, had predeceased him, and his heir was a minor, Walter, the son of his second marriage to Rohese.
"FitzWalter can easily come across as an unsavoury figure - haughty, aggressive, petulant, unsubtle, unpredictable, motivated more by personal grievance than concern for the common good. Like others among the Twenty Five, he used political quarrel as a vehicle for the pursuit of family claims. Much of his time was spent in trying to recover Hertford Castle, to which he had a tenuous claim through his wife. At the same time, however, he was resolute in his opposition to John, and his involvement in the crusade and support for the Minority government belie his image as a turbulent malcontent. Matthew Paris, the St Albans chronicler, was no admirer of his, and yet penned a generous obituary on his death. FitzWalter, he said, could ‘match any earl in England: valiant in arms, spirited and illustrious … generous, surrounded by a multitude of powerful blood relatives and strengthened by numerous relatives in marriage’. Matthew’s tribute reminds us just how important blood ties were in bringing together and sustaining the opposition of 1215. Yet the many enigmas that surround Robert highlight for us the sheer difficulty of determining baronial motivation from a distance of eight hundred years."
The Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal mentions a Robert FitzWalter as one of the knights taking part in the retune of Henry the Young King at a major tournament in 1180. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography speculates that this may be the Robert of the profile. Even if Robert was born before 1180, the date suggested by Professor Saul - which is possible - he is likely to have been too young to have participated in the tournament.
Speculation of Causes of Quarrel with King John
The reason for Robert FitzWalter's split from King John is not known. Francis Blomefield in his An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk records a story that it was because King John had unsuccessfully sought to make Robert's daughter his mistress in about 1213, but this is likely to be just gossip - and Robert was plotting against King John in 1212.
This seems to have caused some tensions ...
THE PRIORY OF BINHAM
Thomas was prior in 1199 and 1200. (fn. 5) The removal of this prior from his office by the abbot of St. Albans provoked considerable dispute, which is recited at length by Matthew Paris. Robert Fitzwalter, a powerful baron, was a friend of Prior Thomas. Resenting his dismissal, the baron asserted his claim to be patron of the cell, and alleged that he possessed a deed from the parent abbey by which it was stipulated that no prior could be removed without the patron's assent. He therefore impleaded the abbot in the king's court, (fn. 6) charging him with coming to the priory of Binham to lodge there with more men and horses than he ought to have, and also with increasing the number of monks there resident, and extorting much money from the men of the priory, from which he ought only to receive one mark yearly. Finally he alleged that the abbot had infringed his rights by removing the prior during his absence with the king in Ireland (in 1210). The defence was apparently a denial of Fitzwalter's claim to the patronage, and seems to have been successful. Having therefore obtained no satisfaction from the law he assembled his retainers, and so closely beset the priory that the monks then in residence could not get anything to drink save rain water, or anything to eat save bread made of bran. When King John heard of this outrage he sent an armed force to relieve Binham, and Fitzwalter fled the kingdom. He died some years later, in the reign of Henry III, but to the last persisted in retaining the deed by which he claimed a right over the appointment of the prior. On his death, his friend and fellowsoldier, Adam Fitzwilliam, having learnt where the forged deed had been concealed, delivered it up to the abbot of St. Albans, and presented a silver-gilt pix for the high altar in expiation of his share in the crime, having been privy to the transaction. (fn. 7)
FitzWilliam received some of FitzWalter's property ...
Robert son of Walter.
Writ of extent of the manors of Reyndon and Beninton to Adam son of William, 24 May, 20 Hen. III. Extent (undated).
[Essex.] Reyndun manor (full extent given).
↑ Blomefield, Francis. An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk', Vol. I, 1739, p. 3, Google Books: "[He was the] Leader of those Barons that rose against King John, the Beginning of which was on this Occasion as the Book of Dunmowe inform us. About the Year 1213, there arose a great Discord between King John and his Barons, because of Matilda Sirnamed the Fair, Daughter of Robert Fits-Walter, whom the King unlawfully loved, but could not obtain her, nor her Fathers Consent thereunto...poisoned a boiled or potched Egg..., whereof she died in 1213."
↑ 'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Binham', in A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1906), pp. 343-346. British History Online  [accessed 20 June 2020].
↑ 'Inquisitions Post Mortem, Henry III, File 1', in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 1, Henry III, ed. J E E S Sharp (London, 1904), pp. 1-6. British History Online  [accessed 20 June 2020].
Richardson, Douglas. Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 4 vols, ed. Kimball G. Everingham. 2nd edition. Salt Lake City: the author, 2011. Vol. II, pp. 202-205. See also WikiTree's source page for "Magna Carta Ancestry".
Richardson, Douglas. Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols, ed. Kimball G. Everingham. Salt Lake City: the author, 2013. See also WikiTree's source page for ‘’Royal Ancestry’’. Vol. II p. 646-650, FITZWALTER 6
As a surety baron, Robert FitzWalter's profile is managed by the Magna Carta Project. See FitzWalter-101 Descendants for profiles of his descendants that have been improved and categorized by the Magna Carta project and are in a project-approved trail to a Gateway Ancestor. See this index for links to other surety barons and category pages for their descendants. See the project's Base Camp for more information about Magna Carta trails.
This profile was reviewed, revised and approved for the Magna Carta Project by Michael Cayley in March 2020.