Friday, 26 July 2013

Count Alan Rufus, or "A com" as the Domesday book calls him, was a youngster in the Armorican land of Brittany when Zoe Porphyrogenita reigned over the Byzantine Empire. Although lacking the distinction of being Greek, he was nonetheless a fascinating character, albeit mostly a quiet achiever.

Katherine Stephanie Benedicta Keats-Rohan, an Oxford history researcher, has written a brief biography of Alan for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This article is available here:

A most interesting source of scholarly information about Alan and his times in England and neighbouring countries is:

Domesday People: A Prosopography of Persons Occurring in English Documents 1066-1166, Volume I: Domesday Book, by K.S.B. Keats-Rohan; published January 21, 1999; ISBN-10: 085115722X; ISBN-13: 978-0851157221.

Volume II of that work concerns Domesday Descendants. In 2011 Keats-Rohan followed up Volume I with an article that can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF (if you have a Facebook account) from Academia dot Edu:

Primary sources for Alan's activities include charters of England and Brittany, and of course the Domesday Book, which is available online in various forms, of which my favourite is at:

The Wikipedia article is quite instructive, even though it contains some interpolation and interpretation of Alan's life by Yours Truly:

Many comments of mine about this remarkable fellow are found in these blogs:

I intend to add further information about Count Alan Rufus to this blog.  So stay tuned.



  1. A source of information on Anglo-Saxon and Early Norman/Breton England is:

  2. Alan has surprisingly many connections with Boston, Massachusetts.

    For one, he was lord of Boston in Lincolnshire, which he made into a major wool port, promoting it with a trade fair on his own land.

    It's worth quoting the site,_Lincolnshire :

    `After the Norman Conquest, Ralph the Staller’s property was taken over by Count Alan. It subsequently came to be attached to the Earldom of Richmond, North Yorkshire, and known as the Richmond Fee. It lay on the left bank of The Haven.

    During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Boston grew into a notable town and port [rivalling London]. [A duty known as ] the quinzieme was raised on the fifteenth part (6.667%) of the value of merchants' moveable goods at the various trading towns of England: in 1204, when the merchants of London paid £836, those of Boston paid £780.

    Thus by the opening of the thirteenth century, it was already significant in trade with the continent of Europe and ranked as a port of the Hanseatic League. It was one of the official "staple towns" of England, authorized to carry on the import and export trade. Much of Boston's trade at this time was in wool, and Boston is said by the locals to have been built on it. Apart from wool, Boston also exported salt, produced locally on the Holland coast, grain, produced up-river, and lead, produced in Derbyshire and brought via Lincoln, up-river.'

    Boston, Massachusetts is named after Boston, Lincolnshire:

    'Boston [was] a hotbed of religious dissent. In 1612 John Cotton became the Vicar of St Botolph's and, although viewed askance by the Church of England for his non-conformist preaching, became responsible for a large increase in Church attendance. He encouraged those who disliked the lack of religious freedom in England to join the Massachusetts Bay Company, and later helped to found the city of Boston, Massachusetts (1630) which he was instrumental in naming. Unable to tolerate the religious situation any longer he eventually emigrated himself in 1633.'

    Many of Alan's earliest properties in England appear to have been in Cambridgeshire, where he was, among other towns, a lord of Cambridge, where he was a promoter of learning: the arms of the University of Cambridge bear an Ermine Cross to represent Brittany, Alan's homeland.

    Harvard University was founded by Cambridge academics, who also named the suburb of Cambridge.

    More than this, the counties of Massachusetts surrounding Boston are all named after English Counties where Alan was a major landowner: Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Middlesex (where he was in charge of the City and Port of London which were then in south Middlesex).

    As if to underline the point, Count Alan Road in Lincolnshire is in the locality named Winthrop, this being the surname of the first Governor of Massachusetts.

  3. The link between the English towns of Derby and Boston is both geographical and familial. Alan's sister Matilda married Walter d'Aincourt in Bourn, Cambridgeshire in 1065, when Walter was lord of Derby under King Edward the Confessor.

    1. The historian Richard Sharpe (after whom bernard Cornwell's Napoleonic War era rifleman is named) published an article in the Haskins Scoiety journal presenting a case for Matilda, the wife of Walter d'Aincourt, being a daughter of Alan Rufus and his presumed lover Gunhild of Wessex, a daughter of Earl (later King) Harold Godwinson. One evidence is that the epitaph in Lincoln cathedral for Walter's and Matilda's first son William states that he was of royal descent.

    2. Gospatric of Cumbria, Earl of Bernicia and Northumbria was deposed by William the Conqueror in 1072 and went to Scotland. Gospatric was replaced by Waltheof who himself fell from grace during the Revolt of the Earls in 1072. Gospatric son, also named Waltheof, was lord of Allerdale. Intriguingly, Waltheof of Allerdale named his heir Alan and a daughter Gunhildr. Moreover, Gunhildr's grandson was Alan of Galloway.
      Why did Gospatric's family honour Alan's and Gunhild's names? Was Alan's character so admirable? Or were they related to him somehow?
      Some sources say Waltheof of Allerdale's wife's name was Sigrid or Sigrith, but her parents are unknown. Could she have been a daughter of Alan Rufus and Gunhild of Wessex? Her age was right, if Alan Rufus and Gunhild married in the 1070s as Richard Sharpe suggests.

    3. Alan's first post-Conquest acquisitions in England seem to have been Edith Swannesha's lands, it's thought beginning with those in Cambridgeshire. If Alan married Gunhild to cement his claim, why did he receive those lands in the first place?
      Or did Alan marry Edith Swannesha after Hastings, and so acquire her lands by marriage? Edith was certainly older than Alan, but not absurdly so, and Alan had a wise head for his age. In that case, Alan was Gunhild's stepfather. Gunhild outlived Alan but it's thought by some that Alan was a widower, so this would fit.
      Anselm wote to Gunhild accusing her of abandoning the nun's life to be his lover. Had he later discovered that this was not their relationship at all, that would explain why he removed those particular letters from his archive.

  4. Domesday records an "Alan" as the owner of a carucate (120 acres) at Wyken in Suffolk in 1065. This is the only Alan recorded in England then, so could it be Count Alan Rufus? Pos-Conquest, this land went to Peter of Valognes. Peter's lands formed a band immediately west of Alan's in Suffolk, suggesting an association between them. Moreover, Peter had a sister with the Breton name Muriel, so he may have been one of Alan's men: several of Alan's men, such as Aubrey de Vere and Hardwin de Scales, not to mention several of his brothers and in-laws, were significant magnates, and a number of them had early received land from Alan, so perhaps the same was true of Peter.
    Today, Wyken is a vineyard and farm covering 1200 acres, and has a collection of farm animals similar to those it had in 1065 and 1086.

  5. According to Wilmart (1926), Alan's Latin epitaph at Bury St Edmunds comprised these seven pairs of rhyming couplets:

    Vixit nobilium: praefulgens stirpe Brittonum.
    Stella nuit regni: comitis caro marcet Alani.
    Anglia turbatur: satraparum flos cineratur.
    Iam Brito flos regum: modo marcor in ordine rerum.
    Praecepto legum: nitet ortus sanguine regum.
    Dux uiguit summus: rutilans a rege secundus.
    Hune cernens plora: « requies sibi sit, deus » ora.

    Looseley translated into English:

    In his life, he was noble, of glittering British stock,
    a star of wisdom in the kingdom, but Count Alan's flesh now withers.
    England is deeply troubled, for the fairest of magnates has turned to dust;
    now the flower of the Kings of Britain marks the natural order of things.
    He was a shining upholder of the law, in whom ran the blood of kings,
    a leader who thrived and reached the highest ranks, his glory second only to the King.
    Weep for seeing this, and pray "May he rest in peace, O God".

    1. Alan’s epitaph recalls the cultures of which medieval Brittany was a blend: British, Roman, Persian and Hebrew.

      “Praecepto legum” can mean “teacher of the law”; in Hebrew, “Rabbi”. The phrase also describes a high Roman official who is responsible for the administration of the law. Alan is here recognised as a wise judge who practices what he preaches.

      “a rege secundus” not only refers to Alan’s position at the end of his life as the most powerful man in England after the king, but also echoes the Celtic custom of tanistry: appointing someone as an heir (“a second”) to the king. William the Conqueror had officially put Alan in line for the throne by naming him as his “nephew” when he gave him the Yorkshire lands of Earl Edwin at the Siege of York way back in 1069.

      “satraparum” is from the Persian term “satrap” for a regional viceroy. Here it’s used to mean a “tenant-in-chief”, but the word choice reflects Alan’s ancestors, the Alans of central Asia.

      His very name “Alan” is a pun: in Celtic it means a “deer” (“Alan Rufus” means “Red Deer” or “Hart”), but in the language of the Alans it means “Iran”, their place of origin.

      “flos”, Latin for “flower”, may seem an odd word to use for a military commander, but metaphorically it means “the best”, “maturity” or “full development”. Alan is described as the culmination of the long history of British royalty, and as the best, finest and most mature of governors.

      The epitaph thrice stresses Alan’s mortality: “caro marcet” (flesh withers), “cineratur” (has turned to dust), and “requies sibi sit, deus” (may he rest in peace, O God). No matter how high or fine or wise a man is, he is, regrettably, doomed to die.

      On the upbeat, it also emphasises Alan’s high ancestry, his status, and his character. Three times he is described as “shining”: by the words “praefulgens”, “stella” and “rutilans”. The opening phrase “Vixit nobilium: praefulgens stirpe Brittonum” Four times he is associated with royalty: “regni” (kingdom), “regum” (kings, twice) and “rege” (king); the occurrences of “regum” describe Alan as of royal ancestry; “nitet ortus sanguine regum” states that Alan has royal blood, and “Brito flos regum” that Alan is the flower of British royalty.

      “Dux”, meaning “a provincial military commander”, is the only reference here to Alan as a soldier; it continues with “uiguit summus” (“who throve and reached the highest ranks”), which implies that the status he attained was primarily through hard work not birthright (though the rest of the text makes it clear that he well deserved it on the latter basis, too).

      His character is given in the phrases “Stella nuit regni” (a star in the kingdom), the occurrences of the word “flos” to convey that he had a fullness of character that derived from his illustrious predecessors, but far exceeded them, “Anglia turbatur” (England is troubled) and “Hune cernens plora” (weep for seeing this) which express the deep concern and sorrow that the English people must have felt at the unexpected death of their protector.

      That Alan was their protector is evident in other documents, including the Domesday Book which shows that Englishmen and Alan’s brothers were the principal tenants in “The Land of Count Alan” but Normans were excluded, and the account of the advice he gave to William II to gain the support of the English people by making fairer laws.

      Alan's character is also shown by his kindness to the oppressed monks of Whitby and by his courage in defending the rights of the disgraced Bishop of Durham, William of St-Calais.

      The culminating request, “« requies sibi sit, deus » ora” (Pray: “May he rest in peace, O God”) is a plea to the people of England to commend Alan’s soul to the creator’s loving care, because Alan had cared for them.

  6. According to the Register of Richmond, Alan was granted Earl Edwin's lands in Yorkshire at King William's Siege of York in 1069. The subsequent Harrying of the North from December 1069 to January 1070, ordered by William and led by Bishop Odo of Bayeux and others, devastated the land from the Humber to the Tees, causing a severe loss of life and a dramatic and sustained loss of value across Gilling which had contained Edwin's caput (chief manor).

    This was clearly to Alan's disadvantage, and one gets the impression from the frequent Breton use of "Bastard" (in origin a Breton word) as William's primary epithet, that they were not happy.

    Alan then began building Richmond Castle, on a design a century before its time. In the vast Hundred of Count Alan in Yorkshire, the tenants included many English lords and their sons, but excluded the Norman magnates; even the King was allowed only one manor on its eastern fringe.

    It's less well known, but in 1080, Bishop Odo conducted an even more severe Harrying of the North. Two years later he was imprisoned and his lands confiscated. He was ordered released only on the Conqueror's death bed. In the meantime Alan had persuaded King William to make some amends to the city of York at least by refounding Saint Olave's abbey. In early 1088, the new King, William II "Rufus", came up to York at Alan's request to refound St Olave's as St Mary's.

    1. The Register of the Honour of Richmond also asserts that it was at Queen Matilda's instigation that the King granted Edwin's Yorkshire lands to Alan.

    2. Bishop Odo evidently disliked finding out that the new King was listening to Alan, not to him, for soon after witnessing the foundation of St Mary's Abbey he started fomenting rebellion.
      This was a disastrous move, because most Bishops supported the King, the loyal forces in the north were too strong for Odo's allies, Alan persuaded the King to get the English onside, Roger of Montgomery thought better of his rebellion, Alan acquired many manors formerly held by rebels, and it wasn't long before the King and Alan reached Odo's castle at Rochester.

    3. Alan is on record as issuing a charter in his own name at Rochester, around the time of the siege, so it's likely that he, as the strongest and most experienced of King William II's allies, was a major beneficiary of the defeat of Bishop Odo and his allies.

      He might have done even better, materially speaking, had his civic-mindedness not led him to advise the King to restore many of the rebels to favour. These included Count Robert of Mortain, Robert Mowbray, Roger of Poitou and many others whose lands were either adjacent to Alan's or had previously belonged to his brother Brian.

  7. PASE (the Prospography of Anglo-Saxon England) web site organises the Domesday Book and other sources (such as charters and writs) quite usefully for following the activities of individuals. It provided the information about Wyken in Suffolk pre-1066. PASE also tells us that Count Alan owned a property at another Wyken, in Norfolk, in 1086. There is a Wyken near Coventry that I expect is unrelated to him, but the former coincidence is suggestive.

  8. Waltheof of Allerdale had a sister named Gunnhildr, so it would appear that the name ran in the family, which neatly explains why he named a daughter Gunnhildr. Perhaps his mother, the wife of Gospatric, was also named Gunnhildr?

    But that still leaves the question: why did this Waltheof name his heir "Alan"?

    1. Another consequence of Gunnhildr being a name in the family is that it demolishes the notion I had formed that the relationship between Alan Rufus and Gunnhildr of Wessex was being commemorated by Gospatric's son.

    2. Who, and of what family, then, was Gospatric's wife?

      For that matter, of what family was Edith Swannesha, aside from being Harold's first wife? It seems to be the majority view of historians that she was identical with the "Edeva the Fair" and "Edeva the Rich" of Domesday, but who were her parents?

      Harold and Edeva had a daughter named Gytha, after Harold's mother, Gytha, who later defended Exeter from King William. But what is the reason for their other daughter Gunhilda's name?

    3. Was Edeva's mother named Gunhilda? Was Edeva related to Gospatric? If Alan married Edeva and was subsequently left a widower, and then cared for her daughter Gunhilda as a father should, is that why Gospatric's family honoured Alan's name?

    4. Earl Harold had a sister named Gunhilda. It was a popular name at the time.

    5. Alan's great-aunt, Emma of Normandy, wife of Kings Aethelred II ("the Unready") and Cnut, and mother of King Edward the Confessor, was given the Anglo-Saxon name "Aelfgifu". Among Emma's other children was Gunhilda of Denmark, first spouse of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. This Gunhilda was thus a first cousin of Alan's father Eozen, and she died on 18 July 1038, approximately the year when Alan was born.

  9. Trevor Foulds suggested that Walter d'Aincourt's wife may have been Princess Matilda (born c. 1061) the daughter of King William I (the Conqueror) and Queen Matilda (Matilda of Flanders).
    This is plausible, for the d'Aincourt sons were William, Ralph and Walter, which are, respectively, the names of Princess Matilda's father, of Walter's father, and of Walter himself.
    It would explain how William d'Aincourt was "of royal descent", why Walter was entrusted with a royal writ against the Bishop of Durham, and why WIlliam was raised in the royal court of William II (a brother of Princess Matilda).

    1. Note the d'Aincourt link to Alan through trade: Walter mined the lead in Derbyshire then sent it via Lincoln to Alan's port of Boston.

      Walter's blood relative Remigius was at Hastings and became Bishop of Lincoln (formerly of Dorchester, the former seat of the same vast ecclesiastic district).

      His son William d'Aincourt was buried at Lincoln Cathedral, a lead plaque bearing his epitaph. No doubt the plaque's lead came from Walter's mines. This plaque is now in Lincoln Cathedral Library; Richard Sharpe wrote that he inspected it.

    2. There is no known "Alan" or "Gunnhilda" or "Odo" or "Eudes" or "Agnes" in the d'Aincourt family tree, so that seems to put paid to Sharpe's notion of Matilda d'Aincourt being a daughter of Alan's and Gunnhilda of Wessex's. It likewise kills the idea that Matilda was Alan's sister.

    3. The Cumbrian and subsequently Scottish house of Gospatric, however, is a different matter: it has several politically important members called Alan, Gunhildr and Agnes.

      Count Alan also had a major tenant in 1086 named Gospatric, so there is a history of association between Alan and the Cumbrians.

      This was to be expected, given the proximity of Cumbria to Richmond Castle and the shared ancient British ethnic, linguistic and historical heritage of the Cumbrians and the Bretons.

    4. Yorkshire Domesday's Gospatric was described in two entries as a Thegn.

      He was tenant-in-chief of 44 properties, and a subtenant of Count Alan's in another 19 manors. In 1066 he had 94 holdings, again all in Yorkshire. So he was a major survivor from before the Conquest to Domesday.

      In all but four places where Count Alan was TIC in 1086 and Gospatric had been the holder in 1066, Gospatric was retained as a subtenant.

      Alan also gave Gospatric additional holdings, more than compensating him for the four properties that he had lost in Alan's lands. Moreover, Alan was the only TIC who retained Gospatric.

      It's therefore reasonable to suggest that Alan had a say in Gospatric's retention of his other 44 manors as TIC and his taking up of Arnketil's manors both as a TIC and as a subtenant of Alan's.

  10. Here is a quotation from Thomas Forester’s 1854 translation of volume 2 of Orderic Vitalis’s “The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy”, book 5, chapter 9, section 43 and page 164, last paragraph:

    “In Brittany, Eudes succeeded his brother Alan, and held his principality for fifteen years as freely as if he owed no fealty to a superior lord. God also gave him seven sons, who became remarkable for the singular and changeable events of their lives. The studious might compose a long and pleasing history, from true accounts of their various fortunes.”

    Orderic understates the number of sons, but perhaps he refers to the seven most notable. Which are these seven?

  11. In searching for "London fire 1093", I've found extracts from several books stating that there was a major conflagration in London in 1093, the same year that Alan Rufus died.

    In describing his death, his epitaph uses the Latin word "cineratur". So, was he incinerated in that fire? Alan was commemorated at Bury St Edmunds each year on 4 August, but none of the books gives precise date for the fire.

  12. The earliest surviving version of Song of Roland is in "Norman French", but perhaps that phrase means Gallo, of which Norman French was a slight variant (just with some Norse words added). This version names Eudon as Lord of Brittany, Geoffrey as Lord of Anjou, and Richard as Lord of Normandy. Alan's father Eudon, aka Eudes I, of Brittany and Geoffrey IV, Count of Anjou both aided Duke William in the 1066 expedition to England. Duke Richard I of Normandy was an ancestor of both Eudon and William.

  13. William Marshal was trained and knighted by William de Tancarville, perhaps a relative on the former's mother's side. De Tancarville's mother was Tiphanie, daughter of Count Stephen, Alan's youngest brother and eventual heir.

    Another descendant of Count Stephen's was Duke Arthur, son of Duchess Constance of Brittany and her husband Geoffrey, King John's elder brother. Arthur was King John's rival for the throne of England. William Marshal decided for John because Arthur was still in his minority, but one of William's friends warned him that he'd rue that choice.

    While pleading with his grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine for her support, Arthur was captured and imprisoned by John, who murdered him according to the gaoler's wife whom John then starved to death, with her children, news of which precipitated the fall of the Angevin Empire.