Twelfth-Century Tracking

So, here we are – following a bit of detective work to discover the Domesday Cantilupes, we can now move on from 1086 to flesh out the family as the sources for their activities begin to increase. There’s a big gap between 1086 and 1146, the next time we met the family, but it’s from the mid-1100s that things start to get interesting anyway, and we can fill in the blanks from context.


There is no record of a Cantilupe having gone on the First Crusade or indeed any of them (later Cantilupes left money in their will for the completion of their Crusading vows, never fulfilled in life), but if a Crusades scholar could correct me on that I’d be very interested to know which ones!


Rebels Without A Pause*



Not sure what the Cantilupes were up to in England. Generally keeping a low and unimportant minor profile during the reign of William II a.k.a William Rufus, until the unfortunate arrow incident which heralded the start of Henry I’s reign. The coronation of Henry I was performed by Maurice, bishop of London, as the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anselm) was still out of the country after quarrelling with the now-deceased William Rufus. Anselm returned to England a month later.



For the few sources I’ve managed to look at (not many for Normandy: my work isn’t on the Norman side of things), there’s no sign of the Cantilupes. Again, they are probably treading water and doing their thing while Robert, duke of Normandy, invades England. His brother, King Henry I, is not best pleased with this. Robert is captured by Henry in 1106, defeated at the Battle of Tinchebray, in Normandy. I’m not sure whose side the Cantilupes were on at this point – in 1088, the time of the first rebellion, the rebels had been widespread from the West Country up to the North of England, but no familiar names appear from whom the Cantilupes may have held lands and under whom they would have served as armed men. It is likely that they were rebels, as supporters for Duke Robert were centred in the Calvados region as well as in English counties where definite traces of Cantilupes have already been found.


Again – pass on the Cantilupes, although Henry I did lead campaigns into Wales which any Cantilupes within summoning range would have been involved with. The old “I was only following orders” protestation did seem to hold water when rebel vassals wanted to return to the fold, but again, it is difficult to say what the Cantilupes were up to as the source material is so sparse.



Another year, another military campaign, and this time Henry I secured his victory against Louis ‘the Fat’, king of France, when the latter invaded Normandy. The Cantilupes still held lands there, and so – again, speculation – were very likely involved in this drama too.



After the ‘White Ship’ disaster, in which Henry I’s only legitimate son William drowned, the succession was thrown into chaos as some barons refused to accept Henry’s daughter, the ‘Empress’ Matilda, as queen and had Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois crowned king instead. Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou, was still a minor, but after the civil war of 1139-1148 he eventually became king in 1153. This period, known as The Anarchy, does not throw up many clues either. The Cantilupes could have returned to their Norman lands in an attempt to avoid the lawlessness and warfare, but were most likely being called upon in a military capacity by their lords, whichever side they happened to be on. The 1146 confirmation made by Alexander Cantilupe and his son in Bruton does seem to place this branch in Somerset during the Anarchy, when Aldetha held their lands there.



In 1155, while Bill and Emma Cantilupe are granting things to Langueville Priory (maintaining their cross-Channel connections), a Gilbert de Cantilupe appears, distinguished as the seneschal of Robert Fitz Gerald, whose charter granting the church of Clive (Shropshire?) to the monks of St Mary of Bec was ratified by William de Roumare, earl of Lincoln. The main branch of the family were themselves royal senechals, so perhaps this Gilbert was instrumental in teaching a younger kinsman the administrative ropes.


St Mary’s of Bec had been Duke Robert’s abbey, and he had been fiercely protective of it. When Count Robert of Meulan hoped to gain it as it stood in the path of his ambition and acquisitive nature, Duke Robert, forewarned by the monks of Bec, challenged him, ‘barely able to speak for rage’1:

“You lie in your teeth! By God’s miracles, you are utterly deceived if you expect me to be so stupid. Why would I want to give you my abbey?”

With this, it would appear that the Cantilupes were bound up with the supporters of Robert Curthose earlier in this century, had weathered the Anarchy of its mid-decades, and by 1155 were continuing their service to their lords in the reign of yet another king.


Around this time, too, and certainly by 1199, a branch of Cantilupes transmitting the name ‘Robert’ down through several successive generations just as faithfully as the main branch transmitted the name ‘William’, can be found in Glamorgan holding the castle of Merthyr Mawr from the St Quentins. By 1155, the family’s many branches were beginning to spread out.



Perhaps through the patronage of Roger de Courseuelles, the Cantilupes can be found not just in Paynel lands, but also in counties like Lincolnshire. The earl of Lincoln, William de Roumare, held lands in the West Country as well, so there are two possible routes via which the Cantilupes entered into his service. Either way, we find a certain Walter Cantilupe, brother to a Fulk Cantilupe, possibly also brother to Bill, appearing in the earl’s service in the 1190s. [CLICK HERE to view the letter sent to Earl William by Walter.]


This is very helpful, as the man we will call William I Cantilupe, son of this Walter, gets into the young prince John Lackland’s household as his steward, and he is certainly present in this capacity after King Richard made his younger brother the Count of Mortain.


The Comitial Years 1197-1199

To be found in a prince’s household, even if the prince had at that time no serious expectation of the throne, was still a coup for the family. It is very likely that earl William de Roumare was the patron responsible for their social boost, as the Cantilupes are found owing him service at the same time the same family members – Fulk, his brother Walter and Walter’s son William I – are found witnessing John’s comitial acta from 1189.2

William de Rumare 2
Seal of William de Roumare, Earl of Lincoln


William I is first mentioned as Prince John’s seneschal in 1197, and once in 1198; his uncle Fulk witnessed 27 of these acta to Walter’s 7 and William’s 6, and other illustrious names appear alongside these men, including Robert Mortimer, Richard de Vernon, several Turbervilles, Walter de Dunstanville, Gilbert Basset, William Brewer, John de Grey, Hubert de Burgh, Hugh de Lacy, John de Neville, and of course, William Marshal.3.


John was regent in place of his brother while Richard was on Crusade and while he was a prisoner, awaiting John to raise his ransom money. The Cantilupes had a precursor to power, and the way things worked. William I was getting into the heart of government, despite the family’s low-key origins.


The Cantilupes were moving in greater circles than ever before – the leap from 1086 to 1199 was only one or two generations but within those generations a massive social shift had been achieved. Spreading out and cultivating their networks with great lords had worked to their advantage, and now they were well placed to make their own impact on the realm. That impact was to be greater than they could have anticipated, for, by 1199, King Richard had died without an heir and John Lackland, runt of the Angevin litter, was crowned king of England.


Next time: Candid Cantilupes: Up Close & Personalwe explore the illegitimate Cantilupes in the early thirteenth century.



* Pun probably courtesy of Sir Terry Pratchett, from whom I get most of my puns. As the 1155 grant indicates they were likely rebels in Duke Robert’s rebellions, so in the Anarchy they were likely to be rebels at some point regardless whose side they were on, as control went back and forth between Stephen and Matilda…
1. William M. Aird, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy: C. 1050-1134, (Boydell and Brewer 2008), p. 132
2. Conformation by John, Count of Mortain, of a charter to Robert de Berners, TNA E 40/6686
3. Nicholas Vincent, ‘Jean, Count de Mortain: Le Futur Roi et ses Domaines en Normandie 1183-1199’, 1204 La Normandie entre Plantagenets et Capetiens, eds. Anne-Marie Flambard Héricher and Veronique Gazeau, (Caen, 2007), 37-59, p. 57