Aveline, Lady of Norton ?


I should point out that I have relied almost exclusively on the research of others, in particular Barry Boyd of Texas, USA, when compiling this piece and have not had the opportunity to actually see any contemporary primary source documents.

In the Parish Magazine of May 1980, Canon Evans Prosser wrote “There is also a list of gifts to Gloucester Abbey (now the Cathedral).  In this we are told that Robert son of Walter and Aveline his wife gave to God and St Peter of Gloucester the church of Nortune with the lands, tithes and all other things belonging to the said church as fully as Elmelina, the mother of Aveline, some years since had given the same to be free, peaceable and quiet from all charges”.

I have tried on several occasions to identify the family of Elmelina, Walter, Aveline and Robert with no success.  Thanks largely to the internet I believe that I can finally identify them all and tell their story.  Unfortunately not all details seem to be consistent across a broad spectrum of researchers but the basic tale appears to be constant.

Our story begins prior to the Norman Conquest in the village of Hesdin, Pas de Calais, France, with the birth of Arnulf de Hesdin in the 1030s, who may have been a son of Gerard IV de Hesdin.   Arnulf’s coat of arms (checked or and azure) appear on the Roll of Battle Abbey, near Hastings, identifying him as one of the knights who accompanied William in 1066.  Further evidence suggests that he was one of five knights in the service of Robert Malet and that he assisted in the burial of the fallen King Harold.  As a reward for his service Arnulf became a major landholder by the time of the Domesday rolls.  Arnulf married Elmelina Montain and had one daughter, Aveline, who was born at Hesdin in 1081.  Arnulf died during the First Crusade siege of Antioc in 1098 and is said to have been buried on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

[The first siege of the Muslim-held city of Antioch took place during the First Crusade and lasted from 21 October 1097 to 2 June 1098.  Antioch lay on the crusaders' route to Palestine, and anticipating that it would be attacked the Muslim governor of the city, Yaghi-Siyan, began stockpiling food and sending requests for help.  The Byzantine walls surrounding the city presented a formidable obstacle to its capture, so the leaders of the crusade decided to besiege Antioch.  The crusaders arrived outside the city on 21 October and began the siege.  The garrison sortied unsuccessfully on 29 December.  After stripping the surrounding area of food, the crusaders were forced to look farther afield for supplies, opening themselves to ambush and while searching for food on 31 December, a force of 20,000 crusaders encountered a relief force led by Duqaq of Damascus heading to Antioch and defeated the army.  However, supplies dwindled and in early 1098 one in seven of the crusaders was dying from starvation and people began deserting in January.  A second relief force, this time under the command of Ridwan of Aleppo advanced towards Antioch, arriving on 9 February.  Like the army of Duqaq before, it was defeated.  Antioch was captured on 3 June, although the citadel remained in the hands of the Muslim defenders.]

As we have said, Aveline was born at Hesdin in 1081.  At age 18 she married Alan Fitz Flaad at Dol, Ille-et-Vilaine, St Malo, France.  Alan had been born in 1078 at Dol and at the time of their marriage had become Sheriff of Shropshire.  They were to have four children; Jordan, William, Walter and Sybil.  Father Alan died in 1120 at Oswestry, Shropshire.  Although aged 39 years and with a family of four already, Aveline remarried later that same year.

Robert Fitz Walter was born in 1075 at Horsford, Norfolk, the son of Walter de Caen.  Robert married Sybil de Chesney in 1104 and they had three children; Roger, John and William.  Wife Sybil died in 1115 leaving Robert free to remarry Aveline.  At the time of their marriage was Robert was Lord of Horsford and Sheriff of Norfolk.  Robert and Aveline were to have two children; Simon Fitz Robert in 1122 and Margaret in 1124.

In my previous searches for this family and remembering the wording of the gift to Gloucester Cathedral I had always concentrated on looking for a family where a Robert was son of Walter and Aveline and this appears to have been my mistake.  The second husband of this Aveline was Robert Fitz Walter and in this context ‘Fitz’ actually meant ‘son of’ hence Robert son of Walter did not refer to a child at all but to Aveline’s husband.  As the gift was made in 1126 this would have been at the same time as Aveline’s death and it makes much more sense for this to have been the gift of a husband rather than a young child.

Aveline had died in 1126 in Shropshire and was most likely buried there at that time.  In 1163, however, she is also recorded as having been buried at Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, Scotland, in a priory founded by her sons Walter and Simon.  It appears that they thought this a more appropriate resting place for their mother and had her bones moved from Shropshire and taken north for reburial.

Aveline had died leaving a young family who we must assume were brought up together in the household of Robert Fitz Walter.  Robert himself died just four years later in 1130, however, and maybe Walter had taken brother Simon into his care as we find the two names linked on many occasions after this time.  He two brothers headed north to Scotland where they were both to become influential.  They were in the service of Empress Matilda during her wars with King Stephen.  Walter fought at the Battle of the Standard in 1138 under the command of King David of Scotland’s son Prince Henry.  King David was Matilda’s uncle and Walter became a favourite of his later being appointed as the hereditary High Steward of Scotland and thus his descendants became the House of Stewart.

We headed this piece ‘Domina de Norton’, ‘Lady of Norton’, as this is how Aveline is referred to in a number of documents.  I had hoped that this was a reference to her close association with our village but apparently not.  It seems almost certain that the title referred to Cold Norton, Oxfordshire, where her father Arnulf had been Lord of the Manor and where Aveline herself had founded a priory.  The Victoria County History for Oxfordshire contains the following which although confirming the association of the family to that place also throws into doubt Aveline’s date of death; “The priory of Cold Norton was founded by 'Avelina domina de Norton,' in the days of Robert bishop of Lincoln.  Avelina is well known as the daughter of Ernulf de Hesding, lord of the manor of Norton in 1086.  Her first husband was Alan Fitz-Flaald; her second, who was alive after 1135, was Robert Fitz-Walter; she outlived both and died before 1158.  Bishop Robert de Chesney says that at the presentation of Avelina, the lady of Norton, he has 'canonically instituted the priory of the church of St. John the Evangelist, the hospital house of Cold Norton, and the church there built,' and that it was endowed with the tithes of her demesne and with lands.  We can therefore fix the date of this foundation between 1148 and 1158”.

As a final note, Aveline was re-baptised into the Mormon Church of the Latter Day Saints on 18 November 1933.  I wonder what she would have thought about that ?

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