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Hugh, 1st Earl of Chester

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Subject: Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester, Normans
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Hugh, 1st Earl of Chester

Hugh d'Avranches
Born c. 1047[1][2]
Died 27 July 1101[2]
Resting place St Werburgh's Abbey, Chester
Other names le Gros (the Fat)[1][2]
Lupus (Wolf)[2]
Ethnicity Norman French
Title Earl of Chester
Term 1071–1101
Predecessor Gherbod, born 1036 – d. 1071 A Flemish noble. Ist Norman Earl 1070-71.
Successor Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester
Spouse(s) Ermentrude of Claremont[1][2]
Children Richard d'Avranches
Matilda d'Avranches
(See here for further issue)

Hugh d'Avranches (born circa 1047 – died 27 July 1101), also known as le Gros (the fat[1]) and Lupus (Wolf[2]), was the second Norman Earl of Chester[1] (2nd creation) and one of the great magnates of early Norman England.

Early career

Hugh was the son of Richard le Goz, Viscount of Avranches and Emma de Conteville,[1][2] and inherited from his father a large estate, not just in the Avranchin but scattered throughout western Normandy. The Avranchin is located on the Contentin Peninsula of northern France, just east of Mont-Saint-Michel; it is among the areas (illegally) granted under the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte to Normandy by the Kingdom of France that had previously belonged to the Duchy of Brittany.

Hugh became an important councillor of William, Duke of Normandy. His father contributed sixty ships to the invasion of England, his presence on Senlac Hill in 1066 if not proved, was possible. His father remained in Normandy both to protect the duchy and because he was ill, so Hugh may have been his representative at Hastings.[1]

Earl of Chester

After becoming William I of England, Hugh was given the command of Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire. In 1071, Gerbod the Fleming, the first Earl of Chester was taken prisoner at the Battle Of Cassel in France. Taking advantage of the circumstances, the king declared his title vacant, giving Hugh the Earldom (of the second creation).[2] The new Earl was also given palatine powers in view of Cheshire's strategic location on the Welsh Marches.[1][3][4] On Hugh's promotion, Tutbury and its surrounding lands were passed to the Norman Knight, Henry de Ferrers, who had also fought with William I at the Battle of Hastings.[5] In 1082, Hugh succeeded to the title of Vicomte d'Avranches.[1]

During his lifetime, the Earl founded the Benedictine Abbeys of Saint-Sever, Normandy and St. Werburgh in Chester as well as giving land endowments to Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire.[1][2]

Hugh remained loyal to King William II during the rebellion of 1088. He later served Henry I as one of his principal councillors at the royal court.[2]


Hugh spent much of his time fighting with his neighbours in Wales. Together with his cousin Robert of Rhuddlan he subdued a good part of northern Wales. Initially Robert of Rhuddlan held north-east Wales as a vassal of Hugh. However in 1081 Gruffudd ap Cynan King of Kingdom of Gwynedd was captured by treachery at a meeting near Corwen. Gruffudd was imprisoned by Earl Hugh in his castle at Chester, but it was Robert who took over his kingdom, holding it directly from the king. When Robert was killed by a Welsh raiding party in 1093 Hugh took over these lands, becoming ruler of most of North Wales, but he lost Anglesey and much of the rest of Gwynedd in the Welsh revolt of 1094, led by Gruffudd ap Cynan, who had escaped from captivity.

Norwegian invasion

In the summer of 1098 Hugh joined forces with Hugh of Montgomery, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury, in an attempt to recover his losses in Gwynedd. Gruffudd ap Cynan retreated to Anglesey, but then was forced to flee to Ireland when a fleet he had hired from the Danish settlement in Ireland changed sides. The situation was changed by the arrival of a Norwegian fleet under the command of King Magnus III of Norway, also known as Magnus Barefoot, who attacked the Norman forces near the eastern end of the Menai Straits. Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury was killed by an arrow said to have been shot by Magnus himself. The Normans were obliged to evacuate Anglesey, and the following year Gruffydd returned from Ireland to take possession again. Hugh apparently made an agreement with him and did not again try to recover these lands.

Marriage and succession

Hugh due to his gluttony became so fat that he could hardly walk, earning him the nickname of le Gros (the Fat). He would also earn the nickname Lupus (Wolf) for his savage ferocity against the Welsh.[2]

Hugh d'Avranches is credited as siring children to many mistresses.[2] He married Ermentrude of Claremont, by whom he had a son, Richard, and a daughter, Matilda d'Avranches.[1] Other children accredited to Hugh and Ermentrude include Maud d'Avranches, Robert FitzHugh I, Hugh (Lupus) d'Avranches II, Helga de Kevelioc, and Geva d'Avranches.[2]

Allegedly illegitimate children include Robert d'Avranche, Otuel d'Avranches, and Giofu d'Avranches.[1][2] Robert D'Avranche, possibly Fitzhugh, Baron Malpas. He received many of the local manors held by Edwin the last Saxon Earl of Mercia d1071. Edwin was the son of Leofric,Saxon Earl of Mercia. Leofric was the first holder of the title Earle of Chester.

On 23 July 1101, Hugh became a monk and died four days later, being buried in the cemetery of St. Werburgh. His body was later moved by earl Ranulf le Meschin and reburied in the Chapter House.[2] He was succeeded as Earl of Chester by his son Richard, who married Matilda of Blois, a granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Both Richard and Matilda died in the White Ship disaster (1120), and Hugh was then succeeded by his nephew Ranulph le Meschin, Earl of Chester.

Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Chester
Succeeded by
Richard d'Avranches


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