William de Warenne (1055-1088)

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William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, was born 1055 in Bellencombe, France to Rodulf II de Warenne (1030-1074) and Emma Torta de Pont-Audemer (1020-1059) and died 24 June 1088 in Lewes, Sussex, England of unspecified causes. Notable ancestors include Charlemagne (747-814). Ancestors are from France, Germany, Belgium.

Norman Knight and Companion of William the Conqueror during Invasion of England in 1066.

Birth & Childhood

William was born in Normandy, France, probably shortly before the year 1040, as he must have been age 12 or older to have fought in the rebellions of 1052-1054. He was the second son of Ranulf II de Warenne and is derived from the family of duchess Gunnor, wife of duke Richard I.

At the beginning of Duke William’s reign, Ranulf II was not a major landholder and, as a second son, William de Warenne did not stand to inherit the family’s small estates.

Battle of Mortemer

During the rebellions of 1052-1054, the young William de Warenne proved himself a loyal adherent to a great Norman Duke William of Normandy who would later conquer England. William played a significant part in the Battle of Mortemer which exploits were well documented by Orderic Vital.

Orderic recits the the following; "Duke William being enraged by the shelter and safe conduct granted by Roger de Mortemer, who commanded the Norman forces on that occasion, to the Comte de Montdidier, who had fought on the side of the French and taken refuge in the Castle of Mortemer, banished Roger from Normandy and confiscated all his possessions;"

Afterwards Roger becomes reconciled to the Duke who restores him all of his possessions with the noted exception of the Castle of Mortemer that is given to William de Warren, "one of his loyal young vassals," whom Orderic makes the Conqueror describe as a cousin or kinsman of De Mortemer, acknowledging no consanguinity to himself.

At about the same time William acquired lands at Bellencombre including the castle which became the center of his Normandy holdings.

See also:

Battle of Hastings


Castle Acre - built by William de Warenne

William was one of the nobles who advised duke William when the decision to invade England was being considered. He is listed as one of the 15 Proven Companions of William the Conqueror. (Documentation Source: Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum The Deeds of William II, Duke of the Normans by William of Poitiers, written between 1071 and 1077.)

He is named amongst the principal persons summoned to attend the Council at Lillebonne, when the invasion of England was decided upon, and was no doubt present in the great battle, for his services in which he received as his share of the spoil some three hundred manors, nearly half that number being in the county of Norfolk.

Wace documents his appearance at the Battle of Hastings with the description that his helmet fitted him admirably. De Garenes i vint Willeme Mult li sist bien et chief li helme.

He is said to have fought at Hastings,[1] and afterwards received the Rape of Lewes in Sussex,[2] and subsequently lands in twelve other shires. He built castles at Lewes (Sussex), Reigate (Surrey), Castle Acre (Norfolk) and Conisbrough in Yorkshire.[2] By the time of the Domesday survey he was one of the wealthiest landholders in England with holdings in 12 counties.[3]

In 1067, on the King's departure for Normandy, William de Warren was joined with Hugh de Grentmesnil, Hugh de Montfort, and other valiant men in the government of England, under the superior jurisdiction of the Earl-bishop Odo and William Fitz 0sbern.

Rebellion of 1070

He fought against rebels at the Isle of Ely in 1071 where he showed a special desire to hunt down Hereward the Wake who had murdered Frederick (who was either William's brother or brother-in-law) the year before during the big rebellion in that area.[2]

His participation in surpressing another English Rebellion, that of Roger, Earl of Hereford in 1074, is also documented. Here he assists Richard de Bienfaite as Chief Justiciaries of England, and summoning the rebels to appear before the King's High Court; and on their refusal, William de Warren with Robert, son of William Malet, marched against Earl Ralph, and routing the rebels at Fagadune, pursued them to Norwich, taking many prisoners, whom, according to the barbarous practice of the age, they mutilated by chopping off the right foot—an unmistakable proof that the sufferers had taken a step in the wrong direction.

Pilgrimage to Italy / Lewes Abbey

Lewes Castle

Lewes Castle - built by William de Warenne in 1069.

In the founding charter for the Priory of Lewes, William de Warenne records the story of his Italian pilgrimage and inspiration for founding this abbey. Sometime between 1078 and 1082, William and his wife Gundred traveled to Rome visiting monasteries along the way. In Burgundy they were unable to go any further due to a war between Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. They visited Cluny Abbey and were impressed with the monks and their dedication.

William and Gundred decided to found a Clunic priory on their own lands in Lewes (East Sussex, England). William restored buildings for an abbey. They sent to Hugh the abbot of Cluny for monks to come to England at their monastery. At first Hugh was reluctant but he finally sent several monks including Lazlo who was to be the first abbot. The house they founded was Lewes Priory dedicated to St. Pancras, the first Cluniac priory in England. William and many of his descendants would be buried there in later years.

In the Council of Worms, 23rd of January of 1077, sentence of excommunication was passed upon the contumacious Kaiser, and his subjects absolved from their oath of fidelity; and in the following year, Henry, accompanied by his wife and infant son, Conrad, presented himself as a penitent before the walls of the Castle of Canossa, in Lombardy, where the Pontiff was then residing; and after remaining for three days, with naked feet and without food, in token of his contrition, was admitted, on the fourth, to the presence of the triumphant Pontiff, in consequence of the mediation of his cousin, the Countess Matilda, the Count of Savoy, and the Abbot of Cluni, who were at that period at Canossa with his Holiness.

This latter event occurred on the 26th of January, 1077, and we therefore know that Abbot Hugh was then in Lombardy. William and Gundred were the guests of the Prior probably towards the close of the year 1076, or in the early part of 1077. Having obtained the licence of King William, Abbot Hugh, at their request, sent over four of his monks, the principal of whom, named Lanzo, became the first Prior of St. Pancras at Lewes, which was founded and endowed by the Earl accordingly.

William, now Earl of Surrey, rebuilt, enlarged, and strengthened Lewes Castle which is now used as the museum of Sussex Archaeological Society. William de Warenne founded Cluniac Priory in 1078, now a ruin, and endowed the chapter house of the Priory.

Mortally Wounded in 1088

William was loyal to King William II of England[2], and it was probably in early 1088 that he was created Earl of Surrey.[4]

He was mortally wounded at the siege of Pevensey Castle (located in East Sussex, quite close to Lewes Priory) and died later on 24 June 1088 at Lewes, Sussex, and was buried next to his wife Gundred at the Chapterhouse of Lewes Priory. See also the rebellion of 1088.


He married first, probably around 1074, Gundred (1053-1085) (Latin: Gundrada), sister of Gerbod the Fleming, 1st Earl of Chester and Frederick of Oosterzele-Scheldewindeke.

That they were married before 1078 is certain, as in that year they founded the Priory of Lewes in Sussex, and we have the charters of King William, which he granted to that establishment for the health of the souls of his lord and ancestor, King Edward, of his father Count-Robert, of his own soul and that of his wife, Queen Matilda, and of all their children and successors, and for the souls of William de Warren and his wife Gundrada, his (William's) daughter and their heirs. The parentage of Gundred and the nature of her relationship to Queen Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror, is a matter of great debate and conjecture.

No date has ever been assigned to the marriage of Gundred, but it is probable that it took place subsequent to the invasion, and about the same time that the earldom of Chester was bestowed on her brother Gherbod, with whom she may have come to England in the train of their mother, Matilda, on her visit in 1068, for there is not the slightest trace of Gherbod's presence at Hastings; and the magnificent gift of the County Palatine of Chester to a foreigner unknown to fame must have been owing to private family influence, as no service of any description is recorded for which it could be considered a merited reward.

Gundred died in childbirth at Castle Acre May 27, 1085, and was buried in the Priory of Lewes. Four of her children matured: William Son & Heir, Reginald, Gundred, and Edith. It appears that Gundred died in childbirth in 1085 and then William married a second time.

Children by Gundred:

  1. Edith de Warenne (1075-?) who married 1stly Gerard de Gournay, lord of Gournay-en-Bray, 2ndly and Drew de Monchy.
  2. William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey (1080-1138) - who married Elisabeth (Isabelle) de Vermandois, widow of Robert de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Leicester. She was the daughter of Hugh de Vermandois and of direct lineage to the French Capatian Kings and Charlegmagne the Great.
  3. Reynold de Warenne (1082-?), who inherited lands from his mother in Flanders and died c.1106-08.
  4. Gundred de Warenne (1084-?), a daughter who married Ernise de Coulonces.

William married secondly a sister of Richard Gouet who survived him. They had no children.


Offspring of William de Warenne and Gundred (1053-1085)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Edith de Warenne (1075-aft1125) 1075 1125 Girard de Gournay (c1066-1104)
Dreux III de Monchy (1080-)

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey (1080-1138) 1080 Bellencombre, France 11 May 1138 Lewes, Sussex, England Elizabeth de Vermandois (c1081-1131)

Reginald de Warenne (1082-?)


  1. ^ Douglas, p.203
  2. ^ a b c d Hunt
  3. ^ Ellis: Introduction to Domesday, i.213.
  4. ^ probably between the very end of 1087 and March 24, 1088 (Lewis p. 335)

Sources and notes

‡ General

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