FitzCount was the illegitimate son of Alan Fergant, Count of
Brittany. From a most interesting letter, addressed to him by Gilbert Foliot,
we learn that King Henry I reared him from
his youth, knighted him and provided for him in life. A chief means by which
he was provided for was his marriage with ‘Matilda de Wallingford,’ as
she was styled, who brought him the lands of her father, Robert D'Oyley, and
her late husband, Miles Crispin. He was further made firmarius of Wallingford
(but not, as sometimes asserted, given it for himself), then an important
town with a strong fortress. This, he held at least as early as 1127.
the year (1127), Brian was despatched, with the Earl of Gloucester, to
escort King Henry’s daughter, the Empress
Matilda, to Normandy and was
engaged, with him shortly afterwards, in auditing the national accounts at
the treasury in Winchester.
He also purchased for himself the office and part of the land of Nigel
D'Oyley and, by 1130, held land in at least twelve counties. From the
evidence of charters, it is clear that he was constantly at court for the
last ten years of the reign. Though a devoted adherent of the Empress
Matilda in her struggle for her father’s throne, he witnessed, as a
‘constable,’ her rival King Stephen’s charter of liberties in 1136, as
did the Earl of Gloucester. Upon the Lady’s landing in England (1139),
however, he at once declared for her, met the Earl of Gloucester as he
marched from Arundel to Bristol, and consorted with him over their plans.
Stephen promptly besieged Wallingford
Castle, but, failing to take it, retired, leaving a blockading
force. But the blockade was raised and Brian relieved by a dashing attack
from the Earl of Gloucester.
throughout the war, Wallingford was a thorn in Stephen's side and Brian was
one of the three chief supporters of the Empress, the other two being her
brother, Robert, and Miles of Gloucester. These three attended her on her
first visit to Winchester (March 1141) and stood sureties for her to the
Papal Legate. Charters prove that Brian accompanied her to London (June
1141) and that, at Oxford, was with her again (25 July 1141). Thence, he
marched with her to Winchester and, upon her defeat there, fled with her to
Devizes, “showing that as before they loved one another, so now neither
adversity nor danger could sever them”.
is a gain found with the Empress at Bristol towards the close of 1141 and at
Oxford in the spring of 1142; and, when escaping from Oxford in the December
following, it was to Brian's castle that the Empress fled.
It is from a long and instructive post-1139 letter from Gilbert Foliot wrote to Brian, which we learn that this fighting baron had apparently composed an eloquent treatise in defence of the rights of the Empress. The Bishop of Winchester endeavoured in vain to shake his allegiance on behalf of the King, his brother. Their correspondence is still extant in the ‘Liber Epistolaris’ of Richard de Bury. Brian must therefore have received, for those days, an unusually good education, probably at the court of Henry I ‘Beauclerc’.
man’s later history is very obscure. Upon the capture of William Martel at
Wilton in 1143, he was sent as a prisoner to Brian, who placed him in a
special dungeon, which he named cloere Brien or ‘Brian’s
Closet’. In 1146, he was again besieged by Stephen, who was joined by the
Earl of Chester, but, shortly afterwards, he surprised and captured a castle
of the Bishop of Winchester. In 1152, Stephen besieged him a third time and
he found himself hard pressed; but, the following year, he was brilliantly
relieved by the Empress’ son, Henry, the young Duke of Normandy. Thus
“the clever Breton” held his fortress to the end. At this point, he
disappears from view.
The story that he went on crusade comes from the utterly untrustworthy account of him in the ‘Abergavenny Chronicle’ An authentic charter of 1141-2 proves that he held Abergavenny but, like everything else, in right of his wife. She, who died without issue, founded Oakburn Priory in Wiltshire around 1151.
Edited from Leslie Stephen's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1889).
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