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Brian FitzCount (d. circa 1153)
Born: circa 1100
Warrior & Author
Died: circa 1153

Brian 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.

In 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.

Thenceforth 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”.

He 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’.

The 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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