Southern Anthology

Families on the Frontiers of the Old South

Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester[1, 2]

Male Bef 1100 - 1153  (~ 54 years)

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  • Name Ranulf de Gernon 
    Suffix 4th Earl of Chester 
    Born Before 1100  Château de Gernon, Normandy Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 16 Dec 1153 
    Buried Chester Cathedral, Chester, Chestershire Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47, "Randulf (d.1153)" by John Horace Round.

      RANDULF, called De Gernons, Earl of Chester (d. 1153), was son and heir of Randulf 'Meschin,' earl of Chester [q. v.], whom he succeeded shortly before 1130. He is found in the pipe roll of that year indebted to the crown for large sums (p. 110), including 1,000l. which his father had died owing for the fief of his kinsman the Earl of Chester. His mother also is entered as paying considerable amounts, implying that her husband was lately dead. In the following year (8 Sept. 1131) Randulf attended a great council of the realm at Northampton (Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 265), but took no active part in affairs under Henry I.

      It was with the accession of Stephen that the earl became an important factor in English politics. His power was by no means limited to the county which formed his earldom. In Lincolnshire he inherited the great fief of his father, Randulf Meschin, with that of their kinsman and predecessor, Earl Richard. In the same county his half-brother and staunch ally, William de Roumare, was in possession of their mother's large estates, while, through her, they claimed rights over Lincoln Castle. In the north, Carlisle, with its honour, which his father had once held, was a special object of the earl's desire. The springs of his policy, therefore, are found in Lincoln and Carlisle. To pacify the Scottish king and his son, Stephen granted Carlisle to the latter at the very beginning of his reign (Ric. Hex. p. 146). Henry of Scotland, coming south, attended his Easter court in 1136, when the special honour shown him raised the earl's jealousy (Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 265; Sym. Dunelm. ii. 287). He is found, however, as a witness at Oxford to Stephen's charter of liberties after Easter (Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 263). He seems to have then withdrawn to his dominions, and invaded Wales, but with ill-success (Sym. Dunelm. ii. 287). He stood completely aloof till 1140, when he endeavoured to intercept his rival, Henry, returning to Scotland (ib. ii. 306). Discontented at not obtaining as much as he wanted from Stephen, he succeeded, on the king's departure from Lincolnshire towards the close of the year, in gaining possession by a trick of the keep of Lincoln Castle (Ord. Vit. v. 125; Will. Newb. i. 39; Will. Malm. ii. 569). Stephen hurried back after Christmas, and closely besieged him with his half-brother and their wives in the castle. The earl, who was 'the younger and more daring of the two,' contrived to slip out, and strained every nerve to gather forces for the relief of the besieged. Besides his own followers and Welsh allies, he secured the assistance of Robert, earl of Gloucester [q. v.], whose daughter he had married before the death of Henry I (Will. Malm. ii. 569), and he made his way to the Empress Maud to offer his allegiance in return for help (ib. p. 570; Ord. Vit. v. 126; Will. Newb. i. 40). With his father-in-law and the forces they had gathered, he reached Lincoln on 2 Feb. 1141, and, in the battle beneath its walls, took a foremost part, charging the king in person (Hen. Hunt. pp. 268-74; Gervase, p. 117). Entering the city in triumph, on the defeat of the enemy, he allowed his Welsh troops to sack it (Ord. Vit. v. 129).

      Having gained his immediate object, the earl again stood aloof, and is not found at the court of the empress. Conan, earl of Richmond, who had fled at Lincoln, tried to waylay and seize him, but was himself captured, thrown into prison, and forced to do homage to Earl Randulf and become his man (Sym. Dunelm. ii. 308; Gesta Stephani, p. 72). In August 1141, however, the crisis caused by the siege of Winchester drew him south, and he joined the queen's forces (Sym, Dunelm. ii. 310), but he went over to the empress (ib.; Gesta, p. 79), though 'tardily and to no purpose' (Will. Malm. ii. 581). Early in 1142, when Stephen was on his way to York, Randulph, with his half-brother William, now Earl of Lincoln, met the king at Stamford (Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 159; Engl. Hist. Rev. x. 88). The king and he swore that neither should prove traitor to the other, and Earl William received the royal manor of Kirton and was confirmed in possession of Gainsborough with its bridge over the Trent (Great Coucher, vol. ii. f. 445). Stephen clearly had to bide his time, but in 1144 felt strong enough to make an attack on Lincoln, which, however, was defeated (Hen. Hunt. p. 277; Will. Newb. i. 48). Meanwhile, Randulf had been vigorously assailed by Robert Marmion (who was on Stephen's side) from Coventry, but Robert was slain there in a sally against Randulf's attack (Will. Newb. i. 47). Harrying the king's supporters (Gesta, p. 107), and seizing on crown property (ib. p. 118), he practically ruled over 'a third part of the realm' (ib. p. 117), represented by a triangle, with its apex at Chester and its bases at Coventry and Lincoln. Alarmed, however, in 1146 at the growing power of Stephen, he suddenly renewed friendship with him, joined vigorously in the siege of Bedford, and, on its fall, assisted the king with three hundred knights in pushing the siege of Wallingford (ib.; Hen. Hunt. p. 279; Will. Newb. i. 49). But the firm hold he kept on his castles, and his proved instability, alarmed the king and his advisers (Gesta, p. 118). The earl seems to have incurred the suspicion of treachery by urging the king to join him in repelling the inroads of the Welsh (ib. pp. 123-4); and, while in the king's court at Northampton, he was suddenly accused, arrested, and thrown into prison unscrupulously enough (ib. p. 125; Hen. Hunt. p. 279; Will. Newb. i. 49). He was released, as in similar cases, only at the cost of surrendering his castles. He also swore to keep the peace, and gave hostages (Gesta, p. 126), his nephew, the Earl of Hertford, also pledging himself and his castles for his uncle's good behaviour (ib. p. 127). Stephen, proud of his questionable triumph, kept his Christmas court in 1146 at Lincoln (Hen. Hunt. p. 279).

      Panting for revenge, and heedless alike of the oaths he had sworn and the safety of his hostages, Randulf flung himself against Lincoln as soon as Stephen had left it, only to be driven back by the burgesses of that populous and wealthy city, with the assistance of Stephen's garrison (Gervase, i. 132; Gesta, p. 126; Hen. Hunt. p. 279). He then laid siege to Coventry, but Stephen, hurrying thither, relieved it, and engaged the earl's forces, unsuccessfully at first, but finally with better fortune, Randulf narrowly escaping death (Gesta, pp. 126-7). The king then pursued his advantage, attacking the earl's strongholds (ib.) He had already seized his nephew, the Earl of Hertford, and extorted from him his castles (ib. pp. 127-8).

      Randulf's only hope of revenge lay now in the empress and her son; but they had left England in despair. Henry, however, returned at length in the spring of 1149, and the earl hastened to join him (Gervase, i. 140; Sym. Dunelm ii. 235). On 22 May 1149 Henry was knighted at Carlisle, and the earl, who was present, agreed to abandon his old claim in favour of the Scottish prince, receiving the honour of Lancaster instead (Sym. Dunelm ii. 323). A powerful triple alliance was formed by this compromise, and the earl agreed to confirm it by a marriage between his son and a daughter of Henry of Scotland (ib. p. 323). He failed, however, to join his allies at the promised time, and so brought the whole enterprise to naught (ib. p. 323). It is probable (Engl. Hist. Rev. x. 91) that Stephen, whom the scheme had seriously alarmed, had detached the earl on this occasion by granting the remarkable charter (Dep.-Keeper Publ. Rec. 31st Rep. p. 2) of which an English paraphrase is given by Dugdale (Baronage, i. 39). By this charter Lincoln was to be restored to him under certain elaborate conditions, and he was to receive large grants of escheated and crown lands, including the land 'between Mersey and Ribble,' together with Belvoir Castle and its appendant estates. Besides lands in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire, he obtained Torksey and Grimsby in Lincolnshire, his dominion thus practically extending from sea to sea, with a port on both coasts. Meanwhile he was assisting Madog, son of Maredudd, to rise against Owain of Gwynedd, but his auxiliaries were defeated at Consyllt pass (Brut, p. 179).

      When Duke Henry landed in England in January 1153 he saw the necessity of gaining over so powerful a noble at any cost. Hence his charter granted at Devizes (Cott. Chart. xvii. 2; Dugdale, i. 39), which outbid even the enormous concessions of Stephen. As Duke of Normandy he was able to add power and possessions over-sea, while the grant of Staffordshire to be annexed to Cheshire firmly connected the earl's dominions on the west and the east of England. Such concessions, extorted by necessity, would doubtless have been resumed later, but they served their purpose in gaining the earl (Gervase, i. 155), who is found with the duke at Wallingford (Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 419). He died, however, before the close of the year (Rob. Tor. p. 177; Sym. Dunelm), on 16 Dec. (Dugdale, i. 40), poisoned, it was believed, by William Peverell [q. v.] of Nottingham (Gervase, i. 155), whose lands had been granted him by Henry. He was buried near his father, in St. Werburg's Abbey, Chester (Monast. Angl. ii. 218), though Dugdale has a story that he died excommunicate (Baronage, i. 40). His benefactions to religious houses in Cheshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, and other counties are collected in Dugdale's Baronage (i. 40). There is ground for assigning his foundation of Trentham Priory and his confirmation to St. Werburg's Abbey (Monast. Angl. vi. 397, ii. 388) to his last days at Gresley Castle, where he is believed to have died (Sitwell, Barons of Pulford, pp. 62, 63).

      Dugdale also has printed an English version (Baronage, i. 38) of an elaborate treaty (Vincent, Discovery, p. 301) between Earl Randulf and the Earl of Leicester, his rival in the midlands, which throws light on the extent of his rule.

      The earl is always spoken of as a gallant and daring warrior, but instability and faithlessness are laid to his charge. It is probable, however, that his policy was not so erratic as it seems, for it eventually secured him the ends he had in view. He fought only for his own hand.

      By Maud, daughter of Robert, earl of Gloucester, he left a son and successor, Hugh [q. v.] The countess, who appears as a widow in 1186 (Rot. de Dom. p. 8), founded the priory of Repton in Derbyshire (Monast. Angl. vi. 428, 430). She is said in its annals to have died in July 1189 (ib.)
      [Authorities cited; Ordericus Vitalis (ed. Société de l'Histoire de France); Symeon of Durham, William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Gesta Stephani, Richard of Hexham, William of Newburgh (these three in Howlett's Chronicles), Gervase of Canterbury, Brut y Tywysogion (all in Rolls Ser.); Vincent's Discovery of Brooke's Errors; Dugdale's Baronage; Monasticon Anglicanum; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville; Grimaldi's Rotulus de Dominabus; Reports of the Deputy-Keeper of the Records; Great Coucher of the Duchy of Lancaster (Public Record Office); Cotton Charters (British Museum).]

      J. H. R. [3]
    Person ID I14515  Dickinson
    Last Modified 30 Oct 2017 

    Father Ranulf du Bessin, Earl of Chester ,   d. Jan 1129 
    Relationship Birth 
    Mother Lucy of Bolingbroke,   d. 1138 
    Relationship Birth 
    Married 1098 
    Family ID F4444  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Matilda FitzRobert, Countess of Chester,   d. 29 Jul 1190 
    Married 1141 
    +1. Hugh of Kevelioc, 5th Earl of Chester, Vicomte d'Avranches,   b. 1147, Monmouth, Monmouthshire, Wales Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 30 Jun 1181, Leek, Staffordshire Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 34 years)  [Birth]
     2. Richard,   d. ca. 1175  [Birth]
    Last Modified 22 Apr 2015 
    Family ID F4441  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - Chester Cathedral, Chester, Chestershire Link to Google Earth
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  • Sources 
    1. [S336463] Medieval Lands: A prosopography of medieval European noble and royal families, Charles Cawley, (Online: The Foundation for Medieval Genealogy at, 20XX),

    2. [S336470] Wikipedia, (Online:, "Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester,",_4th_Earl_of_Chester.
      "Ranulf II (also known as Ranulf de Gernon) (1099-1153) was an Anglo-Norman potentate who inherited the honour of the palatine county of Chester upon the death of his father Ranulf le Meschin, 3rd Earl of Chester. He was descended from the Counts of Bessin in Normandy."

    3. [S336351] Dictionary of National Biography, 63 volumes, Sir Sidney Lee, ed., (New York: McMillan and Company, 1885-1900), Public Domain., 47: 286-288.