The counts of the Perche, c. 1066-1217

The counts of the Perche, c. 1066-1217

By Kathleen Hapgood Thompson

PhD Dissertation, University of Sheffield, 1996


Abstract: The history of the counts of the Perche from c. 1066 to 1217 is considered. It is placed in the historiographical perspective of the disintegration into territorial principalities which took place in the kingdom of the Franks around the year 1000 and the subsequent emergence of small units such as the Perche in border zones, where the authority of the greater princes had never been successfully asserted. An outline of the geography of the Perche is followed by a brief account of the Rotrou lineage. The internal workings of the Perche, which indicate the nature of the Rotrous’ power, are considered. Family property is located and comital rights are described, together with the administration by means of which the lineage’s wealth and power were exploited. The exercise of lordship over the other landed families of the Perche was an important factor in the smooth running of the county and the association between the counts and the nobility is also discussed. An analysis of the relations between the Perche and its neighbours, the great power blocs of Northern France, forms the third section. The adroit manipulation of these relationships permitted the counts to maintain their independence and to gain access to the resources of the English crown. During the twelfth century the counts were obliged to adapt as the old political rivalries polarised into the struggle between the Capetian and Plantagenet kings. When King John lost Normandy to King Philip Augustus in 1204 the counts’ bargaining power was lost because the strategic significance of the county had been destroyed. The failure of the direct line in 1217, which led to the eventual dismemberment of the county when the comital title was extinguished in 1226, demonstrates the importance of the vigorous Rotrou lineage in the creation and continued independence of the Perche.

Introduction:¬†During the six days that Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy, lay dying at Lyons- la-Foret in November 1135 he was attended by the usual array of nobles, officers and ecclesiastics that made up the entourage of an Anglo-Norman king. Among these men was the king’s former son-in-law, Rotrou count of Mortagne, a man of mature years, probably well into his middle age and an experienced warrior who had participated in the first crusade and had also fought, apparently with some distinction, against the Moslems in Spain. In his account of the death scene and elsewhere in his Ecclesiastical History the Anglo-Norman historian Orderic Vitalis describes him as count of Mortagne, but by 1135 Rotrou himself was rather anxious to be called the count of the Perche and had been styling himself in that manner in his charters for some time. This confusion of nomenclature is revealing, for it marks the final stage in the emergence of a new political unit, as a disparate collection of lands, some formerly controlled by Rotrou’s ancestors and others not, was being forged into the county of Perche.

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