By K.S.B Keats-Rohan
Nottingham Medieval Studies, Vol.41 (1997)
Introduction: Established on ducal demesne lands at Graville-Sainte-Honorine in the Pays de Caux by the beginning of the eleventh century, the ‘grand lignage’ of Malet is one of the most inadequately discussed of all the great Norman houses to enjoy large landholdings in England after 1066. An account of the formation of their Norman honour, much of which was held not directly of the duke but of the Giffard family, has been given in recent years by J. Le Maho. They also held land near the ducal centre at Caen, a connexion that frequently recurs in consideration of their family and tenurial relationships. These are matters fundamental to a study of Malet, but also essential to an understanding of the family’s career in the eleventh century is the examination of its association with England. The Malets were the only Norman family of any significance to have had associations with both Normandy and England throughout the century, something that both entitles them to a special status as the ‘Anglo-Norman’ family par excellence and merits a fresh study.
The present study takes as its focal point the career of the Domesday landholder Robert I Malet. The most serious difficulty concerns the period 1087-1100. During this time his Honour of Eye is known to have been held by a powerful favourite of William Rufus, Roger the Poitevin, while he himself apparently completely disappeared from all English and Norman documents. The fact that Robert’s lands passed to Roger was the discovery of C.P. Lewis, who subjected the early history of Eye to detailed scrutiny in 1989. A few years previously C. Warren Hollister had paid some attention to Robert Malet himself during the brief but significant years when he was an intimate of Henry I, i.e. from 1100 until his death or retirement c.1105-6. The thrust of both papers was directed, in different ways, towards the interpretation of royal policies vis-à-vis magnates and curiales. In each case the personal circumstances of the man himself and the context in which he operated were neglected. Robert’s triumphant reappearance in association with Henry I, whose chamberlain he was until 1105/6, only deepens the mystery of what happened to him in the intervening years, since it hardly points to the association with Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy that has always seemed to explain his loss of influence in Rufus’s England. It is imperative, therefore, that some attempt is made to deal with Robert as a man, rather than as an element in some notional ‘royal policy’.