The Giroie: An Eleventh-/Twelfth-Century Norman Noble Family
(from Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History of the Normans, ca. 1140; based on analysis by Dominique Barthelemy, in History of Private Life, vol. 2, ed. G. Duby, Harvard U. Press, 1988, pp. 96-105)
General Account of the Family
The family that became known as the Giroie was typical of the upper strata of Norman elite in the 11th and early 12thcenturies. What we see is an extensive multilateral network of kinship, in which the affinity to the duke was becoming increasingly important. Our main source for their history the Anglo-Norman monk Orderic Vitalis, was mainly interested in family because they were patrons of his monastery St-Evroul d’Ouche. He therefore shaped his narrative to glorify the branch of the family that participated in the founding of the monastery. What follows is largely derived from Ordericus’s account.
the founder of the family, settled in borderlands between
William ‘the Giroie,’ Giroie’s
eldest son to reach maturity, shared the honor of
Although William dispossessed Foucois, he proved a more generous patron to his other brothers, sharing the family’s resources with them. He was not only the head of the clan but their personal lord. The cohesion of the clan is revealed by a laudatio, the formal permission that each member of the group had to give if one wished to donate land to a monastery. William endowed one brother, Robert, with a castle. He maintained another brother, Ralph”the ill-tonsured,” in his household at Montreuill and provided him with a generous stipend that allowed him to travel and study medicine. Ralph eventually became a physician and entered a monastery.
Five of Giroie’s seven sons died violently: one was accidentally lanced in a war game; one killed by accident wrestling; one in an ambush of the bodyguard of Count Gilbert, in whose entourage he was serving despite the Count’s attack on his family a few years before (the attackers included another of the Giroie boys); and a fourth during a raid on the lands of the Church of Lisieux. A fifth son, named Giroie, was accidentally killed by a squire, and, as he lay dying urged his squire to flee the vengeance of his brothers, whose interest in vengeance had less to do with fraternal love than with family honor. Another son became a cleric.
Of the daughters, two married lesser lords holding lands neighboring the Giroie’s possessions, swelling the family’s local retinue, and two married geographically remote partners of social rank equal to the Giroie, creating political alliances for the family. Hadvisse’s marriage to Robert of Grandmesnil led to her sons and her brothers William and Robert to co-found the monastery of Evroul around 1050 on the spot that Robert of Grandmesnil had died. The monastery thus connected to clans in an aura of sanctity. Two sons of the second generation, Robert of Grandmesnil.and Ernaud d’Echauffour eventually became monks.
Ernaud d’Echauffour was poisoned by Mabel of Bellême in 1064 leading to a long-lasting feud between the
two clans. The Giroire also lost favor with Duke
William. Thus while the Grandmesnil part of the clan
prospered, the Giroire’s influence waned and a
number of this generation sought adventure and wealth in southern
Orderic’s account is to be compared to contemporary genealogies, which tend to be ideological constructs 1) devised to justify possession of the patrimony (hence focus on male line), and 2) which emphasize marriages that enhanced luster of clan. Orderic’s focus on his monastery permits us to see beyond these genealogies. The Giroie's story is not that of a "lineage" in which the eldest son inherited everything. Nor is it a straightforward story. Foucois may have been the eldest son, but because he lost out in the struggle with William, he was not only dispossessed but read out of the family. The story is also one in which family solidarity is demonstrated in vendettas (see below) and in the foundation and maintenance of monasteries. The Giroie, like the story of Hugh IV of Lusignan and Count William V of Aquitaine, is set in a world in which noble families unite or fight with one another to increase their holdings, and in which the success of a family owed much to the favor or disfavor of a count.
VENDETTA AND VIOLENCE (by Dr. Paul Hyams,
Orderic, ii. 24; iii. 134-6, 160; iv. 294.
Comment: Chibnall in Orderic, ii. 24-5, n. 3.
Giroie had been an early benefactor of St. Evroul but was dead by around 1030. Count Gilbert of Brionne saw an opportunity to expamnd
his lands at the family’s expense and moved in on the sons not yet of age
and thus least able to defend themselves. They, however, mustered an effective
support group able not merely to resist but to pursue the count back to his own territory and take Le Sap from him. The duke
intervened to persuade Count Gilbert to let them keep the town ‘for a
firmer peace’. This held for a few years only, until the count tried
again and was murdered for his pains. Many of the disputed lands later came
into the hands of Roger de Montgomery who held them for a quarter century,
during which the Giroies always hated Roger’s
cruel wife, Mabel. [Why? Any link to Brionne?
How did the