William de Fors (d.1242) (DNB00)

WILLIAM de Fors or de Fortibus, earl of Albemarle, (d. 1242), was the son of Hawise, countess of Albemarle, daughter of William le Gros, earl of Albemarle (d. 1179), son of Count Stephen, and the last representative of the elder line of the lords of Albemarle representing Adeliza, the niece of William the Conqueror. His father was William de Fors of Oleron, Hawise's second husband [for her first husband see William de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, d. 1189], who took his more usual name from the village of Fors (Latin, de Fortibus) in Poitou. He was a military adventurer who shared as one of the chief commanders of the fleet in Richard I's crusade, was married to Hawise on his return in 1190, and died in 1195. Hawise soon married her third husband, Baldwin de Béthune, and probably died during his lifetime.

William de Fors the younger was already a man on his stepfather's death on 13 Oct. 1213. He was soon established by John in the lands of the county of Albemarle (Rot. Lit. Pat. p. 122), and in 1215 the whole of his mother's estates were formally confirmed to him (Rot. Cartarum, p. 201). The most important of these was the lordship or wapentake of Holderness, the true seat of the Albemarle power, where they held ten knights' fees (Red Book of Exchequer, ii. 490); there were situated their castle of Skipsea and the family foundation of Meaux, a Cistercian house. They had also important estates in Lincolnshire, in Craven, and Cumberland. They were sometimes described as earls of Holderness (Rishanger, p. 63, Rolls Ser.; Chron de Melsa, ii. 107). Hawise's father had been created Earl of Yorkshire in 1138. But they were more often called earls of Albemarle, a name taken from their Norman county of Aumâle, from which they originally obtained comital rank. Aumâle had been lost with Normandy under John, and William the younger is perhaps the first of his house with whom the once foreign title had an exclusively English signification. In the quarrel between John and his barons the young earl supported the king until the defection of the Londoners (Rog. Wend. iii. 300, English Hist. Soc.) He was one of the twenty-five executors of Magna Charta, though probably the least hostile to John on the list. On 11 Aug. he was made constable of Scarborough Castle (Rot. Lit. Pat. pp. 152, 154). On war breaking out between king and barons in September, William went over to John's side, being the only one of the twenty-five who fought for him (Walter of Coventry, ii. 225). He took part in John's devastating march from St. Albans to the north (Rog. Wend. iii. 348), and was made warden of the castles of Sauvey, Rockingham, and Bytham (ib. iii. 353). But on the capture of Winchester on 14 June 1216 by Louis of France, William went back to the side of the triumphant barons, though their subsequent disasters once more brought him round to the king (cf. Rot. Lit. Pat. p. 199). He continued to support Henry III, and was on 17 Dec. made constable of Rockingham and Sauvey Castles. He shared with his close associate Randulph de Blundevill, earl of Chester [q. v.], in the long siege of Mount Sorrel, Leicestershire, which began after Easter 1217 (Hemingburgh, i. 250), fought on 20 May at the battle of Lincoln (Melrose Chron. p. 131), and in August joined in Hubert de Burgh's naval victory over Eustace the Monk off Dover (Matt. Paris, Chron. Majora, iii. 28–9).

William had won so strong a position during the years of disorder that he was indisposed to submit himself to the rule of the young king's ministers. He was the most conspicuous representative of the feudal reaction towards the ancient ideal of local independence for each individual baron. Dr. Stubbs in describing him as a ‘feudal adventurer of the worst stamp’ (Const. Hist. i. 581) is not too severe on his character, though he rather ignores his ancestral position in the country as representative of his mother's house. Aiming at reviving the separatist policy of the Anglo-Norman baronage, William found his chief allies in Falkes de Breauté [q. v.] and the other foreign adventurers whom John had established in the country. As early as 1219 Albemarle had shown his hostility to Hubert de Burgh [q. v.] the justiciar, and had been declared a rebel and excommunicated by the legate for persisting in attending a prohibited tournament. But the real struggle began in 1220, when the justiciar called on the barons to surrender to the crown the royal castles which had remained in their hands since the troubles in John's reign. William refused to surrender his two royal castles of Rockingham and Sauvey, and exerted himself to strengthen the fortifications of the latter. However, immediately after his second coronation on 17 May, the young king marched in person against the two castles. The garrisons fled in terror, and on 28 June William was compelled to make a formal surrender of his castles, and to pledge himself to submit to the judgment of his peers. He probably bought off his excommunication by taking the crusader's vow and submitting himself to the legate. But many complaints against him seem to have been brought, and the barons adjudged Bytham to William de Colville. William therefore prepared to resist to the uttermost the attempt to ruin him, and before the end of the year had collected a large force at Bytham, the centre of his power in South Kesteven. At Christmas William attended Henry's court at Oxford. Thence, without note of warning or solemn defiance, he fled to Bytham, and rose in revolt early in January 1221. He plundered the country far and wide and cruelly tortured his prisoners (Rog. Wend. iv. 66–7). He attacked the castles of Newark, Sleaford, and Kimbolton, but was disgracefully repulsed (Dunstaple Ann. p. 63). He was still summoned to great councils, and professed to set off to attend one at Westminster. However, he next captured Fotheringay Castle. Thence he issued letters, directed to the mayors of English towns, which granted safe conduct and ‘his peace’ to merchants ‘as if he alone ruled over the realm’ (Walter of Coventry, ii. 247). It was, says Dr. Stubbs, ‘an assumption of feudal or royal style worthy of the days of Stephen’ (Const. Hist. ii. 33). On 25 Jan. Pandulf held a council at St. Paul's, in which he excommunicated Albemarle for the second time. The great council voted a special scutage of ten shillings on every knight's fee, called the ‘Scutagium de Biham.’ An army was at once equipped to bring about the rebel's defeat, and his old associate, the Earl of Chester, heartly co-operated with the king's forces. Pandulf himself accompanied the king on his expedition. Bytham was besieged for six days, and on 8 Feb. was captured with the help of the machines erected against it. The garrison was imprisoned, the whole structure burnt down, and William, now a fugitive, was forced to take sanctuary at Fountains Abbey (Dunstaple Ann. p. 64). He there surrendered to Walter de Grey [q. v.], archbishop of York, and the northern barons, on the condition that he should be restored to sanctuary if the king refused to admit him to mercy. Pandulf now interested himself in procuring easy terms for him (Flores Hist. ii. 173). He was pardoned on condition of his going into exile for six years to the Holy Land (Worcester Ann. p. 413; Rog. Wend. iv. 66–8, corrected by Matt. Paris, Chron. Majora, iii. 60–1).

Albemarle did not go on crusade, and was suffered to remain unmolested in England. The return of the Earl of Chester to his old policy of opposition doubtless made his position more secure, and late in 1223, when fresh attacks were made by the confederates on Hubert de Burgh, William was once more strong enough to join in open rebellion. He was associated with Falkes de Breauté, Chester, and others, in a sudden attack on the Tower of London. On the approach of the king the confederates, who had failed in their assault, fled to Waltham, where Langton persuaded them to attend the king (Rog. Wend. iv. 92–3). They protested that they sought for nothing but to remove Hubert de Burgh from the justiciarship. Henry went to Northampton to keep Christmas, while Albemarle and Chester assembled with their followers at Leicester. But they ascertained that the king's force was larger and accepted Langston's proposals to patch up peace. They surrendered their castles and honours to the king, and both parties ended the Christmas feast together at Northampton. Next year (1224), when Falkes was besieged at Bedford, Albemarle joined with Chester and Peter des Roches in professing to support the king, though their real attitude was very suspicious. They appeared before Bedford, but, finding themselves excluded from Henry's counsels, went home in disgust (Dunstaple Ann. p. 87).

After Falkes's fall, the hopes of the feudal party expired. Henceforth Albemarle accepted the inevitable, and lived as an Englishman and loyal subject. He became one of the king's council, in which capacity he strove to effect Falkes's reconciliation in 1226 (Shirley, Royal Letters, i. 547). On 6 Jan. 1225 he received a royal grant to maintain him in the king's service (Rot. Lit. Claus. p. 11). In 1227 he was granted all the liberties in Holderness exercised by his predecessors, and was acquitted on his share of the ‘scutage of Bytham’ which had hitherto been reckoned as due to the royal coffers (Rot. Lit. Claus. p. 172). On 11 Feb. 1225 he witnessed Henry's third reissue of Magna Charta (Select Charters, p. 354). In September 1227 he was sent as an ambassador to Antwerp (Fœdera, i. 187). In April 1230 he accompanied Henry III to Brittany, and in October, when the king went home, he was left behind with the Earl of Chester and William Marshal as joint commander of the small force that remained to assist the Count of Brittany (Rog. Wend. iv. 217). On 9 Aug. and 15 Oct. 1241 Albemarle was one of six English earls who were twice summoned to Gregory IX's projected council against Frederick II (Cal. Papal Letters, 1198–1304, p. 195).

In the autumn of 1241 Albemarle at last set out for the Holy Land. He was accompanied by his old associate Peter de Mauley [q. v.] and other English nobles. Albemarle and his friends took ship in the Mediterranean. On 26 March 1242 he died at sea, either on his going to, or on his return from, Jerusalem. He was unable to eat eight days before his death (Matt. Paris, iv. 174), but there is no reason to say that he was starved to death in prison. Paris calls him ‘miles strenuissimus,’ and he certainly had few merits save military ones. He was, however, a friend of the monks. He made grants to the Cistercians of Meaux (Chron. de Melsa, i. 362, ii. 27, 47), the most important being the ‘barony’ or close of Beeford, made before his departure on crusade. He also made grants to the nuns of Nun Keeling in Holderness (Poulson, Holderness, i. 32) and the monks of St. Bees, Cumberland.

Before 1215 William married Avelina, second daughter and coheiress of Richard de Montfichet. She died in 1239, and is described as ‘mulier admirabilis pulchritudinis’ (Matt. Paris, iii. 624). Their eldest son was William de Fors, last earl of Albemarle (d. 1260) [q. v.]

[Roger of Wendover's Flores Hist. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Matt. Paris's Chron. Majora, Flores Hist., Annals of Dunstaple and Worcester in Ann. Monastici, R. de Coggeshall, Rishanger, Oxenedes, Walter of Coventry, Red Book of Exchequer, Royal Letters, Chron. de Melsa (all in Rolls Ser.); Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i.; Stubbs's Select Charters; Rotuli Lit. Patentium; Rot. Lit. Claus.; Rot. Cartarum; Poulson's Hist. of Holderness, i. 30–3; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, i. 56; Doyle's Official Baronage, i. 26; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 63–4.]

T. F. T.