THE EARLS OF CHESTER
In 1070 Cheshire was held by Gherbod a great Flemish noble but he returned to the continent within the year as he thought the area was too wild and troublesome, but rumour had it that when he arrived in France he was abducted and held prisoner for many years.
Hugh de Avranches 1st Earl In 1071 the first official earl of Chester was Hugh de Avranches the nephew of William the Conqueror and son of the Viscount de Avranches. Hugh inherited much land from his father throughout Western Normandy as well as much in England. He became an important councillor of his uncle and contributed 60 ships for the invasion. He did not fight at Hasting but stayed behind to govern Normandy. As Earl of Chester he fought savagely with the Welsh and eventually ruled North Wales and Cheshire.
He became very fat and could hardly walk and was known as ‘Hugh the Fat" also ‘Hugh Lupus’ the wolf. His household was full of rowdy thugs but he could be generous and had a pious side. He held land in 20 counties and founded St. Werburgh's Abbey in 1092, and became a monk. He died in 1101 and was buried wearing his habit in the Abbey.
Richard de Avranches 2nd Earl The second earl was Hugh's son Richard who was only 7 at his father's death. He became the earl in 1114, aged 20. Richard was on a military campaign with the King of Scotland in Wales. He later joined Prince William, heir to Henry I, on a trip to Normandy. Richard spent most of his time in Normandy. On the return journey in 1121 the ship, called the Blanche Nef meaning the white ship, sank with only one survivor. This tragic loss of the heir to England was the cause of the civil war between Empress Maud, sometimes called Matilda, and Stephen of Blois the named heir.
RanuIf I de Meschine 3rd Earl The 3rd earl was Richard's cousin Ranulf and nephew of Hugh Lupus. He is known as Ranulf I de Meschine Viscount of Bayeux and held the Earldom of Carlisle through his wife Lucy who was descended from the great Anglo-Saxon Earl of Mercia, Leofric and Lady Godifu, known as Godiva. Ranulf had to surrender his other earldoms and lands to the crown.
His earldom only lasted 8 years he died in 1129.
Ranulf II de Meschine 4th Earl Ranulf’s son, known as Ranulph II the 4th earl, was the most ruthless of all the earls of Chester. He was not like his father and became the most important lord in England. He wanted power to recover the Earldom of Carlisle and his father's lands which he could not achieve until after the death of King Henry I in 1135.
Ranulf had married the daughter of Robert Earl of Gloucester who was the illegitimate son of the late king. With lands from this marriage he could control one third of England, almost half from Cheshire to Lincoln and the east coast. The castle at Lincoln was in royal hands and he had not broken from the king. He did seize the castle for a year and went to the side of Matilda with his own army including Welshmen. There was much brutality in Lincoln but Ranulph II was arrested, later set free and turned again to violence until King Stephen restored his castle and lands. He controlled from Chester across to Lincoln and down to Coventry and instead of receiving Carlisle he received land between the Rivers Mersey and the Ribble.
In spite of his immense power he was still prepared to sell his sword to the highest bidder. Matilda's son Henry Plantagenet landed in England in 1153 and Ranulf turned against Stephen on the promise of lands including those of William Peveral of the Peak. William poisoned Ranulf in 1153 and he died within the year.
Hugh II de Kevelioc 5th Earl The 5th earl was Ranulf’s son Hugh II de Kevelioc who was born in Wales. His father's northern lands were given to King David of Scotland, known as the Earldom of Huntingdon.
Scotland had been divided into two and ruled by David and his brother William. William died in 1124 without issue so David succeeded to the whole of Scotland. He had received a Norman education and Anglo-Saxon culture influenced him. He granted lands to Anglo-Saxon friends and later to Anglo-Normans. David became Earl of Nottingham and Huntingdon through marriage to Maud the daughter of Hugh de Kevelioc. Their son John was to become the 7th and last Earl of Chester.
Hugh II held lands in England and Normandy, where he spent most of his time overseeing his lordships of Avranches and Bayeux. In 1169 he married Beatrice de Montford daughter of Simon III de Montford and cousin to Henry II who gave her away in marriage. Her father later became the leader in the baronial revolt against Henry II in 1173/4.
Hughe's son Ranulf III de Blunderville later became the 6th earl.
His daughters made good marriages with important
leaders of the 12th century.
Maud married David of Scotland, 8th Earl of Huntingdon
Mabel married William de Aubigny, 3rd Earl of Arundel
Agnes married William de Ferrers, 4th Earl of Derby
Hawise, Countess of Lincoln, married Robert II de Quincy
Another daughter married a Welsh prince and an illegitimate daughter
Amice married Ralph de Mainwaring.
Hugh II was aware of the problems between Henry and Thomas Becket in 1170. Hugh died in 1181 at Leek in Staffordshire and was buried in St. Werburgh Abbey.
Ranulf III de Blunderville 6th Earl Hughe's son Ranulf III became the 6th earl and held the earldom for 51 years and was probably the last of the great. He also held Lincoln and Huntingdon.
Cheshire was one of the most important lordships in England. He expanded his power by peaceful negotiation. In 1189, when he was 17, he married Constance, Countess of Brittany and widow of Geoffrey, son of Henry II. The marriage gave Ranulf the Earldom of Richmond and Duchy of Brittany. The marriage was not a success they separated and it was dissolved in 1199. He married again in Normandy and lived in France from 1199-1204.
He was powerful enough to become regent for the young Henry III who was aged 9 when his father King John died, but he left it to William Marshall the Premiere Earl.
Ranulf III made a strong alliance with Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, in 1218 before he left for the Holy Land. On his return he began to build Beeston Castle in 1220. He died without issue and no brothers so the earldom went to his nephew John le Scot. Ranulph will be remembered as a man of affairs, a statesman, a crusader and stalwart soldier. He was commander-in-chief of an unsuccessful campaign in France in 1231 and died a year later aged 60. He was buried in the Chapter House at Chester.
John le Scot 7th Earl John le Scot, Earl of Huntingdon, and nephew to the King of Scotland and nephew to Ranulf III became the 7th and last Earl of Chester.
Scottish Kings and Lords often held lands in England and were made earls of various counties.
John le Scot's father David was knighted in 1170 by Henry II and later created the Earl of Huntingdon in 1184. David died in 1219 and his son John inherited the title. His mother was Maude, eldest sister and co-heir of Ranulf III de Blunderville the Earl of Chester who built Beeston Castle.
Ranulf died in 1232 and John inherited the title of Earl of Chester by the right of his mother. He had married Helen, the daughter of Llewellen Prince of Wales, in 1226. John died of poison in 1237 and it was said his wife had been responsible. There was no issue from the union and Henry III decided that the earldom was too important to divide between John's sisters so it was annexed to the crown. The king gave John's sisters other lands in exchange and later created his son and heir Edward as Earl of Chester and later Prince of Wales, the future Edward I.
In Norman French (Latin) we have venator/venitor meaning hunter. Gross meant great more than big so gross venitor meant a great hunter.
The words have become joined as Grosvenor the name of a distinctive family since 12th century, keepers of the King's Forest in Cheshire There is Grosvenor Street and museum in Chester and its founder was called Hugh Lupus Grosvenor.
Another familiar name from 11th century is Gilbert Venables, Baron of Kinderton, on the banks of the River Weaver, known as the hunter, venitor. He was a relation of the Counts of Blois.
When Henry III annexed the earldom of Chester to the Crown in 1237 he also gave the earls hunting lodge in Macclesfield Forest, known as Addlington, to his natural son. His son took the name of Corona and the lodge eventually passed to a second son of the Venables of Kinderton through marriage and he took his mother's name of Legh.