The Earls' Revolt

What was the Earls' Revolt?
In 1075, William faced another rebellion. This time, however, the rebels were his own men - the Normans.
When was the Earls' Revolt?
The Earls' Revolt occurred in 1075.
What were the aims of the Earls' Revolt?
The leaders of the Earls' Revolt planned to overthrow William and divide England into three parts, shared between them.
Who was involved in the Earls' Revolt?
There were three main figures in the Earls' Revolt, along with other supporters.
  • Ralph de Gael, Earl of East Anglia - a Norman.
  • Roger de Breteuil, Earl of Hereford - a Norman.
  • Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria - an Anglo-Saxon.
  • A fleet of Danish invaders, led by Sweyn's son Cnut, was assembled to help the rebels.
  • Brittany and France, rivals of Normandy, were both prepared to help the earls in the revolt.
What were the causes of the Earls' Revolt?
The earls are believed to have had a number of reasons for rebelling.
  • They resented the loss of their lands, privileges and power.
  • William was away in Normandy at the time, leaving Archbishop Lanfranc in charge.
  • They had powerful allies in the form of the Danes, the French and the Bretons.
  • They believed that the Anglo-Saxons were prepared to rebel.
Why did Ralph de Gael lead the Earls' Revolt?
Not much is known about Ralph de Gael's motives in rebelling against William, but it is likely that he resented having less wealth and power than his father had possessed. He also had strong links to Brittany.
Why did Roger de Breteuil lead the Earls' Revolt?
Roger de Breteuil was the son of William's most trusted advisor, but he was angry when William reduced his land in the Marcher earldom and introduced his own sheriffs to the area.
Why did Earl Waltheof lead the Earls' Revolt?
Waltheof was invited to join the rebellion at the wedding of de Gael to de Breteuil's sister, Emma. He was a former rebel with links to Denmark. However, he may have been a double agent in the revolt.
How did the Earls' Revolt begin?
The revolt began when the rebels began to strengthen the defences of the castles in Hereford and East Anglia, and built up their troops ready to march.
Why was the wedding important in Earls' Revolt?
The wedding symbolised unity between de Gael and de Breteuil's families. It was attended by many important members of the aristocracy, and was where Waltheof was invited to join the plot.
What problems did the leaders face in the Earls' Revolt?
The leaders of the Earls' Revolt faced a number of problems.
  • The Anglo-Saxons did not support them.
  • Waltheof changed his mind and informed Archbishop Lanfranc, who sent men to East Anglia and Hereford to find out what was going on.
  • Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester and the abbot of Evesham used their troops to prevent de Breteuil from leaving Herefordshire, while de Gael was blocked in East Anglia.
  • William returned to England.
  • The Danish fleet of 200 ships arrived too late to help the rebels. Instead of facing William in battle, Cnut raided the east coast and then returned home.
What did Lanfranc do in the Earls' Revolt?
Archbishop Lanfranc, who had been left in charge of England while William was away, took several actions during the Earl's Revolt.
  • He sent men to East Anglia and Hereford to report on the rebels' actions.
  • He wrote to Roger de Breteuil to remind him of his loyalty to William.
  • He excommunicated de Breteuil when he didn't stop the revolt.
  • He made preparations to prevent the revolt.
How did William react to the Earls' Revolt?
William responded severely to the Earl's revolt.
  • He tricked Waltheof into returning to England after he fled abroad, then imprisoned and executed him, despite his role in informing on the rebels.
  • He had de Gael's Breton supporters blinded or banished, but allowed Emma safe passage to Brittany after she took refuge in Norwich castle.
  • He imprisoned Roger de Breteuil for life.
  • He attacked de Gael's castle in Brittany, but was forced to retreat after France sent troops to help Ralph.
What was the importance of the Earls' Revolt?
The Earls' Revolt was significant for William and England in a number of ways:
  • It showed that, having conquered England, William now had to watch his own supporters for treachery.
  • Anglo-Saxons, such as Bishop Wulfstan, supported William rather than the rebels.
  • William had Waltheof executed after the rebellion, which showed that he was still ruthless about Anglo-Saxon rebellion.
  • The failure of Cnut's Danish invasion marked the end of the Danish attacks on England. At the time, however, William saw it as a serious threat.
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