Richard De Bienfaite

The Conqueror and His Companions by J.R. Planché 1874

This great progenitor of the illustrious house of Clare, of the Barons Fitzwalter, and the Earls of Gloucester and Hertford, was the son of Gilbert, surnamed Crispin, Comte d’Eu and Brionne, grandson of Richard I, Duke of Normandy.

Count Gilbert was one of the guardians of the young Duke William, and was murdered by assassins employed by Raoul de Gacé, as already related in the memoir of the Conqueror. Orderic gives us the name of one of the assassins — Robert de Vitot; and Guillaume de Jumièges tells us that two of the family of Giroie fell upon and murdered him when he was peaceably riding near Eschafour, expecting no evil. This appears to have been an act of vengeance for wrongs inflicted upon the orphan children of Giroie by Gilbert, and it is not clear what Raoul de Gacé had to do in the business.

Fearing they might meet their father’s fate, Richard and his brother Baldwin were conveyed by their friends to the court of Baldwin, Count of Flanders.  On the marriage of Matilda of Flanders to Duke William in 1053, the latter, at the request of the Count, restored to the two sons of Gilbert the fiefs which in their absence he had seized and appropriated, Richard receiving those of Bienfaite and Orbec, from the first of which, latinized Benefacta, he derived one of the various names whereby he is designated and the reader of history mystified.

By Wace, who includes him among the combatants in the great battle, he is called
“Dam Richart ki tient Orbec;” and the exchange of Brionne for Tunbridge, in the county of Kent, obtained for him the appellation of Richard of Tunbridge. At the same time the gift of the honour of Clare in Suffolk added a fourth name to the list, which is swelled by a fifth, descriptive of his parentage, viz., Richard Fitz Gilbert.

It is necessary for a reader to be acquainted with all these particulars, in order to identify the individual he meets with under so many aliases.  In the exchange of the properties above mentioned a most primitive mode of insuring their equal value was resorted to. A league was measured with a rope round the Castle of Brionne, and the same rope being brought over to England, was employed in meting out a league round Tunbridge; so that exactly the same number of miles was allotted to the latter estate as the former had been found to contain. (Continuator of Guillaume de Jumièges.)

Besides Tunbridge, Richard possessed at the time of the compilation of Domesday one hundred and eighty-eight manors and burgages, thirty-five being in Essex and ninety-five in Suffolk.