1066 Info 3 for Norman Origins
The life of Gilbert de Venables in Normandy

The first Lords of Venables

Gilbert de Venables, also referred to as Venator, Veneur, Hunter, was from Venables, in the modern Department of Eure, near Rouen and Evreux in High Normandy. The Barony of Le Veneurs was so named because they were hereditary huntsmen to the Dukes of Normandy.

On the death of Odo / Gudo,/ Gules or Theobald III, Count of Blois and Chartres, his eldest son Theobald / Stephen Henry inherited the title and lands. Gilbert had little hope of getting anything. At this time, after the death of Mauger, the fief of Venables had no lord. Gilbert’s uncle (?) Roger of Blois, Bishop of Beauvais, whose chapter owned the plateau of Madrie, gave Venables to Gilbert.

Gilbert, then aged about twenty, left Blois and followed the Loire Valley until it reached Chartres, of which his father was count, and the Eure Valley. Perhaps he was disappointed on reaching Venables, to find that his fief only comprised of the village, whilst the remaining lands still belonged to the chapter of Beauvais.

Evidence of his life may be seen in La Motelle.

Below the level ground of church and the village hall of Venables lies an impressive mound, overlooking the river cliffs of the Seine. Though there is no obvious moat and a section has been excavated from it gives every appearance of being a castle motte, similar to those in England, and the possible home of the lord of Venables and therefore of Gilbert.
Ceramic of Gilbert of Venables 42Kb-jpg
Right: A ceramic tile impression, from the Maire de Venables, of Gilbert de Venables

‘The whole of the centre of the village (probably from the road to the gully which is in the wood and from the church to the village hall) holds the remains which are an important part of the region’s history and that of the genesis of the present day village, and therefore should be protected, studied and brought to light.

The motte called La Motelle was the main element of the fortress, probably built in the eleventh century. Enclosed by a moat, these fortifications included a more defensive element: the motte. The other element was the bailey in which most of the activity was centred (servants’ quarters, stores, etc). In Venables the relatively well preserved motte (with moats filled in and south-west side dug up), because of its small size, seems only to have had a watch tower, probably made of wood. The masonry which was discovered by the excavation at the beginning of this century could be part of a later modification (construction of a stone donjon [keep] for example) or of an earlier construction (making the motte by surrounding a building with earth). The bailey goes from the motte to the road; it is difficult to give the exact dimensions because of the disappearance of the moat. However, it is possible that the well, which can be seen there, is Medieval and was in the   Looking from La Motelle to the Seine 50Kb-jpg
Looking north west, from the top of La Motelle towards the Seine
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bailey. The defensive system was strengthened by a double moat, perhaps bordering a ravelin or a narrow courtyard to the north-west (towards the wood). The area of the castle seems to have been saved from construction, except on the south-west side where the village hall stands and towards the road by the Presbytery (which must have replaced earlier buildings). It is also possible that Venables was protected by a village wall.’

Source: From a report by M. Romain Verlut of CARMEN (Archaeological Research Centre of East Normandy), quoted in Oger page 317

However, there have been no precise excavations and therefore no precise dates. It is possible that successive mounds have developed, little by little, since the end of the ninth century. A cross-section, from north-west to south-east may have shown:

Artists sketch of La Motelle 137Kb-gif
Above: An artist impression of Venables at the end of the 10th century
Source: Oger B, ‘Venables A travers l’Histoire des origins à 1453’, Edition Franco- Anglaise, Venables village, ISBN 2-85480-256-X

A later report confirmed the importance of La Motelle and its surroundings and added:

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‘Gilbert of Venables lived in a tower/donjon, dominating the motte, in a building whose walls were four to five metres long. The motte itself was ten metres high, twenty five metres in circumference, and the moats were two metres wide. The lord, like most people of that period spent most of his time outside. They only went inside to eat and sleep and to shelter when the weather was bad. The bailey was between La Motelle and the now wooded slopes. On the other side, between La Motelle and rue du 9 et 10 juin 1940, was the ‘villa agraria’ where the serfs lived in their hovels.’

Source: From a report by Miss Varoqueau director of Historic Antiquities of Upper Normandy quoted in Oger op.cit. page 318

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Above: La Motelle, Venables, from the filled in moat

The historical background

Gilbert’s serfs, bound to the soil, had neither civil nor financial freedom. They belonged to Gilbert whose land they cultivated and to whom they paid rent for the patch of land they cultivated around their hovel.

The continued frontier wars influenced life around the fiefdom of Venables, which returned on the death of Robert II the Devil, then the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy from 1027-1035. Despite being enthroned by the Archbishop of Rouen the cousins of William the Bastard, then aged seven, seized power, backed by the great lords.

Henry I of France invaded the duchy and besieged Evreux. Though the town resisted Henry ransacked the countryside. By the time he was twenty William had been ruling over a duchy ravaged by continuous war. In 1047 Guy de Brionne, his cousin and friend, led a revolt which cause William to flee to Falaise and then to the court of Henry I of France. In March, at the battle of Val-les-Dunes, William was victorious and the ‘blood of the felons turned the river Orne red as far as Caen’.

Right: Rennes motte, a contemporary illustration of a watch tower. Source: The Bayeux Tapestry
A typical motte from the Bayeux Tapestry 44Kb-jpg

Geoffrey Martel, Count of Anjou, invaded the Vexin region and the Seine Valley of Normandy with a coalition of Gascons, Burgundians, Auvergants, Angevins and the royal army, taking Mantes and Evreux. In 1054, the whole of France had banded against the Normans. After a drunken orgy, the Normans fell on their opponents without mercy.

Gilbert of Venables probably therefore spent more time waging war on the borders of Normandy than looking after his modest domain. Then when the Duke called for him, he joined the army at Varaville.
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Norman knights at war. Source: The Bayeux Tapestry
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From 1057, William’s thoughts had been on England, whose throne he alleged to have a right being the cousin of Ethelred II. After the death of Edward the Confessor on 5 January 1066, Harold foreswore on his oath to William, his son-in-law. Determined to take the throne promised to him William called on the regulars and retainers of the Norman nobility to his camp at Varaville, with the promise of castles, farms, herds and even young Saxon girls.

At the beginning of August 25 000 men and 4 000 knights were ready to embark at Dives-sur-Mer, in 3 000 boats including 680 large sailing boats.

Finally, on 27 September 1066 the fleet set sail towards England to land in Pevensey Bay to meet and defeat, on 14 October 1066, Harold of Wessex on Senlac Hill. On that autumn day ‘they walked on mutilated corpses, they stepped in streams of blood in which the fighters slipped and fell.’

After Duke William was crowned King of England on 25 December 1066 he shared with his captains, amongst who was Gilbert de Venables, his conquest. William did all he could to keep his Norman lords in England by sharing the land in to 62 500 fiefs of 120 acres. The Domesday Book of 1087 showed that Gilbert of Venables owned some important fiefs in Cheshire.
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Above: One of Duke William's boat loaded with knights.
Source: The Bayeux Tapestry

The people around Venables

Map locating Domesday people around Venables - 31Kb gif
Above: Map locating Domesday people around Venables
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Keats-Rohan's prosopographical pen picture, from her analysis of the Domesday text, shows:

Name English Status Tenant-in-Chief Domesday location Notes
Berenger de Todeni Tenant   Lincolnshire Originating in Tosny. Son of Robert de Tosny de Belvoir.
Drogo de Andelei Tenant Earl Hugh d'Avranches Berkshire and Cheshire Norman tenant of Robert de Tosny.
Durand de Gloucestre Tenant     Assumed located in Gloucestershire.
Gilbert de Venables Tenant Earl Hugh d'Avranches Cheshire Venables lands allegedly from his uncle the Bishop of Rouen.
Ivo de Tigerville Tenant Robert de Tosny de Belvoir Lincolnshire  
Radulf de Tosny Tenant-in-chief     Son of Roger de Tosny. Said to have fought at Hastings.
Robert de Tosny
de Belvoir
Tenant-in-chief   Lincolnshire Land in Guerny and Vesley, Eure. Related to Robert de Tosny de Stafford.
Robert de Tosny
de Stafford
Tenant-in-chief   Stafford Radulf de Tosny. Brother of Related to Robert de Tosny de Belvoir. Died as a monk at Evesham.
Roger de Mucegros Tenant Radulf de Tosny    
Roger de Bascherville Tenant      
Turold de Verly Tenant     Assumed tenant of Robert de Tosny de Belvoir, linked by Vesley.
Walter de Gloecestria Tenant     Assumed located in Gloucestershire.
Willelm de Schohies Tenant-in-chief   Norfolk  

Engraved on the west nave wall of Dives church are 521 names of those alleged to have sailed with William. Oger records that 'there were about twenty five names of lords whose fief were within a radius of twenty five kilometres around Venables. This shows just the high percentage of local people who took part in the English conquest: six lords of Toeni, [de Tosny] two lords of La Mare and of course Gilbert (of Venables). Most of them settled in Great Britain.' (Oger 1977, p.344) They were:

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The prosopographical 1 work of Katherine SB Keats-Rohan, on 'Domesday People' , records that Gislebert De Venables was:

'Norman, Domesday tenant of Earl Hugh. From Venables, Eure, canton of Gaillon. A Malger de Venables attested a confirmation for Saint-Ouen of Rouen by Roger de Clères circa 1050/66 (Fauroux, 191 2) A second Gilbert attested a charter of Warin de Vernon (Chester Charters, 160)'

and lists a further 62 Domesday names identified as having their origins in the department of Eure. Of these thirteen are from a close proximity to Venables plus two from nearby Vernon.

This prosopographical research raises some interesting questions including the prominence of the de Tosnys:

Gilbert may have left Normandy with Drogo de Andelei (and Hugh de la Mare) and together fought under Hugh d'Avranches, who rewarded them with Cheshire tenancies; the only two (three) Cheshire tenants from the Venables area.


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1 'Prosopography is the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors [Domesday People] in history by means of a collective study of their lives. The method employed is to establish a universe to be studied [in this case Domesday Book], and then to ask a set of uniform questions – about ... social origins and inherited economic position, place of residence, ... amount and source of personal wealth, occupation, religion, experience of office and so on. The various types of information about the individuals in the universe are then juxtaposed and combined, and are examined for significant variables. They are tested both for internal correlations and for correlations with other forms of behaviour or action.' Lawrence Stone quoted in KSB Keats-Rohan, 'Progress or Perversion: Current issues in Prosopography. An Introduction'. (Accessed 13 March 2020)

2 Gilbert is identified in early Norman papers, by Marie Fauroux (ed), ' Recueil des actes des duc de Normandie (911-1066)', Sociètè des Antiquaries de Normandie t.36, Caen,1961

3 Keats-Rohan quotes further sources of Gilbert's early life in Barraclough, Geoffrey (Ed), 'Charters of Anglo-Norman Earls of Chester 1071-1237' in ' Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. 126, 1988, which is the fullest possible text on 470 charters and other documents of the Anglo Normans. These are available at Cheshire Archives, reference 012404. (Accessed 13 March 2020)

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This page was created by Richard Crompton
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  Version A9
Updated 13 March 2020