Yet from his own viewpoint, until those last years at any rate, Robert probably had quite a nice life. He excelled at military action; bold and audacious in battle, he enjoyed the skirmishes and wars and would have enjoyed a powerful reputation as a young man, a reputation capped by his exploits in the First Crusade. He was a great strategist too, and took Norman warfare beyond Hastings. And he proved skilled at diplomacy: Robert understood very well that persuading people to give you what you want rather than fighting them for it is less expensive, less uncomfortable and perhaps has greater hope of long-lasting success. Moreover, a considerate and loving man, he was a huge success with women – he might not have been conventionally handsome but he was strong – and skilled at giving the ladies, too, what they wanted.
Yet Robert II, Duke of Normandy remains a footnote. Unless you visit his resting place at Gloucester Cathedral and see his effigy, or perhaps ferret out the history of Newcastle-on-Tyne – named for the new castle that Robert had built there – or find reference to him at Cardiff Castle, you’re unlikely to ever hear of the Conqueror’s first-born.
Wayward Prince author Austin Hernon firmly believes this is because of what came after the time when Robert was at liberty and a force in the world. First one brother, then the other took the crown of England. And then in a dreadful mess of inheritance, partly down to awful luck and partly Henry I’s bad management, the crown passed from his daughter Matilda to his nephew Stephen and back again in the long years of civil war of the English Anarchy, and eventually ended up in the hands of the Plantagenets.