WILLIAM DE ALBINI

The Conqueror and His Companions

by J.R. Planché, Somerset Herald. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1874.

That one or more of the family of Aubigny (Latinised into De Albinio, and better known in England as De Albini) "came over with the Conqueror," and fought at Hastings, there can be no question; but Wace, who does not specify the individual, but simply calls him "li boteillier d'Aubignie," has been accused of an anachronism by Mr. Taylor, who considers the office of Pincerna, or butler, to have been first conferred upon the grandson of William by Henry I circa 1100, when for his services to that monarch he was enfeoffed of the barony of Buckenham to hold in grand-sergeantry by the butlery, an office now discharged at coronations by the Duke of Norfolk, his descendants possessing a part of the barony. The companion of the Conqueror he believes to have been William, the first of that name we know of, or his son Roger, father of the second William, and Nigel de Albini, of whom we have previously spoken (p.30).

M. Le Prévost votes for Roger, who made a donation to the Abbey of L'Essai in 1084. There is no reason why he should not also have been in the battle.

In the absence of conclusive evidence I have headed this chapter with William de Albini, the earliest known of that name, which he derived from the commune of Aubigny, near Periers, in the Cotentin, and with whom the family pedigree commences.

This William married a sister of Grimoult du Plessis, the traitor of Valognes and Val-ès-Dunes, who died in his dungeon in 1047 (vol. i., pp. 25 and 31), and Wace may after all be right in styling him "Le Botellier," as it is probable that he held that office in the household of the Duke of Normandy. By his wife, the sister of Grimoult (I have not yet lighted on her name), he had a son, the Roger d'Aubigny aforesaid, who married Amicia, or Avitia, sister of Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, and of Roger de Montbrai, and is supposed by M. Le Prévost to have been with his brothers-in-law in the battle.

Roger d'Aubigny, or De Albini, had issue by his wife Avitia de Montbrai, five sons: William, known as William de Albini "Pincerna" (i.e., Butler), ancestor of the Earls of Sussex, who married Maud, daughter of Roger le Bigod, and died 1139. Richard, Abbot of St. Albans, Nigel, Humphrey, and Ruafon, or Ralph. Nigel, the third son, was heir of Robert de Montbrai, or Mowbray, his first cousin, whose wife he married during the lifetime of her husband by licence of Pope Paschal, and for some time treated her with respect out of regard for her noble parents; but on the death of her brother Gilbert de l'Aigle, having no issue by her, he craftily sought for a divorce on the ground of that very kinship which he exerted so much influence to induce the Pope to overlook, and then married Gundred, daughter of Gerrard de Gournay, by whom he had Roger, who assumed the name of Mowbray, and transmitted it to his descendants, Dukes of Norfolk and Earls Marshal of England; and Henri, ancestor of the line of Albini of Cainho.

To return to the first William, it is clear that his grandsons were mere infants even if born in 1066, and therefore I believe that it was the William, then Pincerna, and probably also Roger, his son, who were companions of the Conqueror in his expedition; Roger's eldest brother William being in disgrace in Normandy at the time, and not restored to favour, or allowed to enter England before the reign of Rufus, or it may have been Henry I.

Of William de Albini, third son and successor of William II, and Maud le Bigod, a romantic story has been invented to account for the lion rampant subsequently borne by his descendants.

Having captivated the heart of the Queen Dowager of France by his gallant conduct in a tournament at Paris, she offered to marry him, an honour which he respectfully declined, having already given his word and faith to a lady in England, another Queen Dowager, no less a personage than Adeliza, widow of King Henry 1 of England. His refusal so angered the French Queen, that she laid a plot with her attendants to destroy him by inducing him to enter a cave in her garden, where a lion had been placed for that purpose; but the undaunted Earl, rolling his mantle round his arm, thrust his hand into the lion's mouth, tore out its tongue, and sent it to the Queen by one of her maids. "In token of which noble and valiant act," says Brooke, in his "Catalogue of Nobility," "this William assumed to bear for his arms a lion gold in a field gules, which his successors ever since continued."

As this third William de Albini died as late as 1176, it is possible be might have assumed armorial bearings, but the lion was more probably first borne by his son, the second Earl of Arundel of the line of Aubigny, in token of his descent from Adeliza, widow of Henry l, in whose reign we have the earliest evidence of golden lions being adopted as a personal decoration, if not strictly an heraldic bearing.