Ralph de Gael

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Ralph de Gaël (otherwise Ralph de Guader, Radulf Waders or Ralph Wader) (before 1042 – c. 1096) was the Earl of East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) and Lord of Gaël and Montfort (Seigneur de Gaël et Montfort). He was the leading figure in the Revolt of the Earls, the last serious revolt against William the Conqueror.


Ralph was born before 1042, most probably about 1040 in Hereford, as not later than 1060 he attested, in company with other Bretons, a notification at Angers as son of Ralph the Staller.


He inherited the great Breton barony of Gaël, which comprised more than forty parishes. In England, whether by inheritance or by grant from the Crown, he held large estates in Norfolk, as well as property in Suffolk, Essex, Hertford, and possibly other counties. In some of these estates he certainly succeeded his father, but it is not known whether he obtained the Earldom immediately on his father's death.

Up to 1074Edit

In 1065 he was with Conan II, Duke of Brittany when he besieged Rivallon I of Dol, Lord of Dol, in the castle of Combourg. After the Battle of Hastings, he is found in February or March 1068 at William the Conqueror’s court with his father. Then in 1069 he routed a force of Norsemen which had invaded Norfolk and occupied Norwich, and he would later be created Earl of Norfolk and Suffolk, or of the East Angles, the Earldom being also styled, from its capital, 'of Norwich'. It was presumably this Ralph who on 13 April 1069 was with the King at Winchester and he witnessed, as Earl Ralph, a diploma in favour of St. Denis of Paris and a grant in favour of the Bishop of Essex. It is possible that Ralph defended Dol when the Conqueror besieged it unsuccessfully in 1074, although it is more likely that Ralph was in Dol during the revolts against Hoel II, Duke of Brittany and that William came to Dol in defense of Hoel. [1]

Ralph built a church in Norwich, in the new town, and give it to his chaplains; but there is no record of religious benefactions by him in Brittany.


He married, in 1075 at Exning, Cambridgeshire, Emma, only daughter of William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford and his first wife Alice or Adelise (or Adelissa), daughter of Roger I of Tosny. Their offspring were:

  • William de Gael, succeeded his father as Seigneur de Gael. He claimed Breteuil after the death of his uncle William de Breteuil, but died shortly thereafter, according to Orderic Vitalis.[2][3]
  • Raoul II de Gael, seigneur of Gael and Montfort. By 1119, he had obtained the honour of Breteuil in Normandy (his uncle William de Breteuil died 1103 without any legitimate issue).[2][3] The Complete Peerage claims that his descendants in the male line continued to hold his estates in Brittany, acquiring Laval and Vitré in the 15th century with the marriage of the heiress of Montmorency-Laval, but such a male-line descent hasn't been traced. He had only one child by his wife, whose name is unknown, a daughter Amice (Amicia), She was initially betrothed to Richard, illegitimate son of Henry I by his mistress Ansfrida, but her betrothed died on the White Ship disaster in November 1120. She was then married to the King's ward Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester, second (twin) son of Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan.
  • Alain de Gael, who went with his parents on the First Crusade and died in the Holy Land

Revolt of the EarlsEdit

In 1075 the king's refusal to sanction this marriage between two powerful families caused a revolt in his absence. The leaders were Ralph, his new brother-in-law Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford, and Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northumberland. The revolt was plagued by disaster. Waltheof lost heart and confessed the conspiracy to Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who urged Earl Roger to return to his allegiance, and finally excommunicated him and his adherents- Waltheof was later executed by William. Ralph encountered a much superior force under the warrior bishops Odo of Bayeux and Geoffrey de Montbray (the latter ordered that all rebels should have their right foot cut off) near Cambridge and retreated hurriedly to Norwich, hotly pursued by the royal army. Leaving his wife to defend Norwich Castle, he sailed for Denmark in search of help, and eventually returned to England with a fleet of 200 ships under Cnut and Hakon, which failed to do anything effective.

Meanwhile, the countess held out in Norwich until she obtained terms for herself and her followers, who were deprived of their lands, but allowed forty days to leave the realm. Thereupon the countess retired to her estate in Brittany, where she was rejoined by her husband. Ralph was deprived of all his lands and of his earldom. At the time of his revolt, he was a land-holder in Whaddon, Cambridgeshire. This is according to the Domesday Book, which uses the name of Radulf[us] Waders.

Ralph and Emma retired to her Breton lands. They left for the Holy Land, joining Robert, Duke of Normandy, on the First Crusade, and died circa 1101.

Baron of BrittanyEdit

For the rest of his life he remained a great baron of Brittany, with no interests in England. In 1076, having plotted against Hoel II, Duke of Brittany, he was besieged at Dol, and William came to Hoel's aid; but Ralph finally made his peace.[4]

In 1089 he attested the judgment in a dispute between the monks of Redon Abbey and the chaplains of the Duke of Brittany. He also attested a charter of Alan IV, Duke of Brittany, in favour of St. George's Abbey (on the site of the current Saint George Palace) at Rennes (1084–1096). William being dead, Ralph appears in Normandy c. 1093 as a witness in the record of a suit between the abbots of Lonlay and St. Florent. There is, however, no record of religious benefactions by him in Brittany.


In 1096, accompanied by his wife and in the army of Robert Corthose, he went on the First Crusade. He was one of the Breton leaders who took part in the siege of Nicaea, after which he joined Bohemund I of Antioch’s division of the army.

Both Ralph and his wife Emma died on the road to Palestine in the course of the Crusade.


  1. ^ Keats-Rohan 1992, p. 3.
  2. ^ a b http://www.geneajourney.com/gael.html
  3. ^ a b Earls of Norfolk 1067-1075 (Barons de Gaël)
  4. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ralph de Guader". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 872.