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Harlette, or was that harlot? Of Falaise

We could not find this match! But someone has to take this lovely postcard picture found in a Normandy market.
We could not find this match! But someone has to take this lovely postcard picture found in a Normandy market.

Harlette, daughter of Fulbert the Tanner, changed the course of history for ever when she raised her skirts a little higher than necessary in the courtyard of Gilbert Count of Brionne, one of the most powerful landowners in Normandy.

Ambitions of a medieval lady

Her charms were noticed and she was summoned to Gilbert’s side.  Soon ambitious Harlette (also know as Hervela) was no longer stamping dye in a courtyard but a fragrant and gilded lady.  After the usual 9 months a son, Richard, was born

Fabulous if fickle, Harlette then caught the eye of Robert, 6th Duke of Normandy. Robert, just 21, was a direct descendent of Rollo the Viking. In a heartbeat Harlette left Château de Brionne for Robert and the Château of Falaise.

Entrance to the castle of Falaise

Pride and passion

Harlette was proud as well as gorgeous and demanded to enter the castle on horseback, not be shuffled in by the back door like his other conquests.  The young Duke was infatuated and allowed her outrageous wish.

Harlette arrived at the entrance to Falaise castle on a white horse, bedecked in the finest clothes and jewels her previous lover had bought her.

No, sadly not Harlette, another medieval miss looking fetching on a filly (Bodleian Alexander manuscript)
No, sadly not Harlette, another medieval miss looking fetching on a filly (Bodleian Alexander manuscript)

Harlette was Robert’s official mistress for a few short years.  In 1028 a baby William was born, the only son to survive this powerful man.

Vile retribution

Once William was past the dangerous early years of childhood he was taken from his mother and bought up as his father’s son.  How this separation affected William we can only guess.  Records say he was always fond of Harlette, although he was never allowed to forget his scandalous origins.

Years later the citizens of Alençon besieged by William, now Duke of Normandy, hung cow hides on the battlements of their castle and taunted him for being a ‘tanner’s bastard child’.  But a special toughness creates conquerors as 32 captives discovered when their hands and feet were hacked off in vile retribution.

Happiness for Harlette

Harlette did eventually marry, not the Duke but at his suggestion a friend Herluin of Conteville.  She was blessed with three more children; Odo, Robert and Muriel.

Harlette de Falaise - a lot more fun than this portrait suggests.
Harlette de Falaise – a lot more fun than this portrait suggests.

During difficult medieval times William was grateful for loyal family.  When he invaded England in October 1066 William invited his three half-brothers, Richard Fitz Gilbert, Odo Bishop of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain to join him.

Odo, William and Robert (Bayeux Tapestry)
Odo, William and Robert (Bayeux Tapestry)

After victory at Hastings they battled on to London. By December London and England were conquered.

William was crowned King of England on Christmas day 1066.  His brothers’ allegiance was well rewarded with land and titles. They would be part of a new English aristocracy.

The tanner’s daughter had created an astonishing legacy.

William is crowned King of England
William is crowned King of England

Photo fail!

We tried to match this stunning vintage image of the castle but were defeated, despite exploring the hill opposite thoroughly.  We nearly found it after trudging over a field and through some trees but then a new housing estate got in the way.  One of those homes must have the best view in Falaise.

If you have this match, please send us your photos!

More on William the Conqueror:

 

Some sources:

  • Spartacus Educational
  • Great Lives From History by Howard Bromberg

More on William the Conqueror:

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