If the Normans of the 11th century are to be believed, Tancred de Hauteville was a boar-slaying, righteously glorious knight who sired 12 sons and at least two daughters. Most of those children headed south to make their fortunes in Italy, and their story is covered in the Norman Centuries podcast. But what about those who remained in Normandy? Listener Shane asks what we know about the 4 children who stayed behind.
Our three main primary sources for all things Hauteville are Geoffrey Malaterra’s The Deeds of Count Roger, William of Apulia’s The Deeds of Robert Guiscard, and Amatus of Montecassino’s History of the Normans. All were composed between 1080 and 1099, and deal mainly with the Normans in Italy, which means that we know next to nothing about those who opted to stay at home. (Despite later attempts to make the patriarch into a figure worthy of his son’s accomplishments, no one in Normandy at the time cared enough about an impoverished knight to record anything about him). The only one who mentions the remaining sons at all is Malaterra, who simply lists the names Aubrey, Hubert, and Tancred jr, and then moves on. Two daughters (Beatrix and Fressenda) are mentioned because of the husbands they married (Fresseda especially played an important part in early Norman politicking). The only exception to this informational blackout, concerns the oldest brother Serlo. Malaterra mentions that he ran afoul of the Duke (Robert the Devil- William the Conqueror’s father) for murdering a man. In exile he occupied himself with the family business of piracy, raiding Normandy repeatedly. After a suitably heroic display of valor against a local French champion (single combat naturally), Serlo wins over Duke Robert, who realizes the error of exiling such a knight. Serlo pledges his loyalty and presumably settles down into a wealthy, well-respected life- the Norman equivalent of happily ever after.
Due to the paucity of source material, there really hasn’t been any historical writing on these sons of Tancred who stayed in Normandy. (For that matter there hasn’t been much about any except Guiscard and Count Roger). But if historical fiction is more to your taste, there is at least one option. The Words of Bernfrieda: A Chronicle of Hauteville by Gabriella Brooke tells the story of a handmaiden of Tancred’s daughter Fressenda and the clash between the brothers Guiscard and Roger. Since women are almost completely ignored in our primary sources, I think it’s fitting that in this case the two most famous siblings are footnotes in their sister’s story.