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Roger de Mowbray

Tomb-cover, reputed to be that of Roger de Mowbray
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Tomb-cover, reputed to be that of Roger de Mowbray

Roger de Mowbray was the son of Nigel d’Aubigny, one of Henry I’s leading men, and Gundreda de Gournay. Roger took his surname from Robert de Mowbray, earl of Northumberland. Robert had been married to Roger’s stepmother, Maud de Laigle, and Robert’s Norman estate of Montbray had been passed to Roger through this connection.(1) Roger came out of his minority in 1138, shortly before the Battle of the Standard that was fought between the English and Scots. The young Roger joined the English troops and according to an account of the battle by Aelred of Rievaulx, he acquitted himself honourably against the Scots.(2) Indeed, Roger gained and sustained a high reputation for his prowess on the battlefield, attaining great honour on the Second Crusade, when he successfully defeated a Muslim in one-to-one combat.(3)

The mystery of the Mowbray grave
According to contemporary accounts, Roger de Mowbray died in Palestine shortly after his capture in 1188, and was buried at Sures. By the late thirteenth century, however, the monks of Byland believed that Roger had been buried in their chapter-house and indeed the royal commissioners recorded that they had seen his grave here when visiting the abbey in 1535. In the nineteenth century a search was made to recover Roger’s tomb.
[Read more about the mystery of the Mowbray grave]

Roger was a keen crusader, but it is rather remarkable that the Augustinian writer, William of Newburgh, makes no mention of his founder’s crusading exploits.(4) Roger was one of the few great men of the kingdom to join the king of France on the Second Crusade in 1147.(5) It was on this occasion that he successfully recouped the fortune he had lost during the anarchic years of King Stephen’s reign (1135-1154). This recovery was short-lived, for Roger’s support of the rebellion against Henry II in 1173-4 by the king’s eldest son, cost him dearly. Roger left for the Holy Land again in 1186, when he was in his sixties. According to contemporary accounts he was never to return to England, for he was captured at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 and died soon after in Palestine, where he was buried.(6)

In addition to his military pursuits, Roger was a generous supporter of the religious orders. He was the founder of Byland Abbey, and provided the monks with four sites; he also founded the Augustinian priory at Newburgh and was an important patron of Fountains and other religious houses in the North.