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Conan of Montacute...or maybe not!

Conan  the Barbarian?  of Montacute?  Count of Montaigu

Below - Wikipedia Image: "Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15th July 1099" / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library by Émile Signol 

I got really excited when I saw mention of a Knight of the First Crusade called Conan of Montacute! 

Historian Marjorie Chibnall translated the works of the English-born monk Orderic Vitalis who wrote his Historia Ecclesiastica from Saint-Evroul in Normandy. He recorded the accounts of returning Crusaders and, probably combining them with Richard le Pèlerin's epic poem La Chanson d'Antioche (written in the crusaders’ camp at Antioch), wrote a history of the First Crusade. Marjorie Chibnall says (in her notes to Orderic Vitalis’ book IX) both Richard and Orderic mention Count Conan of Montacute, although she says the references are in totally different contexts. She also says "some of the longer interpolations relating to such leaders as Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, his brother Baldwin, and his brother-in-law Conan of Montacute, whatever their source, betray more than a touch of epic invention".

This sounds like the start of a grand yarn so I delved deeper…a chivalric Knight who fought in the First Crusade, at Antioch in 1097-98 and Jerusalem in 1099...(I'm trying to ignore the mindless slaughter here...)

Wikipedia Image: 1883 portrayal of Godfrey and other leaders of the First Crusade by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville:

However, in Marjorie Chibnall's translation of Orderic the only reference I found in the text was “Then Conan, a German count(in Latin “tunc Cono comes Alemannus”) "who was a brave man and wise and had married Duke Godfrey's sister”… Chibnall notes that here "Orderic adds information about Conan, Count of Montacute, to Baudry's narrative", and also says "Albert of Aix corroborates that Conan fought both in the Siege of Antioch and at the Siege of Jerusalem (RHC Occ. iv. 385, 464)". So.... Montacute is not actually mentioned in Orderic’s text...

Similarly, looking at Richard le Pélerin’s Chanson d'Antioche I only find mention of Conan the Breton (verse XXXVI), no mention of Conan of Montacute .

Below: Wikipedia Image of Conan's brother-in-law, Duke Godfrey of Bouillon (by 12th century Maître de Fauvel - BNF Fr. 22495[1] fol. 78, Public Domain):

So I looked for information on Duke Godfrey of Bouillon and the marriage of his sister to Conan of Montacute. Godfrey de Bouillon was idealised as one of the Nine Worthies after becoming the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and his brother Baldwin succeeded him so there should be plenty of information on him and his extended family? But I found nothing there.

Eventually I found a Wikipedia reference to a military leader of the First Crusade, Conon Count of Montaigu. I guess it sounds similar? Montagu or Montaigu is Monte-Acuto in Latin or Montacute in English, and after the Conquest Robert of Mortain gave custody of Montacute Castle in Somerset to Drogo de Montagu.. Drogo's family originated at Montaigu-les-Bois in Coutances, Normandy. However Conon's family, the Counts of Montaigu, were from Lower Lotharingia, roughly modern-day Netherlands and Belgium. According to Wikipedia, this particular Montaigu was a castle located on the river Ourthe, opposite Marcourt near La Roche in the Ardennes. The castle of Montaigu has been mostly destroyed, but a chapel dedicated to Saint Thibaut still exists upon the mountain on which it was built. 

Conon's only known wife was named Ida. Wikipedia says “According to the medieval English historian Orderic Vitalis, Conon married a sister of Godfrey of Bouillon. Godfrey is not otherwise known to have had a sister, but his mother was also named Ida. In contrast, the Cantatorium, the chronicle of the abbey of Saint-Hubert, records that Conon's wife was the daughter of Lambert the Old, a nobleman from the region of Liège who was buried at Saint-Hubert…The name of his father and eldest son suggests that Conon was related in some way to the Ardennes-Verdun dynasty, the family of Godfrey of Bouillon".

So there we go. No Conan of Montacute. It's just too sad.

The closest I can get to a Montacute Crusader is in the fictional 'Tancred', written by the future Conservative Prime Minister from 1874 to 1880, Benjamin Disraeli. In this novel the contemporary hero, Lord Montacute, retraced the steps of his crusading ancestors on an adventure to the Holy Land. But there's no relationship to the village of Montacute as Lord Montacute's country seat is a castle in the North of England. The story is heavy going for me but it is available online.

I’m going to leave this page here just in case someone can demonstrate to me that there really was a Conan of Montacute, Somerset…and to stop me going down this rabbit-hole again!

Next you might like to read my notes on Montacute's Legend of the Holy Cross or maybe Leland's Montacute of 1542 AD might interest you?

Check out Montacute snippets for my notes on a different topic