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Mallett Family History
"An English Family"

Robert Malet
of Eye,
"Castle Mound", Eye, Suffolk


The above engraving shows a view of the church and castle motte in Eye, Suffolk, c 1818. The windmill atop the motte was built in 1561-2; the castle, built by Robert Malet's father William, having fallen into disrepair and demolished sometime prior to that. The windmill was replaced in 1844 by another castle, built as a private residence, the ruins of which stand today.

Robert Malet was born in Normandy, and accompanied his father, uncle, and (possibly) brother in the Norman conquest of England in 1066. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, Robert's father had died, and Robert had inherited most of his estates. Robert married Elisée de Brionne, and may have had sons named William and Hugh.

In 1086, Robert held the "Honour of Eye", which consisted of a widely scattered grouping of manors and land holdings spread over eight counties, and was one of the largest estates in England after 1066. The bulk of the properties were in Suffolk and Norfolk, and comprised land in 137 parishes in that county, as well as 35 in Yorkshire, 22 in Norfolk, 6 in Lincolnshire, 4 in Essex, 2 in Nottinghamshire, 1 in Rutland, and 1 in Surrey. The size of individual holdings ranged from a few acres to entire parishes, and the total land area is estimated to have been at least 75,000 acres, of which 47,000 were located in Suffolk, making Robert the second largest landowner there, behind only the Abbot of Bury St. Edmunds. After Robert, the Honour of Eye was held by a succession of Kings, Queens, Princes, Dukes, and Earls, even Archbishop Thomas à Becket at one point, which gives an indication of the high value of it. One estimate gives a figure of 600 as the annual income of these estates which equates to approximately 5% of the total annual income of all property in Domesday. At Eye, Robert was responsible for establishing the Benedictine priory of St. Peter in 1086-87, and also for establishing Eye park as a hunting preserve prior to 1086. The park is one of only four such parks mentioned in the Suffolk Domesday book.

Robert was Sheriff of Suffolk 1071-c1080, succeeding his father William in that capacity. In 1075-6, he was responsible for suppressing the rebellion of Ralph, Earl of Norfolk. At some point, Robert was appointed to the office of "Great Chamberlain of England". Some accounts say he held the office as early as the reign of William I, others have him acceding to it early in the reign of Henry I. It is possible he served all three of the early Norman Kings in that role, in fact he may have been the first Great Chamberlain of England, a title which passed to his relative Aubrey (Alberic) II de Vere upon his death.

Robert was deprived of the Honour of Eye and was banished from the kingdom sometime after the death of William I in 1087. It seems he was caught up in the power struggle among William's sons which followed their father's death. When William I died, he divided his land between his two eldest sons. Robert "Curthose", the eldest, became Duke of Normandy, while William "Rufus", the second oldest, became King William II of England. The youngest son, Henry, received a sum of money, but no land. One account states that Robert Malet was banished by William Rufus, and was subsequently restored to the Honour by Henry I, the younger brother, when he became King after that unfortunate hunting "accident" in the New Forest in 1100. Other accounts state that Robert was banished by Henry I, because he sided with Robert Curthose against Henry. The most likely case seems to be the first mentioned, that Robert did not get along with William II, because while he had attested charters in William I's reign (as Great Chamberlain) he never did so in Rufus' time in power. When Henry became King in 1100 Robert Malet was there to witness his first Charter. It is also possible that Robert never actually gave up his lands until his death.

Whatever the case, and by all accounts, Robert Malet was killed at the battle of Tinchebrai, in Normandy; the decisive battle in which Henry defeated his brother Robert, in 1105/6. After Robert's death, the Honour of Eye passed out of the hands of the Malet family, but the family did not disappear from the English scene. In 1110, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that "William Malet" was "deprived of land" by King Henry. This William Malet is thought to be Robert's oldest son, who subsequently returned to Normandy to his estates there. This William (II) Malet, was one of Duke Robert of Normandy's companions on the first Crusade in 1096 where he is rated among the Knights Banneret (i.e. he had at least 24 vassal knights serving under him). In 1289, the Chronicles record that "Robert Malet, Knight" was given the task of guarding an important Royal prisoner at Babwell, near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.

The Malet family also reappears in England as a large landholder at Curry Malet in Somerset, before the death of Henry I in 1135. It is generally accepted that there is a direct link between the "Suffolk Malets" and the "Somerset Malets", but the precise nature of the relationship is not known.

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This website is produced and maintained by:
Bob Mallett
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Comments and enquiries are welcome.