Robert FitzStephen, a man of mixed fortunes

The great chronicler Gerald of Wales described Robert FitzStephen as a man ‘who so often, both in Ireland and Wales, experienced with equanimity both the extremes of Fortune’s Wheel. Enduring everything that adversity can inflict, and enjoying everything that good fortune can bestow… He was a well-built and sturdy man, and handsome, a man who lived well, generous and of an open and cheerful disposition, but excessively addicted to wine and women’.

Gerald’s description of Robert FitzStephen seems to be entirely accurate. When the ousted King Diarmait Mac Murchada came to Wales, he found Robert imprisoned by his cousin Rhys ap Gruffydd. After having words with Rhys, Diarmait was able to get Robert released in 1167 under the condition that he joined the Cambro-Norman army Diarmait was building to retake Leinster.

According to Gerald of Wales, Robert FitzStephen was one of the first men to land in Wexford during the 1169 invasion. He led the vanguard of Diarmait’s Cambro-Norman auxiliaries to Ireland and captured Wexford town. King Diarmait rewarded him for his troubles by giving him some land around Wexford.

Robert built a defensive structure a few kilometres outside Wexford town in 1169, which is believed to be one of the first recorded Anglo-Norman defensive earthworks in Ireland.

Unfortunately, Robert’s luck turned, and the Irish besieged this defensive structure. Robert surrendered and was imprisoned in 1171. Once more, he found himself rotting in prison until his luck turned again. This time it was King Henry II of England that freed him, but his freedom came at a cost; he had to forfeit his lands in County Wexford.

Photo credit: Castles of Leinster: Ferrycarrig, Wexford
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Searle –


“Robert FitzStephen,” Library Ireland,
Anglo-Norman Wexford 1169-1400, by Billy Colfer
Expugnatio Hibernica: The Conquest of Ireland by Giraldus Cambrensis


Abarta Heritage, “Robert FitzStephen, a man of mixed fortunes,” Ancient Connections, accessed August 8, 2023,