Normans of Molise
Recent studies have identified approximately
two hundred family names of French origin in the regions of southern Italy. Among the numerous families of knights that came from northern France the best known
example is that of the twelve Altavilla brothers, whose cognomen toponomasticum originates from Hauteville-Le Guiscard, the feud of the homonymous
family. This suggestive hypothesis connects the history of Molise directly with that of the feuds and counties of Normandy.
In the 10th century in Normandy (at Mortagne-au-Perche) there was a place called castrum Molinis, whose lord was Count Guidmondo. At his death
the property was inherited by Robert, his second born. Accused of having fomented internecine wars and betrayed the Duke’s trust, he decided to leave with his
numerous brothers, possibly bound for Italy.
Guidmondo’s firstborn, Rudolf of Boiano, a man of great experience and an expert of military strategy, was called consilio potentis et armis. It can
therefore be surmised that the County of Boiano fell into the hands of the Normans shortly before the battle of Civitate sul Fortore (1053). There are some who
support the theory that the conquest of Boiano was connected with the first military campaigns of Robert Guiscard, who penetrated the Longobard county after
circling the Matese massif. The conquered area was given, according to custom, to one of the most trusted knights, Rudolf de Moulins. In 1054 the latter, under
pressure from Guiscard, signed an important document in favour of the Trinità di Venosa. Rudolf was succeeded by Guidmondo, who might have been his son. He
married Emma d’Eboli and their son, Rudolf II, became the next Count.
The best known figure of the De Moulins family, later called De Molisio, is Hugh I, son of Rudolf II. Under him the County of Boiano became an important centre,
controlling a territory that expanded eastwards (Toro and San Giovanni in Galdo), while on the other side he also managed to annex the County of Venafro. In
1105 he fought against the Counts Borrello and became lord of Pietrabbondante and of Trivento, the last remaining Longobard counties. Hugh’s estates grew to
encompass a very large and strategically important area, a part of which depended on the Duchy of Apulia and the other on the Principality of Capua.
Hugh was succeeded by his sons, Simon and, later, Hugh II. The latter preferred to side with the party of Pope Innocent II against King Roger II. He allied
himself with two other noblemen, Robert of Capua and Rainolfo of Alife, enemies of the Crown. After the victory of the king the lands of Hugh II were seized,
though he was soon forgiven and reinstated after he agreed to give up Castel Volturno and the lands to the east of the river Biferno. Some of the seized lands
were later returned to Hugh II after he was appointed “giustiziere”, almost a confirmation of the importance attributed to the Comitatus Molisii
(established circa 1144).
After the short-lived regency of Marguerite of Navarre, which was followed by a period of anarchy, the county passed into the hands of Richard of Mandra, whose
son Roger (who became Count in 1170) took part in the war between the Norman Tancred and Henry VI of Swabia, and was expelled by the victorious imperial forces.