The De Brus were one of the major players in Northern English politics and events in the years from c1100 to 1270. From their power base at Skelton in the Cleveland are of Yorkshire, they lead forces in battle, witnessed Royal charters and even opposed kings. Their early history is in dispute but most scholars agree they were originally Flemish and settled in the Contentin(Cherbourg) peninsula around Brix.
It is thought that lack of mention of them in the Cleveland area in Domesday, probably means they were one of a number of later arrivals on the English scene after the conquest. One branch of the family settled in Southern England while the other was granted lands in Yorkshire, mainly in the Cleveland area.
Robert de Brus l is thought to have accompanied Henry l when he came across from Normandy to take the throne of England. At the time William Count of Mortain was tenant-in-chief of the Yorkshire manors but in 1106 at the Battle of Tinchebrai, he chose to support the brother of Henry l, Robert and upon Henry's victory was stripped of all his lands. Robert de Bruce was granted Williams possessions for his support of the King and took up residence in his Yorkshire holdings. At first a wooden castle was built at Castleton in the Esk Valley before moving to Danby and ultimately Skelton which was a much superior strategic position not only dominating the surrounding country but also giving views of everything moving along the coast and in the River Tees.
Robert De Brus married Agnes, the daughter of Fulk Pagnell, and through her he became lord of Hart and Hartness [manors around Hartlepool] and Carlton and other manors in Cleveland. They had two sons Robert and Adam.
In 1119 Robert De Brus of Skelton Castle granted land to the Canons Regular of St Augustine for the building of Guisborough Priory. Robert's brother, William, became the first Abbot. Robert also granted to the Priory:-
The manors of Guisborough, Kirkleatham, part of Coatham and areas corresponding to the present day Guisborough and Commondale moors as well as ten churches in Yorkshire and Durham with their lands were presented to the priory which gave the prior the right to collect the tithes. [A "tithe" meant a tenth part and was in those days like a Tax paid to the Church in kind, usually a 10th of a parishioner's agricultural production.] The black cloaked Augustinian order took over responsibility for local churches in the area, including Skelton's.
Robert, it is said, was urged into his generosity by the Archbishop Thurstan of York and the Pope Calixtus II [1119-1124]. People believed in these times that after death the soul entered "Purgatory" to suffer and to be cleansed of the sins committed in life.
Gifts to God and the prayers of holy men were thought to reduce the suffering.
The Charter of Guisborough Priory shows how the Norman held land only by virtue of fealty to the king:-
"I, Robert de Brus, and Agnes my wife, and Adam our son and heir, to the church of S Mary at Gyseburne, and to the brethren serving God there, in free, quiet and perpetual alms, with all the liberties, free customs and privileges which we possessed in them by the gift and grant of Henry, King of England".
In 1124 a Royal Charter granted Robert De Brus the lordship of Annandale in Scotland. This came about because Robert De Brus, was a friend and supporter of David, the Scottish king or that his second son, also called Robert, married the heiress to Annandale.