Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William I Duke of Normandy and King of England, received many blows of ill fortune during his long life (1051-1134). Most damaging to his image was his inability to emulate his father by conquering England after the great king's death in 1087, and again, after William Rufus's death in 1100. He attempted twice to restore the unity of the two lands, and twice he failed. Moreover, Robert's reign in Normandy was characterized by baronial feuds, civil war, lawlessness, and decentralization of authority, and his policies appeared “weak and blundering”. He enjoyed one glittering period of distinction: during the First Crusade (c. 1096-1100) he proved himself a brave and spirited participant. But upon his return to Normandy, insufficient baronial support and territorial control led in 1106 to his final degradation—the loss of his patrimony, the duchy of Normandy, and his permanent imprisonment at the hands of his younger brother, Henry I. Henry owed his victory, in large measure, to the fact that by 1106 most of Curthose's earlier companions had deserted him.
These almost unmitigated failures affected the loyalty of Curthose's companions in adverse ways. As will be shown, factors that frequently influenced political alliances in the Anglo-Norman world—long association, genuine fondness, a need to be on the winning side, and outside pressures—were, in Curthose's entourage, overshadowed by the desire for new acquisitions and the security of landed possessions. Because the duke was unable to safeguard and advance these primary interests, his power base was insecure and his retinue was characterized by shifting membership and short-term loyalty.