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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Pye in PyePlate

When you’re a little kid and your last name is Pye, there are moments in your day when you wish your name was Smith or Jones or Williams, anything but Pye. After a while, you got used to, or immune to, all the various ways the meanies could twist your name into some barbed dart. I used to plague my father with questions about where the name came from. I’m sure he spent his childhood dodging the same name calling missals I did, as did every other kid who grew up with the last name of Pye.

Fortunately, for me, other, older members of my family had not only questioned the source of the name but had actually done something about finding the history behind it. This led my life long interest in history, archeology, genealogy and a whole lot of other…-ology type studies. Using the framework provided by earlier family researchers, I have been able to verify a great deal of what had been done and discredit some statements and conclusions drawn by others. I have always kept in mind that in the era ‘bc’ (before computers), data mining was done in a laborious way in dusty town halls, records offices and in the stacks at libraries. The other thing that I have had to remember well, is that sources available 70-80 years ago were considered reliable, yet today have been soundly discredited. There was a time, in polite society, where it was considered a feather in your cap to have a highly connected, if not Royal, pedigree. People paid good money to have the ‘proper’ pedigrees drawn up for them, just so they could circulate in the upper echelon.  The upshot of this is that many pedigrees are skewed or may be totally inaccurate. 

So my labor of love began sometime when I was a teenager. I started gathering information about anyone named Pye. I borrowed or bought books on Medieval England and studied the cultural, social and political conditions of the day.  I soon discovered that really serious historians did not put much stock in names and dates before 1000 AD. That was still a time of oral tradition and many, if not most, things were not recorded. It was after the year 1000, at some point, that recorded history began to happen. So the first thing I did was put aside anything  that claimed to be a carved in stone birth, marriage or death, if it was before the year 1000.

There were many claims that the Pyes sailed with William the Conqueror across the channel to The Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Falaise Rolls and The Battle Abbey Rolls have both been discredited as reliable sources concerning the men who left Normandy for the English shore. There are only about 15 names that have been verified out of the many who must have been in that army. He obviously had many more than 15 men to help him defeat King Harold. The Battle Abbey Rolls date to the 16th century, but the original has been lost to time. A resurrection was created in 1889 by Catherine Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland, and contains many biographical details of Anglo-Norman families of Victorian times. The Falaise Rolls were created in 1931 for a dedication. There are only 3 unimpeachable sources of names for the men in William’s Army:

1.  Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum ("The Deeds of William II, Duke of the Normans") by William of Poitiers, written between 1071 and 1077

2.  Historia Ecclesiastica ("The Ecclesiastical History"), by Orderic Vitalis (1075-1142)

3.  The Bayeux Tapestry – 11th Century

There is a list of Probable, Likely and Maybes who were in that army. William’s Army was made up of men from Normandy, Brittany, Flanders, France, and some from as far away as southern Italy. They were a mixed bag of nobles, mercenaries and troops, more horse than foot, as the Norman Army carried the reputation of the best cavalry in all of Europe. It would be hard to determine which list the Pyes were on. I believe they would be on ‘Probable’ because they did receive lands as compensation for serving William.

An older cousin had been to England several times and had dug into the old and dusty books looking for records of the Pyes. It was definitely a hit or miss thing for him. He did have some help though. More recent generations of Pyes, living in Newfoundland, confirmed the family had originated in England, although different branches of the family came from different locations in England. The pivotal point seemed to be Herefordshire, so that is where he began. This is where the progenitor of the Pye family was located. But, of course, he was not a Pye. Surnames didn’t come into common use until the 12th/13th century, so this family was known by its Norman name – de la Mare, which means “of the sea.” The people from this area of France were known as Normans, or Northmen because they had invaded, conquered and then settled this piece of the French coastline. They were said to be from Norway and Denmark. A great many of the men from this region joined William’s Army and fought at Hastings. The de la Mares must have been one of them as they had been awarded lands along the Welsh border, including a castle called Kilpec. It was their duty to help protect the border from the unruly and warlike Welsh. Castles dotted the entire border of Wales and these noblemen were called Marcher Lords.  The de la Mare’s had other duties as well. They were to be the overseers of the King’s hunting lands, The Forest of Dean and the Forest of Hay. They were also required to send a certain number of men off to join the King’s Army, should he put out a call to prepare for war.

William FitzNorman de la Mare was in evidence in the area of Erging, or Archenfield, a fiefdom of the old British Kingdom. In 1086, the Domesday Survey, shows Kilpeck (registered as Chipeete) was given by William the Conqueror to William FitzNorman. The castle is thought to have been built in 1090.
One reference says the de la Mares were ‘kinsman of King William I’, which leaves the connection wide open. This is taken from the “Guide to the Parish Church of SS. Mary and David”, Kilpeck, p.1.  It states: “After the Conquest Kilpeck was given by the Conqueror to his kinsman William Fitz Norman. William was the builder of the castle (some slight remains lie to the west of the church) and William’s grandson Hugh – by this time styled De Kilpeck – was the builder of the church.” The Domesday Book also shows William holding lands in many other areas, for example:

Place name:
Suckley, Herefordshire
180v Great Domesday Book
Domesday place name:
People mentioned within entire folio:
Abbey of Sainte-Marie of Cormeilles; Abbey of Sainte-Marie of Lyre; Aelfric; Aethelric brother of Bishop Beorhtric; Alweard; Ansgot; Ansgot, man of William fitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford; Beorhtric; Burgess of Worcester; Drogo fitzPons; Druward; Durand of Gloucester, the sheriff; Earl Edwin; Earl Oda; Earl of Roger de Breteuil Hereford; Earl of William fitzOsbern Hereford; Godwine; Gruffydd ap Maredudd, the boy; Herman; Hubert; Hugh l'Asne; Ilbert; Joscelin the huntsman; King William as landholder; Leofwine Latimer; Eadgifu, Abbess of Leominster; Lyfing, Bishop of Worcester; monks of Abbey of Sainte-Marie of Lyre; Osbern; Queen Edith; Ralph de Bernay; Ralph de Mortimer; Ralph de Tosny; Ramkel; Regenbald the chancellor; Richard; Roger de Lacy; Saumur, Abbey of Saint-Florent of Saumur; Siward, thegn and kinsman of King Edward; Urse d'Abetot; Walter de Lacy; William d'Ecouis; William fitzBaderon; William fitzNorman; Wulfgeat

This was found at:  The National Archives:

So at this point, we see how the de la Mare name has been changed to the de Kilpeck name. As the names were changing, it’s important to remember that not all the de la Mares took the de Kilpeck name. Only those entitled to inherit the castle and lands seemed to have kept that name. Others moved on to neighboring territories and their names became something completely different.  For the purpose of this blog, William FitzNorman will be considered the progenitor of the people who became known as Pye.


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