Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Medieval Names and Family Connections

Anyone who decides to research their family names, reaching back to medieval times in England, needs to be aware of a few really important things concerning names and how they were used.  Surnames have not always been there. For royalty, they came into use when William the Conqueror came to England in 1066. However it took another 200-300 years for surnames to be commonly used among the general population. Many areas of England used patronymics such as in Wales where ap, ab or av was added in front of a name. Gruffyd ap Rhys became Price, Daffyd ab Owen became Bowen, Miles ap Harry became Parry or Perry. There was also a Norman tradition of adding Fitz to a given name, such as FitzGerald, son of Gerald, FitzOsbern, son of Osbern, and FitzAlan, son of Alan. The addition of ‘son’ after a name showed the Danish influence, Adamson, Godwinson, Haroldson, to name a few. Danish daughters, on the other hand, were not given the same treatment.  Harold’s daughter would have been Haroldsdottir, Adam’s daughter would have been Adamsdottir and so on. A girl in the FitzGerald family would often use the place of birth, such as Emma de Teesbury (this is a fictional example) since that is where the family was when she was born. Her brothers would all be FitzGeralds, but she would be de Teesbury. To complicate things further, the father of the family could have a specific name such as de Pitres, but his son became the Sheriff of Gloucester so his son’s names was Walter of Gloucester. His grandson also became Sherriff of Gloucester and was known as Miles of Gloucester. Miles’ daughters all seem to be de Pitres and his sons were all called FitzMiles (these are known people)
.
This is in no way meant to scare a researcher off. It is simply a ‘heads up’ because you need to be prepared for any combination of names and spellings. They used their family names, place of birth, current living location and any titles they may have concurrently. For instance, one person could be known by his family name, by his place of birth, by an inherited or bestowed title all in the same paragraph. Spelling did not become standardized until the late 1800’s, so spelling was variable. I have seen copies of letters written where people’s names were mentioned and within the same letter, the names were spelled in several different ways. Be prepared for every eventuality when it comes to medieval names and spelling. Don’t dismiss a link because it isn’t spelled the way it is spelled today or the way you think it has to be spelled.

The other caveat is a couple of sources people use and should not. The Battle Abbey Roll and the Falaise Rolls have been discredited as to having any reliability in genealogy research. They were written in the 19th and 20th centuries, some say to help promote tourism in France and England and/or to raise a families status by giving them a pedigree. I can’t attest to the motivation for writing them, but I can pass on the word that serious historical researchers do not accept them as resources. A further note on this is Debrett’s Peerage is not highly recommended either.

My own research has taken me deep into the heart of several counties where I found de la Mare families located. If you wonder why I would find an interest in this name, it’s because it is the ancient name of the Pye Family. It took several hundred years and several different forms before it became Pye. But it did start out as a Norman name and following all the twists and turns it has taken, at times, has been a nightmare. I nearly gave up many times but the challenge remained there, calling me. What I have found is by no means complete. I’m grateful that I was able to answer a few of the questions I had.

I found that Edward the Confessor, King of England, had an interest in Normandy as his mother, Emma, was a Norman. {William the Conqueror was Emma’s nephew.} Edward had encouraged Normans to come to England and quite a few did. There is some evidence that the family of de la Mare were already land holders in Herefordshire before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. They may not have lived there, but they owned the land. The Welsh had been troublesome for years, so when William the Conquer became King of England, he established strong families along the borders. These families built castles and were prepared to defend the lands given to them. For many of these families, these lands were awarded to them for service to the King, either at the Battle of Hastings or for other services. But William was a shrewd King. He awarded lands to his loyal supporters in such a way that they could not become too powerful. Consequently, a land holder’s name can and will show up in several or many counties. Earlier de la Mares, in the time of Edward the Confessor, would have kept their lands and William the Conqueror would have awarded more.


It is believed that Kilpec Castle was already there when the de la Mares were given those lands along the Welsh border. It was a motte and bailey type castle, mostly made of wood. At some time it was probably strengthened with rock and boulders, but only a small part of it still survives. The first of the family to occupy this castle was William FitzNorman de la Mare.  In the Domesday Survey of 1086, (Kilpeck is called Chipeete) it was given by the Conqueror to William FitzNorman.  It became the administrative center of Archenfield.   In a history of the Kilpeck Church it is stated that William FitzNorman was a kinsman of Wm. Conq.  Another source calls him a 'natural son.'  The Kilpeck history also claims that William FitzNorman was a kinsman of Earl Mortimer. Unfortunately, this is not backed up by any documentation so there is no way of knowing if there is any connection between FitzNorman and the Conqueror. Be that as it may, the de la Mare family became part of a military defense along the Welsh border called The Marcher Lords. It was their duty to protect England from any invasions by the hostile Welsh and in return they received considerable amounts of land. Kilpeck Castle was one of many castles built along the boundary between Wales and England, but was not considered one of the four major powers who became prominent as Marcher Lords.


I have read and heard objections to the use of the name FitzNorman. Others question the name since it was not common at the time. My argument is that it wasn’t a name but a sobriquet, a nickname. The progenitor of this family was probably called ‘the Norman’ much as an immigrant Irish man might be called ‘Irish’, regardless what his name was.  Some studies have been done that show the brothers William and Hugh de la Mare, were sons of Robert Normannus, The Marshal, who owned lands in England during the time of Edward the Confessor – or before the Battle of Hastings. If Robert had spent some time in England where the Norman population was small, it would have been easy to call him The Norman. His sons became known as William and Hugh FitzNorman de la Mare or in another way William and Hugh de Mara. The name Robert does repeat in several following generations so I believe there is some merit to this argument, even though it can’t be verified with documents. I do not believe that Norman was the first name to which it was customary to add Fitz. My theory is that The Norman was known in England before 1066 and his sons were called FitzNorman instead of FitzRobert.

Since I have worked my way to the beginnings of the family de la Mare, I’ll try to follow a time line to bring forth the next several generations. My hope is to explain how the de la Mares scattered, took on different names and how one branch became the Pye family.

The Norman People and their Existing Descendants, by Sir Matthew Hale

The Notices of the Ellises of England, Scotland and Ireland, by William Smith Ellis, Esq. P.17-18.

 A General Introduction to Domesday Book,by Sir Henry Ellis