No one can be more sensible than I am myself that the task of investigating the Battle Abbey Roll should have been
committed to more competent hands than mine. My only excuse for attempting it is that it has in reality been un-
attempted hitherto, as Sir Bernard Burke, in his commentary on Holinshed's list, has only dealt with two hundred
and nine of the best-known names, passing over the remaining four hundred and twenty without notice, and Sir
Egerton Brydges' brief and peremptory annotations were evidently made in haste, and refer to an imperfect copy.
From being a resident at Battle Abbey, and entertaining a higher opinion than is expressed by many of my
contemporaries for " the scum of Bretons and rags of France " that conquered and colonised England, I have felt an
interest in the subject, and a desire to do my best, at all events, towards elucidating it For this purpose I have
waded through many county histories, peerages, and other volumes that are scarcely lively reading, but I have
received most assistance from ' The Norman People ' and the ' Recherches sur le Domesday.' Chartularies and public
records appear to be the only reliable guides in the study of genealogies, for the Visitations furnish no dates,* and I
own to having been lost in amazement at some of the pedigrees furnished by the heralds. Take one instance only.
Is it not a cruel mystification for an old county family to be led to believe that the son of their ancestor Clement Cox
(such a name for a Saxon noble !) received an Earldom from
Edward the Confessor, and that his descendant, who fell at the battle of
* " It is not a little singular, that whosoever shall inspect the old Visitations in the
College of Arms, will rarely find any that have a continuation of dates in the descent.
Many are without any dates at all ; and very few, indeed, but what, in the respective
families, have blanks left for marriages, for the issue, and for Christian names.
Whereas, if these visitations had been correctly made, or faithfully transcribed, it
seems a matter to be greatly marvelled at, how the master or head of the family
should, in the account thereof given by him, IK-ignorant of the name of his own wife,
or of his own children ? " -Banks.
Naseby, is styled on his monument " the twenty-fourth titular Earl Cox " ? * This does not apply to Dugdale, who
evolves no fictions from his inner consciousness, but is invariably and scrupulously honest ; and I may add that Mr.
Planche, in his ' Conqueror and his Companions,' aims only at being impartial and truthful.
I think I can, with all due humility, say the same of myself. But I havefound the pursuit of truth a path bristling with
thorns, and beset with pitfalls. One of the chief difficulties to be met is the confusion caused by contradictory
statements that no ingenuity can reconcile ; and in too many cases conjecture alone is possible. Although I may
conscientiously assert that I have taken all imaginable pains to be accurate, I am aware that I must have made
plenty of mistakes. I shall be most grateful to be corrected.
From the great number of names of which I have endeavoured to give an account, each account is necessarily brief
and more or less imperfect, as in so limited a space it would be utterly hopeless to trace out every collateral branch
in detail. Until I commenced this undertaking, I had no conception how deep a root these ancient lineages had
struck in the land, and how numerous and widely spread their ramifications were.
I have retained the picturesque old legends that have been so long associated with them as to form part of their
history. What would De Vere be without its meteor star, or De Albini without its conquered lion ? I have also given
all the anecdotes that I could collect, partly to relieve the inherent dullness of a mere catalogue of descents, and
partly because many of them incidentally furnish vivid pictures of manners and customs long since passed away.
* It must be admitted, however, that the modern heralds are less imaginative than
their predecessors. The genealogy of the De Veres (quoted by Leland) derives them
directly from Noah, taking in Meleagar that slew the Caledonian boar, Diomedes who
was at the siege of Troy, &., till it reaches Verus, " so named from his true dealing,
and baptized by Marcellus A.D.4I," from whose second son descended Miles de Vere,
Duke of Angiers and Mentz, the brother-in-law of Charlemagne, and progenitor of the
family. But the freest flights of fancy were those indulged in by the Elizabethan
heralds. Queen Elizabeth's pedigree, preserved at Hatfield, includes every sage and
hero of antiquity, and gives her whole descent from Adam, with the coat-armour of all
the patriarchs ! I forget the one assigned to our first father, but I remember that
Noah very appropriately bears Vert, an ark naiant proper. Nor did the French
heralds lag behind in the exuberance of their imagination. The De Levis are alleged
to represent the elder branch of the Virgin Mary's family ; and in an old painting still
extant in the Chateau de Mirepoix, their ancestor is shown taking off his hat to the
Queen of Heaven, as she sits enthroned in the clouds. " Couvrez-vous, mon cousin,''
says she, with all due deference to the head of the family. " C'est pour ma commodite',
ma cousine," responds he, willing to be courteous, but careful not to compromise his
THE famous Roll of Battle Abbey is believed to have t been compiled in obedience to a clause in the Conqueror's
foundation charter, that enjoined the monks to pray for the souls of those "who by their labour and valour had helped
to win the kingdom." * The great Sussex Abbey that was " the token and pledge of the Royal Crown," had been
intended to be not only a memorial of his victory, but a chantry for the slain; and the names of his companions-in-
arms, enshrined on this bede-roll, might thus be read out in the church on special occasions, and notably on the
anniversary feast of St. Celict. It was most likely originally copied from the muster-roll of the Norman knights, that
had been prepared by the Duke's orders before his embarkation, and was called over in his presence on the field of
battle, the morning after it had been fought. † The list, thus com- posed, was inscribed on a roll of parchment, and
hung up in the Abbey Minster, with this superscription :
"Dicitur a bello ' BELLUM ' locus hie, quia bello
Angligenae victi sunt in morte relicti,
Martyris in Christi festo cecidere Calixti.
Sexagenus erat sextus millesimus annus.
Cum pereunt Angli, Stella monstrante cometa." ††
* " Et pro salute omnium quorum labore et auxilio regnuni obtinui, et illorum
niaxime qui in ipso bello occubuerunt : " &c..
† " The Conqueror, having called to his presence a clerk who, previously to the
departure of the armament from St. Valery, had written down the names of the chief
men of the army, he caused him to read the roll to ascertain who had fallen, and who
had survived; and Bishop Odo 'sang mass for the souls that were departed.' The
document alluded to, if preserved, was the true Roll of Battle Abbey : but it has not
come down to our times, and the various lists we possess are of subsequent date, and
more or less apocryphal in their character." M. A. Lower.
†† An English translation of these lines, painted on a tablet, remained in the parish
church of Battle for more than two centuries after the dissolution of the monastery
With it were preserved two other mementos of the conquest of England. King William's sword,* and the robe he had
worn at his coronation, and speci- ally bequeathed to the monks by his will. This " royal pallium was beautifully
ornamented with gold and very costly gems, and three hundred amulets suitably fabricated of gold and silver, many
of which were attached to chains of those metals, and contained innumerable relics of the saints; " and he also gave "
a feretory in the form of an altar, in which likewise were many relics, and upon which, in his expedition, mass had
been accustomed to be celebrated." Battel Abbey Chronicle. These relics, according to Mr. Lower (the translator of the
Chronicle) "must have been the same with those which William had, in 1065, surreptitiously introduced under the
portable altar upon which he had compelled Harold to take a solemn oath to assist him in his designs upon England.
In the Bayeux Tapestry, where the scene is represented, Harold is placing his right hand upon an altar in form of a
But these precious bequests were not suffered to remain untouched for more than ten years from the date of the
Conqueror's death. Before the end of the century, Henry, second Abbot of Battle, cut off and sold some of the gold
and silver chains and amulets of the coronation robe, to make up a sum of money that had been demanded of him by
William Rufus; and the remainder of these valuables were finally disposed of by his successor, who invested the
proceeds in land. They had been gradually dropping off and disappearing even some of the jewels of the feretory
were missing, lost or "despoiled by unfortunate mischances," and it was probably judged wisest to put the rest out of
the reach of temptation. For the relics they had enshrined, a reliquary was provided, and solemnly consecrated by the
Bishop of Winchester.
Nor did the Roll fare any better. As time went on, it became more and more an object of ambition to own an ancestor
that had come over with the Conqueror; and the monks were always found willing to oblige a liberal patron by
inserting his name. " Such hath been the subtilty of some Monks of old, that, finding it acceptable unto most, to be
reputed descendants to those who were Companions with Duke William in that memorable Expedition whereby he
became Conqueror of this Realm, as that, to gratify them (but not without their own advantage) they inserted their
Names into this antient Catalogue."-Dugdale. Camden likewise speaks of these interpolations. "Whosoever con- siders
well shall find them always to be forged and those names inserted which the time in every age favoured, and were
never mentioned in that authenticated record." Thus its value as an authority is irretrievably lost; and though the
earlier genealogists and county historians often quote and refer to it, it has latterly been altogether discredited and
condemned. Like many of the other familiar credences of our forefathers it has fallen into disgrace and suffered
* This sword, not being a bequest, is unnoticed in the Chronicle. It is said to
have been given to the Abbey at its consecration by William Rufus.
obloquy. Sir Egerton Brydges, in the Censura Literaria, calls it " a disgusting forgery:" Mr. Freeman, "a source of
falsehood" and "a transparent fiction;" the author of ' The Norman People ' declares that its date is " a mere myth,
depending on the authority of some unknown herald of the sixteenth century : " while another writer (in the Sussex
Archæologia), settles the question according to the summary process by which Garibaldi disposed of the claims of
poor St. Peter, and declares that it never existed at all.
It is at least certain that it does not exist now : nor is it precisely known what has become of it. According to family
tradition, it passed into the possession of Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse to Henry VIII., who in 1538
received a grant of "the house and site of the late Monastery of Battel in Sussex" about three months after it had been
taken possession of by the Royal Commissioners. He commenced building a manor house there, which was
completed by his son Viscount Montague, but seldom occupied by his descendants, who transferred their residence to
Cowdray, in the western division of the county: and finally, in 1717, the sixth Viscount sold the place to Sir Godfrey
Webster. The three precious memorials of the Conquest, the King's sword, his despoiled pallium, and the Roll of
Battle Abbey, were then, with several other curious and interesting relics of the former monastery, removed to
Cowdray, and perished in the great fire of 1793 (see Browne). This is the only explanation I have ever heard given of
the disappearance of the Roll ; and though I can certainly furnish no proofs in confirmation of the statement, there
would seem to be no particular reason for doubting its probability.
Nothing, at all events, now remains to us but copies of this celebrated record. Of these there are three; one published
by Leland in his Collectanea, which was the first that ever appeared: another in Holinshed's Chronicle, dated 1577 :
and a third printed a few years later by Stowe, and afterwards copied by Duchesne, who received it from Camden.
There are at least ten if not more other lists of the Norman Conquerors; but none of them even pretend to have any
connection with the bede-roll of Battle Abbey.
One solitary exception, however, must, according to the old adage, prove the rule. This, which shall be number one
in our catalogue, is a list published by Hearne, and taken from the collections of William of Worcester, a chronicler of
the fifteenth century. It is prefaced by the five Latin lines (already quoted) that are given by Holinshed, with the
addition of a sixth
"Et tune preterites numerus praesens notat annus ;"
referring to the number CCCLIII. in a marginal note. This is supposed to indicate that the list was written three
hundred and fifty-three years after the battle, which would give the date 1419, when William of Worcester was a boy
of four years old. Hearne believes that it was "undoubtedly copied from some noted register of Battle Abbey, from
which register the Tetrastich, which heads it, was, in all probability, also taken; but whether in actual connection with
the list of names is not apparent. I certainly do not consider," he continues, " that the names were taken from the
well-known Roll of which Leland made use, and which clearly differs from this register, as in fact it does from that
given by John Stowe; but whatever the register may have been, it was certainly a noteworthy monument of antiquity,
and the time-honoured names it enrolls deserve to be cherished by all interested in antiquity." Quite true ; but they
are so mangled and distorted by their strange orthography as to be mostly unrecognizable. Take the following
specimens Seintbrewel : Wadel : Spigurnel : Tupz : Butet : Punchet : Pachet : Parli : Cunli : Cicerli : Wilbi : Spinevile
; Ferebrace : Feteplace : Gunter : Carli : Brok : Kusas ; Escot : Figarvi : Kosni, &c. As far as we are enabled to judge,
these maltreated patronymics are not found on our Roll.
The second list an additional one furnished by Leland is entitled ' Un role de ceux queux veignont in Angleterre
ovesque roy William le Conquerour : ' and gives fifty-eight names, declaring " Tous ycels seigners desus nome
estoient a la retenaunce Monseir de Moion." This (as has been shown by Mr. Planche in his Companions of the
Conqueror) is simply a transcript of the list given in the Roman de Ron of the leaders at the Battle of Hastings, from
line 13,621 of the poem to 13,761.
The third is contained in the Chronicle of John Brompton, Abbot of Jervaulx in Yorkshire A.D. 1436. He tells us that
he found it written (without informing us where), and introduces it in a piece of old French verse, in which he
announces his intention of giving a catalogue of those who came over with the Conqueror. But, finding that the
names given at the font are often changed, as Edmund into Edward, Baldwin into Bernard, Godwin into Godard, and
Elys into Edwine, he will content himself with giving the surnames only, which were not changed. Then follow two
hundred and forty of these, arranged in rhythmical order, beginning with
" Maundevyle et Daundeville,"
and ending with
" Straunge et Sauvage,"
all of which, he adds, were then in common use in England.
The fourth, now in the Harleian Library, claims to be taken from a MS. of Matthew of Westminster in the library of All
The fifth, in the same collection, is an English poem, entitled, ' The names of Northmen and French that came in with
William the Conqueror.' These follow in alternate rhymes, commencing
" Percye and Browne, the Malet and Bewchampe,
Menile-Vilers, and eke the Umfravile : "
to the number of two hundred and forty.
The sixth, in the same collection, is considerably longer, consisting of about five hundred and forty names in all. The
first given are
" Dominus Percy, Magnus Constabellarius ;
Dominus Mowbray, Mariscallus ;
Dominus Radulphus de Mortuo-mari omnium strenuissimus velut alter Samson leonina ferocitate : "
These, however, are the only flights of fancy in which the author indulges, and he then proceeds with due sobriety ;
beginning with Ayncourt, and Bardolf, and ending with Percely and Perer.
The seventh, in the same collection, classes the names according to their terminal syllables, as : Bastard, Baygnard,
Brassard, Maignard, &c. : and comprises about four hundred.
The eighth, of three hundred and eighty names, is printed by Fuller in his * Church History,’ and is arranged
alphabetically, beginning with Archerd, Averenges, and ending with Yvoire.
The ninth immediately precedes the Battle Abbey Roll in Holinshed's Chronicle. "We have here," he tells us, "in a table
noted all the noble
captains and gentlemen of name, as well Normans as other strangers, which assisted Duke William in the conquest of
this land, as we find them written in the chronicles of Normandie by one William Tailleur." This list begins with
" Odo bishop of Bayeux,"
and ends with
" The erle of Hiesmes."
One hundred and sixty-eight names are given, but of these several are duplicates. For instance, we have both " Hue
de Gourney, alias Geneuay," and " Hue erle of Gournay " (the only instance in which he appears as an Earl) : " Le
seig. de Aurenchin," and " Richard d'Aurinchin ; " " Le seig. de Touarts," and " Amaury de Touars," c., &c. It is
admitted to be very incomplete, for Holinshed adds at the end : " With other lords and men of account in great
number, whose names the author of the chronicles of Normandie could not
come by (as he himself confesseth). In consideration thereof, and bicause diverse of these are set foorth onlie by their
titles of estate, and not by their surnames ; we have thought it convenient to make you partakers of the roll which
sometime belonged to Battell Abbeie, conteining also (as the title thereof importeth) the names of such Nobles and
Gentlemen of Marque, as came at this time with the Conqueror, whereof diverse may be the same persons which in
the catalog above written are conteined, bearing the name of the places whereof they were possessours and owners,
as by the same catalog maie appeare." Then follows " The Roll of Battell Abbeie."
The tenth is modern, having been inaugurated at the celebration of the eighth centenary of the battle, when it was
solemnly affixed on a tablet in the ancient Church of Dives. For it was this small seaport on the coast of Normandy
now almost unknown that had been the appointed trysting-place of the Conqueror's fleet in 1066 ; and it was in the
church now standing that he offered up his parting prayer. I have given a copy of this list (v. p. XXXI) ; only varying
its arrangement by placing the surnames, instead of the Christian names, in their alphabetical order, as it can thus be
more easily used as a reference. It is entitled * Companions of William the Conqueror at the Conquest of England in
1066 ': and was compiled with much care and labour by M. Leopold Delisle, the greatest antiquarian authority in
France, who professes to give no name that is not vouched for by some deed or document of the period. In many
(perhaps most) instances it appears to be taken from Domesday Book : and it is especially useful as furnishing,
besides the Christian names, the correct French spelling of the surnames. But it is to be regretted that he has in no
case cited an authority, or given a reference. M. de Magny reproduces this list in his ' Nobiliaire de Normandie,' with
the addition of fifty names "that his researches in the Norman and English archives have enabled him to include." He,
too, eschews references; and I am curious to know upon what authority he has included Courtenay.
There are probably other MS. lists with which I am not acquainted. All those I have mentioned, though very evidently
the work of different hands, resemble each other in so far that they have many names in common. With these,
however, we have not here to do, as only one of them (as I have already said) professes to derive its authority from
the Roll of Battle, and they do not in the least resemble it in their arrangement. Leland, Holinshed, and Duchesne
therefore alone remain in the field as its interpreters.
Leland himself affords us no information respecting his list; for the two pages that precede it, as well as the four that
follow it, are left blank in his MS. It is certain that he visited Battle Abbey, for he makes mention of the place, and
gives a catalogue of the Latin books in the monks' library ; and Browne Willis, and others declare this to have been "
the table of the Norman gentry which came into England with the Conqueror, preserved by the monks of Battle." I
think I shall be able to show that this is borne out by internal evidence ; but I will begin with the two acknowledged
copies of the Roll Holinshed's and Duchesne's.
When placed side by side, as I have here printed them (see p. xix.), it seems to me that no dispassionate person can
doubt their common origin. In both, the names are arranged alphabetically, and (in spite of many gaps, and some
differences of orthography) follow each other in the same order. Duchesne's copyist evidently did not relish his task,
and skipped as much as he decently could ; and thus, while Holinshed gives us six hundred and twenty-nine names,
only four hundred and seven are to be found in Duchesne. As the work progresses, we see how he becomes puzzled
as well as weary, and now and again helplessly loses his way in the entangling labyrinth of names. In the letter M he
inverts the order altogether, by putting some last that should be first ; and in his impatience to conclude his irksome
labours, hurries over T, V, and W, leaving more and more yawning blanks as he goes. Yet, careless and ill done as
his copy is, it provides us with forty names that are left out by Holinshed, and in several cases restores the proper
spelling. What further liberties Holinshed's transcriber may have taken with the Roll we can only conjecture, but, from
the number of duplicates to be found on his list, we may safely conclude that he was neither very painstaking nor
very accurate. Nor ought we to forget that in neither case were these copies transcribed from the original, but taken
from other copies that had probably undergone similar manipulation. Many of the lapses and omissions complained
of in the Battle Roll thus admit of an easy explanation. A much more trifling degree of negligence than that displayed
(for instance) by Duchesne's scribe, would account for the disappearance of all the missing names that have an
undoubted right to a place on a roll of the Conquerors of England. There are certainly not a few of them ; but in this
respect some copies appear to be more defective than others.* The one so severely handled by Sir Egerton Brydges
must have been unusually meagre and imperfect, for he complains that it omits " among many others to be found in
Domesday Book or other good authorities, the great names of Ferrers, Stafford, Gifford, Mohun, Malet, Mandeville,
Baliol, Salisbury, Speke, Tony, Vesci, Byron, Gernon, Scales, St. Valery, Montfort, Montgomery, Churchill, Lovet,
Lincoln, Pauncefoot, De Salsay, De Rie, De Brioniis, De Romare, De Vipount, De Creon, De Grentemesnil, Montfichet,
Tatsall, &c." Yet, of these thirty names, ten only ; that is, Baliol (which I believe appears as Bailif : see p. 76), Speke
(or Espec), St. Valery, Churchill (Corcelles), Lovet, Pauncefoot, De Salsay, De Creon, De Romare, and Tatsall, are in
reality absent ; for the Earl of Salisbury is represented (as it is obvious he would be) by his surname of D'Evreux,
Stafford by De Toesni, and Lincoln by De Gaunt. Even the reprints published by Sir Bernard Burke in 1848 ('The Roll
of Battle Abbey, Annotated') are very far from being blameless in this particular, for eleven names are left out in
Holinshed's copy, and two in Duchesne's. I should, however, be the last person in the world to throw a stone at these
sorely tried transcribers, for I can vouch for the difficulty of the task imposed upon them. No one who has not
personally attempted it (and I have myself done so more than once) can conceive how tedious and laborious it is to
copy the Roll ; nor how persistently the long rows of disconnected names, piled one upon another, seem to slip out
of their places.
Leland's list, to which I now come, seems at first sight to be wholly different from the others, though the names are
in truth almost all the same. This is
* Baines, in his county history of Lancashire, expressly tells us, that " in the Roll
of Battle Abbey, the name of William de Molines stands eighteenth in order." Yet
it has now disappeared from all the three copies, and is enrolled among the missing
simply owing to their arrangement, for they are here strung together in rude rhymes, most probably as an aid to the
memory. There are four hundred and ninety-five names, comprised in two hundred and forty-seven lines, for each
line consists of two names (in one solitary case there are three), generally beginning with the same initial letter ; but,
beyond this, no attempt is made to class them in alphabetical order. Now and then two successive lines commence
with the same letter, and once we find as many as three ; but these are merely the exceptions that prove the rule.
Consequently, they are jumbled together in such utter confusion, that it seems hopeless to recognize any connection
between them and the symmetrically arrayed columns of their compeers. Nevertheless, the connection is to be found.
I took the trouble of sorting these lines, arranging them alphabetically (according to their first letter) in the order in
which they occurred ; and discovered that out of the four hundred and ninety-five names, one hundred and seventy-
five followed each other as they did in Holinshed. By making some allowance for faulty spelling, and admitting names
that are placed together in inverted order (probably to suit the metre) this number may be increased to two hundred
and seventy-eight or more. Surely it would be idle to treat such a result as an accidental coincidence. Elsewhere the.
list, thus arranged, is printed at full length (see p. xxviii), in order that all may have an opportunity of
judging for themselves ; but I will here give, as a sample, the first part of the names commencing with the letter C.
It will be seen that there are three additions on Leland's side; but, if we eliminate these (Soucheville is plainly an
afterthought edged in, for this happens to be the only line that has three names), and admit, with a few other
discrepancies of spelling, the counterchange of G for C not uncommon in old writings the analogy is almost complete.
The single exception, Cribet, I believe stands for Criket, the abbreviation of Criquetot. Leland's is probably what we
should call " a popular edition " in the present day ; curtailed in length, and rendered more palatable, as well as more
easy to repeat and remember, by its jangle of rhyme. He begins, as Holinshed does, with Aumarle and Aincourt, and
restores to us at least forty names that are given neither by the latter or Duchesne. He enables us to note the exact
place where Avenel, Byron, Vipont, &c., stood on the original Roll ; and in many cases also helps us to recover the
original spelling. Thus, for example, " Pygot et Percy" identifies the name given as Pery in Holinshed and Pecy in
The spelling is in fact the principal difficulty that we have to contend with in attempting to decipher the Roll ; and no
one has yet thought it worth their while to grapple with it fairly. Sir Egerton Brydges dismisses the list with a very
cursory inspection ; and Sir Bernard Burke, in his published * Annotations,' takes notice of no more than two hundred
and nine of Holinshed's six hundred and twenty-nine names, passing over in silence the additional one hundred and
eleven found in Duchesne and Leland. Nor does his reprint aid us in our search for the correct orthography, but
considerably adds to our impediments, as he makes eighty-six mistakes in copying Holinshed's list, and twelve in
copying Duchesne's. Many of these are unimportant ; but in some cases, such as Orival given Ounell the name of the
great house of De Aureavalle becomes unrecognizable. Mallory is disguised as Mallony, Noers becomes Noell,
Avverne Arwerne, Beteville Beteurville, Filioll Folioll, Taverner Tavernez, &c. There is another very evident error. The
two names given by Holinshed as Mountmartin and Miners thus appear in Duchesne's copy :
" Mountmartin yners."
The letter M has clearly here been lost by some typographical accident. Yet the names are at once joined together as
Mountmartin Yners !
There can be no possible difference of opinion as to the fact that all the three copies which we possess of the Roll are
more or less mis-spelt Many of the names, as they stand, are unintelligible. No doubt this is chiefly owing to the
negligence or misapprehension of the scribes, but we must not, on the other hand, lose sight of the latitude to be
allowed to all ancient writers in that respect. Before entering upon this vexed question of spelling, we must lay aside
all our modern notions (I will not call them prejudices) in regard to the observances, distinctions, and exigencies that
surround it in the present day. We live in an age when people are punctilious and fastidious as to the way in which
their names are spelt ; when we should wound the susceptibilities of Mr. Smijth, Mr. Smythe,* or Mr. Smyth, if we
inadvertently mistook them for Mr. Smith ; when any one whose patronymic began with two little f s would be roused
to just indignation by seeing it written with one large F. But it was far otherwise in mediaeval times. Men wrote their
names when they could write at all in any way that occurred to them at the moment, for there was neither rule nor
precedent to guide them. Mr. Henry Drummond, in his ' Noble British Families,' quotes eighteen different ways of
spelling Nevill that he had met with in deeds and records ; Nash, in his * History of Worcestershire,' gives us twenty-
three versions of Percy : and this uncertainty, if we are to judge by the example of Shakespeare, still continued in the
sixteenth century. Again, al and au, beau and bel, mau and mal, are synonyms ; and val and vitte (at least in the Roll)
are treated in a similar way. V and F, S and C, C and G, G and W, V and W, W and M, are also used indiscriminately
to produce the same sound. Nor should we fail to remember how easy it is to confound one letter with another in the
old black letter character. The u and n are there as undistinguishable as they are in the " running hand " of our own
Sir Francis Palgrave mentions " the strange tricks produced by the ambiguity of the form of the n and the u in ancient
manuscripts. It is very remark- able that in the old times, themselves, the very persons holding the names, either
from caprice or ignorance confounded them. The name of Septvans or Septvaus affords a curious example of the fact,
that in the black letter days, the old scribes could not always be certain of their own writing." (See Vauville, vol. iii., p.
239.) The distinctions between them in the printed lists, given, as they must be, by guesswork, are very generally
wrong. Further, the w easily merges into m ; the s, so unlike an l in our modern print, becomes its twin sister as the
black letter f, and is several times given for it I might easily multiply these instances of confusion. Yet, with all such
considerations to aid me in forming conjectures and solving difficulties, there remain eleven names of which I can
make absolutely nothing, and have had to abandon as impregnable.
The antiquity of these names can, on account of the admitted interpolations, only be accepted with great reserve. But
Sir Egerton Brydges does them injustice when he stigmatizes the Roll as an imposture, because of " the insertion of
families who did not come to England till a subsequent period, and of surnames which were not adopted for some
ages after the Conquest : of which, the greater part of the list is composed. If the Roll of Battle Abbey had been
genuine, it must have received confirmation from that authentic record of the reign of Henry II., the Liber Niger
Scaccarii, published by Hearne, but no two registers can less agree." This is hard measure, for out of the seven
* I knew a gentleman of ancient lineage who bore this name, and used to enlarge
upon the ignorance of his ancestors. " I suppose they knew no better," he was fond
of saying, "but I find that in Henry VI I. 's time they actually wrote their name
Smith ! "
forty names that I have here taken into account, by far the greater number actually receive this confirmation, and are
to be found in the Liber Niger. Others may be recovered from the chartularies of the different religious houses. It is,
however, in the pages of Domesday Book that we must chiefly look for clues to the interpretation of the list ; and if
the * Recherches sur le Domesday, ou Liber Censualis d'Angleterre,' so admirably conceived and commenced by MM.
Lechaud d'Anisy and de St. Marie, had ever been carried out to the end, we might seldom have sought in vain. The
principal difficulty we encounter in dealing with the great Survey is, that by far the greater number of the persons
entered are designated by no other than their Christian name, and can only be identified by means of patient and
laborious investigation. Most of the great land-owners had the same sub-tenants in Normandy as in England, who can
thus be traced through their suzerains; and these Norman antiquaries, thoroughly acquainted as they had made
themselves with the contemporary families in the Duchy, knowing their kindred, their domiciles, their inter-
marriages, and the deeds and charters relating to their property, can generally decide to which of them each
belonged. They likewise give us some valuable information as to the rules that then prevailed regarding the adoption
of surnames (see Averenges). But the letter A alone was finished, and appeared as long ago as 1842 ; nor is there, as
I understand, any prospect of the work being resumed. The Dives Roll, again, helps us to decipher some of these
disfigured names ; and Mr. Lower, in his * English Surnames,' followed by the author of ' The Norman People,' have
done us rare service in tracing out the corruptions and transformations that the Norman nomenclature has undergone
in this country. A large proportion of the names on the Roll appear in this debased form : * and some even, through
the ignorance or inattention of the monks, are given over again in their modern spelling, such as Limesay, repeated
as Lindsay, Mucegros, as Musgrave, &c. But it is clear that the list must have been several times rewritten, as, from its
alphabetical order, very few additions could have been managed without incurring this necessity.
The number of these interpolations would seem to have been grossly exaggerated. If, with Sir Egerton Brydges, we
admit (as I think we are justified in doing) that all those families which appear in the Liber Niger or occur in the
twelfth century may be fairly assumed to date from the Conquest in England, most of our seven hundred and forty
names are at once ratified ; and of the remainder but few are excluded from the benefit of a doubt. So far from being
* Its orthography (being "that of other documents of the period") has led the
author of * The Norman People ' to conjecture that it was compiled in the reign of
Ed. I., though he admits that it only embraces a certain part of the Norman aristocracy
then in existence. Some of the spelling is, however, of even later date ; for at that
time " IJroucc " was still Bruis, " Mallory," Mallorc or Malcsoures, " Daniel,"
Danyer. &c., &c.
" principally composed " of impostors and intruders, the Roll contains not more than ten proved interpolations.
Of this great array of time-honoured names, very few are now borne by representatives in the male line. Some
descendants survive under the name of .their manors, for which, according to an early mediaeval practice still
prevalent in Scotland, they exchanged their own ; more still are probably lost to sight in poverty and obscurity, and
have dropped all the links that connected them with their former degree. I fully believe that the class included in this
latter category, though unknown and almost unsuspected, is a very considerable one, for nothing is more striking
than the extent and variety of the ramifications belonging to each family that are brought to light by a careful
inspection of its
history. They are so numerous that, from want of time and space, I have, in most cases, not attempted to deal with
them. Genealogists, as a rule, are solely occupied with making out the descent of a title or estate ; and thus the
erratic female baronies, conveyed by heiresses, are sedulously traced through a succession of often uninteresting
families, while the disinherited younger branches of the parent stock are ignored. These must, of necessity, have
frequently sunk into insignificance and passed out of notice, gradually falling into the lower stratum of the social
scale. I will quote a remarkable instance of this. "In 1872 a vessel was lying in the Thames, about to take its
departure for Tasmania. It conveyed as passengers three hundred navvies, who had been engaged to proceed to the
Colonies, to complete an intended railway. They were all on board, when a fatal collision at night sent the vessel and
every human being on board to the bottom.
" The list of the drowned passengers appeared in the public journals. It included a large number of purely Norman
names. Several names were there recognized as formerly baronial and historical; and one baronial name the writer
there discovered, the existence of which in England in the present age he had never before ascertained." The Norman
People. The great Norman name of De Venoix, transformed into Veness, is very common among the farm- labourers
in the neighbourhood of Battle Abbey ; and many Vaseys or Veseys, humble representatives of the powerful De
Vescis, may still be found lingering in the county of Durham. But the authenticated male descents remain few and far
I do not imagine that the present generation would invest much money in having their names added to the Battle
Abbey Roll. In these days the monks would have driven but a sorry trade; and they were fortunate in living at a time
when those who have gone before were more highly esteemed than they are now. The pride of ancestry has in a
great measure passed away ; for the fast-rising wave of democracy day by day obliterates the old landmarks and
traditions that were once held dear. Far removed, indeed, are we from the period when the gentleman's right to bear
arms was considered so high a privilege, that Henry V. offered it as a boon to those who had fought by his side at
Agincourt* Heraldic bearings may now be assumed by anyone who chooses to pay the coachmaker to paint them on
his carriage,† and names and even peerages are bandied about without reference to any right of blood. It is a
humiliating reflection that any swindler or scoundrel may, without incurring a legal penalty, call himself by an
honourable and "unblamed " name, adopt its coat of arms, and drag it about in the dirt in all parts of the world. More
lamentable is the belief so rapidly taking root among us, that money stands in lieu of all else; that the highest social
position, and the good opinion and respect of our fellow-men, will always wait upon riches, and belong to their
fortunate possessor.†† The transmitted splendour of a glorious or venerated name, the honours gained on the field
or at the council board, weigh but lightly in the scale that is so easily turned by gold.
Some, however, I trust there are, to whom the great names of the past remain a living memory ; who shape their
course in this world under a deep sense of the responsibility of bearing them ; and fill their appointed position's and
do their appointed work
By the dead gaze of all their ancestors."
To them, I feel I owe an apology for this cursory and imperfect retrospect. The subject deserves to be treated by an
abler hand than mine ; and if developed to its full proportions, would embrace nearly the whole of the eight last
centuries of the History of England.
* It is to this that Shakespeare makes allusion in the following lines :
" For he this day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition."
" Henry V., in the year 1417, issued a proclamation that no assumption of arms
should be allowed, unless the assumer had fought at Agincourt." Woodward's
† There is a story told of a Scottish gentleman resident in America, who sent
a carriage that he had brought over with him several years before to a coachmaker's
to be repainted and repaired. As soon as it was pronounced to be ready, he went to
look at it, and to his consternation found his coat of arms and crest reproduced on all
the various vehicles exposed for sale. "I guess," said the exultant coachmaker, "that
the pattern has been very much admired."
†† " I am free to acknowledge," says a contemporary writer, " that I feel sometimes
a pang when I hear or read of the extinction of a great name, grey with the hoar of
innumerable ages sorrow when I read, in paper after paper, of the passing ol
ancestral estates under the hammer of the auctioneer ; and for this reason, that in
every such case I feel there is one more sword gone that would have helped us in the
battle which we must all fight against the superstitious idolatry of wealth."