With the Ormonde-Butler family, there is reliable documented evidence from the 12th Century up to the present day. It is remarkable to have such an extant record of one single family, albeit with omissions about the careers and lives of some of the family. One famous quip of the first five generations of the Ormonde –Butler family, who were all named Theobald was that; “They feared God, fought hard, married well and (with the exception of the first Theobald) died young”.
In later centuries, the family went on to receive the many titles and royal appointments, including an Earldom and a Dukedom. Similar to the fate of most great families they had periods of decline due to political, religious and economic changes in the broader society that they inhabited. Despite these changes, they did manage to survive and leave a remarkable archival record, which is distributed, over many countries within Europe and beyond.
In their entry for Burke’s Peerage (the Marquis of Ormonde) the authors have provided a genealogy, but one, which by their admission, needs more research regarding the early years of the family. However within the first few generations of the family we do have a repetition of certain familial surnames mostly by marriage, these include names such as Le Vavasour, Giffard, Valognes, Malet and Bussell. Most of these families are included in the holdings recorded within the Domesday Book The existence of the office of butler at the Norman court is well attested. Charters for Jumiéges, Holy Trinity, Rouen and Coulombes are attested by Hugh Pincerna or Buticularius and one text shows that this was Hugh of Ivry, a man of some standing in Normandy, who later crossed over with his Duke to England and survived until 1086.
The Duchy of Normandy had many close connections with Anglo-Saxon England even before the Norman Conquest. These were two societies, both governed by warrior aristocracies, both roughly at the same level of economic development, and separated only by a narrow sea. The Vikings began raiding the monks of Lindisfarne in 793 and the Viking onslaught continued until only the Kingdom of Wessex, remained. King Alfred (871 – 899) was to begin the resistance to Viking rule. Over the following decades, Alfred and his successors were able to push forward their frontier with astonishing speed and success.
One of the most notable connections was the marriage of Ethelred II (966 – 1016) to the daughter of Duke Richard I of Normandy (d. 996), Emma (d. 1052). In 1013, England was attacked and conquered by the Danes and Ethelred and his family fled to France and sought refuge at the court of his brother-in- law, the duke of Normandy. His eldest son Edward was raised in Norman court and culturally would have identified himself as Norman. As King Edward the Confessor (1045 -1066), he had invited Normans to England and in 1050; he made Ralph of Mantes, Earl of the East Midlands and his close friend Robert of Jumiéges as Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1051, Edward had promised the throne of England to his cousin, the ambitious and ruthless, Duke William of Normandy.
Studies within the field of anthropology state that feudalism was a tribal formation with kin (family groups) acting as administrative factions. The Normans practiced cross-cousin marriage as a means of preserving their cultural identity and to consolidate wealth. ‘Agnatic-Cognatic’ primogeniture (male preference) inheritance was the norm within feudal practice, where holdings passed from the father to the eldest surviving son. This practice was to the detriment of the younger surviving sons, who were dissuaded from marriage. The experience of the younger sons within the family developed within the female line (i.e. their mother or aunt) of their family. The younger sons became apprentices for knight’s service to their mother’s brother, given their training and education, and often-married cousins. Grants for investiture in religious orders was also provided thought the female line. The wedding of sons and daughters should also be seen as ‘matrilineal’ in that the brides’ lineage were seen as having greater significance; males were expected to improve their status through marriage. Males often took the name of their wife as the senior line as ‘honorific’. (There are example of this within the Ormonde-Butlers). Surnames had not fully evolved, naming styles included toponyms (a surname derived from a place name or topographical feature), patronyms (a surname derived from a father or other ancestor) and hypochoristics (a given nickname).
The complexities of such practices make genealogical research difficult at best and the Ormonde-Butlers being an Anglo-Norman family were subject to the same marriage arrangements to preserve their lands and wealth. Any research most especially pertaining to the earliest documentary evidence need to be cognizant of such facts. Research into the many faceted aspects/connectivity of these families within Domesday has been the work of the English historian K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Continental Origins of English Landowners 1066-1166; a Prosopography of Post-Conquest England compiled from the sources.
Theobald Blake Butler (1888 – 1965), was a leading historical authority on the Ormonde-Butler family; much of his research is located within the British Museum and the National Library of Ireland. From his research he has shown that one the earliest recorded ancestors of the family is person listed as simply as ‘Hervey’. His name is in a book titled the ‘Testa de Nevil’ (Nevil’s Testimony or a Book of Fee Holders) which was compiled from earlier texts circa 1130. The traditional lands of the family have always been located in East Anglia and Lancashire. Blake Butler had discovered in his research that nine of the sixteen holdings, which were in the ownership of ‘Hervey’ in Norfolk and Suffolk, were to be entered in the Domesday Book under the ownership of Walter FitzAubrey De Caen in 1086. This led Blake Butler to surmise that the paternal ancestor was Walter de Caen who in turn may also be a possible descendant of Robert and William Malet.
William Malet is a difficult personality; he may have been in England before the Norman Conquest during the time of Edward the Confessor. Known as William Malet of Graville-Sainte-Honorine, near Le Havre one of the men whom accompanied William of Normandy and entrusted with lands both in France and in England. His mother may have been English and had connections to Lincolnshire and the house of Leofric. (Leofirc d. 1057 was Earl of Mercia and husband to Lady Godiva). (A popular piece of folklore told that he was the uncle of Edith Swan-neck the wife of Harold.) William of Normandy entrusted to William Malet the body of Harold after Hastings. After the battle “…his corpse was brought to the duke’s camp and William gave it for burial to William surnamed Malet and not to Harold’s mother (Gytha) who offered for the body of her son its weight in gold”. Gesta Guillelmi II Ducis Normannorum by William of Poitiers (c.1020 – 10900.
William Malet became Sheriff of Yorkshire and Constable of York Castle. He was captured by the Danes at the city of York and later released after they were repulsed. He held lands in Suffolk and Norfolk and was Lord of the Honour of Eye in Norfolk (lands originally held by Eadric of Laxfield). He endowed an Abbey at Préaux in Lisieux. He is said to have been killed by the Saxon rebel Hereward the Wake c. 1071 (A History of Yorkshire Vol. III, pp. 396-8). He named as the twentieth wealthiest tenants-in-chief in England c. 1086.
According to Burke’s Peerage, William Malet married Hesilia Crispin (living 1086). Hesilia Crispin’s family claimed descent back to Rollo I of Normandy. They produced two sons Robert and William Malet, (there is also a mention of a William Malet who was deprived of his lands in Yorkshire in 1109). The elder son Robert Malet’s tenants listed in Domesday are men who had come from Claville, Contville, and Émallville, all of which are situated close to Graville-Sainte-Honorine, the centre of Malet power in Normandy.
Walter de Caen was a considerable landholder in Suffolk at time of the Domesday Book. Most of his holdings were under Robert Malet (or Robert Malet’s mother Hesilia Crispin) He held Sibton (later connected to the Ormonde Butlers) in Blythburg hundred, Olden in Stowe hundred, Alderton, Sutton, Bromeswell, Bredfield, Byng and Loudham. Helminham he held under Richard FitzGilbert (de Clare). At Thrandson, a William de Caen held under Robert Malet along with a ‘Walter’. Walter de Caen has a son mentioned as Roger of Huntingfield also mentioned as Robert FitzWalter. (K.S.B Keats-Rohan Nottingham Med. Studies 1997).Walter de Caen was succeed by his son Robert FitzWalter of Huntingfield during the reign of William Rufus. Robert in turn was succeeded by John surnamed ‘Ficecomes’ Sheriff as Baron of Horsford and his brother was to inherit as William de Cayneto, De Chetney or Cheyney all of which may be all corruption of De Caen.
The exact relationship between Walter de Caen and Robert Malet remains uncertain; Blake Butler was to state that Walter de Caen is the son of Robert de Malet. This however remains unproven but it is most likely some familial connection most especially with the continuity of the estates. Theobald Blake Butler was later to modify his research and was to come to the conclusion that Walter de Caen was the father in law of ‘Hervey’ and that the lands in Norfolk and Suffolk were most likely acquired by marriage. There are numerous other examples of the surname Hervey within Domesday.
‘Hervey’ maybe related to the name Hervé in 11th Century France. A Herveius Pincerna was a witness to two charters of Herbert Bishop of Norwich dated 1107-11 (British Academy: English Epis. Acta VI Norwich 1070 – 1214 p.14) Hervey is listed a Butler to the Bishop’s household.
The Commendations of Eadric of Laxfield (Falconer to Edward to Confessor, held 15 acres at Sibton in Suffolk) that had been associated with the Malet family were regranted to other tenant’s in chief among them was Hervé Biturincenis. (Eadric of Laxfield was the twelfth largest landowner during the reign of Edward).
As mentioned earlier Heverus named in Testa de Nevil as father of Hervey Walter. There was a dispute with land that was “… given to (Orm frater Magni), Orm son of Magnus” The Chartulary of Whalley Abbey NR. 68, S. 88 Hulton 1847. This was an inquest held in Lancaster in 1212 concerning a land dispute.
A Hervey held estates in Norfolk, Suffolk and Lancaster during the reign of Henry I (Kate Norgate, England under the Angevin Kings, London 1887, pp. 42; 352.) Hervey married sister of Thomas á Beckett’s father Gilbert. The child of Hervey with the sister of Gilbert á Beckett was to be Hervey Walter who was heir to his uncle Hubert FitzWalter in 1156. This Hervey gave a charter to Wingfield in Suffolk, just east of the Honour of Eye, to the Church of St. Mary at Buthley. (The Beckett connection with the Ormond Butler also remains unproven despite the later family tradition that they are distantly related. The earliest recorded claim that Beckett was kin to the Ormonde Butlers was not until 1454 by a claim of James Butler 5th Earl of Ormond (Parliamentary Rolls, Vol. 5, pp. 257).)
Overall, there are numerous candidates for ‘Hervey’ unfortunately; we had no solid evidence as to who this person was. Unless further research can throw up new information as to his origins, he must remain regrettably elusive.
Another Norman family with close ties to the Ormond Butler were the De Valognes family. Named after the town (canton) of Valognes in the north of the Norman bishopric of Coutances. The earliest record in Domesday is Peter I de Valognes. He and Hamon De Valognes were at Hastings. Hamon de Valognes held Blaxhall in Suffolk and is styled ‘Lord of Parham ‘. In 1077, William ordered Hugh de Montfort and Richard FitzGilbert to let “the men of Bury St. Edmunds in captivity” go free. The prisoners included Peter I de Valognes. He was later to serve as Sheriff of Suffolk in the same year. He had estates in Suffolk and lands around the city of Lincoln and held nineteen manors on Herfordshire with the Bennington being the head of the De Valognes barony. He had a house and two churches in Hertford town and he founded Binham Abbey in Norfolk. Peter’s brother Robert De Valognes was heir to his titles and estates. Robert’s daughter Gunnora married Robert FitzWalter (Huntingfield) the son of Walter De Caen. Robert FitzWalter II, his son, received 30 and a half knight’s fee and he inherited another 66 knight’s fees from his father thus becoming a formidable noble during the time of Henry I of England. Robert was also Pincerna (Cup Bearer/Butler) to Henry I, was involved with the wine trade in London, and was Constable of Baynards Castle in southwest London.
One intriguing connection concerning the de Valognes family was that Peter I de Valognes married Albreda the daughter of Eudo the dapifer (steward). Their children were Muriel de Valognes who was to marry Hubert de Monte Canisio and a son Roger de Valognes. Roger was to hold the barony of Fakenham in Suffolk. Next to Fakenham is Sapiston, where a ‘Walter of Sapiston’ was the reeve (officer) of Roger de Valognes. This Walter could be a Walter de Valognes and suggested as the father of the elusive ‘Hervey’. (Families of the Domesday Book Volume 2. pp. 204 -205.) This remains speculative and requires further research to prove conclusively. Could Walter de Caen and Walter de Valognes be somehow connected?
A relation of Robert de Valognes I, possibly a grandson or grandnephew, is Theobald de Valognes. He is styled as Lord of Parham. He had two daughters Bertha and Maud de Valognes and an unnamed son who may have died on campaign in Ireland. Bertha was to marry Ranulf de Glanville (later Justicar of England under Henry II) and Maud de Valognes was to marry Hervey Walter, the son of Hervey. Theobald de Valognes was to die on crusade and both his daughters becomes sole heiresses to their father’s estates. Ranulf de Glanville was to promote the careers of both his nephews Theobald and Hubert Walter during the reign of Henry II.
Another family with close familial connections to Ormonde Butlers are the Le Vavasour. The term Le Vavasour could be a word play on the term Vavasoria a feudal grade below a barony. It is also a military term. At Hastings William was protected by his Vavasours, which seems to be nobles on foot rather than on horse as the norm. Mauger le Vavasour was ‘doorman’ to William of Normandy although he is not in Domesday. His grandson William le Vavasour is in the Liber Niger and he became Lord of Hazelwood. His son, Robert le Vavasour, became Sheriff of Nottingham and Sheriff of Derby and it his daughter Maud le Vavasour that is of importance.
Maud le Vavasour was to marry Theobald Walter at Edlington in Yorkshire c.1196. Theobald and Maud may have had three children, two daughters and a son. The eldest surviving daughter named as Beatrice or Beatrix and married Hugh de Purcell, Lord of Loughmoe. The son Theobald II Walter was to inherit his father’s land and titles. After the death of Theobald Walter Maud was to remarry, Fulk III FitzWarrine, who was outlawed during the reign of King John.
There are other examples of families emerging from relatively modest backgrounds. There seems be a greater degree of social mobility than there was in latter part of the Middle Ages when society became much more stratified. Roger Bigod rose from relatively lowly origins to become one the wealthiest barons on Anglo-Norman England. The family had established itself on lower orders of society in Normandy; they held Les Loges in Savenay from Bishop Odo of Bayeux for a knight’s fee. Roger Bigod became a trusted counsellor of William of Normandy and later became Steward to William Rufus. Bigod enjoyed “wealth, lineage, elegance, the smile of kings” (Orderic Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica; The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis).
Peter Kenny, March 2023.