The Ancestor/Number 1/An 'Authoritative' Ancestor


IN my Studies on Peerage and Family History (p. 68) I ventured to ask the question: 'What authority can there be for "Sir Geoffrey de Estmonte, Knight, of Huntington in county Lincoln" being one of "the thirty knights who landed at Bannow in 1172," as alleged in Burkes Peerage? As a matter of fact there is, and could be, none whatever. The statement, however, is repeated and even defiantly amplified in the 1902 edition of Burke's Peerage. Its respective versions are as follows:—


Sir Geoffrey de Estmonte Knt. of Huntington co. Lincoln, accompanied Strongbow in the invasion of Ireland A.D. 1172, and was one of the thirty knights who landed at Bannow co. Wexford.[1]


Sir Geoffrey de Estmonte (or Esmondeys) Knt. of Huntington co. Lincoln, now called Honington (which he gave in 1216 to the Priory of Stixwold), accompanied Strongbow to the Conquest of Ireland A.D. 1172, and was one of the thirty knights who landed at Bannow co. Wexford.

To those who may take the editor at his word and accept these statements as 'authoritative' I may explain (1) that this landing took place in 1168 or 1169, not in 1172; (2) that its leader was not Strongbow (who had not then set foot in Ireland) but a man called Robert FitzStephen; (3) that there is no list of the names of those who followed him.[2] These are not matters of opinion; they are matters of historic fact. It was recently announced that Sir Thomas Esmonde, at the head of whose pedigree in Burke the above statements are found, 'will endeavour to secure' from the Government' promise of a special department for prosecuting research into Irish history.'[3] There is a touch, surely, of Hibernian humour in suggesting that any such research is needed, when an Irish herald is able to state that the ancestor of an Irish baronet landed at Bannow with Strongbow, though history has forgotten to record the fact, and has further shown that, if the ancestor was there, Strongbow himself was not.

But I have now to deal with the developed story in Burke for 1902. Attempting to ignore my book and the demonstrations it contained of the true character of his production, the editor assures his readers, more loudly, if possible, than ever, that they may take its statements as 'authoritative.' I am obliged to quote his very words:—

It is gratifying to the Editor to know … by the flattering comments of the Press, and the host of letters from critics well versed in genealogy and heraldry, that Burke's Peerage not merely maintains its high position of so many years' standing, but is gaining in reputation from year to year, and is considered authoritative on the subjects with which it deals …

To keep this huge mass of information abreast of the times and to make it complete and accurate in every particular has been my endeavour, and no trouble or labour has been spared to accomplish this aim …

My especial care has been to achieve accuracy and completeness, and the testing of all facts by research and investigation has been an undertaking of much labour difficult to realise.

We are now going to test by research the authority at last vouchsafed for the fact that Sir 'Geoffrey de Estmonte' ever existed. One has only to refer to the 'Monasticon' under Stixwold (v. 275) to find that a document professedly printed from a Hundred Roll of 3 Edward I. (1274–5) states that land at Honington had been given, sixty years before, to Stixwold by Geoffrey 'de Ezmondeys'; but as this document is immediately followed by another version in which the name is given as 'Ermondeys' and as, moreover, there is no trace of any Esmonde having ever had anything to do with Honington, we are led to investigate the matter. So we turn to the 'authoritative' Hundred Rolls published by the Record Commission. We there at once discover that the name is 'Ermondeys.'[4] Having thus obtained the correct reading we examine the 'Monasticon' narrative and find that it makes Honington consist of twelve carucates, of which seven and a half had been given to Stixwold a hundred years before, by Lucy mother of Ranulf Earl of Chester, while the other four and a half were held of Gilbert de Gaunt, and had been given to Stixwold by his under tenants Alexander de Crevequer and Geoffrey de 'Ermondeys,' the latter's holding being the smaller of the two. The narrative is obviously loose in details, for Lucy had lived and made her gift considerably more than a century before; but the division of Honington into three parts is right and is essential to remember.

Honington, which lies a few miles north-east of Grantham, is a place of which the early history presents no difficulty. Its whole assessment was twelve carucates, when we meet with it in Domesday Book, this being in the Danish district the typical assessment of a vill. We find it, in 1086, divided into two unequal portions, of which the larger was held by Ivo Taillebois, and the smaller by Gilbert de Gand. At the time of the great Inquest of 1212[5] these two portions were respectively held by their successors, the Earl of Chester and Gilbert de 'Gaunt.' The former's fee is returned as seven and a half carucates and the latter's as four and a half, thus accounting between them (as in the 'Monasticon' narrative) for the whole twelve carucates.[6] But Gilbert had divided his own share between two under-tenants, namely, Henry de 'Armenters,' who held of him twelve bovates (one and a half carucates) as a quarter of a knight's fee, and Alexander de Crevequer, who held of him twice that amount (three carucates), as half a knight's free. A generation later, in the survey assigned to 1243, we find Honington divided into exactly the same portions, which are now entered as having all passed to the 'Master of Stixwold.' He held there half a fee of Simon de Crevequer who held under Gaunt, and a quarter fee of Geoffrey de 'Armeters ' who held under Gaunt, together with 'all the rest of Hundington,'[7] which had been given to his house by the Earl of Chester's predecessors. This brings us to the Hundred Rolls, some thirty years later, and to the 'Monasticon' document. Here again we have Honington divided into three portions, and only three, of which one was held of the Earls of Chester and the other two of the 'Gaunt' fief. Of these two one was held by the Crevequer family throughout, as half a knight's fee,[8] and their name is correctly given in the 'Monasticon' and the Hundred Rolls. The other (which is the portion of Honington with which alone we are concerned) was similarly held throughout, as a quarter of a knight's fee, by the family of Armenters or Ermenters.[9] It is this last name which has been corrupted into 'Ermondeys' and which the daring of a pedigree-maker has eventually converted into 'Estmonte.'[10]

We have, happily, the highest evidence of all for the true name of the house which gave its land at Honington to Stixwold. The original charter of donation is preserved at the British Museum (Eg. Ch. 427), and by it the twelve bovates, which, the Testa de Nevill has shown us,[11] were the holding of the Armenters family, are given by David 'de Arment(er)iis' to Stixwold. In the legend on the fine seal attached to this charter the name is given in bold letters as ARMENTIRS. The Museum authorities assign this Charter to about 1150, so that the donor may well be identical with that David who held no fewer than ten knights' fees on the 'Gaunt' fief (then in the hands of Earl Simon) in 1166.[12] These fees were widely scattered, for four of them were in Northamptonshire, where Kislingbury and Stowe were held by this family under Gaunt, as was also a manor at Ewelme in Oxfordshire. It can be proved from Domesday (56b) that the 'Robert' who held of Gilbert de 'Gand' at Ewelme and at Handborough in the same county in 1086, was Robert 'Armenteres,' so that the family must have come to England with this powerful Fleming at the Conquest. It is probable therefore that they derived their name from the Armentieres in Flanders which is now a place of some importance in the 'Nord.'

I have set forth in this detail the true descent of Honington in order to establish beyond dispute the grotesque falsehood of the statement set forth in Burke's Peerage, The authoritative founder of the Irish Esmondes, 'Sir Geoffrey de Estmonte' of Honington, proves to have been a Geoffrey de Armenters (Armentieres), who had no more to do with the Esmondes than I have. And this is proved by the very evidence which is produced by the editor himself to establish Geoffrey's existence!

It is sometimes urged against me that one ought not to treat seriously statements which would only be found within the covers of 'a Peerage book.' But no impartial reader can, I think, deny that so long as Burke's Peerage is published with the insignia of an Ulster King of Arms upon its title page, the uninstructed public will treat it as quasi-official, or that as long as its editor assures them, on the strength of letters from highly qualified (though unnamed) correspondents, that the statements it contains are 'authoritative,' that assurance will be widely accepted. Indeed, I need only cite at random a notice of the current issue from the St. James' Gazette where we read that, in the hands of the present editor, 'it has increased its reputation for accuracy, notably in the genealogical department.' This, it will be seen, simply echoes the editor's own assertion, but will doubtless be included in turn among 'the flattering comments of the Press.' It is more than a quarter of a century since the late Professor Freeman insisted in strenuous language that he was fighting, not the families who believed in fables about their own origin, but the editors who published these fables and assured their readers that they were true. And he selected Burke's Peerage as the worst case of all, on account of the official status of Ulster King of Arms. In some respects that work to-day is even more open to severe criticism than it was then. For it is not now sinning in ignorance; it is sinning against the light. There is, for instance, perhaps no grosser fiction in the field of English genealogy than the descent of the Ely Stewards from 'the Royal Stuarts' of Scotland, together with the appurtenant bogus grant from a French king. This was exposed long ago by Mr. Walter Rye from the English, and Mr. Bain from the Scottish side. Yet, it was actually added, in the 1900 edition, to the other 'authoritative' statements contained in Burke's Peerage. The introduction of this known imposture was pointed out and denounced by me more than a year ago in Studies on Peerage and Family History; yet this and other fables there exposed are deliberately repeated by the Editor as 'authoritative' in the current issue. I venture to think that a comparison of this plain fact with the statements quoted above from its preface will prove to the readers of The Ancestor not a little instructive and will render any further comment superfluous.


  1. The above statement was introduced into the work between 1885 and 1889, and therefore in the lifetime of Sir Bernard Burke.
  2. The authority for this landing is Geraldus Cambrensis, who in his chapter headed 'Adventus Stephanidæ' writes as follows: 'Robertus Stephani filius … cum triginta militibus de proximis et alumnis suis … circa kalendas Maii in tribus navibus apud Banuam applicuit' (Ed. Rolls Series, v. 230).
  3. Leading article in Morning Post, Jan. 23, 1902.
  4. 'Magister et moniales de Stikeswold tenent duas carucatas terre in Huntingdon, que valent per annum quatuor libras, de Galfrido de Ermandeys' (Rot. Hund. i. 393).
  5. See, for this, my paper on 'The Great Inquest of Service (1212)' in The Commune of London and other Studies, pp. 261–77.
  6. 'In Hundington de feodo com' Cestr' VII caruc' terre et IIII bovate quas illi de Stikeswald habent de dono antecessorum comitis.
    In eadem villa sunt IIII carucate et IIII bovate de feodo Gilberti de Gaunt unde Henricus de Armenters tenet XII bovatas pro IIIIta parte feodi unius militis, et Alexander de Crevequer tres carucatas pro servicio dimidii militis' (Testa de Nevlll, p. 348). Eight bovates went to the carucate.
  7. 'totum residuum illius ville de Hundington' (Testa de Nevill, p. 323).
  8. This enables us to localize the half knight's fee held by Reginald (de) Crevequer on this fief in 1166 (Red Book of the Exchequer, p. 383).
  9. These two forms of the name were used indifferently at the time. Thus, at Cranwell (a few miles north-east of Honington) which the family held also of the Gaunts, the same man is described as Geoffrey 'de Ermet's' and 'de Armet's' in two consecutive entries (Testa de Nevill, p. 319), so also we have 'Ermenteres' and 'Armet's' in Rotulus de oblatis et finibus. The same alternative forms are found on the other side of the Channel.
  10. Although the corruption of the name on the Hundred Roll has been demonstrated by record evidence, it may be as well to mention that an equally wild corruption of it appears on the corresponding Hundred Roll for another Wapentake (3 Ed. I.) where we read of the family's holding at Cranwell, not far from Honington, that the Templars of Temple Bruern held—
    'unum feodum militis in Cranewell … ex dono Gerardi (sic) de Emycers qui tenuit illud feodum de Gysilbrycht (sic) de Gaunt.
    … et elemosinatur ex dono Gerardi (sic) de Ermycers elapsis C annis, qui quidem Gerardus tenuit de Gysilbricht de Gaunt' (Rot. Hund. I. 278).
    Here we have the same loose reckoning of 'a hundred years back' as on p. 191 above. The Testa (p. 319) gives us the right version, by which the Templars hold 'de dono Galfridi de Arme(n)t(er)s.'
  11. See p. 191 note 2 above.
  12. He is oddly disguised as 'David de Armere' (sic) in Mr. Hall's official edition of The Red Book of the Exchequer (p. 383), though Hearne, the eighteenth century editor of the same 'carta' had acutely pointed out that the name (which is 'Arm' in the 'Liber Niger') should be extended as 'Armenters vel Armentiers sive Armenteres.' We can hardly, therefore, congratulate ourselves on the prospects of 'Advanced Historical Teaching (London).'