The Ancestor/Number 1/The Origin of the FitzGeralds


'IN the land of Hetruria there flourished once a mighty vine thither translated from the desolated plains of Troy. Florence claimed this beauteous plant her own; and well might she glory in it, for "its branches stretched forth unto the sea, and its boughs unto the river." From the banks of the Arno and the shores of the blue Tyrrhene Sea the branches of that great tree extended themselves to the far off land of Erin. That tree was the noble race of the Geraldines, who, under the shadow of Tuscan banners, penetrated regions whither Roman legions never dared to venture. … The history of this Florentine family has been my special study; for it is intimately associated with that of my religion and country; and fondly does she cherish the memory of the Geraldines.' So wrote Father Dominic o'Daly to their eminences Antony and Francis Barberini, cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. To them he dedicated his history of the Geraldines, Earls of Desmond, written about the year 1655.[1]

With rapid hand the learned Dominican sketched in a few sentences the early history of the house:—

Ten years' siege had destroyed the glorious city of Ilium, and cut off all its leaders, with the single exception of Æneas, who, being compelled to fly, assembled about him a trusty band of youths, who had outlived their country's overthrow, foremost of whom in dignity and bravery was the founder of our Geraldines.[2] … Æneas soon afterwards divided the land of Italy amongst his followers, assigning to each his portion; and in the distribution he bestowed on the great ancestor of our Geraldines that region of Hetruria where Florence now stands.

When did the Geraldines come to England? When did they settle in Ireland? Father o'Daly was perfectly clear in his answers to both questions; they came to England with William at the Conquest; and they went to Ireland under Henry II. He had moreover a dim conception of the true facts of the case. He said that William gave them 'the castle and lordship of Windsor, of which they held possession till the days of Walter son of Ether (sic). This William had three children; from the first of these, William, sprung the Earls of Windsor; from the second, Robert, the Earls of Essex; but the third, Gerald of Windsor,' was the ancestor of the Geraldines. Walter FitzOther (not Ether) was, as we shall see, a real man, but the connection of the family with Windsor began instead of ending with this Walter.

Let us now turn to what may be termed the authorized version of the origin, that which was given in The Earls of Kildare[3] and steadily repeated in Burke's Peerage. Lord Kildare gave it thus:—

The FitzGeralds, or Geraldines, are descended from 'Dominus Otho,' or Other, who, in 1057 (16 Edward the Confessor), was an honorary baron of England.[4] He is said to have been one of the family of Gherardini of Florence, and to have passed into Normandy, and thence into England.[5] He was so powerful at that period that it is probable that he was one of the foreigners who came to England with King Edward, and whom he favoured so much as to excite the jealousy of the native nobles. It is also remarkable that Otho's son Walter was treated as a fellow-countryman by the Normans after the Conquest. The Latin form of the name of his descendants, 'Geraldini,' being the same as that of Gherardini, also indicates that he was of that family.

I cannot undertake to say at what period or how the story of Other coming to England under Edward the Confessor arose; nor can I explain how 'Otho' replaced the well authenticated 'Other,' probably to give the name a more Italian appearance. But as to the Latin form 'Geraldini,' I can state that the name given by Geraldus Cambrensis to his own family was, on the contrary, 'Giraldidæ.'

Lord Kildare referred, we have seen, to the 'Gherardini MS.' without giving their contents; but to Mr. Meehan we are indebted for printing in an appendix to Father o'Daly's work the contents of these papers, 'to which,' as he observes, 'the general reader would find it difficult to get access.' It must be remembered that, according to the versions given above, the 'Geraldines' came to England at, if not before, the Conquest. In the 'Gherardini MS.' we have a very different story. Three brothers of that family, Thomas, Gerald and Maurice Gherardini, 'having left Florence on account of the civil dissensions there, accompanied the King of England to the Conquest of Ireland.' This, it will be seen, is wholly discrepant from the version now adopted by the family itself, and is indeed wholly incompatible with the known facts as to its origin. Moreover the 'Gherardini' story originated in Ireland, not in Florence. The story given above is traced to an Irish priest 'called Maurice, who was of the family of the Gherardini settled in that island,' and who, passing through Florence in 1413, claimed the local Gherardini as his kinsmen.[6] Those Florentine magnates appear to have been unaware of the connection; indeed even so late as 1440 the Republic's secretary, writing to James Earl of Desmond, used the expression 'if it be true' (si vera est assertio). But the fame of the great Hibernian house reached and flattered the Gherardini, and in answer to a letter of 'fraternal love,' Gerald, 'Chief in Ireland of the family of the Gherardini; Earl of Kildare; Viceroy of the most serene King of England,' wrote in 1507 'to all the family of the Gherardini, noble in fame and virtue, dwelling in Florence, our beloved brethren in Florence.' The earl informed them that his 'ancestors, after passing from France to England, and having remained there some time, arrived in this island of Ireland in 1140' (!).[7] He was anxious to know the deeds of their common ancestors, 'the origin of our house, and the names of your forefathers,' and he offered them 'hawks, falcons, horses, or dogs for the chase.'[8]

And now from Irish earls panting for Trojan ancestry we will turn to the sober history of a house both ancient and illustrious, a house which not only traces its descent from a Domesday tenant-in-chief, but can make the probably unique boast that, from that day to this, descendants of his have been always numbered among the barons of the realm.

In The Earls of Kildare we read that 'In 1078 Walter FitzOtho is mentioned in Domesday Book as being in possession of his father's estates.' To this statement, which is obstinately repeated in the pages of Burke's Peerage, I reply, as in Peerage Studies (p. 69), that the date of Domesday Book was 1086, not 1078; that Walter was the son of Other, not of Otho; and that Domesday does not state that his lands had been held by his father, but, on the contrary, proves them to have belonged to forfeited Englishmen. Before dealing with Walter however we will glance at a Domesday mystery.

Domesday affords us a tantalizing glimpse of a personage who has hitherto escaped notice, and whose name is more suggestive of those borne by the early FitzGeralds than any other in the Survey. Under Essex we read that Reimund' Girald' annexed some land held by a tenant on the great royal manor of Stanway (fo. 5) and did the same at Wormingford (fo. 66), his successor, Roger of Poitou, retaining both in his hands at the time of the Survey. This points to Reimund having held the manors of Bergholt by Stanway and Mount Bures by Wormingford, both of which are found in the hands of Roger of Poitou in 1086. Following up this clue we find that 'Raimunt Giralt' had preceded Roger of Poitou in possession at Stonham, Thorney and Coddenham, in the heart of Suffolk (fos. 350b, 351, 352); while under Norfolk a remarkable entry (fo. 139b) proves that Reimund' Girald' had preceded Roger in at least one of his manors (fo. 244b), Roger being styled his 'successor.' From this entry we learn that Reimund' departed (discessit), a vague term which leaves us in doubt as to the cause of his departure. He is the only Raymond in Domesday, and almost the only bearer of the name Girald, or Gerald, though Girard, Gerard, Girold, Gerold are not uncommon. But the special interest of his name lies in its form, for the peculiar combination of two Christian names, unconnected by 'filius,' distinctly points to the south of what is now France, where 'Raimundus Geraldi' and similar forms are commonly found soon afterwards in the districts towards the Mediterranean. I cannot however connect Gerald with the origin of the FitzGeralds.

In Domesday Walter FitzOther appears as a tenant-in-chief in a compact block of counties, Berkshire, Bucks, Middlesex, Surrey and Hants. He also held Winchfield in Hampshire under Chertsey Abbey. At first sight there is not much to connect him with Windsor or its forest, but investigation reveals the facts that at Windsor itself he held on the royal manor 1¾ hides and some woodland; that at Kintbury, another Berkshire manor, he held half a hide 'which King Edward had given to his predecessor' out of the royal demesne for the custody of the forest (propter forestam custodiendam); that of the great royal manor of Woking in Surrey Walter held three-quarters of a hide, which King Edward had similarly given 'out of the manor to a certain forester,' and that in or near Kingston-on-Thames he had given land to a man to whom he had 'entrusted the keeping of the king's brood mares' (equas silvaticas). These hints prepare us for the evidence to which we are about to come that he held 'a wood called Bagshot' at the time of the Survey (though Domesday does not say so), and that he and his heirs had the keeping of the great forest of Windsor. He was also, we shall find, castellan of Windsor, while in his private capacity as a tenant-in-chief he held a barony reckoned at fifteen or twenty knights' fees and owing fifteen knights as castle guard to Windsor. Our next glimpse of him, after Domesday, is afforded by the Abingdon Cartulary, which records in a most interesting entry that Walter FitzOter, castellan of Windsor, restored to Abbot Faricius the woods of 'Virdele ' and Bagshot, which he had held by consent of the abbot's predecessors, Æthelelm and Rainald. It adds that he made this restoration in the first place at Windsor Castle, and that he afterwards sent his wife Beatrice with his son William to Abingdon that they might confirm what he himself had done 'at home.'[9]

From this entry we learn that Walter was living after 1100, for Abbot Faritius ruled the house 1100–16. We also learn that his wife's name, which has never, I believe, been rightly given,[10] was given as Beatrice, and that his 'home' was at Windsor Castle. Lastly, we may see, I think, an allusion to the loss, for the time, of these woods in the Domesday entry of the abbey's manor of Winkfield ('Wenesfelle'), which mentions that '4 hides are in the king's forest' (fo. 59). In other words, Walter, I suspect, had added them to Windsor Forest as its custodian; and if he did this, as alleged, in the time of Abbot Æthelelm (who died in 1084), they would be included in the king's forest at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086).

Walter was succeeded by his son William, of whom we have already heard as accompanying his mother to Abingdon. A very interesting writ, which seems to have been overlooked, shows him in charge of Windsor Forest at a date not later than 1116.[11] This writ notifies to William FitzWalter, Croc the huntsman, Richard the serjeant, and all the officers of the forest of Windsor, that the king has granted to Abingdon Abbey the tithe of all venison.[12] This tithe must be carefully distinguished from that of the ordinary issues of the forest; both these tithes were at this period commonly granted to religious houses, and, in the case of Windsor, the latter was given to the canons of Salisbury.[13] 'Croc the huntsman,' who in this writ is associated with William FitzWalter, was a personage of some note. He was a tenant-in-chief in Hampshire, where Crux (i.e. Croc's) Easton is named from him or his descendants,[14] and was also a holder of land in Wilts; and he witnessed a charter of William Rufus in favour of the abbey of Malmesbury and the foundation charter of Salisbury cathedral at Hastings in 1091.[15] The invaluable Pipe Roll of 1130 shows us William FitzWalter in charge of Windsor Forest in that and the preceding year. He farmed its profits from the Crown for a 'census' of £13 a year (the same figure is found under Henry II.), out of which 'the parker' was paid a penny a day, while £1 6s. od. went in tithes as I have explained above.[16] We again meet with William FitzWalter in that charter of the Empress Maud to Geoffrey de Mandeville which I assign to 1142.[17] She grants therein to Geoffrey that William may have his hereditary constableship of Windsor Castle and lands.[18]

William was succeeded by a son of the same name, to whom King Henry II., by a charter granted at Windsor 1154–64 confirmed the lands of his father. This charter, which proves the pedigree, is known to me only from Harleian Roll, P. 8, a pedigree of the Windsor family and of their Irish kinsmen, the FitzGeralds, which although compiled at a bad time (1582) is of quite exceptional value. The charter of which I speak confirms to William of Windsor all the land of his father, William FitzWalter, and of his grandfather, Walter FitzOther.[19] This William is constantly mentioned in the Pipe Rolls of Henry II. as among those who supervised building operations at Windsor Castle. I believe that I have discovered his wife, of whom the name has not been known, in that Christina de Wiham who was a tenant by knight-service on the Montfichet fief in 1166.[20] The argument is this. The domesday lord of the fief, Robert Gernon, had an under-tenant, Ilger, who held of him two manors in Essex, Wormingford and Maplestead. Walter de Windsor is subsequently found giving, in conjunction with his mother Christina, the church of Wormingford to Wix Priory[21] and bestowing on St. Paul's three of his neifs at (evidently) Maplestead.[22] Moreover, in 1187 he is found holding a fee and a half of Richard de Montfichet.[23] The descent of these manors would thus be accounted for, Walter being the eldest son of William de Windsor by, as I suggest, Christina de Wiham.

Walter and his younger brother William divided the Windsor barony into two moieties in 1198.[24] Walter was the ancestor, through a daughter, of the Hodengs; from William, in whose share Stanwell was included, descended Andrew Windsor, created Lord Windsor of Stanwell by Henry VIII., from whom descends in the female line the present Lord Windsor.

In the second portion of this paper I propose to deal with the younger sons of Walter FitzOther, from one of whom, Gerald de Windsor, all the FitzGeralds trace their descent. It will be convenient however to dispose in the present portion of one whose existence, I believe, is known to us only from a writ in the Abingdon Cartulary. In this writ Henry I. addresses Walter son of Walter de Windsor and informs him that he has granted to Farice Abbot of Abingdon (1100–16) the land and house at Windsor which had been held by Albert.[25] It is in the name of Albert that is found the interest of this writ. For one cannot doubt that this was the ' Albert the clerk' who is mentioned in Domesday, in conjunction with Walter FitzOther, as holding land at Windsor under the Crown (fo. 56b) and the 'Albert' who is entered as holding in chief land at Dedworth (fo. 63) adjacent to Clewer and Windsor. I have dealt elsewhere with the holdings of this Albert of Lotharingia, a 'clerk,' 'priest' or 'chaplain' in favour with Edward and with William.[26] As to 'Walter the son of Walter,' I cannot account for his being found apparently in charge of Windsor, as he was a younger son. It is of course just possible that he represents an error of the scribe for 'William the son of Walter,' the heir of the house.

(To be continued)

  1. Translated and edited by C. P. Meehan (1878 ?).
  2. The writer omitted to mention that Æneas only fled when the house of his Irish neighbour O'Callaghan (Virgil, in his southern tongue, made it 'Ucalegon') was already in flames.
  3. By the Marquis of Kildare (afterwards fourth Duke of Leinster). I cite the fourth edition (1864). Compare the version in Burke's Peerage (1902).
  4. The authority given for this statement is 'Sir William Dugdale,' but Dugdale's Baronage is silent on the subject. With scrupulous accuracy he began the pedigree with 'Walter FitzOther' in Domesday Book (1086).
  5. The reference for this is 'Gherardini Papers, MS.'
  6. In the same way, at a later time, did the Warwickshire Feildings discover that their name was derived from Rheinfelden, and that they were an exiled branch of the house of Hapsburg.
  7. This date, of course, is wholly erroneous.
  8. All these extracts are taken from Mr. Meehan's appendix.
  9. Walterus filius Oteri, castellanus de Wildesore, reddidit abbati Faritio duas silvas, vocatas Virdelæ et Bacsceat, apud Winckefeld, nostram villam, quæ pertinuerant ecclesiæ Abbendoniæ; sed eas per prædecessores hujus abbatis, videlicet Adeldelmum et Rainaldum hucusque tenuerat. Hanc redditionem primo apud castellum Wildesores abbati eidem reddidit; et deinde ad nativitatem Sancte Marie [8 Sept.] uxorem suam Beatricem, cum filio suo Willelmo, Abbendoniam transmisit, ut quod ipse domi fecerat ipsi Abbendoniæ confirmarent (ii. 132).
  10. In The Earls of Kildare (p. 2) and in Burke's Peerage it is given as 'Gladys, daughter of Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn, Prince of North Wales'.
  11. For King Henry left England in 1116, and Eudo Dapifer was dead before his return.
  12. 'Henricus rex Anglie Willelmo filio Walteri et Croco venatori et Ricardo servienti et omnibus ministris de foresta Windesores salutem. Sciatis me concessisse Deo et Sanctæ Mariæ de Abbendona totam decimam de venatione quæ capta fuerit in foresta de Windesora. Testibus Roberto episcopo Lincolniæ et Eudone dapifero apud Bruhellam' (ibid. ii. 94). 'Bruhella' was Brill (Bucks).
  13. It is worth noting that the Bull of Pope Eugenius III. (1146) in favour of Salisbury confirms to the church of Salisbury 'decimas omnes de venatione regis in episcopatu Sarisberiensi, excepta venatione illa quæ capta erit cum stabilia in foresta de Windresores' (Sarum Documents, p. 12), this having been granted to Abingdon, as shown in the text. Compare Monasticon Anglicanum vi. 1295.
  14. See The Victoria History of Hampshire.
  15. See Ellis's Introduction to Domesday, i. 403, and Monasticon Anglicanum, vi. 1295. The names of Bishop Osmund and Walter 'Hosatus,' with that of Croc himself, show that both charters are of the same date. Ellis wrongly assigns the Malmesbury one to the Conqueror. Croc himself gave ten pounds a year in rents and tithes to the church of Salisbury (ibid. p. 1296).
  16. Great Roll of the Pipe, 31 Hen. I. p. 127.
  17. Geoffrey de Mandeville, p. 163.
  18. 'quod Willelmus filius Walteri et hæredes sui habeant custodiam castelli de Windesh[ores] et omnia sua tenementa sicut ipse Willelmus et antecessores sui eam habuerunt de rege Henrico patre meo et antecessoribus ipsius' (ibid. p. 169).
  19. 'Sciatis me reddidisse et concessisse Willelmo de Windesoriis totam terram que fuit Willelmi filii Walteri patris sui et Walteri filii Otheri avi sui. … Testibus Willelmo fratre meo et comite Reginaldo et Jocelino de Baillil apud Windesorias.' As the pedigree gives with this charter transcripts of the extracts from the Empress Maud's charter, of the charter of Henry II. in favour of his cousin William FitzRobert FitzWalter, and of the fine of 9 Ric. I., all of which are quite accurate, its authority is excellent.
  20. Red Book of the Exchequer, p. 350.
  21. See Morant's History of Essex, ii. 232, 233, and the Monasticon (under Wix), where the charter is printed.
  22. 9th Report Historical MSS. App. i. p. 34.
  23. 'de feodo quod tenet de Ricardo de Monte Fichet' (Red Book of the Exchequer, p. 66).
  24. See the fine in Feet of Fines 9 Ric. 1. (Pipe Roll Society), p. 110. It is of much importance for topographical history and corrects the account given in Dugdale.
  25. 'Henricus rex Angliæ Waltero filio Walteri de Windresore salutem. Sciatis quod concedo Faritio abbati et ecclesiæ Abbendoniæ terram illam et domum de Windresores, quæ fuit Alberti, sicut Rainerius earn sibi concessit. Teste Rogero Bigod apud Londoniam' (ii. 132).
  26. The Commune of London and other studies, pp. 36–8.