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Stansfield Family History - Introduction

What follows is the culmination of three decades, off and on, of family history research. Much has changed in the last ten years, with the bulk of the research now being conducted online. However, while that makes research easier, and less costly, it brings its own problems too. The greatest of these is undoubtedly the widespread plagiarism that occurs among the published family trees to be found on certain well known family history websites. Wholesale copying of improperly researched and often unsourced material, especially in the USA, has resulted in hundreds of identical Stansfield family trees online, many (if not most) of which are incorrect when it comes to pre-16th century lineage. If you come across a pedigree which starts with Wyon Maryons Lord of Stansfield, supposedly our earliest UK ancestor though of Norman extraction, then I guarantee that the pedigree is almost certainly one of the above.

The reason for this is actually quite simple. They tend to be derived from a book privately published in 1885, called History of the Family of Stansfeld of Stansfield in the Parish of Halifax and its Numerous Branches, researched and written by John Stansfeld. (This spelling of the surname, with regard to this particular book, is important as the Sowerby branch of the family in more recent times sought to differentiate themselves from other Stansfields by calling themselves Stansfeld - the most consistently used early spelling - and were determined to be perceived as the original direct line.) Today, this work can easily be found online and downloaded for free as a pdf file.

While much of John Stansfeld's research is both interesting and informative with regard to post 16th century lines of the family, he is far less assured in his writings when it comes down to the roots of the family. One of the main problems with this work is that it contains a number of pedigrees from various sources, including the College of Arms, which people tend to copy wholesale without bothering to actually read his book or to do their own research from original records. Some of these pedigrees are simply incorrect and can be proved to be so. Incidentally, John Stansfeld was not responsible for drawing up any of these pedigrees, and he writes of his own misgivings with regard to some of them, notably the two pedigrees opposite p100, from the Harleian MSS in the British Museum and from the Heralds' College, both of which show Wyon Maryons as the first 'Lord of Stansfield' and his son Jordan as his heir. But John Stansfeld also acknowledged that this Jordan could be Jordan son of Essolf, a rather mysterious but highly influential figure, most of whose sons are very well documented, not least Jordan who gave rise to the 'de Thornhill' family, became Constable of Wakefield, and was a friend of the archbishop Thomas Becket. John Stansfeld wrote on p105 "It is not impossible that Jordan son of Askelph (Essolf), who really was lord of Stansfield, may be the same whom the Heralds call son of Wyon Maryons ; as it is evident that he must have lived at a period much posterior to the Conquest, and two or three generations, as is not unusual, may have been omitted." So the author recognised firstly that Jordan's parentage, as described in these doubtful pedigrees, was in question and his father could be Essolf rather than Wyon Maryons; and secondly that the timeline presented by these pedigress was impossible. 

Another freely available source online as a pdf file (though I suspect less frequently copied) is John Watson's earlier work The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax in Yorkshire, published in 1775. Pages 281 -283 of this book are devoted to the township of Stansfield and include a lengthy pedigree, without any sources cited, that mirrors the same problems as those referred to in the previous paragraph. But, as with John Stansfeld's work, such errors do not necessarily mean that we should ignore all that Watson wrote. Indeed, we are heavily dependent upon him for his description of Sir Henry Savile's proof that Hamelin, Earl Warenne, granted land in Stansfield to Jordan son of Essolf in the first place.

The facts of the matter appear to be these:

- Stansfield lay within the Manor of Wakefield, granted by the crown to William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey (d.1088), and his descendants; 

- the Manor of Wakefield passed to William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, who died 1138;

- the Manor then passed to William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey, who died 1148 and thence to his daughter Isabel;

- Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey, married William, Count of Boulogne, who thus became Earl of Surrey. He was a son of King Stephen of England;

- after her first husband's death in 1159, Isabel married Hamelin Plantagenet in 1164 (half-brother of Henry II and illegitimate son of Geoffrey d'Anjou) who took the name 'de Warenne' along with the title of Earl of Surrey (and the lands in Yorkshire, including the Manor of Wakefield, that went with that title).

At this point we are forced to rely on secondary evidence. John Watson in The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax p87 writes:

At a trial in the dutchy chamber 6 Elizabeth [1563/4] it appeared that the crown laid claim to the manors and wastes of Ovenden, Skircoat, Rishworth, Northland, Barsland, Waddesworth, Stansfeld, and Shelf…..On tryal the jury found for the defendant [Sir Henry Savile], for that he proved by many court rolls the possession of himself and his ancestors….[he] shewed an antient deed under seal, without date, declaring that Hamelyn earl Warren, owner of the lordship of Wakefield, had granted to Jordan son of Askolf [Essolf], ancestor to the defendant, his inheritance in Sowerbyshire; and that said Jordan did grant the fourth part of the said inheritance to Helie [Helias], his brother, and seven oxgangs of land in Stansfeld and in Rattonstall [Rawtenstall] and that the said Helie and his heirs should hold the said fourth part of the said Jordan and his heirs, as of the first begotten, by right of foreign service.

(Note: the term 'inheritance' is a little misleading and the consensus is that it refers to the lands that Hamelin had 'inherited' via his marriage to Isabel de Warenne, and not to anything Jordan had inherited from Essolf.)

In short, it was Hamelin Earl Warenne who is said to have granted the township of Stansfield to Jordan son of Essolf. Some of this land was subsequently granted to Jordan's brother Helias. Part of these lands must also have passed to another of Jordan's brothers, John, who granted it to his (John's) daugher Amabella and Roger son of Warin on occasion of their marriage (see the Lancashire Origins page for more details). Roger and Amabella's son John appears to be the first person actually born as a 'de Stansfeld'. As to Wyon Maryons, bearing in mind that we are looking at a period when much communication was spoken rather than written, it is perhaps worth noting that Wyon is not dissimilar in sound from either Warin or Warenne.

Because of these variations that arise due to oral communication, our surname can be found in over 70 forms across the centuries. I have standardised some references to the name as Stansfield, but have tried to retain the original spellings when copying or transcribing from original records. But the further back in time one's research goes, the more it will be apparent that spelling variations were the norm. Indeed, one will often come across a single document within which the same individual has his or her name spelled in multiple ways.

Before the use of surnames became the norm, people were identified by their kinship (eg. son of Robin, eventually becoming the surname Robinson), by their trade (eg. Smith), or by the place they came from (which is the case with Stansfield).

Stanesfelt [Domesday spelling} in the Manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire, seems to have generated the vast bulk of the UK population now named Stansfield. The 1881 Census of England and Wales shows 92% of all Stansfields as living in Yorkshire and Lancashire, to be specific 426 persons out of a nationwide total of 462. In addition, of course, there were those called Stanfield (total 84), Standfield (total 17) and other variations. 

Stansfield was a sparsely inhabited township (an administrative boundary and not to be confused with a modern day 'town') in the extensive Manor of Wakefield, to be found at the western edge of that manor and on what became the later boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The earliest, precisely dated, reference showing Stansfield being used as a locative 'surname' was dated 1238 and was a deed witnessed by John son of Elias de Stanesfeld (Yorkshire Deeds Vol.2 no.422). There is also a secondary source, a note penned by the eminent historian Roger Dodsworth, of a deed (no longer extant) probably from the 1190s and which refers to John fil. [son of] Fergus de Stansfeld, of whom more follows.


My thanks to researcher Joanne Backhouse for her collaboration and guidance regarding the Stansfeld family and Calderdale.