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Why the story starts in Lancashire

Before examining the particulars of, and evidence for, the individuals who populate the earliest few generations of this old Yorkshire family, it is necessary to explain what takes us back in time from a largely uninhabited area of post-Domesday west Yorkshire, much of which was laid waste during the Harrying of the North in 1069-1070, to a relatively well-populated and thriving part of the Lancashire plain for the start of our story.

We start with two secondary references in the form of handwritten notes made by the historian Roger Dodsworth (1585 - 1654) who collected Yorkshire church records and pedigrees, and made extensive notes on other records held in archives, to create what the Bodleian Library calls "the most monumental collection of antiquarian material bequeathed to us by the 17th century". While I have photographs of the notes described, coyright restrictions do not permit me to reproduce them here, which is a shame because they would demonstrate the following points much more clearly.

The first is of a grant of land in Stansfield, made by John son of Essolf at the time of the marriage between John's daughter Amabella and Roger son of Warin, the original being in Latin of course (Dodsworth MSS cxvii fol.156r). There are several issues with this particular note: the legibility of the handwriting isn't easy, the content has been edited at a later time, the Latin grammar is incorrect, and it leaves the reader uncertain as to the relationships described. Furthermore, it is impossible to tell what fault lay with Dodsworth and what lay with the original scribe - the original document is no longer extant so verification cannot be ascertained.

Because Dodsworth used a number of people to make notes on his behalf, other documents known to be in his hand have been examined in order to confirm that the handwriting is indeed his.

This first note was originally written in the third person as:

In Latin: Jo. filius Essolf dedit Amabella fiia sua...though the 'a' at the end of 'sua' is a very strange way of writing 'a' but it is in the same form in 'filia' so it has to be 'a'.

In English: John son of Essolf grants to Amabella his daughter...Except that 'sua' would normally mean 'her' daughter. However, other Latin documents from the period show many examples of 'sua' being used to mean 'his'. 

But then this note was edited, at least once, adding 'Ego' in front of John and 'Roger filio Warini and' to the recipient. So now it looks like this:

In Latin: Ego, Jo. filius Essolf dedit Roger filio Warini et Amabella fiia sua...

In English: I, John son of Essolf grant to Roger son of Warin and Amabella his daughter....

So, having changed the wording to write in the first person by adding 'Ego' at the start, Dodsworth still didn't get the grammar or meaning correct, because he should also have changed 'sua' to 'meus' meaning 'my'.

It is easy to understand how different interpretations have arisen with regard to the relationships referred to. In the end, the logical course was to work with what we believe was intended, so the full and most logical translation is as follows:

I, John son of Essolf grant to Roger son of Warin and Amabella my daughter 5 bovates of land in Stansfeld with the mill in the same town and what is fixed to the mill [which] with appurtenances [comes] to 7 bovates of land held in the manner of free marriage with wastes, woods etc rendering 15d annually.  Witnesses: Jordan son of Essolf, Thomas  ......   Eustace my son.

The second record from the Bodleian, upon which so much depends, is another grant which lists a John son of Fergus de Stansfield as one of the witnesses (Dodsworth MSS cxvii fol. 159v).

This is the earliest known reference to 'de Stansfield' as a locational identifier (think of it as a surname, though surnames as such had not yet been established). I use the term 'locational identifier' because people owning lands in various places during this period may have had several different locational identifiers attributed to them in their lifetime, whereas a surname would be held consistently from birth until death.

There is one simple but major issue with this record: it is the only known reference to Fergus de Stansfield, a first name rarely used in England at that time. Once again, Dodsworth's notes cannot be verified because the original record is no longer believed to exist. Based on studies of records of the other witnesses and a lot of other evidence from the area and period, the only sensible conclusion with the benefit of further research and hindsight, is that Dodsworth read the original wrongly, or copied it incorrectly, that Fergus was in fact Roger, the same Roger that married Amabella in the previous record. Again, if I could reproduce Dodsworth's handwriting here, one could easily see how 'Fergus' might indeed be 'Roger'.

The next task was to discover just who Roger's father Warin was, as it was not an uncommon name in this period. With no surnames to guide us we have to depend largely on locational identifiers and land records, along with some records which specified father and son relationships.

After starting with local records from Yorkshire, the search range quickly expanded to cover a wide swathe of northern England, roughly the area previously covered by the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. Records for what is now Lancashire show a number of deeds concerning the de Thornhill family, who trace back to Jordan de Thornhill, probably the best known son of Essolf.

As we already have the record of Amabella, granddaughter of Essolf, being granted land in Stansfield along with her husband, the Lancashire sources deserve to be explored in much greater detail and reveal Roger son of Warin son of Orm son of Magnus, associated with a place called Hutton, just SW of Preston. Instances of any other Warins in the area can be dismissed once their family relationships and land holdings are explored in detail.

Anyone familiar with the period, and with some of the prominent families in the tree below, can see how interwoven the different lineages are. Of greatest importance to us are the de Thornhills because between them, in successive generations, they held land in Stansfield and also in the small area of Lancashire which concerns us with regard to our genealogical origins.

To view the following 'tree' more easily, right click on it and save the image to your desktop, then view it at greater magnification using your image viewer software. It is designed to split into two halves for printing.


Connections which stand out are as follows:-

Part of Aliz (Alice) Walter's dowry when she married Orm son of Magnus included lands in Rawcliffe. Richard de Thornhill, and his son John de Thornhill, both held lands in Middle Rawcliffe in 1253 and 1242 respectively. Before them, Richard de Thornhill's father Jordan de Thornhill son of Essolf had been granted land in Stansfield by Hamelin, Earl Warenne, no earlier than April 1164 (when he acquired extensive estates in Yorkshire by marriage). Some of the land in Stansfield found its way to John son of Essolf, who granted land in Stansfield to his daughter Amabella on her marriage to Roger son of Warin. So de Thornhills held land in both Stansfield and near Preston - perhaps the best confirmation of our Lancashire roots. 

Warin de Corney, the grandson of Warin son of Roger son of Orm son of Magnus, had a sister called Amabel - possibly named after her uncle Roger's wife.

Roger and Amabella had a son named Elias, possibly named after his father's cousin Elias de Hutton. Elias was also a common name among the many descendants of Essolf.

Roger de Hutton, son of Orm, held lands in Medlar which passed to Roger's son Elias de Hutton then to Elias's sister Cecily who married into the Gernet family. Quenilda, wife of Jordan de Thornhill son of Jordan, remarried into the Gernet family after Jordan junior died.

Quenilda's father Richard claimed to have experienced two miracles involving St Cuthbert. Jordan de Thornhill senior claimed a miracle which involved his son William being raised from the dead. So Jordan de Thornhill junior, who married Quenilda, had both a father and a father-in-law each of whom claimed to have experienced miracles. (Jordan senior's miracle is recounted at great length by two monks of that period and is depicted in stained glass at Canterbury Cathedral, Jordan having been a close friend of Thomas Becket.)

Warin's contemporaries on his mother's side included Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Theobald, first Lord Butler of Ireland - though their father Herveus (junior) had also married into a noble Norman family which must have raised their status considerably. Even so, Warin's father Orm son of Magnus must have had considerable standing for him to have married into the Walter family. While not evident from the above tree, any doubts about Orm's status can be quickly dismissed when one considers that Orm was listed as a witness to a grant to Fountains Abbey made by William son of Duncan II of Scotland and nephew of David I of Scotland, the reigning monarch at the time, sometime between 1146 and 1153 at Skipton [probably Skipton Castle]. In the records found to date, Magnus himself is given neither a locational identifier nor a 'son of' designation, thus suggesting that he was sufficiently well known, at least locally, not to require either for the purpose of identification. Once again, this implies status.

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