1066 and after that !!

(From an article published in the in- house publication for Norwich Union Insurance)

Dick Le Grice can trace his family line right back to the Norman Conquest

On the 14th November, nine hundred and thirteen years ago, a Norman army charged up a hill, later called Senlac, smashing the shield wall of King Harold’s bodyguard, and Anglo-Saxon England came to an abrupt end.

One of the Norman leaders on that fateful day in 1066 was Roger de Montgomerie, later to become the Count of Shrewsbury, and following his banner was Erard Le Grys and his five sons.

To the victor, the spoils, they say, and as a reward for his exertions, Erard received much land, fragmented (according to William’s crafty idea of letting no one man have too big a single holding) between Suffolk, Norfolk, Dorset, Lincolnshire and Shropshire. We can assume his sons inherited various parts of  his estates, and certainly four of them are mentioned in Dugdale’s Monasticon  Anglicanum, an account of English Monastic houses which appeared in the 17th century. This work includes extracts from the Domesday Book, one of which mentions Erard’s second son Hugues  or Hugo.

Although Erard’s first son Gautier is reported in Dugdale’s book to have held Suffolk lands, it seems, according to the same source, that his son Richard moved to Neatishead in Norfolk, and began the family’s unbroken association with the county of Norfolk.

Naturally, tracing back twenty-seven generations is a complex and lengthy task and I am indebted to a life-time’s work done by my Uncle, Norman John Le Grice, who has spent many summer holidays prowling around country churchyards.

Uncle Norman’s researches led to his delving into such varied sources as the Society of Genealogists 30,000 volume library, although he says he did not learn much there; Boyd’s Marriage Register which contained twenty-nine references to the name; and Rye’s Norfolk Families, which was informative about the earlier ancestors and the coats of arms; and inevitably Bloomfield’s Norfolk.

The Guildhall and British Museum Libraries provided original sources such as the Feet of Fines – Norfolk 1198-1202, the Monasticon Anglicanum and the Visitation of Norfolk, an inquiry into the right to Coats of Arms, made in 1563. These are only a few of the books and records which he searched. He was somewhat surprised when visiting the College of Arms to be told by Windsor Herald that he was already researching the name at the request of a Cornish branch of the family trying to establish their title to use the coat of arms. The Herald even thought he could see a family resemblance between Uncle Norman and the Cornish inquirer.

There is some confusion about the coat of arms itself. It does not appear in Fosters Feudal Coats, whereas Le Gros and Le Grose coat does. Certainly, however, the Le Grys coat is accepted by the College of Arms, as being recognized by long usage, It was allowed to the family at the Visitation. The record of this is still kept in the College basement, confirming the grant as being “quarterly gules and azure or on a bend argent, three boars passant sable, collared or”. In non-heraldic terms, this is a shield divided into quarters, the top left and bottom right coloured red and the other two blue. Diagonally across the shield, from top left to bottom right is a band of silver on which are thee black boars in a standing or running position. The crest is a black boar with a gold collar. Earlier shields had the colours reversed and there was no gold collar or border, but the change is probably due to ‘differencing’ to distinguish between sons and generations over the years. The shield is probably an example of heraldic punning, since the derivation of the name is either from “The Gray” (heraldic equivalent silver) or from an Icelandic word for pig, hence the boars.

The pedigree recorded by the herald making the Visitation of 1563, lists ten generations back to Sir Robert Le Grys of Langley, who was an equerry to King Richard I. Uncle Norman has traced Robert back to Erard’s son Gautier through Gautier’s son Richard de Neatisherde. His son Gautier (fl 1148) had a son Guillaume (fl 1159) who was Robert’s father. Robert himself had a son, Sir Simon of Langley (fl 1238) whose own son Roger lived at Thurton, as did his son Thomas. Thomas’ son Roger lived at Brockdish and in turn had two sons, Thomas and William. Thomas’ line appears to have died out as his son John had two daughters only and his will of 1500 left his lands to his uncle, William.

As I am in a direct line from this William, I would like to see one thing cleared up. The line from Sir Robert of Langley to William is reasonably well documented, but there is a snag. According to Uncle Norman’s researches, Roger of Brockdish, the father of Thomas and William died in 1417, and William was not born until 1423. Either early records have omitted a generation, or there is a date wrong somewhere!

Be that as it may, Williams descendants appear to have settled for some years at Thelveton or Thelton, as it was then called, and included one Old John of Thelveton who had the distinction of living in three centuries, being born in 1699 and living until 1802

William had at least seven children, and this lead to the family being somewhat dispersed. A branch grew up at Wakefield in Yorkshire, and there are of course our Cornish relatives. The family has had at least one Member of Parliament for Yarmouth, a seventeenth century Dr of Physick and one representative on the English side of Culloden. My side of the family seems to have lived, after Thelveton, in Ellingham, Attleborough, and King’s Lynn.

The name itself is as complicated as the family tree; Grip, Gris, Grys or Grice, on there own or with Le or le, all being variations on the spelling which have been in use at one time or another, but that was not uncommon as standardised spelling is something of a recent thing. It was around 1713 that the le Grice or Le Grice appears to be established as the accepted spelling, and this is the name which my two sons have inherited to continue the line into the future.