Revised Apr. 24, 2016
According to a “New York Times” article of 4 Dec 2008 by Nicholas Wade, DNA studies by Mark Jobling of the University of Leicester in England and Francesc Calafell of Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain have found that of the population of the Iberian Peninsula (which includes the countries of Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and the British dependency of Gibraltar), about 20% have Jewish ancestry and 11% have Moorish ancestry. Says Wade: “Spain and Portugal have a history of fervent Catholicism, but almost a third of the population have a non-Christian genetic heritage.”
This is the story of one such line, and its survival into the modern era.
Archaeologia Cambrensis The Journal Of The Cambrian Archaeological Association Fourth Series Vol. X No. 37 January 1879. London: J. Parker, 377, Strand, London.
A very useful resource for Welsh history and genealogy. pp. 71-72 mentions Lampeter in Cardiganshire in connection with a detailed account of the Griffith family of Wichenor in Staffordshire. Issues from 1846–1899 plus index may be read online at:
Boulger, Demetrius, ed. (1888). The Asiatic Quarterly Review Volume VI July–October 1888 July 1888. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 26 Paternoster Square.
Demetrius Charles Boulger (1853–1928) was a prolific British historian and a member of the Royal Asiatic Society. Available as free download from HathiTrust Digital Library. Search under “Demetrius Boulger.” Subject “Asia.” Death of Sir Henry Skipwith II: see pp. 391–393.
Bridgeman, M.A., Rev. The Hon. George T.O. (1876). History Of The Princes Of South Wales. Millgate, Wigan.: Thomas Birch
Available as free download from Google Books. George Thomas Orlando Bridgeman (1823–1895), educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, was the 2nd son of the 2nd Earl of Bradford. He was a member of a family long associated with the Church of England, and became a prominent cleric in his own right.
Croke, Sir Alexander; of Studley Priory, Oxfordshire. (1823). The Genealogical History Of The Croke Family Originally Named Le Blount Vol. II. Oxford: W. Baxter for John Murray, Albemarle Street, London; and Joseph Parker, Oxford.
Available as free download from Internet Archive. Sir Alexander Croke graduated Doctor of Civil Law from Oriel College, Oxford. Chapter III of Vol. II contains extensive material on the family of Sancha de Ayala. It would be pointless to address the errors, chief among them the purported de Ayala descent from Urraca, daughter of “Alonso,” king of Leon. Ironically, the Croke family didn’t descend from the Blounts.
Farmerie, Todd A.; Taylor, Nathaniel L. (1998). NOTES ON THE ANCESTRY OF SANCHA DE AYALA. Prepublication MS of article subsequently published (with minor emendations) in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register 103 (1998), 36–48.
Todd A. Farmerie and Nathaniel L. Taylor are co-owners of Internet message board “soc.genealogy.medieval.” Farmerie is Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University (Pullman). Taylor, of Barrington, Rhode Island, holds a PhD in Medieval History from Harvard, and is a professional genealogist and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. Article is available on the Internet under the above title. Some references cited are in Spanish. The article refutes three claims of royal ancestry and two claims of descent from Muslim princesses. The article doesn’t present Sancha de Ayala’s actual ancestry, leaving the reader with the impression there’s little of interest in her pedigree. Farmerie and Taylor claim “Sancha is also an ancestress of Queen Elizabeth II,” without giving the descent; and acknowledge George Washington’s family as among Sancha’s descendants. Unfortunately, genealogy being the rather dry subject it often is, linking Medieval lines to more recent historical figures has become a shameless method of promoting the author’s work. Article can be viewed at:
Fletcher, Richard. (2006). Moorish Spain. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Richard Fletcher was Professor of Medieval History at University of York, UK.
Fletcher, Richard. (1990). The Quest for El Cid. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Same author bio as above.
G.E.C. (1900). Complete Baronetage Volume I 1611–1625. Exeter: William Pollard & Co., Ltd. 39 & 40 North Street.
Available as free download from Internet Archive. Series consists of 5 volumes with a 6th volume as an index. George Edward Cokayne was Clarenceux King of Arms Herald at the College of Arms, London.
Goodman, Anthony. (1992). John of Gaunt The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex: Longman Group UK Limited.
Anthony Goodman is English Professor Emeritus of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
Henze, Paul B. (2000). Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia. New York: Palgrave.
Paul B. Henze was a former CIA and National Security Council specialist. After leaving government service he became a consultant for the RAND Corp. Henze devotes little of his text to slavery, but notes it had ancient origins in Ethiopia, which he identifies as probably part of the Land of Punt.
Hitchcock, Richard. (2008). Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain Identities and Influences. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
Richard Hitchcock is Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK.
Howard, L.L.D., F.S.A., Joseph Jackson; ed. (1868). Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica Vol. I. London: Hamilton, Adams, And Co.
Available as free download from Google Books. Joseph Jackson Howard (1827–1902), British attorney, started the periodical Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica in 1866 and was a founder of the Harleian Society. An extremely valuable resource for British genealogy.
Keay, John. (1991). The Honourable Company A History of the English East India Company. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
John Keay is a British author specializing in Asia, exploration, and Scotland.
Marotti, Arthur F. (1995). Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press.
Richardson, Douglas; Everingham, Kimball G., ed. (2013). Royal Ancestry A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families Volume V. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Author.
Douglas Richardson was educated at University of California (Santa Barbara) and University of Wisconsin (Madison). Richardson is a professional genealogist and author based in Salt Lake City. His “Royal Ancestry Series”, though not without error, comprise the best books of their type. Volume V pp. 321–323 contains extensive notes on George Washington’s ancestors, including the descent from Constance Blount and the Lawrence Washington/Margaret Butler marriage.
Roberts, Gary Boyd. (2012 reprint). Ancestors of American Presidents 2009 Edition compiled by Gary Boyd Roberts with charts prepared in part by Christopher Challendar Child from originals by Julie Helen Otto. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Gary Boyd Roberts is Senior Research Scholar Emeritus at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. pp. 659-664 show descents from Sancha de Ayala for these Presidents of the United States: William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Walker Bush, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington (two lines), Grover Cleveland, Herbert Clark Hoover, and Gerald Rudolph Ford. I’m not fond of omnibus volumes like this one. Anything here should be independently verified.
Roth, Norman. (2002). Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain With a new afterword. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Norman Roth is Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The Publications Of The Surtees Society Established In The Year M.DCCC.XXXIV Vol. XLV. For The Year M.DCCC.LXIV. (1865). Testamenta Eboracensia. A Selection Of Wills From The Registry At York. Vol. III. Durham: Andrews And Co.; etc.
The Surtees Society, founded in 1834, is dedicated to publishing manuscripts illustrative of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. For the will of Sir Walter Griffith see pp. 269–270.
Wrottesley, Major-General The Hon. G. (1905). Pedigrees From The Plea Rolls, Collected From The Pleadings In The Various Courts Of Law A.D. 1200 To 1500, From The Original Rolls In The Public Record Office. Pub: The Author.
Available as free download from Internet Archive and as reprint from Nabu. George Wrottesley (1827–1909), 3rd son of John Wrottesley, 2nd Baron Wrottesley, was a prominent English army officer and an avid genealogist specializing in Staffordshire. He was a founder of The William Salt Archaeological Society which was devoted to the history of Staffordshire. In 1936 the Society became the Staffordshire Record Society.
1. Sancha de Ayala m. Sir Walter Blount 2. Anne Blount m. Thomas Griffith 3. Sir John Griffith m. Katherine Tyrwhit 4. Rhys (Richard) Griffith m. Margaret — 5. Joan (Jane) Griffith m. (his 1st) Sir Lionel Dymoke 6. Alice Dymoke m. (his 2nd) Sir William Skipwith 7. Henry Skipwith m. Jane Hall 8. Sir William Skipwith m. (1st) Margaret Cave 9. Sir Henry Skipwith, Bart. m. (1st) Amy (“Tresham”) Kempe 10. Diana Skipwith m. (his 2nd) Edward Dale 11. Elizabeth Dale m. (his 1st) William Rogers 12. Hannah (Rogers) Mitchell m. (2nd) Edward Blackmore 13. Joseph Blakemore m. Anne Sanders 14. Hannah Blakemore m. (1st) William Duncan 15. Joseph Duncan m. Elizabeth Peters 16. Minerva Jane Duncan m. Peyton Milton Wilcox 17. Nancy Theodocia Wilcox m. (2nd) Thomas Calvin McMillen 18. Nora Ann McMillen m. (1st) Eric Lyman Vaughan 19. Hillary Lillian Vaughan m. Jesse Otto Jeffery Scarff 20. Valerie Berniece Jeffery Scarff m. Ralph Vernon Chipman.
(G.E.C., pp. 214-215.)
Above: This pedigree from The Visitation of Herefordshire 1569 purports to show the descent of William Cecil Lord Burleigh, Queen Elizabeth I’s most trusted advisor, and brother to Margaret Cecil, from Turberville, Lord of Coytiffe and Kyrikvoell. The Tudor era saw the rise of families of Welsh descent. The accuracy of the earlier portions of the pedigree is questionable; having been raised to the dignity of a baron Cecil felt an ancient tree must grow within it.
The children of Sir Henry Skipwith, Bart., and wife Amy Kempe were, in order of birth: William (died before father); Henry, 2nd Bart.; Elizabeth; Thomas (evidently died before his brother Henry); Diana; Grey, 3rd Bart.; Anne.
Blandina Acton, 2nd wife of Sir Henry Skipwith, was the daughter of John Penvin of Badgworth, Somerset, and widow of John Acton, a prominent London goldsmith.
A Gentleman of the Privy Chamber attended to the king in the king’s private apartment within a royal residence. This office, dating to the reign of King Henry VII, was a plum as it gave the holder considerable influence with the king. This explains why Sir Henry Skipwith entertained King Charles I at Cotes, as the two were friends of some standing. However, when King Charles II ascended the throne, the Skipwith family was unable to recover any property sold to pay the fine imposed by Parliament during the interregnum. Most such transactions were left intact by the new king who didn’t wish to unnecessarily antagonize his former enemies. He contented himself with hunting down and executing those who played the most prominent roles in the beheading of his father. The Skipwith family’s loyalty to the elder Charles counted for little with the son—hardly a singular tale—proving politics can be as murderous as the block.
So Grey Skipwith and his sister Diana, lacking any prospects in post-Restoration Britain, remained in the wilderness of Virginia—which had become their home in the mid-17th century. The following, abstracted by Fleet from Lancaster Co., VA Record Book No. 2, 1654–1666, p. 345, testifies to that relationship. Though Diana Skipwith belonged to a prominent family, she wasn’t a prominent member of that family, but settling in early VA as a single woman showed no lack of courage.
Sir Henry Skipwith was a poet of some reputation who composed “An Elegie on the Death of my never enough Lamented Master King Charles the first”: “Weepe, weepe even mankinde weepe, soe much is dead,” etc. He should have wept over his lack of business acumen—after years of contracting debt, the Parliamentary fine was sufficient to push him into insolvency.
In remembrance of ancestors who were poets, I’m inspired to contribute these verses, entitled The State of the Cavalier:
The king has lost his head
And is consequently dead.
Just pickin’ and grinnin’.
Virginny ain’t such a bad place to be
But you might get scalped when you go out to pee.
Just pickin’ and grinnin’.
We’ll all wind up in an unmarked grave.
There’s nothing left to save.
Just pickin’ and grinnin’.
This next item, from the records of the East India Company, illustrates the large sums Sir Henry Skipwith risked, using land as collateral. The Parliamentary fine of 1,114 pounds, stiff though it was, should not of its own bankrupted him.
Richardson reports Sir Henry Skipwith was buried on 7 Nov 1655 at Stapleford in Leicestershire (during the 2nd year of The Protectorate), the actual source being a parish register; presumably he means the old church of St. Mary Magdalen, which was rebuilt in 1783 and now only used for civic functions. It’s said most of the family memorials were moved to the new church, but I have found no reference to Sir Henry Skipwith, so perhaps his was not.
(Flag of East India Company. Founded under royal charter, the Company was also favored by Oliver Cromwell. Lost ships were part of the cost of doing business. The Company sought to discourage private trading, claiming its charter gave it exclusive right to trade between India and Great Britain.)
G.E.C.’s statement that Sir Henry Skipwith “d. about 1658” is due to confusing Sir Henry Skipwith, the 1st Baronet, with his son, the 2nd Baronet. The 2nd Baronet died unmarried in India ca. 1657, where he had traveled to repair the family fortune, but met a tragic end. See “The Asiatic Quarterly Review” of Jul 1888:
Sir Henry Skipwith II had friends at the East India Company. The next letter dated 27 Feb 1657/8 from the same issue of “The Asiatic Quarterly Review” proves he was indigent. He was deceased by the time the letter arrived. In the days of sailing ships the voyage from England to India via the Cape of Good Hope could take 6 months, not including overland travel. The cycle of writing a letter and receiving a reply might take 18 months.
The last record concerning Sir Henry Skipwith II is from a “soc.genealogy.medieval” thread containing remarks made by MichaelAnne Guido, which I’ll cite verbatim.
I cannot locate “The Wynter Family.” However, Masulipatim where Sir Henry Skipwith II died is in the lower 3rd of India on its east coast. It was a major trading hub. Sir Henry Skipwith II had ventured deep into Asia. Across the Bay of Bengal lay Burma and Thailand.
The Act of Administration record gives Sir Henry Skipwith II’s death as 1656. The “Cholmondely” letter places the death in the summer of 1657. In any event, due to the lag in communications with India, his estate wasn’t entered until much later.
At his death Henry was living with Edward Winter (b. ca. 1622, d. 2 Mar 1686). Winter’s ship “The Tiger” was evidently named for a semi-mythical contest between Winter and a tiger, in which he drowned the beast. In 1657, “The Tiger” was leaving Masulipatim for a trading voyage to Burma when she capsized, with a loss of all of her passengers and freight. The “Masulipatim Roads” means “shipping lanes.” The loss was valued at 20,000 pounds, a very large sum for the day. This gives an idea of the scale of investment in the India trade. It was a high-stakes game and Henry was in over his head. The name of the ship and the exact date it was lost doesn’t alter the fact that Henry couldn’t absorb the loss and died a pauper. The entry of his estate in England was a formality. There was nothing to distribute to anyone, regardless of where his relatives might be found. Had Henry merely wanted to escape Cromwell, Virginia was much closer than India, but Virginia was a step down in class for Henry and his friends. Henry wasn’t a 2nd or 3rd son.
What became of the remains of Sir Henry Skipwith II? It’s very unlikely the body was shipped back to England. The East India Company had religious facilities and cemeteries for Europeans. His remains could have been deposited in the Winter property or at Fort St. George at Madras. Regardless, the cemetery probably no longer exists, being a reminder of British colonialism.
There were 3 Skipwith baronetcies, that of Metheringham, extinct 4 Jun 1756, Newbold Hall, extinct 28 Jan 1790, and Prestwould, which has survived. Sir Thomas George Skipwith (ca. 1735–1790), 4th Baronet of Newbold Hall, having no children, left his estates to Sir Grey Skipwith, 8th Baronet of Prestwould. The present Baronet of Prestwould, 12th in succession, is Sir Patrick Alexander d’Estoteville Skipwith, a lineal descendant of Diana Skipwith’s brother Grey.
(For descendants see column “Family Of Hillary Lillian Vaughan.”)
TO THE STORY PROPER: HAVING SEEN THE END WE INQUIRE AS TO THE BEGINNING.
Sancha de Ayala (ca. 1360–1418) m. Sir Walter4 Blount (John3, Walter2, William1), and is one of my ancestors through the Griffith family. She came to England in the household of Constance of Castile, 2nd wife of John of Gaunt. Sir Walter Blount was a close associate of Gaunt, and it was through Gaunt that he met Sancha. In 1381 Sir Walter Blount purchased the manor of Barton in Derbyshire, part of which was settled on Sancha as her dower lands.
Gaunt “had a soft spot for Sancha Garcia [de Ayala], who married his knight Walter Blount, and to whom he gave a New Year’s present in 1380.” Goodman (1992), pp. 135-136.
Sancha was a member of a highly evolved and sophisticated culture in Toledo, Spain. The area became part of the kingdom of Castile on 25 May 1085 when Alfonso VI, king of Castile and Leon, ejected the Moors. The Moors had ruled Toledo since the early 8th century.
The following charts are from an article published in 2000 (in Spanish) by Balbina M. Caviro (Balbina Caviro Martinez) of the Complutense University of Madrid illustrating some maternal and paternal ancestry of Sancha de Ayala. These form a general outline of her ancestry and don’t show all of her family connections. [See Todd A. Farmarie and Nathaniel L. Taylor (1998) for information on other families.] Sancha appears in the first chart as wife of “Guater Blont.” Even without knowledge of Spanish one can comprehend the relationships. In medieval Spain people might use the surname of either parent. In Sancha’s case, she used the surname of her mother’s family because it was more prominent than her father’s. “Arbol” is Spanish for “tree,” so the charts are “Genealogical tree of,” etc. Click on images to read them.
In the next chart, “Melendo aben Lampadero Abdelaziz b. Lampader” was Mozarab, which will be discussed at length below. The chart indicates Melendo’s grandson Pedro Suarez as “primero en usar el escudo del castillo,” which I loosely translate as “first to wear the coat of arms or shield of Castille,” indicating he was the first of his family to be armigerous. It marks the acceptance of the family by the Castilian authorities, and the point at which we can consider them assimilated. We are not given the name of the wife of Pedro Suarez, but his son Gomez Perez [I] de Toledo married Orabuena Gutierez, daughter of Gutierez Armildez. Among the children of this couple was Archbishop Gutierre Gomez.
How did Sancha come to the attention of Constance, a daughter of Pedro I “The Cruel”, king of Castile? The short version is Sancha’s sister Teresa was a mistress of Pedro I, and allegedly had a daughter by him, listed as “Maria de Ayala o Castilla” (Maria de Ayala of Castile) in the chart of Ines de Ayala.
Sancha left Castile, where her family had resided for many centuries, because her parents Diego and Inez, though they had powerful connections, were not wealthy or prominent enough to secure an advantageous marriage for her—or her sister Teresa, who drifted into an illicit affair with Pedro I. In that era it was the custom with high born women like Constance of Castile to take into their household women of good family to wait in attendance upon them (hence the term “lady in waiting”). We romanticize figures like Sancha de Ayala, and in her case it’s justified. She was an ordinary woman possessed of a fascinating gene pool who found herself at the crossroads of history.
(Constance of Castile, 2nd wife of John of Gaunt and a daughter of Pedro I “The Cruel,” king of Castile and Leon. John of Gaunt claimed the throne of Castile and Leon in right of Constance his wife, but was denied it. Constance was the daughter of Pedro I by Maria de Padilla, whom Pedro I had secretly married, but was forced to repudiate and retain as his mistress. Constance’s murky origin hampered Gaunt’s campaign.)
Pedro I’s chaotic personal life, and his failure to produce an acceptable heir, eventually led to his murder on 14 Mar 1369 at the hands of his illegitimate half-brother Henry of Trastamara. Henry exploited animosity toward the Jews to secure powerful allies against Pedro I. Henry said Pedro I was too pro-Jewish.
The struggle between Pedro I and Henry was the seed of the dreaded Spanish Inquisition. Henry was a usurper and weak, which suited the nobility who didn’t want a strong monarch. The Catholic church stepped in to fill the power vacuum. Anti-Jewish riots erupted. The Inquisition peaked during the reign of the “Catholic Monarchs” Ferdinand and Isabella—the Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus.
Of Sir Walter Blount, grandfather of Walter Blount, 1st Lord Mountjoy, The Complete Peerage Vol. IX, sub Mountjoy, pp. 331–333, has this:
Sir Walter Blount is a character in Shakespeare’s “I Henry IV.” His mutterings are unremarkable. Nonetheless, in battle Blount pretends to be the king, and is slain. That earned him accolades for gallantry, but he was deaf in the grave.
Sancha de Ayala isn’t a genealogical curiosity. She has thousands of descendants—including George Washington—but has never received commensurate treatment. According to Sir Walter Blount’s biography in The History of Parliament online, the couple had 5 sons and 2 daughters.
George Washington’s lines from Sancha de Ayala [as reported by Roberts (2009)]:
Sancha de Ayala m. Sir Walter Blount
Sir Thomas Blount m. Margaret Gresley
Sir Thomas Blount m. Catherine Clifton
Richard Blount m. Dorothy de la Ford
Elizabeth Blount m. Thomas Woodford
Ursula Woodford m. Thomas Light
Elizabeth Light m. Robert Washington
Lawrence Washington m. Margaret Butler
Lawrence Washington m. Amphylis Twigden
John Washington m. Anne Pope
Lawrence Washington m. Mildred Warner
Augustine Washington m. Mary Ball
Sancha de Ayala m. Sir Walter Blount
Constance Blount m. Sir John Sutton
John Sutton m. Elizabeth Berkeley
Sir Edmund Sutton m. Joyce Tiptoft
Sir John Sutton m. Anne Clarell
Margaret Sutton m. John Butler
William Butler m. Margaret Greeke
Margaret Butler m. Lawrence Washington
[see also Richardson (2013) pp. 321–323]
Croke, Vol. II (1823), p. 189, abstracts Sir Walter Blount’s will, and I think Croke may be trusted here:
“The will of Sir Walter Blount is dated at Lyverpole, the 16th of December, 1401. He directs his body to be buried in the church of Saint Mary of Newerk, at Leicester. He mentions his wife Sanchia as living, his sons John, Thomas, and James; his daughters Constantia, Baroness of Dudley, and Anna Griffith. The Executor is John Blount, his brother, and he appointed as Supervisors of his Will, his cousin, Thomas Foljambe, and Thomas Langley, Keeper of the King’s Privy Seal. It was proved the 1st of August, 1403.”
As The Complete Peerage notes, Sir Walter Blount and Sancha de Ayala were buried at St. Mary’s, the Newark, Leicester. Leicester is the county seat of Leicestershire. One of the more endearing customs of the English are place names of great antiquity which confuse those of us expecting street signs everywhere. According to an old history of Leicester, the liberty of the Newarke was a small rectangular district lying on the east bank of the River Soar (a tributary of the River Trent), to the south of the old walled area of the borough and at the edge of the gravel terrace on which Leicester is built. The name “Newarke” means “New Work,” to distinguish it from the older part of the city. In 1330 the area was possessed by Henry, Earl of Lancaster. Of the nearby 12th century castle only traces remain. Earl Henry founded a hospital to the south of the castle, which his son Henry of Grosmont, the 1st Duke of Lancaster, enlarged. The duke also founded a chantry college known as St. Mary’s of the Newarke. The chantry employed a priest to say masses for the benefit of the dead who were thought to be working their way through Purgatory. Sir Walter Blount’s choice of final resting place was in keeping with his devotion to the House of Lancaster.
The Harleian Society, Vol. 28, The Visitation of Shropshire 1623, pp. 50–57 contains extensive material on the Blount family. On p. 55, “Ann ux….. Griffith de Wichenor in com. Staff.” is shown as a daughter of “Walterus Blount miles = Sanchia de Ayala Hispana.” who appear on p. 54.
[In this context “miles.” (Latin) means “knight.” “Hispana” in Latin and Spanish is “feminine singular pertaining to Spain”, so what is meant here is simply “Spanish woman.”]
[“ux.” (Latin) is the abbreviation for “uxor” which means “wife.”]
Below: Family records kept by Sir Walter Griffith II, son of Sir Walter Griffith I and 2nd wife Agnes Constable. The heading indicates Sir Walter Griffith II provided this list of ancestor obituaries on 26 Sep 1511. In latin. The 5th obituary, for Thomas Griffith, correctly identifies the wife of Thomas as “Anna,” but makes her the daughter of Thomas Blount, who was actually her brother. The will of Sir Walter Blount and The Visitation of Shropshire make it clear “Anna Griffith” was Sir Walter Blount’s daughter. The 8th obituary is for Agnes (Constable) (Griffith) Clifton, mother of Sir Walter Griffith II.)
(Howard, 1868, p. 64. Click on image to enlarge.)
Wichenor, the seat of the Griffith family, is 5 1/2 miles NE of Lichfield near the River Trent. Domesday Book records that Robert of Stafford held 2 hides in Wychnor in Seisdon Hundred, and Robert held it of him, and formerly 4 thegns held it; and it consisted of land for 4 ploughs, and in demesne was 1 plough, 4 villans and 2 bordars. There was a mill, 20 acres of meadow, and woodland half a league long and 5 furlongs wide. In modern terms, the woodland alone of this estate was approximately 1 1/2 miles long and 3,300 feet wide. In all, a very substantial country manor.
But not all was bucolic at Wichenor, as the following incident attests. It probably occurred toward the end of the Chancellorship of John Stafford, Bishop of Bath and Wells, perhaps ca. 1440–1443:
Thomas Nevowe was evidently harvesting peas for a religious house and the king when he was set upon by Walter Griffith, son of Sir John Griffith, and a large party of thugs from the Griffith estates. Nevowe, fearing a beating or even murder, fled the scene and was too frightened to return to his home. The cause of the attack is not stated. In the absence of an effective police force violence was common.
This rather lengthy account of the Griffith family of Wichenor, which mentions Lampeter in Cardiganshire, is from Archaeologia Cambrensis, January 1879, pp. 71-72. I have not investigated a possible link of the Griffiths to Princes of South Wales. The reference “(Shaw says daughter of Sir Walter Blount in his History of Staffordshire.)” is to The history and antiquities of Staffordshire by the Rev. Stebbing Shaw, pub. in 2 volumes (1798, 1801). (Click on pages to enlarge.)
This, from Knights of Edward I Volume 4, p. 259, amplifies what is said above regarding Sir Philip de Somerville:
An Inquisitions Post Mortem taken at Bolyngbrok in Lincolnshire dated 3 April, 11 Edward III, for Roger de Somervill or de Somervyle, states that his next heir is Philip de Somervyle, aged 40 years and more, brother of Roger.
Below: The descent of Sir John Griffith, father of Sir Walter Griffith and Rhys (Richard) Griffith, from the Somervilles to the Griffiths, is shown in this lawsuit. The Griffith family were major land owners. The date of this lawsuit—1440—was yet to presage the contest of Lancaster and York.
(Wrottesley, 1905, pp. 369-370.)
The Griffiths of Wichenor and Burton Agnes, like many Medieval gentry families, can confound even experienced genealogists. Gen. No. 4 of the line above given, Rhys (Richard) Griffith, was the brother of Walter Griffith (d. 9 Aug 1481), as Peter Sutton notes in a lengthy GEN-MEDIEVAL-L Archives post dated 29 Oct 2005 entitled “The 3 Walter Griffiths of Burton Agnes, East Riding of Yorkshire.” Sutton lists 3 Walter Griffiths (A), (B), and (C). The problem is the 3 Walters are confused. Walters (A) and (B) are in fact the same person: this Walter m. 1st Jane Neville, by whom he had no surviving children; m. 2nd Agnes Constable, by whom he produced his heir, another Walter Griffith (C). Agnes (Constable) Griffith took as her 2nd husband Gervase Clifton.
The proof that Walter Griffith who m. Jane Neville and Walter Griffith who m. Agnes Constable are the same individual is in this old chart I received from the Society of Antiquaries of London. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Under the heading “This stately tombe” we find Sir Walter Griffith interred with his first wife, Jane Neville. The girl and boy flanking Jane and Walter are their daughter and son who died young. To the right of the tomb in the circles are Walter’s parents Sir John Griffith and Katherine Tyrwhitt. From them is a line down to “F,” where Sir Walter Griffith is shown with his first wife Jane Neville to his left, and his second wife Agnes Constable to his right. The legend in Walter’s circle states he died in 1481. Walter chose to be buried with his first wife, a common practice.
The identity of Jane Neville (who was also called “Joan”) is confusing: She was the daughter of Sir Ralph Neville, son of Ralph Neville 1st Earl of Westmorland by the earl’s 1st wife Margaret Stafford; and Mary Ferrers, daughter of Robert Ferrers, first husband of Joan Beaufort, alleged illegitimate daughter of John of Gaunt. Jane Neville’s father Sir Ralph Neville is sometimes incorrectly termed the 2nd Earl of Westmorland. After the death of Margaret Stafford, Joan Beaufort became the 2nd wife of Ralph Neville 1st Earl of Westmorland. [For Ferrers see The Complete Peerage Volume II, p. 232 IV Elizabeth Baroness le Botiller and footnote (d), and p. 233 footnote (a).]
“This stately tombe” is still in existence in St. Martin’s church at Burton Agnes, East Riding of Yorkshire.
The will of Sir Walter Griffith I of Burton-Agnes was dated 8 Jul 1481 and probated at York. The will is in latin. The 8th line of this text mentions items stored at Whichnore. Lines 23 and 24 mention “Ricardo Griffith, fratri meo,” which means “my brother.” There’s no doubt as to the identity of these people.
[Surtees (1865), pp. 269-270.]
It should be noted Douglas Richardson has published the correct account of this Sir Walter Griffith.
At Wichenor in Staffordshire was a strange marriage custom, dating to the reign of King Edward III, and perhaps followed by Ann Blount and Thomas Griffith, in which this oath was sworn on a side of bacon:
“Hear ye, Sir Philip de Somerville, Lord of Wichenour, maintainer and giver of this Bacon, that I [husband], since I wedded my wife, and since I had her in my keeping, and at my will by a year and a day after our marriage, I would not have changed for none other, fairer nor fouler; richer nor poorer; nor for none other descended of greater lineage; sleeping nor waking at no time; and if the said wife were single and I were single I would take her to be my wife before all the women of the world, of what conditions soever they be, good or evil, as help me God and his saints, and this flesh and all flesh.”
The origin of this custom is quite confused, some suggesting it was entailed in a charter from John of Gaunt. Another account stated the custom was also a physical ordeal and only three couples ever walked off with the bacon. However, it was in connection with my research of this obscure practice that I solved the odd mystery of the name of a Mozarab inhabitant of 12th century Toledo, Spain, Abdul Aziz bin Lampader (see below).
(Neo-Moorish architecture: Castello di Sammezzano, Tuscany, Italy.)
In 712 a Berber army under Arab command defeated the Visigothic King Roderic of Spain and within a few years wrested control of the Iberian peninsula. The Arab elite regarded the Berbers as inferior: “Berber” meant “barbarian.” The Berbers rebelled against their Arab leaders in North Africa in 739 and in 740 the rebellion spread to al-Andalus (Islamic controlled Spanish territory).
Though the Moors remained for centuries masters of a large part of Spain, getting a straight answer as to their ethnic composition was difficult. “Moor” is slang for “Moroccan.” The Moors ranged from fair skinned blonde to dark skinned Ethiopian. The best description I can assemble is that they were initially (mostly) Berber tribesmen from Algeria and Morocco with some Arab component, but during the period of their domination assimilated black Africans from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, most of whom were soldiers and slaves.
(Garima Gospels, Ethiopia, ca. 4th to 7th century. Despite its Christian heritage, Ethiopia was notorious for its slave trade.)
Slave merchants took Ethiopians by caravan to lucrative slave markets like Tangier in Morocco and Tunis in Tunisia. Ethiopia also furnished soldiers. Tangier was a trans-shipping point for slaves. At its shortest extent, Tangier is only about 20 miles from Spain across the Straits of Gibraltar. Even if slaves were shipped farther up Spain’s east coast, it’s a sea journey of about 100 miles. My hypothesis is that most soldiers and slaves from Ethiopia who entered service under the Moors converted to Islam, while Ethiopian slaves purchased by Christians were assimilated into communities known as Mozarabs (see below). Muslims were adamantly opposed to Muslims becoming Christians. Assimilating Christian Ethiopian slaves would not have drawn the ire of Moorish authorities. This explains why Moors and Mozarabs shared African ancestry. The British journal The Tatler for 14 Nov 1710, No. 250, contains the sentence: “The first place of the bench I give to an old Tangerine captain with a wooden leg.” This indicates the word “Tangerine” was applied to natives of Tangier, but this usage probably came after the end of Moorish occupation of Spain.
So the Moors are a mixed race people, the individuals of which could vary in appearance. They were not a distinct race of their own, but a shared culture. The Moors were sometimes called “Arabs” in the generic sense, as “Muslims,” in the same way the term “Saracen” came to be applied to Islamic peoples during the Crusades.
(Astrolabe made at Toledo in 1068.)
Historian Richard Fletcher (2006) p. 10, wrote:
“The language of common speech in al-Andalus, for Christians and Jews as well as Muslims, was Arabic; but to speak as some have done of ‘Arabic’ Spain is to give the impression that the land had been colonised by the Arabs, whereas the number of Arabs who settled there was very small. ‘Moorish’ Spain does at least have the merit of reminding us that the bulk of the invaders and settlers were Moors, i.e., Berbers from northwest Africa. But we shall need to bear in mind that they overlay a population of mixed descent—Hispano-Romans, Basques, Sueves, Visigoths, Jews and others.”
The Moorish scholar Abu Muhammad Ali ibn Sa id ibn Hazm (994–1064), son of Ahmad, advisor to the Umayyad Caliph Hisham II, described the Moors:
“All the Caliphs of the Banu Marwan (God have mercy on their souls!), and especially the sons of al-Nasir, were without variation or exception disposed by nature to prefer blondes. I have myself seen them, and known others who had seen their forebears, from the days of al-Nasir’s reign down to the present day; every one of them has been fair-haired, taking after their mothers, so that this has become a hereditary trait with them; all but Sulaiman al-Zafir (God have mercy on him!), whom I remember to have had black ringlets and a black beard. As for al-Nasir and al-Hakam al-Mustansir (may God be pleased with them!), I have been informed by my late father, the vizier, as well as by others, that both of them were blond and blue-eyed. The same is true of Hisham al-Mu’aiyad, Muhammad al-Mahdi, and Abd al-Rahman al-Murtada (may God be merciful to them all!); I saw them myself many times, and had the honour of being received by them, and I remarked that they all had fair hair and blue eyes.”
The above passage is in ibn Hazm’s The Ring of the Dove, in the chapter “Of Falling In Love With A Quality And Thereafter Not Approving Any Other Different” [Arthur John Arberry (1905–1969), trans.; Fellow Pembroke College, Cambridge]. ibn Hazm, as the son of a highly placed court official, is impeccable evidence, drawing upon his own observation, or the personal observation of his “late father, the vizier, as well as by others….” Few in the West outside of academia are familiar with ibn Hazm, but he is a very important source for this period.
Note ibn Hazm says the “blonde” trait of these caliphs was from “taking after their mothers” and became hereditary through them. Obviously the Moors had taken women indigenous to the area as wives or concubines, but this practice was not universal, as in the case of Sulaiman al-Zafir. Sulaiman’s “black ringlets” refer not to jewellery, but to his naturally curled hair. So some Moors were engaged in what can only be termed “selective breeding,” but why? Why did not Sulaiman al-Zafir?
Perhaps Sulaiman al-Zafir found all the respect he needed at the point of his sword, although many he put to the sword could not defend themselves:
“During this period the Berbers rampaged uncontrollably over the southeastern parts of Spain, living off the land and extorting protection money from the cities, doing untold damage by their depredations. Meanwhile, the situation of the Cordobans became very wretched. The city was crowded with refugees from the surrounding countryside. A wet spring in 1011 brought serious flooding of the Guadalquivir. An outbreak of plague occurred. The government was so hard up that it was driven to the expedient of selling off some of al-Hakem’s splendid library. In May 1013 Cordoba surrendered. Sulayman’s Berber followers, who had already wrecked the palace at Madinat az-Zahra, sacked and plundered the city. What remained of the caliphal library was dispersed. Enormous numbers of the citizens were massacred. The great scholar-to-be, Ibn Hazm, then aged about nineteen, witnessed the slaughter and later named over sixty distinguished scholars who met their deaths. One of them, the biographer Ibn al-Faradi, lay unburied where he had been cut down for three days. The caliph Hisham II disappears from view, presumed murdered.” So ibn Hazm had personal knowledge of Sulaiman-al Zafir, who presided as caliph in Cordoba until 1016, when one of his generals deposed and executed him. Fletcher (2006), pp. 80–81.
“Selective breeding” among elites was hardly new with the Moors. The most extreme example are the Ptolemaic pharaohs of Egypt, who married their own sisters because no other women were fit for a king. The wives of two of the sons of King Edward III of England—John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley—were cousins of Gaunt and Langley, and both were daughters of Pedro I. It all smacks of the Nazi attempt to create a super-race, but the caliphs were not engaged in a program of racial extermination. ibn Hazm says “all but Sulaiman al-Zafir” did this; thus it’s reasonable to conclude the average Moor resembled Sulaiman al-Zafir. Or is it?
An ancient mystery: is ibn Hazm’s tale of the blonde caliph true?
“‘Abd al-Rahman III’s father Muhammad was born of the union between the amir ‘Abd Allah [d. 912] and the Christian princess Onneca or Iniga, the daughter of a king of Navarre who had been sent to Cordoba as a hostage in the 860s. ‘Abd al-Rahman himself was the child of a union between his father Muhammad and a slave-concubine, a Christian captive possibly from the same Pyrenean region, named Muzna (perhaps originally Maria?). In his immediate ancestry, therefore, the new ruler was three-quarters Spanish, or perhaps more accurately Hispano-Basque, and only one-quarter Arab. He had blue eyes, a light skin and reddish hair. We are told that he used to dye his hair black to make himself look more like an Arab. This was only one of several ways in which ‘Abd al-Rahman was skilled at the business of what today we would call projecting an image of himself.” Fletcher (2006), p. 53.
The king of Navarre for this period is Garcia Iniguez (r. 851–882). Due to military instability in the region the story of ‘Abd Allah receiving a hostage from a king of Navarre is plausible. She may have been illegitimate. Regardless of her actual paternity, and the uncertainty of her name, the notion she would ever have been set free by ‘Abd Allah to marry another is impossible.
Thus, the tale is true; only in this instance the caliph had reddish hair—but there were many women should he desire his son to be blonde. What lay behind this practice? The motive appears to be a desire to copy their white European counterparts, rather than a means to separate elites from their subjects. We tend to think of Moorish Spain as insular, but there was constant contact with Christian states, in matters of trade, diplomacy, and warfare.
What more can we say of Sulaiman al-Zafir? As Fletcher (2006), p. 80 remarks: “The Berber generals chose another descendant of ‘Abd al-Rahman III, Sulayman, as a rival caliph. Sulayman appealed for military aid to the count of Castile, Sancho Garcia, who responded positively. The two men, Christian and Muslim, joined forces, marched on Cordoba and defeated Muhammad II in November 1109. Sulayman was proclaimed caliph.” This initial usurpation lasted until May 1010 when another combination of Christian and Muslim allies ousted Sulaiman.
We may therefore conclude that even Sulaiman al-Zafir’s appearance, with his black beard and ringlets, was to some extent the result of