Review and Commentary on the Descent of the Lordship of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy, 1095 to 1186
Review and Commentary on the Descent of the
Lordship of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy, 1095 – 1186
There are conflicting accounts of the descent of the Lordship of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy between 1095 and 1186. The purpose of this commentary is to set out different historical accounts from a variety of sources and comment on them in the context of events of the times. For reasons that will become apparent, it does not set out to deliver a definitive answer to which [if any] of them are correct, although a ‘best guess’ scenario is derived based on the author’s interpretation of events.
As a starting point, there is firm evidence that the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy was held by Walter de Lacy [born c.1038] from around the time of the Conquest until his death on 27th March 1085. He married Ermeline [surname unknown] c.1066, and reportedly had up to nine children. Those potentially relevant to the history of Ewyas Lacy are shown in Figure 1, and comprise eldest son Roger [b. 1062], second son Hugh [b.1073], and daughters Agnes [b.1076] and Emma [b.1078].
Figure 1: Descendants of Walter de Lacy
On Walter’s death in 1085 the Lordship passed to his eldest son Roger de Lacy. Roger was married, though his wife’s name is unknown. He had a son, Gilbert [b.1090]. However, Roger was banished from England in 1095 for rebellion against King William II [Rufus] and his English lands and titles were taken from him. He returned to Normandy with his family and subsequently died there c.1107. His son Gilbert inherited his French estates.
On Roger de Lacy’s banishment in 1095 the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy reverted to the Crown, and up to that point there appears to be no dispute about the course of events. However, accounts of what happened over the next hundred years or so differ considerably. Interpretation of the sparse remaining evidence is complicated by the civil war in England between Stephen and Matilda after the death of King Henry I in 1135, which not only disrupted the official records of the period but also may well have given rise to competing ‘grants’ of lands and titles by the different camps to their own supporters and favourites. The situation is further confused by the repeated use of the same family names for successive generations and different branches of the de Lacy family. This, along with inconsistencies in recorded dates of births, deaths and marriages from different sources, makes it extremely difficult to be sure whether surviving records and accounts around this time mentioning de Lacy family members with identical names are referring to the same individuals.
The principal alternative accounts given by different sources of how the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy passed down over the century after 1095 are set out below. It is, however, possible to imagine other permutations that would fit the known facts and there is always the possibility that new relevant information might emerge from more intensive research of original documents and genealogical records. As so often with interpretations of the roles and actions of individuals in such distant historical events, we can therefore only speak for the most part of probabilities and possibilities rather than certainties.
Account 1: Possible Descent of the Lordship of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy through the de Lacy family
This interpretation is perhaps the simplest version of events from 1095 to 1186, after which the historical accounts converge with the succession of Walter II de Lacy to the Lordship of the Manor.
After the banishment of Roger de Lacy, King William II [Rufus] is said to have awarded the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy in or about 1095 to Roger’s brother Hugh, who held it until his death c.1115 or 1121. On Hugh de Lacy’s death without male issue the title would have reverted to Roger de Lacy’s son Gilbert who is assumed to have returned to England from Normandy to claim his inheritance. He was married [wife’s name unknown] and had [at least] two sons, Robert and Hugh. Gilbert de Lacy reportedly went on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land [1147 – 1149] and joined the Knights Templar. He became a high official in the Templars and died in Jerusalem c.1164. The Lordship of Ewyas Lacy is said to have passed to his son Robert, possibly in 1147 as part of the arrangements when Gilbert left for the crusade or c.1158 when he joined the Templars.
When Robert de Lacy died c.1162 the Lordship is said to have passed to his brother, Gilbert’s second son Hugh II de Lacy.
Hugh II de Lacy was married c.1163 to Rohese de Monmouth and their children included eldest son and heir Walter [b.1166] to whom the Lordship passed when Hugh died c.1185.
The historical accounts all appear to agree that the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy passed into the hands of a Walter de Lacy about this time, though uncertainty about his family line [see below] remains unresolved by surviving records. Walter was married [wife’s name unknown] and had [at least] one son, Gilbert [b.1208]. This Walter II de Lacy held the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy until his death in 1241. His son Gilbert II de Lacy married Isabel FitzGeoffrey and had [at least] two daughters Margery [b. 1228] and Maud [b.1230]. Gilbert predeceased his father Walter in 1230 and had no surviving male heir to continue the de Lacy line.
The Lordship therefore passed to Walter II de Lacy’s granddaughters [Gilbert’s daughters Margery and Maud] in co-parcenary when he died in 1241. The subsequent descent of the divided Lordship seems largely unambiguous thereafter, although the exact boundaries and entitlements relating to each of the two moieties remained unclear and on occasion in dispute up until the early twentieth century.
Figure 2: Descent of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy – Account 1
[Title holders in red]
Although this is a reasonably straightforward story and involves known historical characters and familial relationships, there are a number of factors casting doubt on its accuracy. Subjectively, one might argue that a King having just banished one de Lacy for rebellion would be unlikely simply to hand the treasonous man’s lands and titles to his brother and let things carry on as though nothing had happened. The same might apply to passing the inheritance back to Gilbert de Lacy who might be considered tainted by his father’s treason, although by then a different King was on the throne. More objectively, there are references in documents dated around 1100 to the de Lacy lands and titles being gifted by the Crown to others and to the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy coming into the hands of a courtier and Sheriff of Herefordshire, Pain [Payn, Pagan] Fitzjohn. The evidence is hard to ignore or explain away, and there are several accounts [below] of what might have happened.
Account 2: Possible Descent of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy to Pain Fitzjohn
This Account postulates that the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy was held by a knight called Pain FitzJohn for part or the whole of the period from 1095 to 1137. There are three interpretations of how and when the Lordship might have come into Pain FitzJohn’s hands:
Ewyas Lacy may have been held under the stewardship of the Crown until after King William II died; this would not have been unusual in circumstances where the original tenants in chief, the de Lacy family, had been tainted by a serious crime such as Roger’s rebellion. When William II’s successor King Henry I came to the throne in 1100 it has been suggested he granted the de Lacy lands and holdings to be divided between three of his personal court favourites, Pain FitzJohn, Jocelin de Dinan and Miles of Gloucester, as rewards for their support and loyalty in his disputed bid for the English Crown. In this scenario, the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy is said to be part of the grant given to Pain FitzJohn, who held it until his death in 1137. There are also references around this time to Jocelin de Dinan being in possession of the former de Lacy castle of Ludlow, and of Miles of Gloucester being in possession of former de Lacy lands around Gloucester; these records lend some credibility to this overall narrative. In this scenario the Lordship could have come into FitzJohn’s hands in or sometime after 1100.
It may have been coincidence that Fitzjohn married in 1112 a Sybil de Talbot, nee Lacy, who may have had claim to inheritance of the de Lacy lands. However, this scenario argues that Henry I ensured that the title and land descended to Pain FitzJohn not by outright royal gift as in scenario 1 above – which might have been contentious given the rivalries and power struggles between the nobles at the time and the fact that Pain and the others were so-called ‘new men’, that is not from the established aristocracy – but by arranging [or taking advantage of] his marriage to Sybil de Lacy. The title could thus be legitimately ‘restored’ to her by the Crown and transferred through her to the possession of her husband with much less risk of disputes or opposition arising. This explanation does, however, appear to overlook potentially competing claims from male relatives in other branches of the de Lacy line.
Another complication of this scenario is that there is uncertainty over the identity of the Sybil who married Pain FitzJohn; some accounts suggest she was the daughter of Hugh de Lacy and others that she was his niece, see figures 3 and 4 below. This scenario assumes that Sybil was Hugh de Lacy’s niece, but even so there is still some confusion in the record, with most sources identifying this Sybil as the daughter of Agnes, Hugh de Lacy’s eldest surviving sister who married Geoffrey de Talbot c.1090, but some identifying Pain FitzJohn’s wife Sybil as the daughter of Emma de Lacy who was married to Hugh de Talbot. Either way, in this scenario the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy would have come into Pain FitzJohn’s hands from the Crown by way of his wife on or after his marriage to Sybil de Talbot c. 1112.
Figure 3: Possible descent of Ewyas Lacy to Pain Fitzjohn through Agnes de Lacy
This scenario argues that after Roger de Lacy’s banishment King William II [Rufus] awarded the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy in 1095 to Roger’s brother Hugh as in Account 1 above. It further proposes that the Sybil who had married Pain Fitzjohn c.1112 was Hugh’s reputed daughter Sybil de Lacy, and argues that the title could have passed through her to her husband Pain Fitzjohn when Hugh de Lacy died c.1115 [some sources say 1121] without a male heir. In this way it is said that the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy would have come into Pain FitzJohn’s hands as a routine inheritance, subject to the approval of the Crown.
Figure 4: Possible descent of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy to Pain Fitzjohn through Hugh de Lacy
However, the proposition that Pain FitzJohn’s wife was the daughter of Hugh de Lacy has little evidence to support it. Most genealogical sources seem to agree that Hugh de Lacy died without issue and the Sybil in question was his niece, not his daughter. Several sources also name Pain FitzJohn’s wife as Sybil de Talbot. It is additionally far from clear what customs applied to descent of titles and lands through the female line; as in scenario 2 above there were at least two direct male descendants of Water de Lacy alive at the time who might have had a strong claim. The arguments in Account 1 mitigating against Hugh de Lacy inheriting his brother Roger’s titles remain powerful too, and overall this scenario seems questionable.
Further research may reveal more, but at this distance in time it is perhaps unlikely that we will ever be able to determine for sure which of several potential de Lacy descendants in the same generation named Sybil might have become Pain FitzJohn’s wife, or which if any of the above alternatives might have been the actual means of descent of the Lordship to him.
Account 3: Possible descent of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy from Pain Fitzjohn back to the de Lacy line
King Henry I died in 1135, and by the time of Pain FitzJohn’s death in 1137 the succession to the crown of England was in dispute and a civil war was in progress between the Empress Matilda – Henry’s daughter - and Stephen de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, who had come across the channel from his lands in Normandy and seized the throne. King Stephen eventually prevailed, and his reign is recorded as from 1135 to 1154.
Given the upheavals of the times records are fragmentary and details elusive, but it seems that it is under Stephen’s reign that the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy returns to the de Lacy family line. It appears that although Pain FitzJohn had children, most accounts suggest that on his [or his wife’s] death the Ewyas Lacy inheritance was considered to revert to the surviving male de Lacy heir. Here again history leaves us with a dilemma. All accounts seem to agree that the ultimate heir was a Gilbert de Lacy – but there are two potential candidates for the role.
In this scenario Roger de Lacy’s line remains barred from inheritance and the Gilbert de Lacy who inherits is the son of Roger de Lacy’s younger sister Emma who had married Hugh de Talbot. He was born c.1110 and would have been 27 years of age when he came into his inheritance. In this version of the story, Gilbert de Talbot had married Agnes [surname not known] c.1132 but changed his name to de Lacy to receive the inheritance and then held the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy until his death c.1163. Their son Hugh de Lacy, born c.1138, succeeded Gilbert as Lord of Ewyas Lacy in 1163 and went on to become Lord of Meath in Ireland as well as recovering earlier de Lacy holdings including the Lordship and Castle of Ludlow.
Figure 5: Possible Descent of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy from Pain Fitzjohn to the de Lacy Family
The Hugh de Lacy of this account seems to be identified as the same Hugh II de Lacy, Lord of Meath, as in Figure 2 of Account 1 – though of different descent – who died c.1186 and passed the Lordship on to his son Walter. This re-connects the historical record into a single narrative, but without resolving the question of which branch of the de Lacy family claimed the inheritance.
A second plausible account of this period suggests that after Pain Fitzjohn’s death in 1137, the death of his sponsor King Henry I and the chaos of civil war between Stephen de Blois and Henry’s daughter Matilda gave the descendants of Roger de Lacy the opportunity to seek to re-establish their family claims to lands in England. By this time Roger’s son Gilbert de Lacy [shown in Figure 2 above], aged in his late forties, had held the de Lacy estates in Normandy for some thirty years and was reputedly obsessed with recovering his father’s English estates. He would certainly have known Stephen de Blois – a fellow Norman Lord – well, and it would have been logical for him to support Stephen’s claim to the English throne as a potential route to realise his own ambition. In this scenario it is said that this Gilbert de Lacy played an active role in the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, initially supporting Stephen, although there is evidence that by 1138 he had transferred his allegiance to Matilda and continued to take her side until at least 1141. He subsequently turned back again to Stephen.
Gilbert’s ambition throughout is said to have been restoration of his father’s titles and lands, and it seems that Stephen was not willing to grant this after FitzJohn’s death in 1137. Indeed, one source suggests that FitzJohn’s daughter Cecily married Roger, the son of Miles FitzWalter, Castellan of Gloucester in December 1137 and that King Stephen agreed that she should inherit Pain’s holdings in Ewyas Lacy - which then passed into Roger’s hands. Bearing in mind that Miles already held de Lacy lands granted by King Henry, this might well explain why an angry Gilbert tried his luck with Empress Matilda. Stephen’s reluctance to restore the de Lacy inheritance might also be explained by his need to avoid creating new enemies or rivalries and risking his already precarious position by upsetting the established order in the Marches without pressing reason.
It seems that Matilda was not forthcoming either, and this account claims that Gilbert de Lacy did not recover the de Lacy inheritance until the late 1140s, perhaps as the price for deserting Matilda and returning to Stephen’s camp. Even then, it is said that he only recovered part of his father’s original estates – probably only the Lordship and lands of Ewyas Lacy – and that it was his son Hugh II de Lacy who finally recovered the remaining de Lacy holdings at Ludlow, Weobley and Gloucester that had been granted to ‘the new men’ by King Henry I.
It is unlikely at this remove that history will reveal details of Court politics and shifts of allegiance during the twelfth century civil war, though further detailed study of Court Rolls and other contemporary records that survive might shed further light on the sequence and exact timing of events.
The remainder of this version of the story then follows the same path as Account 1 above, with the inheritance following Roger de Lacy’s line.
It seems impossible to determine with certainty exactly how the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy descended during the reigns of William II, Henry I and Stephen, although further study of genealogical and other records may yield additional evidence.
For my part, I incline to the view that the de Lacy family lost control of their lands in Ewyas Lacy in 1095 when Roger de Lacy was banished. It seems to me unlikely that King William II, having banished one de Lacy for treason would immediately trust another de Lacy [Hugh] with strategically vital power and position in the Marches; I therefore consider the Lordship most likely stayed under the stewardship of the Crown until King William’s death in 1100, as in Account 2, scenario 1.
When King Henry I took the throne that year, human nature suggests that he would want to demonstrate his power and reward his closest friends and supporters without delay. If the de Lacy lands and titles were his to dispose of there seems little reason for him to choose to make things complicated and every reason to put trusted allies into control of the Marches, so I am persuaded by the proposition [Account 2, scenario 1] that he simply split the de Lacy holdings between three of his friends as soon as he came to the throne. This would put the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy directly in the hands of Pain FitzJohn from 1100, and make the arguments over the identity, lineage and inheritance of Pain’s wife Sybil de Talbot only of passing interest.
When Stephen de Blois seized the English throne after King Henry’s death in 1135 there is no evidence that Pain FitzJohn opposed him in the civil war that followed. King Stephen would have had more than enough problems in his first few years without alienating a powerful Marcher Baron, so it is reasonable to conclude that FitzJohn continued to hold the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy until his death in 1137.
It also seems to me reasonable to suppose that before Stephen’s coronation in England he and Gilbert de Lacy [son of Roger de Lacy] would have been well acquainted since they were both important nobles with large estates in Normandy. Gilbert de Lacy had the resources and political influence to considerably assist Stephen’s ambitions in England. Any taint of his father Roger de Lacy’s treason and banishment some 40 years earlier from a dispute with a long-dead King would be unlikely to still carry any weight, and it is no great stretch of the imagination to suppose that Gilbert would see a golden opportunity to reclaim his father’s English lands and titles if Stephen succeeded in seizing the throne. In contrast, there seems no evidence that the de Talbot family, linked by marriage to the sisters of Roger de Lacy, had any particular power or influence at Stephen’s Court that would allow a much less direct claim from their side of the family to historic de Lacy titles and lands to succeed.
However, in 1137 King Stephen was not firmly established on his throne; he was still in need of powerful allies in the Marches, most likely including the families awarded the de Lacy lands there by his predecessor King Henry. It is reasonable to conclude that he was not in a position at that time to exercise his power to reward even his closest friends and supporters such as Gilbert de Lacy with contentious grants of titles and lands held by others whose allegiance to the Crown was critical. This leads me to accept the proposition [Account 3, scenario 2] that after Pain FitzJohn’s death the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy passed to Roger, the son of Miles of Gloucester, on his marriage to FitzJohn’s daughter Cecily in December 1137. This would have bought Stephen continued support in the Marches at a time when he was greatly in need of it, although it would have been strongly contested by other claimants including Gilbert de Lacy.
Therefore, while I am persuaded that it was Gilbert, the son of Roger de Lacy and direct heir to the de Lacy inheritance, who eventually reacquired the Lordship and lands of Ewyas Lacy from King Stephen, I am of the opinion that this probably did not occur until the late 1140’s [Account 3, Scenario 2]. The second crusade finished in 1149, and I incline to the view that Gilbert’s return to England with the new status of a Crusader may have been the final straw that persuaded the King to restore his title about then. By that time too Matilda had returned, largely defeated, to Normandy  and Stephen’s grip on the throne was more secure. Miles of Gloucester, who had defected to support Matilda’s cause in 1139 and been made Earl of Hereford by Matilda for his military successes against Stephen, had died on Christmas Eve 1143 in a hunting accident. Nevertheless, Stephen would perhaps also have been glad of an opportunity to take his revenge on Miles’ son Roger for his disloyalty by stripping him of the de Lacy lands.
I am also persuaded that the de Lacy inheritance thereafter descended to Gilbert’s eldest son Robert about 1158 when Gilbert joined the Order of Knights Templar [Account 1], because taking the Templar oath of individual poverty would have required him to give up his personal titles and possessions. When Robert de Lacy died without issue in 1162 the inheritance would naturally descend to Gilbert’s second son Hugh II de Lacy and subsequently to his grandson Walter II de Lacy along the lines of Account 1 until the Lordship was divided in 1241.
A ‘best guess’ at the descent of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy between 1095 and 1186 based on all these factors is shown as Figure 6 below.
Figure 6: Postulated Holders of the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy, 1095 to 1186
Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that any such conclusions involve assumptions and a degree of guesswork. The above narrative appears to be consistent with the known facts. It also seems compatible with the likely motivations, constraints and relationships, both political and personal, of the key people involved at various times – at least so far as they can be interpreted from limited data and a modern perspective. However, other interpretations remain possible and readers are of course free to form their own opinions about the course of events.