A beginners guide to the Earldom of Northumbria and the Percy family (part one of four)

IMG_0241I always associate the Percy family with the earldom of Northumbria in the centuries following 1066 but it isn’t true that the family have held the title throughout the whole period since the conquest.  There was an interlude during the Wars of the Roses when the Neville’s got their paws on the title.  It’s also true to say that they weren’t elevated from earls to dukes in the first instance – John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland stole a march on the family – and let’s face it Dukes were normally required to be of royal blood whereas Dudley was the son of a Tudor administrator.  Before they reached the elevated social heights associated with dukedoms the Percy family spent a long time as barons.

Generation 1 – Baron Percy of Topcliffe:

Setting aside Saxon earls let us start with the Normans. William de Percy arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. The first written record of his presence in England dates from 1067.  He owed part of his fealty to Hugh of Avranches who gave him land in Yorkshire in the years following 1072 – by which time Hugh had become the 1st earl of Chester.  Hugh was hugely wealthy.  He was one of the men who bankrolled the Conquest.  History sometimes calls him Hugh the Fat although I suspect he preferred the name Hugh Lupus or Hugh the Wolf.  Whilst William de Percy was undoubtedly a Norman there is some evidence to suggest that he held lands in England during the time of Edward the Confessor but may not have done so well under the auspices of Harold.  I read somewhere that the name Algernon which turns up frequently in the Percy pedigree comes from a derivation meaning be-whiskered.  The text suggested that William was unlike many of his Norman contemporaries because he had facial hair which was more associated with Saxons. He turns up in the Whitby Abbey Cartulary and in the Domesday Book holding lands directly from William I.  It was in response to his landholdings in Yorkshire that he was one of the patrons who re-founded Whitby Abbey in the years following the Conquest.  His brother appears to have been its first prior.  And let’s not get carried away with the idea that William was all set to be northern.  He also held lands in Essex and Hampshire.

 

Generations 2, 3 and 4:

William had a son Alan who had a son called William but he died in 1174 (possibly 1175) leaving two daughters.  Adeliza of Louvain, the widowed second wife of Henry I arranged for one of them, Agnes Percy, to marry Joscelin of Louvain who just so happened to be Adeliza’s younger half-brother. Joscelin who was a son of Godfrey, Count of Louvain. He was noble from Brabant.  He took his wife’s name and settled in England at the family’s seat of Topcliffe in Yorkshire.  In return Joscelin gave the Percy family the lion rampant for their crest.  Adeliza also gave her brother Petworth in Sussex.

 

Generation 5:

Joscelin and Agnes had several children.  Richard de Percy was born in 1170 and died in 1244.  He is the fifth Baron Percy of Topcliffe.  He was one of the twenty barons assigned to enforce Magna Carta.  Unfortunately having signed it King John changed his mind so our Percy found himself knee deep in the Barons’ War.  Inevitably John confiscated his lands. As soon as John popped his clogs, having mislaid his crown in The Wash, Richard sought pardon from young Henry III and retrieved all his property. Richard had no children.  The barony should have passed to Richard’s younger brother Henry.  He married into the Bruce family but died before he could inherit the barony of Topclife.

 

Generations 6, 7, 8 and 9 – or should that be 6,7,8 and 1:

William died in 1245. He was the nephew of Magna Carta Richard.  We then have Henry, John and another Henry.  Henry Percy (the last one on the list) was born in 1273 and died in 1314.   Henry, born at Petworth, was a posthumous child which was just as well on account of the Percy family running short of males once again.  He fought during on the Scottish Wars of Independence in the army of Edward I.   Like all his forefathers he fulfilled various local duties and roles associated with the northern wardenry.

And this is where it becomes complicated.  Henry was the 9th Baron Percy of Topcliffe.  He inherited in 1293.  However in 1309 he purchased Alnwick Castle from the Bishop of Durham (Anthony Bek).   The barony of Alnwick was different from the Barony of Topcliffe and Henry was created baron of Alnwick by writ – so he became the first Baron Percy of Alnwick.  From henceforth the head of the Percy family would be referred to by their Alnwick title meaning that the clock was rewound on the numbers – not particularly helpful.

Henry was not keen on Edward II. He ultimately rebelled over the issue of Piers Gaveston. He also declined to fight at the Battle of Bannockburn.  He died at home in his bed at Alnwick pictured at the start of this post.

And I think that is more than enough for today.

2 thoughts on “A beginners guide to the Earldom of Northumbria and the Percy family (part one of four)

  1. Enough but not enough really.You should have gone on to say no Percy line exists today and those who live at the castle fortress and gardens now are no more Percy than my boot is but bought the job lot and changed that name to suit

    • It’s only part one. Part two is the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors and part three is 17th century onwards – If I’d done them all at once the post would have been too huge.

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