Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland (1819 - 1901)
A genealogist nearly 200 years ahead of her time who in 1889 transcribed and researched the history of The Battle Abbey Roll of Honour and the names on it ..... supposedly those who fought with William the Conqueror.
THE BATTLE ABBEY ROLL
WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF THE NORMAN LINEAGES
BY THE DUCHESS OF CLEVELAND (1889)
(I have extracted this from her research which is worth looking at in its entirety - CLICK HERE)
No one can be more sensible than I am myself that the task of investigating the Battle Abbey Roll should have been committed to more competent hands than mine. My only excuse for attempting it is that it has in reality been un-attempted hitherto.
From being a resident at Battle Abbey, and entertaining a higher opinion than is expressed by many of my contemporaries for "the scum of Bretons and rags of France" that conquered and colonised England, I have felt an interest in the subject, and a desire to do my best, at all events, towards elucidating it.
For this purpose I have waded through many county histories, peerages, and other volumes that are scarcely lively reading, but I have received most assistance from 'The Norman People' and the 'Recherches sur le Domesday'. Chartularies and public records appear to be the only reliable guides in the study of genealogies, for the Visitations furnish no dates, and I own to having been lost in amazement at some of the pedigrees furnished by the heralds.
I think I can, with all due humility, say the same of myself. But I have found the pursuit of truth a path bristling with thorns, and beset with pitfalls. One of the chief difficulties to be met is the confusion caused by contradictory statements that no ingenuity can reconcile; and in too many cases conjecture alone is possible.
Although I may conscientiously assert that I have taken all imaginable pains to be accurate, I am aware that I must have made plenty of mistakes. I shall be most grateful to be corrected.
From the great number of names of which I have endeavoured to give an account, each account is necessarily brief and more or less imperfect, as in so limited a space it would be utterly hopeless to trace out every collateral branch in detail.
Until I commenced this undertaking, I had no conception how deep a root these ancient lineages had struck in the land, and how numerous and widely spread their ramifications were.
I have given all the anecdotes that I could collect, partly to relieve the inherent dullness of a mere catalogue of descents, and partly because many of them incidentally furnish vivid pictures of manners and customs long since passed away.
THE famous Roll of Battle Abbey is believed to have been compiled in obedience to a clause in the Conqueror's foundation charter, that enjoined the monks to pray for the souls of those "who by their labour and valour had helped to win the kingdom."
It was most likely originally copied from the muster-roll of the Norman knights, that had been prepared by the Duke's orders before his embarkation, and was called over in his presence on the field of battle, the morning after it had been fought.
With it were preserved two other mementos of the conquest of England. King William's sword, and the robe he had worn at his coronation, and specially bequeathed to the monks by his will.
But these precious bequests were not suffered to remain untouched for more than ten years from the date of the Conqueror's death. Before the end of the century, Henry, second Abbot of Battle, cut off and sold some of the gold and silver chains and amulets of the coronation robe, to make up a sum of money that had been demanded of him by William Rufus; and the remainder of these valuables were finally disposed of by his successor, who invested the proceeds in land.
Nor did the Roll fare any better. As time went on, it became more and more an object of ambition to own an ancestor that had come over with the Conqueror; and the monks were always found willing to oblige a liberal patron by inserting his name.
Thus its value as an authority is irretrievably lost; and though the earlier genealogists and county historians often quote and refer to it, it has latterly been altogether discredited and condemned. Like many of the other familiar credences of our forefathers it has fallen into disgrace and suffered obloquy.
It is at least certain that it does not exist now. The three precious memorials of the Conquest, the King's sword, his despoiled pallium, and the Roll of Battle Abbey, were then, with several other curious and interesting relics of the former monastery, removed to Cowdray, and perished in the great fire of 1793. This is the only explanation I have ever heard given of the disappearance of the Roll; and though I can certainly furnish no proofs in confirmation of the statement, there would seem to be no particular reason for doubting its probability.
Nothing now remains to us but copies of this celebrated record.
(She then goes on to compare the lists in detail with a view of their completeness and likely inaccuracy).
I should, however, be the last person in the world to throw a stone at these sorely tried transcribers, for I can vouch for the difficulty of the task imposed upon them. No one who has not personally attempted it (and I have myself done so more than once) can conceive how tedious and laborious it is to copy the Roll; nor how persistently the long rows of disconnected names, piled one upon another, seem to slip out of their places.
There can be no possible difference of opinion as to the fact that all the three copies which we possess of the Roll are more or less mis-spelt. Many of the names, as they stand, are unintelligible. No doubt this is chiefly owing to the negligence or misapprehension of the scribes, but we must not, on the other hand, lose sight of the latitude to be allowed to all ancient writers in that respect.
Before entering upon this vexed question of spelling, we must lay aside all our modern notions (I will not call them prejudices) in regard to the observances, distinctions, and exigencies that surround it in the present day. We live in an age when people are punctilious and fastidious as to the way in which their names are spelt.
But it was far otherwise in mediaeval times. Men wrote their names when they could write at all in any way that occurred to them at the moment, for there was neither rule nor precedent to guide them.
Of this great array of time-honoured names, very few are now borne by representatives in the male line. Some descendants survive under the name of .their manors, for which, according to an early mediaeval practice still prevalent in Scotland, they exchanged their own; more still are probably lost to sight in poverty and obscurity, and have dropped all the links that connected them with their former degree.
I fully believe that the class included in this latter category, though unknown and almost unsuspected, is a very considerable one, for nothing is more striking than the extent and variety of the ramifications belonging to each family that are brought to light by a careful inspection of its history.
They are so numerous that, from want of time and space, I have, in most cases, not attempted to deal with them. Genealogists, as a rule, are solely occupied with making out the descent of a title or estate; and thus the erratic female baronies, conveyed by heiresses, are sedulously traced through a succession of often uninteresting families, while the disinherited younger branches of the parent stock are ignored. These must, of necessity, have frequently sunk into insignificance and passed out of notice, gradually falling into the lower stratum of the social scale.
I do not imagine that the present generation would invest much money in having their names added to the Battle Abbey Roll. In these days the monks would have driven but a sorry trade; and they were fortunate in living at a time when those who have gone before were more highly esteemed than they are now.
The pride of ancestry has in a great measure passed away; for the fast-rising wave of democracy day by day obliterates the old landmarks and traditions that were once held dear.
Heraldic bearings may now be assumed by anyone who chooses to pay the coachmaker to paint them on his carriage, and names and even peerages are bandied about without reference to any right of blood. It is a humiliating reflection that any swindler or scoundrel may, without incurring a legal penalty, call himself by an honourable and unblamed name, adopt its coat of arms, and drag it about in the dirt in all parts of the world. More lamentable is the belief so rapidly taking root among us, that money stands in lieu of all else; that the highest social position, and the good opinion and respect of our fellow-men, will always wait upon riches, and belong to their fortunate possessor. The transmitted splendour of a glorious or venerated name, the honours gained on the field or at the council board, weigh but lightly in the scale that is so easily turned by gold.
Some, however, I trust there are, to whom the great names of the past remain a living memory; who shape their course in this world under a deep sense of the responsibility of bearing them; and fill their appointed position's and do their appointed work.
To them, I feel I owe an apology for this cursory and imperfect retrospect. The subject deserves to be treated by an abler hand than mine; and if developed to its full proportions, would embrace nearly the whole of the eight last centuries of the History of England.
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