William de Lancaster I

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William de Lancaster I, or William Fitz Gilbert, was a nobleman of the 12th century in Northwest England. According to a document some generations later, he was also referred to as William de Tailboys (de Taillebois) when younger. He is the first person of whom there is any record to bear the name of Lancaster and pass it on to his descendants as a family name. He died in about 1170.

The blazonry attributed to William de Lancaster I and several of his main line descendants: "Argent (silver or white), two bars gules (red), and on a canton of the second, a lion, passant guardant, or (gold or yellow)"

Titles and positions[edit]

Earliest holdings[edit]

William and his relatives appear in contemporary documents relating mainly to the modern county of Cumbria, especially Copeland in western Cumberland, Furness in the Lake District, The Barony of Kendal, which became part of Westmorland, and various areas such as Barton between Kendal and Ullswater, also in Westmorland. Much of this area was not yet permanently part of England.

Although only part of this area was within the later English county of Lancaster or Lancashire, this entity had not yet come to be clearly defined. So the title of "de Lancaster", by which William is remembered, could have referred not only to the church city of Lancaster, to the south of this area, but to an area under its control. In 1900, William Farrer claimed that "all of the southern half of Westmorland, not only the Kirkby Lonsdale Ward of Westmorland, but also the Kendal Ward, were linked with Northern Lancashire from a very early time" and formed a single district for fiscal administrative purposes.[1]

The following are areas associated with him ...

Muncaster in Cumberland. According to William Farrer, in his 1902 edition of Lancashire Pipe Rolls and early charters,wrote:

It appears that he was possessed of the lordship of Mulcaster (now Muncaster), over the Penningtons of Pennington in Furness, and under Robert de Romille, lord of Egremont and Skipton, who held it in right of his wife, Cecilia, daughter and heiress of William de Meschines.[2]

According to Farrer, this title would have been one of those granted by Roger de Mowbray, son of Nigel de Albini, having come into his hands after the decease without male heirs of Ivo de Taillebois. He also believed that this grant to William de Lancaster came to be annulled.

Workington, Lamplugh and Middleton. The manors of Workington and Lamplugh in Cumberland were given by William de Lancaster, in exchange for Middleton in Westmorland, to a relative, Gospatric, son of Orme, brother-in-law of Waldeve, Lord of Allerdale.[3]

Hensingham. The Register of St Bees shows that both William son of Gilbert de Lancastre, and William's son William had land in this area. William's was at a place called Swartof or Suarthow, "probably the rising ground between Whitehaven and Hensingham, known locally as Swartha Brow". The appears to have come from his father Gilbert. His brother Roger apparently held land at Walton, just outside of modern Hensingham, and had a son named Robert. Roger and William also named a brother called Robert.[4]

Ulverston. Farrer argued that this may have been held by William and perhaps his father Gilbert, before it was granted by Stephen, Count of Boulogne and Mortain, to Furness Abbey in 1127.[5] The possible connection of William's father Gilbert to Furness will be discussed further below.

Enfeoffment from King Stephen[edit]

King Stephen's reign in England lasted from 1135 to 1154, but only during a small part of this did he control this region. For the majority of his reign all or most of this area was under the rule of David I of Scotland.

During the period when Stephen was in control "we possess distinct and clear evidence that Stephen, as king, enfeoffed a knight of the lands of Warton in Kentdale and the wide territory of Garstang, in Lancashire, to hold for the service of one knight. This was William de Lancaster, son of Gilbert by Godith his wife, described in the Inquest of service made in 1212 as "Willelmus filius Gilberti primus," that is, the first to be enfeoffed of that fee."[6]

Enfeoffment from Roger de Mowbray[edit]

At a similar time, during the period 1145-1154, a major enfeoffment by Roger de Mowbray put William in control, or perhaps just confirmed his control, of what would become the Barony of Kendal, plus Warton, Garstang, and Wyresdale in Lancashire, as well as Horton in Ribblesdale and "Londsdale". The latter two are sometimes apparently being interpreted as indicating possession for some time of at least part of what would become the Wapentake of Ewcross in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

The Scottish period[edit]

During the Scottish occupation, Hugh de Morville became the overlord of much of this area, a position he kept when the area later returned to English control. Farrer and Curwen remark:

William de Lancaster no longer held anything in Kentdale of Roger de Mowbray; but he appears to have held his lands in Westmarieland and Kentdale of Morevill by rendering Noutgeld of £14 6s. 3d. per annum, and some 16 carucates of land in nine vills in Kentdale as farmer under Morevill. In 1166 William de Lancaster I held only two knight's fees, of the new feoffment of Roger de Mowbray in Sedbergh, Thornton, Burton in Lonsdale, and the other places in Yorkshire previously named, which his descendants held long after of the fee of Mowbray by the same service. The Mowbray connexion with Kentdale had come to an end upon the accession of Henry II, who placed Hugh de Morevill in possession of Westmarieland in return, possibly, for past services and in pursuance of the policy of planting his favourites in regions of great strategic importance. Probably the change of paramount lord had little, if any, effect on the position of William de Lancaster in Kentdale.[6]

In Cumberland further west, according to several websites, William was castellan in the castle of Egremont under William fitz Duncan.[citation needed]

The Barony of Kendal?[edit]

William de Lancaster is often described as having been a Baron of Kendal. In fact this is not so clear, given the lack of clarity of records in this period. William Farrer wrote, in the Introduction to his Records of Kendal:

After a careful review of the evidence which has been sketched above, the author is of opinion that no barony or reputed barony of Kentdale existed prior to the grants of 1189–90; and that neither William de Lancaster, son of Gilbert, nor William de Lancaster II, his son and successor, can be rightly described as "baron" of Kentdale.[6]

What became the Barony of Kendal is generally accepted as having come together under Ivo de Taillebois (d. 1094) in the time of William Rufus. And, as will be discussed below, at least in later generations William was depicted by his family as having been a Taillebois. A continuity is therefore often asserted between what Ivo held, and what William later held, despite the fact that William had no known hereditary claim on Kendal. (This is also the reason for the frequent assertion that William held the entire wapentake of Ewcross, even though it seems that the family of Roger de Mowbray kept hold of at least Burton in Kendal. William held two parts of it, mentioned above, while Ivo had held another, Clapham. The rest is speculation.)

According to Farrer, the Barony of Kendal became a real barony only in the time of William's grand daughter Hawise, who married Gilbert son of Roger fitz Reinfrid. Both he and his son William de Lancaster III, both successors of William de Lancaster I (and possibly of Ivo de Taillebois) were certainly Barons of Kendal.

Concerning other specific holdings and ranks[edit]

Furness and the Royal forests. According to a later grant to Gilbert Fitz Reinfrid, William must have held some position over the whole forest of Westmarieland (the Northern or Appleby Barony of Westmorland), Kendal and Furness. His claims in Furness may have gone beyond just the forest, but this appears to have put him in conflict with the claims of the Furness Abbey, and this conflict continued over many generations. His family may have had links there before him. Some websites report that his father Gilbert was known as "Gilbert of Furness". (This apparently comes from a 17th-century note by Benjamin Ayloffe, mentioned below.)

Lancaster Castle. According to Dugdale, the eminent English antiquarian, he was governor of Lancaster Castle in the reign of Henry II, about 1180. Little is known about how William came to hold the honour of Lancaster and use the surname, but it is sometimes suggested that it implies connections to royalty, perhaps coming from his apparent marriage to Gundred de Warrenne (or was this just yet another reward for some forgotten service, perhaps against the Scots?).

Seneschal. According to a note written by the 17th century antiquarian Benjamin Ayloffe, which is reproduced in the introduction of Walford Dakin Selby's collection of Lancashire and Cheshire Records, p.xxix, William was Seneschallus Hospitii Regis, or steward of the king's household. The same note also states that William's father was the kings "Receiver for the County of Lancaster".[7]


William's father was named Gilbert, and his mother was Godith. They are both mentioned clearly in a benefaction of William to St Mary de Pré and William was often referred to as William the son of Gilbert (fitz Gilbert).

William was also said to have descended from both Ivo de Taillebois and Eldred of Workington, who were contemporaries of William Rufus. But the exact nature of the relationship is unclear and indeed controversial. Most likely, the connection is through daughters or illegitimate sons of these two men. A discussion of the three main proposals follows:-

Theory 1. Taillebois and Workington both the male line. Once the most widespread account, that Ivo was simply the father Eldred, and Eldred the father (or grandfather) of Gilbert, now seems to be wrong, or at least has gone out of favor. The two authorities for a direct line of father-son descent from Ivo to Eldred to Ketel to Gilbert to William de Lancaster were records made much later in Cockersand Abbey and St Mary's Abbey in Yorkshire.[8]

Theory 2. Taillebois through his father. A connection to the Taillebois family, if it was indeed one family, is mainly based upon a record in the Coucher Book of Furness Abbey, concord number CCVI, wherein Helewise, granddaughter and heir of William is party. In the genealogical notice it is claimed that William had been known as William de Tailboys, before receiving the right to be called "Willelmum de Lancastre, Baronem de Kendale".[9] This is the only relatively contemporary evidence for this assertion however, and the facts in this document are also questioned by Farrer and Curwen, as discussed above, because they say that William was probably not Baron of Kendal, but rather an under-lord there.[6]

There was a Tailboys family present in Westmorland during the 12th century, for example in Cliburn, and these were presumably relatives of William de Lancaster. This family used the personal name Ivo at least once.[10]

Theory 3. Workington through his mother. Concerning the connection to Eldred, in a Curia Regis Roll item dated 1212, R., 55, m. 6, Helewise and her husband Gilbert Fitz Reinfrid make claims based upon the fact that "Ketel filius Eutret" was an "antecessor" of Helewise. This could mean he was an ancestor, but it could also perhaps merely mean he was a predecessor more generally.

More definitively one charter to St Leonard's York William refers to Ketel, the son of Elred, as his avunculus, which would literally mean "maternal uncle" (but the word was not always used precisely, the more general meaning of uncle might have been intended). A 1357 charter printed by Reverend F. W. Ragg in 1910 repeats the claim that Ketel son of Aldred was the avunculus of William son of Gilbert.[11]

Therefore Godith may have been a daughter of Elred of Workington, while Gilbert may have been a relative of Ivo de Taillebois, either through illegitimate sons, or perhaps one of his apparent brothers.

Descendants and relatives[edit]

William married Gundreda, perhaps his second wife, who was said to be the daughter of William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey and Elizabeth of Vermandois. She was the widow of Roger, the Earl of Warwick. Note that King Stephen's son, William, married Gundred's niece, Isabel de Warenne. This implies a very close relationship with the King's party.

William had issue:

  • Avicia, who married first to William de Peveral, and secondly to Richard de Morville, constable of Scotland.
  • William, who became William de Lancaster II, and whose legitimate heir Helewise de Lancaster married Gilbert son of Roger Fitz Reinfrid. Many modern Lancasters, especially in Cumbria, appear to descend from his two illegitimate sons, Gilbert and Jordan.
  • Jordan, who died young, and is mentioned in a benefaction to St Mary de Pré in Leicester. In the same benefaction, William II is also mentioned, apparently an adult.
  • Agnes who married Alexander de Windsore[12]
  • Sigrid, married to William the clerk of Garstang.[12]
  • Perhaps Warine de Lancaster, royal falconer, and ancestor of a family known as "de Lea". The charters concerning Forton in the Cockersand Chartulary say, firstly that William de Lancaster II confirmed a grant made by his father to Warine, father of Henry de Lea, and secondly, in Hugh de Morville's confirmation that this William de Lancaster I was "his uncle" (awnculi sui). The record appears to allow that William might have been either Henry's uncle or Warine's. If he was Warine's uncle then the theory is that Warine was the son of an otherwise unknown brother of William de Lancaster I named Gilbert.

Gilbert fitz Reinfrid and Helewise's son William also took up the name de Lancaster, becoming William de Lancaster III. He died without male heirs, heavily indebted, apparently due to payments demanded after he was captured at Rochester during the First Barons' War, and ransomed off by his father.

William de Lancaster III's half brother Roger de Lancaster of Rydal inherited some of the Lancaster importance. It is thought that Roger was a son of Gilbert Fitz Reinfrid, but not of Helewise de Lancaster. Roger is widely thought to be the ancestor of the Lancasters of Howgill and Rydal in Westmorland. (In fact the line starts with one John de Lancaster of Howgill, whose connection to Roger de Lancaster and his son, John de Lancaster of Grisedale and Stanstead, is unclear except for the fact that he took over Rydal and Grasmere from the latter John.[13])

The Lancasters of Sockbridge, Crake Trees, Brampton, Dacre, and several other manors in Westmorland and Cumberland, were apparently descended from William de Lancaster II's illegitimate son Gilbert de Lancaster.[11] Many or perhaps all of the old Lancaster families found throughout Cumbria seem to descend from Gilbert and his brother Jordan.[13]

The de Lea family eventually lost power in the time of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, a member of the Plantagenet royal family, with whom they had become allied during his rebellion.

Another Lancaster family, in Rainhill in Lancashire, also seems to have claimed descent, given that they used the same coat of arms as Gilbert Fitz Reinfrid and his sons (argent, two bars gules, with a canton of the second, and a "lion of England", either white or gold, in the canton). However the exact nature of the link, if any, is unknown.[14]


  1. ^ Farrer, William (1900), "The Domesday Survey of North Lancashire and the Adjacent Parts of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Yorkshire", Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society: 90 
  2. ^ Farrer, William (1902), Lancashire Pipe Rolls and Early Lancashire Charters, p. 305 
  3. ^ "Parishes: Thursby - Workington", Magna Britannia, volume 4: Cumberland, 1816, pp. 159–175 
  4. ^ "Register of St Bees", The Publications of the Surtees Society 126 
  5. ^ Farrer, William (1903), Lancashire Inquests, Extents, and Feudal Aids, p. xi 
  6. ^ a b c d Farrer; Curwen (1923), "Introduction", Records of Kendal 1 . Also at [1].
  7. ^ Lancashire and Cheshire records preserved in the Public Record Office, 1882 
  8. ^ For William Farrer's remarks on this see Farrer (1902) p.vii (Addenda and Corrigenda) concerning p. 389 I.18, and Farrer (1909), The Chartulary of Cockersand Abbey of the Premonstratensian Order, Volume I, Part II, pp. 305–8 
  9. ^ Coucher Book of Furness Abbey, 1887, pp. 344–345 
  10. ^ Ragg (1928), "Cliburn Hervy and Cliburn Tailbois; Part II", Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, vol.28. 
  11. ^ a b F. W. Ragg (1910), "De Lancaster", Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society: 395–493 )
  12. ^ a b Farrer, 1906; Brownbill, "The Lancaster Fee of Warton and Garstang", A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 1, pp. 357–66 
  13. ^ a b Lancaster, Andrew (2007), "The de Lancasters of Westmorland: Lesser-Known Branches, and the Origin of the de Lancasters of Howgill", Foundations: Journal of the Foundation of Medieval Genealogy 2 (4) 
  14. ^ Farrer, William; Brownbill (1907), "Townships: Rainhill", A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3, pp. 368–371 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]