The French Connection....

Vincent de Luriewille appears to have been the first 'Lerwill', first mentioned in 1206. What do we know about Vincent's arrival and early period in Devon?

  • The family home of 'Lerwill Farm' does not appear in the Domesday Book (1086). The family must have moved into Devon since that date.

  • The earliest documented reference to our family name is in 1206. However, unless one was part of the aristocracy or the clergy, there is little chance of finding any documented reference much before 1200 in any case, as it was only in the latter part of the 1100s that much importance was put on record-keeping.

  • It is noteworthy that many Normans, Flemings and Franks continued to arrive in Britain until the 1200s. A large number of settlements were created in Devon during 1150-1250, particularly around 1200 onwards.

  • The deforestation of Devon was made possible by charter acquired by the men of Devon for 5,000 marks (about £3,300) in 1204. Excepted, however, was Exmoor and (interestingly enough) a swathe of Royal Forest land which ran from a point lying approximately just north of a line between Barnstaple and Lerwill Farm, and southwards between these points to an approximate latitude with Bideford.! This swathe of forest is known to have existed in about 1250, but it appears as though it was lost a hundred years later, probably because it was too remote for Royal visitation. The deforestation enabled the creation of many more settlements and the expansion of the cloth industry.

  • There is a strong family tradition that our family came from France, although Tours is reckoned to have been the place of origin.. Note that the Tours tradition is still potentially valid as the last point of departure, regardless of the musings that follow.

  • The cloth industry became very important for Devon from about 1200 (and more so from around 1350), and the towns of Barnstaple and South Molton (spanning each side of Lerwill Farm, near Chittlehampton) were, respectively, the principle cloth-making town and wool-market town, of North Devon..

  • Flanders and parts of what we would now recognise as N.E. France were major centres of the cloth industry at that time. It is known also that woad, from Picardy, was imported for use in the English textile industry during the 1190s.

  • Much wool was exported to the Flemings to make into cloth, but a cloth industry had become well established in several parts of England by the 1170s, and the success of the industry was undoubtedly a reason for its establishment in Devon.

  • There was a tremendous alien influence in trade and commerce - weavers and fullers groups originating from 'the Continent' were evident at Winchester as early as 1131, and if Vincent arrived in England at Southampton (or, even, London) he would have found familiar company. Vincent's settlement near Barnstaple, and the growth in the cloth industry development in that area from ca. 1200, seem to be connected. That Flemings were in Devon at that time is indicated by Vincent's involvement in a property litigation of 1228, with one 'Archenbald Flemeng'

  • The frequency of Vincent's appearance in medieval documents (though not as a titled person), his obviously frequent journeys to Exeter and to other parts of the county (including a holding near Ilfracombe), the creation of a family coat of arms without apparent Heraldic acceptance, and the nature of the recorded references of William, his mid-14th c. successor, confirms the family's standing as minor lords, but with the hint of a merchant/entrepreneurial status. Some family connection with a John Boye of Halburton seems again to point to the cloth industry, as that place is situated in the east Devon area of the industry.

    All these circumstances point to Vincent's connection with the cloth industry, but since he had the use of a substantial amount of land, it is likely that he was a supplier of wool to the markets of Barnstaple and South Molton..

    The origins of the name 'Lerwill'.......

    I had already formed the notion, from studying the early spellings of our family name (Loriawille or Luriewille) that there seemed to be a conjunction of words that the clerks of the time had found difficulty in spelling. The structure that I deduced was something like LE - ROYE - WILL (lit. "the Roye's abode', from the Teutonic weiler - also the Norman ville. I believe that ROYE would have been pronounced as in the 'roy' of the French 'royaume', and if one attempts to express the sound of the three syllables as one word, I suggest that it will become something like LORIEWILL to the ears of the scribe; more or less the spelling as actually found. The gradual change to 'Lerwill' over the centuries (not recorded as such until the 1500s, and then not standard until the 1800s) probably became due to the dropping of French as the formal language (in the late 14th c.), and the affect of the Devonshire accent.

    In the light of the foregoing thoughts and musings of this chapter, please read on.......

    Our true roots ...... ?

    The book, France In The Middle Ages 987-1460, by Georges Duby (1987, Eng. version 1991), shows quite clearly that there was much unrest in Northern "France" in those days, aggravated by the claims of the Norman and Angevin camps. Richard I had been considerably angered by his brother John's and Philip's (King Philip II of the Franks, " Philip Augustus") planning against him, and had gone into battle against Philip. Even after Richard's death (1199) and John's inheritence of the English throne, there was little accord between John and Philip, and Philip proceeded to take northern territories in France, including Vermandois (in Picardy) in 1186 and the County of Tours in 1204.

    I considered that after Vincent, Bartholomew was clearly a popular Christian name in the family, and I would think that Vincent chose this for his son as it was a name very prominent in his family - perhaps his father's name. Remarkably, we find that a leading knight in the 1190-1200 period was Bartholomew of Roye, a Vermandois knight (i.e. from near Flanders and Amiens; i.e. Picardy). The time is right, and the area is approximately right

    To add even more spice, it appears that Philip Augustus created a bishopric for Bartholomew's nephew at the recently acquired Evreux. This was in 1201 and the nephew's name was, apparently, Robert de Roye.

    Bartholomew de Roye

    Having taken great interest in this person, I consulted the highly-informative book, The Government of Philip Augustus (Baldwin; University of California, 1986), in which Bartholomew is referred to many times.

    Part of a chapter is dedicated to Bartholomew, and it soon became clear that Bartholomew was not Vincent's father, as (i) he is only recorded as having daughters, and (ii) Bartholomew was probably not quite old enough. However, even though he was not the father, there is still enough of interest and relevant issues that cause me to relate Bartholomew to our family. Some facts about Bartholomew:

    From the information we have, therefore, it is clear that the Roye family were well-connected with English, as well as French, society, and relates well to how Vincent may have come to England (ca. 1200 - before the big trouble between John and Philip). William de Vernon (a Norman) appears to have been Earl of Devon around the year 1200, and Bartholomew may well have had connection with him, both through his station and because he was married into the Evreux family. However, what is also interesting is that Devon was one of seven counties over which Prince John had almost exclusive control between 1189 and 1193.

    The question is still not answered, however, "how were Bartholomew and Vincent related - if at all?". There is no concrete proof, as yet, as to their blood relationship, but from the information available, I would put Bartholomew's birth at about the year 1155-60 and Vincent's at about 1175-1180. From this, and that we know Bartholomew was the youngest son, it is conceivable that he was Vincent's uncle - and that Vincent may well have been Robert de Roye's brother, or cousin at least. Note also that the standing of the Roye family in general would appear to have been about the same as Vincent's in England - another marker of interest.

    The old family home (Lerwell Farm) since 1500:

    THE parish church of Chittlehampton (in which parish Lerwell Farm is located) was vastly re-built in the later part of the 15th c., just at the time that our family evidently left their property, and so if there was any evidence of Lerwills showing on the church walls, it has long gone.

    In a Visitation (of Heralds), 1531, the pedigree of Bellew includes "William Colbrooke of Lorywill", whose daughter married Henry Bellew of Alverscott. The Colbrooke family evidently acquired 'Lorywill' (or Lerwill) some years earlier. In 1590, the following sale notice appeared:

    Records of events at Lerwill (farm) since 1590 are rare and do not involve our family anyway. However, the following may be of interest:

    To-day's main building at Lerwell (which I have seen) looks to have been built in the 19th c. but part of the older farmhouse lies behind it and that evidently still has a 15th c. doorway (from an article in the Parish Magazine, 1960, written by the Rev. Andrews, who was very much a local historian). Another snippet from the magazine states that the church was furnished in 1872 by a very handsome Utrecht alter cloth, donated by Miss H. Morris of Lerwill. The Morris family were apparently very substantial yeomen, and other members of that family 'of Lerwill' are recorded within and without the church.

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