Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pierre de Morlaix

This blog article was originally going  to be written about my ancestor John Perkins who left Hillmorton, England for Ipswich, Massachusetts.  While surfing the net looking for clues about his ancestry I kept finding this incredible lineage which included someone called Pierre de Morlaix.  Most Perkins genealogies start with the words, "I can trace my family back to Pierre de Morlaix". So who was Pierre and what do we know about him? (If you have read any of my other blog posts, ya know where this one is going)


Pierre de Morlaix

Pierre was born in Morlaix, on the Breton coast in the year 1312. This area was part of the Duchy of  Brittany in the year 1300 and was under the control of John II Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond.  He was from the House of Dreux, b. 1239 d. 1305, he was married to Beatrice of England, daughter of Henry III.   Pierre left Brittany and first settled in Salop, or Shropshire, England. 
Moving far ahead in history, there came a time when the descendants of great men became gentlemen, yeoman, tradesman, and of course just farmers or tenants. Their ancestor, a Knight, had a "coat of arms"  which he wore on a surcoat to identify him in battle.  This coat of arms, which should have been passed down through the eldest son,  was not deemed important or even necessary and was oftentimes forgotten.  In other instances the coat of arms might be used by men not entitled to it for their own benefit or vanity. 
Coats of Arms, otherwise known as Heraldry  falls under the jurisdiction of the College of Arms, aka the Herald's College. The College is responsible for the correct use and maintenance of Coats of Arms. (note I am not using the term "family crest" as there is no such thing)  In 1530 King Henry VIII authorized the "Heraldic Visitation". The Heralds visited all the counties of England and sought out misuse of coats of arms and found those who were entitled to arms but did not know it. There were four visitations to  the county of Berkshire, including one which took place in the year 1623.  This visitation was recorded in a manuscript called MSS Ashmole 852. 
The heralds recorded genealogical data on the prominent families and institution in the county of Berkshire including the Perkyns family of Ufton. The herald was able to trace the Perkins family back to an ancestor called Peter who they say was alive in the year 1381.
In the book called "The Four Visitations of Berkshire..." edited by Harry Rylands 1907, the findings of the Herald, recorded in the manuscript, are copied as follows:
Petrus  Morley  alias Perkins =  Alice Taylor         
de co. Salopiae Servius ( sic)    Uxor Eius
dni Hugonia de Spenser        
dni de Shipton  in Com:
Oxon
Supstes 4 R 2

Obviously this was written in Latin.  It translates as:
Peter Morley alias Perkins = Alice Taylor
of Shropshire servant           his wife
Lord Hugh de Spenser
lord of Shipton in 
Oxfordshire
Alive in the 4th year of the reign of King Richard II (1381)


So what does Peter Morley alias Perkins have to do with Pierre de Morlaix, ah but you already know the answer to that or you wouldn't be reading this. Well once again we have to skip ahead in time to the late 1800's and early 1900's, a time when many Americans were researching their ancestors including those in Europe.  In January of 1884 George Augustus Perkins published a book "The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich, MA.  He seems to be the first person to put down in writing "my family history begins with Pierre de Morlaix".  He states that Pierre was a Norman born in the town of Morlaix in France who became the High Steward of the estates of Hugo Despenser. Pierre married Agnes Taylor and they had a son named Henry, who on his fathers death became known as Henry Pierrekins. 
In 1890 Augustus Thorndike Perkins published a volume entitled "A private proof printed in order to preserve certain matters connected with the Boston branch of the Perkins family". In this book, this Mr. Perkins confirms  the suggestion that Peter Morley  is none other than Pierre de Morlaix. Where the two Perkins authors got their information on Pierre is unkown.
A. T. Perkins states in his book that Pierre is probably a Norman of good education and that he was born either in England or Morlaix in France. Pierre, he says, is the high steward of Hugo Despenser, one of the most powerful men in all of England, and he goes on to say that there is some reason to believe that Pierre is also bailiff of Malvern Chase, once site of Hanley Castle, birthplace of Anne Beauchamp, one of the medieval worlds greatest heiress'. He neglects to give the reasons why we should believe his information. Mr. Perkins does not give the reader any clue as to the birth date of Pierre, nor does he mention the county of  Shropshire, remember Petrus Morley is of Shropshire.  He does however seem to interpret the Latin word Servius, which means servant or slave, to hold a different meaning, that of high steward. 
In January of 1892 Miss Mary Sharp published a book entitled "The History of Ufton Court", which includes genealogical information about the Perkins family.  She too, traces the family to Petrus Morley alias Perkins, but does not mention the name Pierre de Morlaix. She interpreted the Latin word Servius to mean bailiff  and says that Peter was the bailiff or manager of the estate of Shipton which belonged to Hugh Despenser III. She, unlike Mr. Perkins, notes that in the manor rolls of Madresfield, Worcestershire, in the year 1388, is found the name Agnes Taylor, daughter of John Taylor. Agnes Taylor was the wife of Petrus Morley. 
Miss Sharp's book was reviewed in a 1893 in a magazine entitled "The Antiquary: A Magazine Devoted to the Study of the Past" vol. 27 edited by Mr. John Charles Cox. While mostly showing appreciation for her book about Ufton Manor, the author chides Miss Sharp on her interpretation of the Latin words used by the Heralds in their visitation. He says:
We are amused to read that Ms. Sharp's interpretation of servus "bailiff or manager" of the estates belonging to Lord Despenser at Shipton.  This is an euphemistic reading of the term which is not correct. When will pedigree-makers presumably Christians, learn that there is nothing derogatory in having an ancestor who was a slave or servant".  
(the story so far: Peter/Pierre Morley/Morlaix Perkins from France/Shropshire on the welsh border is employed by Hugh Despenser in Shipton and is married to Alice from Madresfield. FYI the distance between Shipton and Madresfield is 47.5 miles, the distance from Madresfield to the Welsh border is 42 miles, Shropshire is just to the Northwest of Madresfield, probably about 40 miles to the county border)
In January of 1916 another book is published on the Perkins family, the author this time is  Mansfield Parkyns, the book is entitled "The Perkins family in ye olden times". This book is really a series of letter that Mr. Parkyns exchanged with other Perkins researchers including Adolphous Thorndyke Perkins and Miss Mary Sharp. Although he too includes the ancestry based on the visitation of 1623 he cautions in his introduction that "the last two or three generations (within the knowledge of the persons who attested to the pedigree) may generally be trusted, beyond that they are useful.
Some few pages later Mr. Parkyns goes on to say, 
"In the time of Henry VIII the heralds were getting so poor from general disregard of such matters that they started these "visitations" and traveled about like modern "bagmen" trying to get people to believe in the ennobling virtue  of coats of arms etc. for the sake of their fees and did more mischief to history, genealogies etc. with their blundering pedigrees and coats of arms that can be imagined."
On page 35 of his book he says that he has found evidence of the name Perkins in Madresfield in the year 1318, a Juliana Perkins is named in the Subsidy Rolls for Worcestershire   He says that he frequently found the names Perkins and Mor or More, which is a Shropshire name, but never the name Morley.  He also has his own interpretation of the word Servius.  He believed that this meant Sergeant, as in Sergeant at Arms, a step below Knight.  He did not believe that Peter was a steward, and certainly not a "high steward".  He also make a very important statement, that the only knowledge that we have of either Peter Morley Perkins or his son Henry is from the Visitation.  Those names cannot be found on any other document, period. 
Now to his opinion of Pierre de Morlaix.  In Chapter 15 called Mistakes Corrected Mr. Parkyns prints a letter from A. T. Perkins who admitted that his book was full of errors concerning Pierre de Morlaix.  Mr. Parkyns goes on to say there are no records which contain the name Pierre de Morlaix and that if he existed at all he was not Peter Morley Perkins of Shropshire.  
So this brings us to the more modern writing of the Perkins history by Mr. James Fulton Perkins. His essay on the Perkins family is one of the silliest pieces of writings I have ever seen.  The biggest problem with his essay though, is that people are coping it and quoting it and perpetuating his errors.  A big chunk of his essay ended up on Wikipedia, which made me rethink using that site as a  source. I don't mean to sound harsh, but if you put yourself out there on the internet then you open yourself up to criticism. 
The first thing I noticed when I read the essay was the incorrect history.  Here are some of the lines that jump out at me:

By 1066 King Harold had come to throne of England and was enjoying peace and prosperity. However, the invasion from France and their victory found many Englishmen moving. Okay, did I mention I have a problem with his grammar as well. I think he means that England was enjoying peace, not the King, but anyway, Harold was crowned on Jan 8th, he was dead by Oct. 14th, fighting in the battle of Hastings. Doesn't sound like a peaceful year to me. I have no idea what he means about Englishmen moving and where did these Englishmen move to?
Pierre changed his name to the English translated version of "Peter Morley" when Charles V, the black prince of France renewed the Hundred Years War with England. 
Charles V was the King of France, he reignited the Hundred Years War in May of 1369.  The Black Prince was Edward, son of King Edward III and heir to the English Throne. 
Because of the French victory at the Battle of Hastings, Frenchmen became "persona non grata" in England so to conceal his French origins Pierre changed his name to the English translation. Hum, not sure what is going on here, the Battle of Hastings was back in 1066.
Unwilling to end the heritage of the deMorlaix name when Peter (Pierre de Morlaix) Morley married Agnes Taylor, daughter of John Taylor of Madresield (sic) Worcestershire  England, they had a son.  He was to be named Henry Pierrekin , meaning "first son of Pierre" born 1340 in Shropshire and died in Hillmorton, Warwickshire, England.  So I have multiple issues with these two sentences, the first of which does not even make sense.  If Pierre didn't want the de Morlaix name to end, why wasn't his son name de Morlaix? Also, remember that the names of Peter and his Henry are only found in the Heralds genealogy and their surname was spelled Perkins.  Henry was never called Pierrekins, which means "little Pierre" not "first son". No one knows when Henry was born, where  he was born or where he died.  The Perkins did not live in Hillmorton until more recent times. 

I could go on and on about the lack of facts or even logic in this essay, but I will stop here.  
Here is what I believe based on my research: there was no Pierre de Morlaix.  There may have been a Peter Morlay Perkins and a son Henry, but there is no proof other than what was written by the Heralds.  The Perkins name was found in Worcestershire by 1318 so it did not originate with Peter Morlay.  If Peter did work for Hugh Despenser, it was in a minor role on the Manor of Shipton in Oxfordshire, Hugh III was dead by 1346, his estates were inherited by his nephew. There definitely was a John Perkyns, and his name is recorded and can be found in contemporary records. More about him later.

see part 2 of my Pierre blog
Comments welcome, even if you disagree.  One caveat you must show your sources!

My sources:
Harold Rylands, The Four Visitations of Berkshire, 1907
George Agustus Perkins, The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich, MA, 1884
Agustus Thorndike Perkins, A Private Proof to Preserve Certain Matters Connected with the Boston Branch of the Perkins Family, 1890
Mary Sharp, The History of Ufton Court, 1892
John Charles Cox, The Antiquarian, Vol. 27, 1893
Mansfield Parkyns, The Perkins Family in Ye Olden Times, 1916
James Fulton Perkins, Essay on the Perkins Family
Wikipedia
Jules Frusher, MA Lady Despensers Scribery (blog) knowledgeable about all things Hugh de Spenser the younger
Wikipedia (not that I recommend it)
Excerpta e Scrinio Manerial de Madresfield (Manorial Rolls of Madresfield)

Post a Comment

Have a great day!