The interest in the subject of this study is born out of the family history research coupled with some family myths.

Most people in the UK could probably claim to be of Norman descent and it may be difficult to prove and to be honest, people today are a mixture of Scandinavian (Anglo- Saxon) and Norman and the little or non -existence of the necessary records may be a barrier in this study. However, I don’t necessarily wish to “claim” Norman ancestry but I have to confess that curiosity has got the better of me and I should like to explore the possibilities of where our family came from, even though I may be hearing the cry of the wild goose.

Of Norman Descent?  Fact or Fiction?

To claim an ancestor came with William the Conqueror should not be viewed with a romantic notion. The Conqueror and his men were warmongers, plunderers and so savagely brutal that one cannot feel a sense of pride with the connection. His claims to the English throne were fraudulent, even though the Norman historians of the time would disagree. It was propaganda to justify their attack on England. The battle at Hastings was no walkover and could have gone either way* but we all know the result. The Conqueror then captured property and land from the English and gave to his loyal followers. In some cases if the English swore allegiance to him and supported him their lands were safe. To those who rebelled he was savage.

Yet, the idea that an ancestor came with the Conqueror, was first fostered many years ago by my late father who had visited Battle Abbey and told of a plaque which bore the names of those who had come and Baret (Barrett) was on the list.

Strangely, this idea was cemented further, later at school. We had a new French mistress in the lower sixth. She obviously had an interest in surnames and the first lesson was spent in asking each individual class member her surname and she would give an origin. I can recall that she said our surname was of Norman-French origin. In hindsight I wish I had asked her more about it but at the age of 16/17 these things don’t seem so important.

The name appearing on the Battle Abbey Roll would suggest that the person with the surname Barrett would have been either a Knight or someone of high status. The fact that only the names of the elite were recorded in documents such as the Battle Abbey Roll and the Falaise Roll show that these number of names amounted to between 250 and 400, depending on the integrity of whichever historian’s opinion is held.

It has been suggested that the Conqueror came with about 14,000 men in 700 ships. In comparison then only a smaller proportion were “Knights”. Although the majority of his followers were Norman, there were also Bretons and Flemish in the Conquerors army. There were many foot soldiers and archers and people of many trades, farriers, carpenters, cooks and many more to support an invading army!! Is it possible that a “lesser” person may also have had the surname?

{Found on a key ring with the name Barrett and a crest on one side, on the other side it says “Meaning “son of Beraud” a French first name which often appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. Earliest record found 1150 Mathew Baret, Lincolnshire.”}

I came across a booklet by Anthony J Camp entitled “My Ancestor Came with the Conqueror, Those Who Did and Some of Those Who Probably Did Not”.2

In this book, he mentions a bronze tablet which was set up in the Castle of Falaise in Normandy in 1931 and contains the names of 315 persons who were knights who fought at the Battle of Hastings. He then says it is unfortunate that English historians accepted little of this evidence. The Society of Genealogists and one or two historians of the 1930’s and 1940’s accepted less than 27 names. One could argue that their views are now considerably out of date being 70 – 80 years old.

Further on in the book, he gives a list of 8 sources of information, followed by an index of names. By each name is printed the numbers 1-8 according to the source in which that name is found.

Here is a brief description of that list which appears on pages 24 and 25 of his book.

  1. The Battle Abbey Roll as published by Raphael Holinshed, in his Chronicles of England, Scotland and Irelande (1597). These names are printed in Cleveland and The Falaise Roll.
  2. The Battle Abbey Roll in the Chronicle ascribed to John Brompton about 1436. These names also appear in the Falaise Roll.
  3. The Battle Abbey Roll by Andre Duchesne. These names are printed in parallel with Holinshed, with similarities in Cleveland 1 and Falaise Roll.
  4. The Battle Abbey Roll by Robert Wace.
  5. The Battle Abbey Roll as copied before 1550 by John Leland. These names appear in Cleveland 1 and Falaise Roll.
  6. The Battle Abbey Roll as given by Guillaume le Tailleur in his Chronieques de Normandie in 1487
  7. The Falaise Roll. Camp suggests that there is a mix of fact and fiction in this work.
  8. The Dives Roll of Leopold Delisle compiled in 1866 and inscribed on a marble memorial erected at the church in Dives where William prayed before embarkation.

Camp doesn’t include in the above list the work of Lewis Loyd in “The Origins of some Anglo- Norman Families.” 3 I believe this is because he considers Loyd’s work as superior to those in the list of 8. He is known for his painstakingly accurate research. However, K S B in the book “Domesday People”4 although the author agrees with this view of Loyd, does point out that his work was posthumously published and incomplete.

In the index of names in Camp’s book, the name Loyd is printed along with the numbers above, if Loyd has considered them to be accurate.

The other work which Camp describes is that of the Duchess of Cleveland who lived at Battle Abbey in the late 19th century. Her work is “The Battle Abbey Roll with Some Account of the Norman Lineages” and can be found in 3 volumes. He doesn’t consider the duchess to be very scholarly and feels her work is also a mix of fact and fiction. (I have volume 1 in which the name Barrett appears). The duchess does state that the Roll was partly destroyed by a fire in 1793.

The name Baret/Barrett appears in Camp’s index with the numbers 1, 3 and 5 from the list above and the name Cleveland volume 1 pages 161 and 162. It does not appear in Loyd.

Given that Camp considers most of the above sources, except Loyd, to be a mixture of fact and fiction, I have now considered that I may be chasing that wild goose. However, I do not wish to give in so easily. I decided to refresh my memory about the historical facts of the Norman Invasion, so have undertaken some extensive reading. It is a long time since I was at school (being nearly 64!) and we would only been given a limited account anyway.

The books I read for the general historical background were:

The Aristocracy of Norman England by Judith Green.

1066: A New History of the Norman Invasion by Peter Rex.1

The Bayeaux Tapestry.

In KSB’s book Domesday People: A Prosopography of Persons Occurring in English Documents 1066 – 1166, she mentions a Baret (page 163) who was a Domesday tenant of Ilbert de Lacey in Yorkshire. He gave grants to St. Clements Chapel in the castle of Pontefract. Her reference for this is Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum.

Having obtained a copy of the two volumes of The Domesday Book for Yorkshire, a search was done for any reference to this and nothing was found. An on-line search was then done for any information about Pontefract Castle and the information revealed that Pontefract Castle was not in the Domesday Book. At that time it was probably known as Pomfret Castle and the nearest place to it was Tanshelf.

In the Yorkshire Domesday book, the name “Baret” appears quite clearly in the Latin text but translates to “Barthr” in old English. I understand from a very close family friend, whom I affectionately call “Edward the Professor”, that the 18th century Latin was a vulgar Latin and in this type of Latin, Baret means barter.

The names of the places where the above were found are: Kirk & Little Smeaton, Stapleton, Darrington, Beal and Kellington.

Sheila Wheatley

15 Dec 2017

 This study is incomplete following the results of DNA tests that Paul and I had done. It would appear from the results of the DNA that our origin is Celtic.      

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anthony Murphy Barrett

    Hello Fellow Barretts,

    New DNA results from over 300 Barrett individual tests reveals that there is truth in both Sheila’s and Paul’s comments. I recommend those interested check out my updated eBook: The Tribe Within I offer it for free to all Barretts. Just type passcode: RW100 at the time of purchase. Hope this helps. Anthony Murphy Barrett.

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