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From Records to Revels: The Fleming family

Development of the early Fleming family in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight

by Phoebe Merrick, 2008

In medieval England, the name Fleming was probably applied fairly freely to any immigrant from Flanders or north east France. How many individuals or families came to settle in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight from that side of the English Channel is impossible to know, and it has not been possible to trace the descent of the earliest Flemings to the later ones, although continuity may be suspected.

The family was prominent in Southampton by the thirteenth century and continuity can be demonstrated from that time. In 1222 Michael Flandrensis was bailiff of the town thus showing that men of the name 'Fleming' were men of account there by the early thirteenth century. Later thirteenth-century bailiffs included Walter le Fleming in 1237, 1247 and 1248, and Henry in 1286. John le Flemyng was MP in 1298, 1306, 1313 and 1314-15, and later as well as serving as Mayor in 1319.[1] The figure leaning over the footbridge in Castle Way in Southampton depicts John le Fleming.

The Walter le Fleming referred to as bailiff was the son of another Walter. The younger Walter was a major figure in Southampton. Apart from his involvement in civic affairs as bailiff and later mayor, he was a wealthy and successful merchant. He owned several ships, and traded extensively in wine and wool, sometimes acting on behalf of the king.[2] He lived on the corner of High Street and Broad Street, in a great stone house, until his death in 1258. The remains of his house were excavated by Dr Andrew Russel some years ago.[3] Walter owned property elsewhere in Southampton and also in Portsmouth, Chichester and Winchester. He had had three children, sons Henry and John and a daughter Alice. John died before Walter his father, leaving his widow, Petronilla[4] to carry on his trading activities, which she did with a certain ruthlessness and considerable success.[5] The main Southampton branch of the family continued through the children of John and Petronilla. They and their descendants continued to be prominent in Southampton until the early-sixteenth century. This is itself is remarkable, for medieval English towns were so unhealthy that most families either got out or died out.

An example of the difficulty in identifying individual mid-thirteenth-century Flemings is illustrated by the case of Henry le Fleming. When Walter le Fleming of Southampton died in 1258 he left his business to his eldest son Henry.[6] There was a Henry le Fleming who was known to be in Winchester in 1258 and may have been the son of Walter.[7] A Henry le Fleming had been granted lands in Cliddesden in Basingstoke Hundred about 1240. In 1280 these lands were granted to the Warden and Brethren of the Hospital of Saint John at Basingstoke.[8] It was not uncommon for merchants to have connections in both Southampton and Winchester so the reader can only speculate whether there were one, two or three Henry le Flemings in the area in the latter part of the thirteenth century.

Henry le Fleming was left Martin's Hall by his father Walter. This property was situated on the western shore of Southampton. He also inherited a 'great ship and #200 in cash as well as tenements in Chichester, Portsmouth and Winchester'.[9] By 1288 Henry le Fleming was no longer resident in Southampton and this absence resulted in his disqualification as keeper of the customs, a post to which he had recently been appointed.[10]

The continuing role of the family in Southampton's civic life is demonstrated by the career of John, the son of John and Petronilla and therefore the grandson of Walter. He served the town as alderman.[11] He was Warden of God's House in 1286 and 1287.[12] Later, in 1298, he was one of two men who went to the Isle of Wight to hold the courts of the manor of Northwood, a property of God's House.[13] His status was such that he undertook commissions for the king. For example, he was responsible for the provisioning of a royal galley that was built in Southampton and taking it to Winchelsea.[14] Royal service was not all profit however. On one occasion he, with others, was required by the king to buy some bad wine, although the merchants were eventually successful in getting the debt cancelled.[15]

Another John Fleming was a notable figure in fifteenth-century Southampton although a controversial figure. On the good side, he was one of the two people who constructed a conduit bringing water to the town. On the bad side, he was accused of extortions and cheating a Genoese merchant. He became Recorder of the town, and used his office to disturb the possession of God's House in its land. One of causes that saw him in court arose because he did not honour the marriage settlements made on his daughter.[16]

So much for the Flemings in Southampton. Meanwhile, as indicated there were spasmodic references to Flemings in Winchester and elsewhere in Hampshire throughout the middle ages. Some of them have the same names as Flemings in Southampton and exist at the same time and may be the same men. However the other main base of the Flemings in medieval Hampshire was on the Isle of Wight.

The earliest reference is to a John Fleming at Horringford in the 1260s. The Flemings of the thirteenth century were described as yeomen, high status peasants, but not gentry. John also held land in Blackpan and at Rookley.[17] Flemings have been involved with agriculture on the Isle of Wight for many centuries continuously until the late twentieth century.

Apart from these yeomen Flemings, others of the same name established a presence in Newport and were rising up the social scale. Around 1275, Nicholas le Fleming had a house there,[18] and in 1498, a John Fleming was a bailiff of Newport.[19] In 1515, John Fleming the younger took a 60-year lease on a shop in Newport.[20] In 1518, John Fleming, the elder, of Newport, gentleman, granted a 21-year lease of all his lands and tenements in Shorwell, called Presford and Bretons[21]

Thus by the beginning of the sixteenth century, there were affluent men called Fleming in Newport, and elsewhere on the Isle of Wight as well as in Southampton. The extent to which these men were from one family and to what extent the occurrence of the same names simultaneously in more than one location is coincidence has not been determined, and may never be so. By 1500 the Flemings were men of considerable standing within their own communities some of whom had played a small part on the wider scale of national affairs. The events of the sixteenth century gave their descendants the opportunity to increase their status, which opportunity they turned to their advantage.


Sixteenth Century—A Time of Advancement

It is now appropriate to return to the Flemings of Southampton, the descendants of the great thirteenth-century Walter le Fleming. In 1502, John Fleming of Southampton and his second wife Magdalen were blessed with a son whom they named Francis. By 1523, at the age of 21, he was captain of the George of Greenwich. He moved on from this post to become a supplier of guns for the new royal forts in the 1530s and later in 1545 he became lieutenant-general of ordnance under Sir Thomas Seymour, a role he undertook with application and energy. He continued as a naval man and was knighted in 1547. He was MP for Lyme Regis in that year, presumably under the patronage of Seymour. Six years later he represented Southampton.[22]

It seems that Sir Francis was out of favour under Mary, because he opposed the return of Catholicism. It is possible that this opposition was not wholly theological in its origins. He was living in Romsey in 1542, and bought the conventual buildings there in 1546 and a few months later he bought other buildings in the town.[23] In 1547 he bought the manor of Wigley, which is part of Eling, from Richard Mill. However he only kept it for 7 years before selling it to John Dowce.[24] He was granted the lordship of Romsey Extra for forty years from 1558. Although the lease on the manor expired, Broadlands and other lands and property remained to Sir Francis and his heirs. He was living at Broadlands at the time of his death in 1558.[25]

Sir Francis's estates passed to his son William. William married Jane Foster, and through her more land was acquired. She was heiress to the estate built up by her grandfather, John Foster who had bought much abbey land in the Romsey area after the Dissolution. William Fleming and Jane had one daughter and heir, Frances. She married Edward St Barbe and Sir Francis's Broadlands estate passed to the St Barbe family.[26] Thus the Fleming owners of parts of Romsey in the late sixteenth century were not the direct ancestors of those Flemings who came into possession of parts of Romsey in the eighteenth century. The later Flemings associated with Romsey came from a line other than that of Sir Francis, although it is possible that they were related in some degree.

Amongst the Flemings living in Newport Isle of Wight in the early sixteenth century was John Fleming who died in 1531,[27] leaving a son who was also called John. Only Berry gives the death of a John Fleming at this date and it is difficult to be certain whether John left a son and a grandson each called John, or only a son. The Isle of Wight records refer to numerous John Flemings and it is difficult to ascertain how many men are involved. The History of Parliament states that the younger John Fleming was a mercer[28] and he was also a merchant.[29] This younger John Fleming was bailiff of Newport between 1547 and 1553, when Edward VI was on the throne.[30] In 1556 a John Fleming acted as attorney for seizin in the matter of land transfer,[31] which action raises the possibility that there was a third John Fleming, possibly the grandson of the eldest John Fleming.

A younger John Fleming married Dorothy Harris in 1543. She came from a prominent Newport family and her father was a successful merchant, who, in addition, owned property elsewhere on the Island. Two children were recorded in the Newport baptisms as the children of John and Dorothy Fleming. They are Thomas who was born in 1544 and John who was born two years later.[32]

It is this Thomas who came to found the Stoneham family.

Copyright (c) Phoebe Merrick 2008

[1] Gidden: p.xxi
[2] Platt p.240
[3] Morton, Alan, ed., Southampton Archaeological and Heritage Manarement Section Annual Report (Southampton City Council) 1990 pp.45-52; 1990-1 pp.50-53
[4] Petronilla's maiden name was Isembard. It is possible that she was related to the Isembard family of Wilton who were millers there. VCH Wilts 6: 'Wilton' by Margery K James, p.20
[5] Platt pp.43, 69, 45, 271
[6] Platt p.62
[7] Keene 2ii p.1231
[8] VCH Hants 4 p.146
[9] Platt pp.62-3
[10] Platt p.63
[11] VCH Hants 3 p.513
[12] VCH Hants 2 p.203
[13] VCH Hants 5 p.270 n.39
[14] Platt pp.61-2
[15] Platt p.93
[16] Parliament 1439-1509, pp.337-8
[17] VCH Hants 5 p.144 n.76
[18] PRO E315/39/168
[19] IOW JER/NBC/86
[20] IOW New.Cp. C1/19
[21] PRO E40/12722
[22] Parliament 1509-1558 p.149-50
[23] VCH Hants 4 pp.453 and 455
[24] VCH Hants 4 pp.554-5
[25] VCH Hants 4 p.453
[26] VCH Hants 4 p.453
[27] Berry p.125
[28] P.W. Hasler, History of Parliament, The Commons 1558-1603, (HMSO, 1981) pp.139-40
[29] IOW Car D/164
[30] Star Chamber proceedings Edw VI Vol 22 no 85 to Newport Council. (Recorded on a record card held by IOW. No reference given to the card.)
[31] IOW BR 197
[32] Baptismal records of Newport listed by IOW