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From Records to Revels: The Fleming family

Le Fleming: one extended family?

Posted by Harry Willis Fleming on April 24, 2012
The individual Fleming family members in this study belong to two distinct lineages: the Flemings of the town of Southampton, and the Flemings of the town of Newport on the Isle of Wight. During the Tudor period, each was transformed into an armigerous landed family, the Southampton family becoming the Flemings of Broadlands (near Romsey) and the Newport family becoming the Flemings of Stoneham Park.

In 1861, Woodward et al wrote of Thomas Fleming (d.1613) of Stoneham: 'It were vain to attempt to connect with his ancestry all or any of these many dwellers in and around Southampton who, from the country of their birth or descent, were surnamed le Fleming. Southampton, one of the favoured maritime towns of the kingdom, and the nearest port of the great staple town Winchester, carried on a thriving and pretty constant trade with the Low Countries; and naturally Flemings by the score settled within its walls and in the neighbourhood around.'

Woodward was expressing the commonly-held belief that le Fleming was an ethnic surname adopted by many disparate Flemish immigrants. Arguably this assumption - which persists today - has dissuaded researchers from closely examining patterns of le Fleming (and variants) as a surname in the historical record and from tracing family lines in the same manner as other surnames.

But we now know that the Fleming family of Southampton town was actually a single family, and that it can be traced in an unbroken line from the last male member, William Fleming (d.1606) of Broadlands - through his father Sir Francis Fleming, and grandfather, the Tudor mayor of Southampton, John Fleming (d.1528) - back ten generations to the great medieval merchant Walter le Fleming (d.1258). This dynasty played a formative part in the development of Southampton over four centuries, a process that this project will be exploring in detail.

The Fleming family of Newport has only been traced back to John Fleming (d.1531) of that town, who was the grandfather of Thomas Fleming of Stoneham.

So were the Southampton and Newport lineages actually branches of the same family, or had they come into existence independently? In contrast to Woodward, John Duthy, writing in 1839, believed they were indeed part of a single family: 'The family of Fleming appears to have been settled in the southern part of [Hampshire] from the time of the Normans; and for many centuries the Flemings have maintained an intimate connection with Southampton.'

Family historian F. Lawrence Fleming has suggested that all the early Fleming families in Britain were branches of a single extended family descended from Erkenbald Flandrensis of Rouen in Normandy, a Domesday tenant in Cornwall and Devon, and the son of a Flanders nobleman, Erkenbald of Saint-Omer. The surname le Fleming was a historical name that remembered the younger Erkenbald's appellation.

By starting with the assumption that the individuals named le Fleming were part of a single Norman family - like the Beauchamps or Granvilles - so new patterns emerge in the surviving records and it becomes possible to formulate a compelling genealogy. Drawing on this evidence, F. Lawrence Fleming has reasoned that Walter le Fleming, the progenitor of the Southampton town Flemings, was a great- or great-great-grandson of Erkenbald Flandrensis, who had previously been cited as the progenitor of some of the other prominent Fleming families such as the Earls of Wigton in Scotland and the Barons Slane in Ireland. In his new paper, 'The Ancestry of Walter le Fleming, Burgess of Southampton', F. Lawrence Fleming shows how Walter le Fleming might fit into this lineage.

If the Fleming family of Southampton was indeed part of this one extended family - and the Fleming surname was not so regularly adopted by Flemish immigrants - then it does seem likely that the Flemings of Newport/Stoneham were a branch of the Southampton family.

John Duthy, Sketches of Hampshire (Winchester, Jacob and Johnson, 1839).
F. Lawrence Fleming, The ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and other essays relating to the family history of the Flemings (Rotherstorpe: Paragon, 2011).
B. B. Woodward, T. C. Wilks, C. Lockhart, A general history of Hampshire (London: Virtue, 1861).

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