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From Records to Revels: The Fleming family

The Ancestry of Walter le Fleming, Burgess of Southampton

F. Lawrence Fleming

In 1943, Professor David C. Douglas published a paper entitled 'Companions of the Conqueror' in the journal History.[1] The purpose of his paper was to add eight new names to the otherwise well-established list of nineteen knights who reliable medieval sources show were present at the battle of Hastings. Three of these names Professor Douglas extracted from various charters in the cartulary of the abbey of Holy Trinity in Rouen, Normandy.[2] Two are of little interest to the genealogist because the charters clearly state that both of these men, Roger, son of Turold, and Gerelm of Panilleuse, died before they had the opportunity of establishing themselves as landholders in England after the Conquest. The third name, however, is very interesting. The charter relevant to this name (no. XLVII) can be reliably dated to the year 1067.[3] An English translation of the charter is as follows:

'Notification that the moiety of Holy Trinity Chapel with the land belonging to it has been wholly redeemed by payment of six pounds to Erchenbald, son of Erchenbald [Erchenbaldo filio Erchenbaldi vicecomitis], setting forth overseas, and of twelve to Hugh the Butler of Ivry, to whom Erchenbald had mortgaged it. Attested by King William, Queen Matilda, William fitz Osbern, Emma, mother of William, Ansfred, son of Athle, Bernard the Forester, Richard the Steward, Bernard, and Turstin, son of Wigrin.'

For the genealogist, the questions that first come to mind after reading the above charter are whether or not this Erchenbald, son of Erchenbald, established himself as landholder in England and, if he did, whether or not he had any sons. Upon skimming through the entire cartulary, one discovers that Erchenbald had attested several earlier charters of the abbey of Holy Trinity, and it is apparent from the text of these charters that he was liegeman and probably first cousin to Osbern the Steward, nephew of Countess Gunnora, wife of Richard I of Normandy. It is well known to historians that the sons of Osbern the Steward established themselves in England. Osbern fitz Osbern had been chaplain in the court of King Edward of England prior to the Conquest, and following the Conquest he became bishop of Exeter. William fitz Osbern, steward of William I, was created 1st Earl of Hereford about the same time William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. Moreover, Hugh of Ivry, to whom Erchenbald had mortgaged his property, was a landholder in England at the time of the Domesday Survey. But what became of the man who was setting forth overseas in 1067?

The most obvious place to look for him is in Domesday Book 1086. The digital edition from the National Archives (UK) is searchable both by personal name and by place-name. Using Erchenbald as a search word, it becomes immediately apparent that a certain Erchenbald was mesne-tenant in 1086 of a number of manors in Devonshire and Cornwall. Is this the same man who in 1067 was paid six pounds for his property in Normandy? Looking closer at the entries in Domesday Book for Devonshire and Cornwall, we find that the manor of Bratton Fleming, one of the Devonshire fees of Erchenbald, had common pasturage with two manors that were held by Osbern fitz Osbern; manors which Osbern received of Count Robert of Mortain in exchange for a castle in Launceston in Cornwall. A later charter from the cartulary of Merton Priory shows Erchenbald ('Archembaldus Flandrensis') to have been mesne-tenant in Launceston, a manor which Osbern fitz Osbern already held of King Edward before 1066. I think we may safely say that Erchenbald of Devonshire and Cornwall was the same person as Erchenbald of Rouen. But did Erchenbald have a family? And does he have any present-day descendants?

In the pipe roll of 1130, there are several entries which concern Flandrenses (Flemings). Erchenbald is named in the circuit summary for the five southwestern counties in the Domesday survey as 'Erchenbaldus Flandrensis'. His sons (if he had any) would probably have been known by the same epithet in 1130. We know, however, from the witness list of the charter of Merton Abbey mentioned above that Erchenbald did indeed have a son: 'Stephanus filius Archembaldi'. This son is named in the piperoll of 1130 as 'Stephanus filius Erchembaldi'. Later charters name him 'Stephanus Flandrensis' (Stephen the Fleming) and also give the names of two of his sons: Erchenbald, his heir, and Robert. The second Erchenbald succeeded to his father's fees in Devonshire and Cornwall and was in 1171 granted large estates in Ireland by Henry II. Erchenbald II and his immediate descendants adopted the Anglo-Norman surname le Flemeng (also spelled Flameng, sometimes Flamang), which in the fourteenth century lost the definite article and became Flemyng, Flemynge or Fleming. It is therefore not unlikely that Erchenbald, son of Erchenbald, has numerous present-day descendants who still go by the name of Fleming. But did Erchenbald I have any sons other than Stephen?

In the pipe roll of 1130, 'Willelmus Flandrensis' was recorded in Northamptonshire as accountant for the widow of Richard of St. Medard. He was also witness to the charter of Rannulf le Meschin that is contained in the register of St. Werburgh Abbey. Robert of Torigni (d. 1186), the Norman chronicler, claimed that William Flandrensis was killed by an arrow during the siege of Arques (Normandy) in 1145. Could this William Flandrensis have been a younger son of Erchenbald I? It seems logical to assume that if William had immediate descendants who also adopted the surname le Flemeng that would indicate that he, like Stephen Flandrensis, had been a son of Erchenbald I.

There can be little doubt that 'Willelmus Flameng', who is recorded in the pipe roll of 1160 for Sussex, was a son of William Flandrensis. He rendered an account for ten marks. He appears again in the pipe roll of 1162 for Northamptonshire (as 'Willelmus Flandrensis'), in which he was fined 3s 4d, but was excused from payment by writ of the king. According to the Red Book of the Exchequer, he held his tenaments by serjeanty, that is, by discharge of certain duties in the royal household.[4] What these duties were is made clear by an act of Henry II, dated to 1180, in which William Flameng is designated as chamberlain to Queen Eleanor: 'Willelmi Flandrensis camerarii regine'.[5]

Besides William Flameng, however, there were probably two other sons of William I Flandrensis, both recorded in Cumbria: 'Reinerus Flandrensis', who was the steward of William le Meschine, brother of Rannulf (see above) and lord of Copeland and Egremont Castle; and 'Michaelis Flandrensis', also recorded as 'Michaelis Flameng'. All the descendants of these two (conjectural) brothers went by the Anglo-Norman surname le Flemeng. Reiner had two sons: William, steward of Egremont Castle in Cumbria; Walter, chamberlain of the same castle, and probably a third son: Jordan, sheriff of Copeland and Egremont Castle. According to my research, 'Jordanus Flandrensis', also known as 'Jordanus le Flamang', went to Scotland in about 1147. (It can be of interest here to mention that Jordan had a son named Michael, who was sheriff of Edinburgh.) Michael, the conjectural brother of Reiner, had two sons, William and Michael. (The sons of Michael II were Anselm, Jordan, Marcillius, and Daniel, and the sons of William III were William and Michael.)

William Flameng would appear to have been the youngest son of William I Flandrensis. Did William Flameng himself have any sons? Alard Flandrensis, a military commander under Richard I and King John, was recorded in a charter of Belvoir Priory (Leicestershire) as 'Alardus le Flamang filius Willelmi'. Alard was very probably a son of William Flameng, son of William I Flandrensis. I would like to suggest, however, that William Flameng also had direct descendants in Hampshire.

Between the years 1175 and 1181, William Flameng was recorded every year in the Hampshire pipe rolls as 'Willelmus Flandrensis'. He was fined five marks each of these years for offences (probably) committed during the conflict between Henry II and his sons. (The so-called "Great Revolt" lasted from April 1173 until July 1174. Eleanor of Aquitaine sided with her sons in the conflict and was subsequently imprisoned for the next sixteen years. William Flameng would likely have remained the queen's chamberlain even during this period.) During the years 1178 and 1179 he is listed as being absent from the county of Hampshire. After 1181 we find no further record of him. The next Flandrensis to appear in Hampshire records is Walter Flandrensis, who in 1217 was appointed collector of royal prisage in the port of Southampton. This same Walter Flandrensis, also known as Walter le Flameng, was bailiff of Southampton in 1237. Another Flandrensis, Michael, had been bailiff in 1222, and in 1224, a certain James le Flemeng was granted a license for shipping wool. It would appear likely that these three men were related. That they actually were related is shown by a charter of the hospice of God's House, Southampton, in which Walter, Michael, and James are signatories in the following order: 'Michel le Flamang', 'Waltero le Flemang', and 'Jacobo frater suo'.[6]

Walter and James were obviously brothers, while Michael, we may assume, was their father. 1222 is the last year Michael is mentioned in the records of Southampton. Walter, on the other hand, lived until 1258. Because of his personal name, which was very unusual in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries - outside of the Fleming family, that is - it is very likely that Michael le Flamang/Flandrensis was the son of William Flameng; the brother of Alard le Flamang, and the father of Walter and James le Flameng. (It is important to realise that, while the correct spelling of the surname in Anglo-Norman was le Flemeng, an English scribe writing from oral instructions might spell the name differently. The spellings Flemeng and Flemang, however, would have been pronounced in exactly the same manner.)

Walter le Fleming was a successful and very wealthy merchant shipowner in thirteenth-century Southampton. The various rolls from the reign of Henry III literally abound in entries that concern him. Subsequent records clearly show that the descendants of the brothers Walter and James le Fleming flourished in Southampton and on the Isle of Wight throughout the Middle Ages. Granted, there are quite a few blank spaces in the later genealogy of the Flemings of Hampshire, but if one is willing to accept the premise that all the le Flemings of the Middle Ages belonged to one extended family, these blank spaces become much less of a disappointment to the conscientious family historian.

Copyright F. Lawrence Fleming 2012

[1] David C. Douglas, 'Companions of the Conqueror', History 28 (1943), 129-147.
[2] M. Guerard, Cartulaire de l'Abbaye de Saint-Bertin (Paris, 1840), pp. 405-469.
[3] Ibid., p. 446.
[4] Red Book of the Exchequer, pp. 24, 458, 696.
[5] Recueil des actes de Henri II, volume 2 (Paris, 1920), p. 203.
[6] The Cartulary of God's House, Southampton, volume 1, Southampton Record Series 19 (Southampton, 1976), p. 157.