| Puritan Migration to Connecticut
the saga of the Seymour family 1129 / 1746
by Malcolm Seymour
Note: This document comprises pages 13-22 of Puritan Migration to Connecticut, ISBN 0-914016-85-7, Copyright 1982 by Malcolm Seymour, and published by Phoenix Publishing in Canaan, New Hampshire. It is made available here with permission from Malcolm's son, Mike Seymour.
THERE ARE FEW SOURCES today that provide authentic information on the lineage of the Seymour family in Normandy during the centuries before the Norman Conquest, and if they were repeated here, there would be only more clouds on an already misty past. It is sufficient to say that the inhabitants of Normandy were not French, as such, but Northmen (Vikings, Danes, and West Saxon warriors) who moved south down the French peninsulas to raid and conquer lands for an easier living than was obtainable in the northern latitudes. In the seventh century there was a monk named Maur who in due time became canonized because of his works. The Abbey of Saint Maur-sur-Loire, still operating in 1981, owes its origin to that sainted individual. As with any place, village, or community, prominent individual families who lived there would use the place name as their family name. Thus, Goscelin de St. Maur is mentioned in a charter of Foulque Martel, count of Anjou, in the year 10001).
Starting with this Goscelin we are bold enough to depict the supposed family lines beginning with the eleventh century down through the end of the fourteenth. From that point onward we are on solid ground with dates, names, burials, and marriages all confirmed by identifiable records. According to R. St. Maur's book, 1129 was the year that Penhow Castle was first recognized as a dwelling place of the St. Maurs. The first lord of the castle would then have been Roger St. Maur, who was followed by Bartholomew St. Maur, 1170. At this point the line splits into two parts:
William St. Maur, knight, married the third daughter of William Marshall, earl of Pembroke, retained Penhow and came to be identified with that place through his son, Roger St. Maur, who died before 1300. This line continues until Sir Roger, who married Cecilia, daughter of john Beauchamp, baron of Hache in Somerset, moved out of Penhow, leaving it to a daughter who married into the Bowles family. From the Roger St. Maur-Beauchamp line is derived the ducal branch, starting with John Seymour of Wolf Hall, whose great-granddaughter Jane married Henry Tudor, known as Henry VIII.
The other branch of the descendants of Milo St. Maur of 1217 was headed by Geoffrey, who lived about 1240. His great-grandson Thomas St. Maur, born 1308, may have been the Sir Thomas St. Maur who. according to The Victoria County History of the County of Hertfordshire, married Alice Lisle. The significance of this possible connection with Richard Seymour of Norwalk has never, to the author's knowledge, been considered until recently, through a set of circumstances that will be disclosed in the next few pages.
One complication about trying to make a superficial examination of identities from existing printed material is that in the Annals, no wife is shown for the Thomas St, Maur, born in 1308, However. his son Nicholas, who died 1361, left further progeny. and it may be significant that the first female listed happened to be named Alice. Was she named for her great-grandmother, Alice Lisle St. Maur, who was heiress to a large number of estates?
Going back to the original St. Maurs who assisted with the Norman Conquest, in some capacity or another (there is nothing definite about this), we can picture Penhow Castle in southeast Gwent as being the first place where they were to plant their standard, emblazoned with the arms of St. Maur, the WINGS CONJOINED IN LURE, Traces of the wings can be found on the present-day castle on a rock surface near the gatehouse. The seal of Queen Jane also bears the wings, although the space allotted is small, and the wings are extremely long in proportion to other representations of this symbol. (A wax impression made from Queen Jane's seal can be purchased from the British Museum for a few dollars.)
If we can say that a St. Maur was actually involved in the battle of Hastings, then we can picture him as being a very rough-and-tough character, not given to chivalry as depicted by poets and others. A few civilians were dallying at Pevensey when William landed and were run through, although they are said to have offered no resistance. Of the seven hundred small Viking-type boats that sailed on a south wind across the Channel on the fateful day of September 28, 1066, many carried the 3,600 cavalry ponies, which were trained to mount a narrow gangplank from the beach to the vessel and to dismount the same way, with riders sitting in the saddle.
Once ashore, William ordered that a prefabricated wood fortress tower be constructed, the forerunner of a keep, or stronghold. William is said to have fought many campaigns in Wales between 1080 and the end of the century, and undoubtedly this is when the first St. Maurs could have had their taste of ravaging the Welsh countryside. The Norman motte, constructed of earth thrown up from a deep circular trench, would first be capped by a wood “castle,” a two- or three-storied rectangular block on end, with quarters for retiring in times of danger, when the outer bailey, also palisaded, would be breached. Wood was replaced by stone for the more permanent structure.
“Castles built by the Normans in Normandy were defensive, but in England and Wales, were for offensive purposes,” says A. E. J. Morris in his article, “Norman Castles,” in British Heritage2). This description fits the experience of Penhow as deduced by Mr. Stephen Weeks, present (1980) owner, when he says: “Penhow was never a great battely castle.”3)
The first St. Maur families were devout and must have fought their way into the good graces of William I and his successors to have gained of William I and his successors to have gained knighthoods, and been given the responsibility for carving out their domains in southwest Wales, as part of the border guard or the Marcher Lordships.
A particularly aggressive member of the St. Maur family was the William, who in 1240 married the third daughter of William Marshall, earl of Pembroke. He might have acquired this heiress' hand by doing small battle with a Welsh leader, Morgan ap Howell, lord of Caerleon. Gilbert Marshall, also earl of Pembroke (of the second creation), “conspired with William St. Maur to wrest the Manor of Woundy [Undy], from Morgan ap Howell.”4)
The aggressive policy of permitting knights to gain land at the expense of the Welsh was committed to paper by an agreement that survives today and is presented in translation later in this chapter. By this scheme, which undoubtedly the offended party considered utterly corrupt, William St. Maur agreed to divide the spoils of lands, taken from Morgan ap Howell, with his superior, the earl. Having a safe keep tower to retreat to, and with the backing of the governor in charge, the St. Maur rough-and-ready fighting spirit came to the fore once again.
So the brave (and competent) deserved the fair, or so we can observe. This talent for self-advancement seems to have run through the St. Maur family where the majority of the Penhow lineage married well, fought alongside the winning combatants, and established a place in English history, culminating with service to the Tudor dynasty from Henry VII to Elizabeth.
Penhow Castle-The First Seymour Dwelling
IT HAS ALREADY BEEN stated that the William St. Maur line, alternating between William and Roger St. Maur, was founded in Penhow, Gwent, Wales. A. Audrey Locker mentions Penhow briefly in pages two and three of The Seymour Family. George Dudley Seymour, in his book with the same title, spends most of the early pages describing how Richard the Colonist was not descended from the ducal line of William St. Maur, etc., through John of Wolf Hall, the great- grandfather of Jane, the sister of the first Duke of Somerset. However, in his denials of ducal descent, and his wonderful revelation about the Ruscoe-Seymour connection, he keeps pointing, with great nostalgia and promise, at Penhow Castle, because it was there that the first arms of the St. Maurs was devised, the golden WINGS CONJOINED IN LURE. If it were not for the fact that Richard Seamer 's son Thomas, both of Norwalk, sealed his will with this symbol of the St. Maurs, nobody would have any real reason for getting excited about the Richard Seymour line stemming from the same Norman family tree.
He did use the seal, however, and nobody to date has been able to prove that he did it without any right, or with any right, for that matter. The fact that many descendants later used more elaborate winged seals is beside the point. Did they have any family secret passed from father to son which is lost to us today?
George Dudley Seymour was drawn to Penhow by the strength of the wings, as if it were an invisible magnet exerting its pull on its offspring.
Forget Berry Pomeroy, the ducal manor, and consider Penhow. Where is Penhow? Look at southeast Wales, near the English border, close to the Severn Estuary. By automobile take the M4 Motorway across the Severn bridge and head west about twelve miles on route A48. As you approach from any direction, the compact stone mass dominates the roadside, perched on top of a small hill, with a working farm surrounding it on all sides. Drive up through the farmyard on a public way and park your vehicle in a small area in front of the new iron gates across from the church. Stephen Weeks, an artist, writer, and motion-picture director, bought Penhow for a song. The wrecked oldest part was restored lovingly with the help of grants in funds and labor by the Welsh government together with donations from American Seymours, not to mention Weeks's own fortune and personal labor and that of his parents.
The castle had been the dwelling of a farm couple, but the oldest parts-the keep tower, the upper hall, and the hall below it-were completely disused, being storage for hay and fodder.
In 1979 Mr. Weeks presented the Seymour family with a festival commemorating the
850th anniversary of the building of the first Seymour home in Britain. This
unforgettable experience, captured by BBC radio and television, may never be
duplicated in the near future, but the emotional experiences of the fortunate
few who were there will live forever in their minds. The official opening at
noon on May 19, 1979, was made by His Grace the Duke of Somerset, present with
Her Grace the Duchess. The Marquess of Hertford also attended, accompanied by
the Earl of Yarmouth. The forty-one American Seymours in attendance represented
only a fifth of those who had helped reconstruct the oldest parts of Penhow.
Penhow now remains a true Seymour museum and a family shrine. [
Open Good Friday
to end of September, Wednesdays to Sundays inclusive, 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.
Telephone: Penhow (0633) 400800. – Editor's Note: When I visited
in the summer of 2003, Penhow castle was a private residence and no longer open
It does not take too much imagination walking up the circular stairway, from the lower hall to the beautifully reconstructed upper hall, to imagine the festivities that took place there, the judgments meted out by the lord of the manor, and the sadness, as well. Enter the small masonry tunnel, leading into the earliest part of the castle, the keep tower. Before the addition of the hall block, the St. Maurs would reach the first floor of the keep tower through a small opening, about twelve feet above the ground level, using a ladder that could be pulled up at night and in times of trouble. Access from this room to the floor above was by means of a staircase built into the rock wall. Here the St. Maurs would have slept, hopefully keeping warm in great bearskin coverings, with a meager fire in the hearth for minimum comfort. Above the sleeping chamber are the ramparts where crenelated walls look down on approaches. A sentinel's seat faces the east and south, the weakest side of the castle. Far away, the vista of the hills that slope and fall away have not changed in these 850 years. Pigeons still beat a hasty retreat at the sight of the falcon, as reenacted during the Seymour Festival of 1979.
The author read about Penhow and the famous arms of the golden wings and, as part of a pilgrimage, at last came on the historic ruin. After that first visit, followed by revisitations each year thereafter, Penhow is considered as a great Seymour monument to the past.
How this came about can only be told by considering the WINGS CONJOINED IN LURE, and the first use in America of the arms of Penhow by Thomas Seymour, eldest son of Richard the Colonist in his will of 1712.
No genealogist has carried the ancestry of Richard Seamer of Norwalk (1604-55) beyond his grandfather, John Seymour of Sawbridgeworth, who died when his grandson was one year old. We have no knowledge of when or where this John was born, although thousands of dollars have been spent to trace his ancestry back one generation. In 1976, at the suggestion of the Marquess of Hertford, the author engaged the services of Mr. P. Llewelyn Gwynn-jones, M.A., the College of Arms in London, and Bluemantle Pursuivant, who was given the task of carrying the work of countless other genealogists one step further. Two years of research passed without any contribution of knowledge concerning Richard's family. Then, in Mr. Gwynn-jones's letter of August 25, 1978, he revealed, for the first time, that a search of Manorial Court Rolls had disclosed that John Seymer was admitted tenant of Pishiobury Manor on Monday, 2 June 14 Elizabeth (1572). This manor dominated the southern section of Sawbridgeworth, and the author immediately sought more information about the history of the manor.
Through the good offices of the Reverend Rupert Child, vicar of Great Saint Mary's Church in Sawbridgeworth, and Mr. K. E. Wilson, of 26 Bell Street of the same town, a photocopy was sent the author of material published in The Victoria County History of the County of Hertfordshire, showing the amazing coincidence that in 1339 Pishiobury Manor was owned in part by Alice Lisle St. Maur, the wife of Sir Thomas St. Maur. The policy established by Bluemantle Pursuivant, to look close at hand for ancestors, apparently paid off.
What is it that makes one believe that Sir Thomas St. Maur, baptized in 1308, might be the Sir Thomas St. Maur mentioned as being the husband of Alice Lisle St. Maur? First, in the genealogical chart given in the Annals of the Seymour Family by R. St. Maur, there is only one
Thomas St. Maur of Seymour listed from 1009 to 1549, with the exception of Sir Thomas, created Lord Seymour of Sudley, who was beheaded in 1549. The dates are correct for the Thomas St. Maur of 1308 to have married Alice Lisle, who inherited, with her sister Elizabeth and her brother Robert, Pishiobury Manor in 1339. Sir Thomas would have been thirty-one years of age at the time. Not much was known to R. St. Maur when he wrote his annals about this gentleman, as the following discloses:
His [Nicholas St. Maur's] first wife had been Eve de Meysi, who had brought him considerable property, but had not lived long. His second wife was Helen, the eldest of three daughters and co-heirs of Alan la Zouch [sic] of Ashby, in Leicester. By his second marriage, he gained considerable importance as well as more property. He died in 1317, leaving a son, Thomas. His wife, Helen, survived, and married Alan de Chereleton.
Thomas de St. Maur was only nine years of age at the time of his father's death. He became a ward at the disposal of the Sovereign, Edward II, who almost immediately granted letters patent to High le Despencer, the elder, giving him wardship of the Manors of Hampton-Maysi, in Gloucester, and Eton-Maysi, in Wilts, which the late Nicholas had held, as part payment of certain debts which were owed him by the king. This wardship was to be held during the minority of Thomas, who does not, however, appear to have lived many years after the coming of age. Little further can be found about him, except that he founded the Priory of Dulton, in Wilts, annexing it, as a cell, to the Priory of Semplingham, in Lincoln.5)
As a further reinforcement, the first female descendant of this Thomas St. Maur was a lady named Alice, and she apparently married back into the le Zouch family, when she wed Sir William le Zouche (sic).
Pishiobury Manor in the Fourteenth Century (Braughing Hundred)6)
Robert Lisle was summoned to Parliament as Lord Lisle from 1311. Shortly before his death in January 1342-43 he took religious orders, having previously in 1339 granted Pishiobury with other manors to his daughters ALICE, WIFE OF SIR THOMAS SEYMOUR, and Elizabeth Perverel for life, with the remainder to his son John who quitclaimed to his sisters. This grant was apparently made by Robert for the performance of certain alms. In 1343, however, John obtained from Alice and Elizabeth a release of the manor for thirty years, with the exception of certain premises-viz. the house on the left-hand side within the second gate, which contained two chambers for habitation, and the part of Gedelesho, which belonged to the Manor, John retaining 12 acres of underwood yearly with profits from the land called V odeleye and housbote and heybote for the manor, the keeper of Gedelsho Wood to be chosen with the assent of both parties and to have his robe from A lice and his livery of corn, &c., from John. John Lord Lisle died seized of the lease in 1356. After his death, Alice Seymour surrendered Pishiobury to his son Robert, who was to assist her in the foundation of charities begun by Sir John for the soul of his father. . . . A William Lisle granted Pishiobury in March 1392-3 to RichardfirstLord Scrope of Bolton, this transaction being followed by a quitclaim from Robert Lisle in 1394.7)
When Alice Lisle St. Maur surrendered Pishiobury Manor to the son of her brother, it was probably because of impending old age. Does this mean that there were no St. Maur heirs to inherit Alice' interest in Pishiobury?8) So little has been published about Alice that we are left in the dark on this tantalizing subject. After all, the property was essentially Lisle property, and yet, why was there an exception made, namely-“the house on the left-hand side within the second gate, which contained two chambers for habitation”-when Alice and Elizabeth gave a quitclaim to their brother. The author searched in vain in 1978 for any such phantom dwelling.
It seems inconceivable that knowledge can exist, slip away, and be lost for years, only to be rediscovered, especially when one is talking about a family pedigree covering three centuries. It has been the author's observation that less than one American Seymour in five has any knowledge of his Seymour background more than six or seven generations back, unless he or she happens to have been a descendant of Richard of Norwalk, about whom so much has been researched and written.
Of course, Richard and Mercy knew that they were born in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, and this knowledge must have been passed along for several generations. Then, the writer believes, ambitious Seymours, flattering their egos, wistfully contrived to arrange descent from the ducal branch, as a result of which several generations of Seymours in America were brought up in blissful ignorance and self-satisfied congratulatory one-upmanship.
How all this came about is explained in the next chapter, wherein a fluke of research unraveled the mystery of the true origin of Richard Seamer of Norwalk, and at the same time dashed the images of ducal splendor from the egos of hundreds of Seymours living in the twentieth century. (As a matter of fact, even as this is written, many will probably dispute the facts presented herein.)