Chapter One: Ancestor Hunting

The Rozels of Bedford
The Spencers and the Despencers


That there were Bloggs in Sinnerston even before the Conqueror is incontestable, for the parish register, sadly destroyed in Cromwell's time, is said to have recorded the marriage of Sir Edmund Blogges of Bloogersby to a niece of the Confessor. From Sir Edmund in a direct line descended John Bloggs, whose gravestone gives the date of his death as 31st March 1840. His son, also John, left a large family of whom . . . . . . .

And thus began many of the family histories composed during the 18th and 19th Centuries and included in the directories of Peerage, Landed Gentry and Colonial Gentry published by, among others, Sir (John) Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms at the College of Arms in London. Thus a few strokes of the pen could bridge several centuries. In Tudor times the scandalous reputation of the College had been widespread, and Elizabeth had remarked of one that if he were no better than his predecessor it would be better if he were hanged, but Victoria's heralds had not reached that level of infamy. Nevertheless, it was the complaisant attitude of such heralds as Burke that gave these myths their credibility, and towards the end of the 19th Century an ad hoc group of historians attacked their intellectual dishonesty.

Among these critics, John Horace Round, whose learning, logic and acidity were exceeded only by his lack of charity, was the man to be feared most. Here, exposing the egregious frauds unscrupulous heralds committed centuries ago in the family histories of the Russell Dukes of Bedford and the Earls Spencer, he is in full cry. (The first is an interesting case because, whereas it is common for claims to be made to ancient coats of arms, such arms are usually genuine; this time the ancient arms are fictitious. It should be noted also that neither the Russells nor the Spencers knew the fee-hungry heralds were cheating them.)

The Rozels of Bedford

The ambition of the researchers in the Russell genealogy was to link Henry Russell, Member of Parliament for Weymouth in 1425, great-grandfather of John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, with the descendants of Hugh de Rosel, who was alive in 1064. Their story starts with:

On the invasion of England by William the Norman, in 1066, Hugh de Russell, or Rossel (who took that name from his estate in Normandy), was one of his attendant barons. . . . . . . The portion of this baron was in Dorsetshire, from whence he and his successors assumed the title of Russells of Barwick. His two immediate successors were of the same name. To them succeeded Odo, whose son and heir, Sir John Russell, married the daughter of Lord Bardolph.

Round wrote:

To me the interesting thing is to discover how the pedigree was concocted down to Sir John Russell; for it serves to illustrate the methods of a herald at that date. Such pedigrees were by no means the fruit of mere invention. Unfortunately, as was sometimes the case with a well-known genealogist of our own time, even if the evidences themselves were true, the pedigree based on them was not. In the case of the Russells, York Herald first provided John with a father, by identifying him with a John who was the son of the Odo Russell who occurs on the Patent Roll of 14 John. Then, deeming it a point of honour to carry back his patrons to the Conquest, he gave them for a patriarch Hugh de Rosel, whom he found as a witness in a charter of the Abbaye des Dames, at Caen, about the time of the Conquest. To bridge the gap between him and Odo, he had only a rather suspicious charter to Cannington Priory, Somerset, which gave him a "Robert de Russell" temp. Stephen, apparently. This Robert, however, he made father to Odo (by a second wife - Editor); and then he replicated the family patriarch, Hugh, so as to "let him down" till be should reach Robert. And that is how the trick was done.

When he referred to the replication of the family patriarch, Round meant the practice, common among the mendacious heralds, of just repeating a name for every thirty years of a difficult period, down to the ancestor whose existence could actually be proved. In this case it was "Hugh, who was son of Hugh, who was son of Hugh" and it had the virtue of a credible simplicity. "Hugh de Rosel" blossomed out into "Hugh Bertrand, lord of Le Rozel." He, from "love of adventure" only (for he was "neither greedy nor necessitous") "sailed with his prince and fellow-barons to Pevensey, and pitched his tent (!) upon the celebrated field of Hastings." It is "a little singular" the author of the tale admitted, that this powerful baron cannot be found anywhere in Domesday Book, but some heraldic evidence was invented to provide alternative support, as the following illustrates:

Hugh du Rozel, in variation of the Bertrand arms, bore argent, the lion rampant gules, uncrowned, with the addition of a chief sable; which arms we find ascribed to him in a descent drawn out by William Le Neve, York Herald, preserved with the other archives of the Russells, Dukes of Bedford.

Raufe, whose authentic arms illustrated here were recorded ca 1270, was a Russell of Kingston Russell, the family from whom descent was claimed. To account for the wholly dissimilar arms of the Bedford Russells, their coat was linked to the Bertrand coat, and Hugh de Rozel was given the family name of Bertrand (long before heraldry as it is understood today was in use). Hugh (Bertrand) du Rozel then had his family coat changed (the technical term is differenced) by the addition of a chief, an alteration to the colours and the loss of the lion's crown. Then when his fictitious son "Hugh II de Rosel" was given three escallop shells to mark his pretended participation in the First Crusade, the 16th Century arms of the Bedford Russells, still correctly in use today, could be "traced" to the beginning of the 12th Century.

The Spencers and the Despencers

In 1504, John Spencer, an innovative and entrepreneurial yeoman, considered himself sufficiently successful to justify petitioning for a grant of arms. He was awarded Azure a fess Ermine between 6 sea-mews' heads erased Argent and could thenceforward be accounted a gentleman. He was subsequently knighted by Henry VIII.

The earlier baronial Despencers who had held the earldoms of Winchester and Gloucester, to whom he was not related and from whom he had not claimed descent, had borne Quarterly Argent and Gules, in the 2nd and 3rd quarters a fret Or, over all a bend Sable. As he made no claim to bear a version of these it is reasonable to assume that there was no legend in the family of such a noble descent, and as the arms granted bore no resemblance at all to the Despencer arms it may be assumed that the heralds saw no connection there.

Earls of Winchester
granted 1504
adopted after 1595
The arms granted in 1504 were used by the Spencers at least as late as 1576, and probably remained so in use until 1595, the year Richard Lee, Clarenceux King of Arms, visited the Spencer seat at Althorp and "discovered" the family's descent as cadets of the great mediaeval Despencers. The consequences of this visit by Lee included a monument to the memory of his host's father being erected with the ancient Despencer arms displayed instead of the Spencer arms, and an earlier monument to the 1504 grantee, the first Sir John Spencer, having the Spencer arms removed and replaced with the Despencer arms. This effectively rewrote history, for now it could be said:

"The arms of his great grandfather, Henry Spencer, which had been disused for several generations, were resumed by Sir John Spencer, as is evident from their being blazoned on his monument, and that they were not deemed "a late assumption where the want of authority is fatal to the right" needs no other proof than the simple fact of their having been uninterruptedly borne by his noble descendants under the sanction of the College of Arms."

The "resumption" of the "disused" coat modified by the addition of the three escallops on the bend has been continued by the Spencer family, as is known well by all who have seen the arms of Lady Diana, the erstwhile Princess of Wales, or those of Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, the great Prime Minister. In law they are borne legitimately, because they have been authorised by the College of Arms, but their use does not represent the blood of the Despencers. Of the herald's dishonesty Horace Round wrote:

So it was Clarencieux King of Arms who foisted this pedigree on Sir John Spencer in 1595. The family had, by that time, largely increased its wealth, for Sir John's mother was a daughter of the well-known Sir Thomas Kytson, who had acquired a great fortune as a mercer in London. Lee, to whom Queen Elizabeth said that "if he proved no better" than his predecessor Cooke, Clarencieux, "yt made no matter yf hee were hanged," must have felt that it was Sir John's duty to "pay, pay, pay" for a new pedigree and coat. For a hungry King of Arms he was a marked man. Now we can understand how it was that the monument erected in or after 1596 displays the Despencer coat, while those already existing in the interesting Spencer chapel became bedecked, right and left, with the fruits of Lee's discovery. When the heralds next visited the county (1617-8), the new baronial pedigree was entered in all its splendour. The shepherd peer was now of the stock of "ye Earles of Winchester and Glocester." A year later he had soared higher; he was in direct male descent from "Ivon Viscount de Constantine," who had married, even before the Conquest, a sister of the "earl of Brittany."

And now let me once more insist on the modus operandi of Clarencieux Lee, the original rascal and the "onlie begetter" of this precious pedigree. He took from the records Spencers and Despencers wherever he could lay hands on them, fitted them together in one pedigree at his own sweet will, rammed into his composition several distinct families, and then boldly certified the whole as gospel truth.

It is needless, after this exposure, to pursue further. We are, once more, simply dealing with one of those lying concoctions hatched within the walls of the Heralds' College, certified by its Kings of Arms, and still "on record" among its archives. This, be it observed, is no case of a tradition rashly or credulously accepted. Clarencieux compiled the pedigree, as he said he had done, from records; but, with these records before him, he deliberately and fraudulently invented a descent which their evidence proves to be false. He knew, therefore, perfectly well that what he officially certified to be true was a lie of his own invention. Recorded by Vincent at the Visitation of 1617, accepted by Garter Segar, certified by Garter Heard: even in the present century, this impudent concoction is an instance of what we owe to the College of Arms.

The pedigrees with which it is hardest to deal are those in which fact and fiction are cunningly intertwined. Here, for instance, it is perfectly true that John le Despencer married Joan, daughter (and heiress) of Robert le Lou (Lupus), who brought him the manor of Castle-Carlton, Lincolnshire. This we learn from the Lincolnshire Inquest taken after his death, which proves that Joan died without surviving issue, and that John held the manor, by the courtesy of England, until his death. John himself had inherited the manor of Martley, Worcestershire, which had been granted to his father by Henry III. The heralds must have seen the difficulty caused by its not descending to his alleged sons, but being, on the contrary, afterwards found in the hands of the Hugh Despencers. For they "doctored" the pedigree accordingly. But their real crime was providing John with a wholly fictitious second wife, in order to make him the father of men with whom he had nothing to do.

In both cases, Russell and Spencer, a modern family was to be derived from a baronial house; in both, the entries in genuine records were fraudulently connected; and in both, the critical problem was surmounted by the same device, namely, that of providing one of the baronial house with a wholly imaginary second wife, by whom he could be made the ancestor of the artful herald's dupes.

From 1949:-
By Appointment Grocers to H.M. The King

In 1937 the text of the advertisement
published in the peerage directories announced:
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Chapter II ~ Fantasies ~ 1 ~

Mists of Antiquity: Introduction

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