The French connection

Michael Newbery concludes his quest to trace a link between Pirton’s 19th century Revd. Ralph  Lindsay Loughborough, and Norman baron Ralph de Limesy.


Last month I stopped at the point where I was awaiting a reply from The College of Arms. The answer came quite quickly from Timothy H.S.Duke, Chester Herald. He informed me that my sketch of the coat-of-arms on Pirton Court certainly depicted one of the variants of the Lindsay family armorial bearings impaled with those of his wife. He stated that to bear arms Ralph Lindsay should have descended from an ancestor who was so entitled or have been granted them. For £125 he offered to do a search. In addition, he volunteered the information that a senior member of the house of Lindsay is the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres whose pedigree can be found in Burke’s Peerage (1970)

By exploring Papworth’s 1100 page Ordinary of British Armorials, which is arranged according to shield charges, I discovered under ‘Lions’ an azure lion rampant with two heads, on an argent shield belonging to an Irish family named Mason. This rang a bell with me, but it was some days before I remembered that in his Will, Ralph Lindsay reserved the right of internment in his family grave for his late wife’s sister Miss Mary Mason.

As I did not have £125 to spare, I decided to pursue the route offered by the free information and see where it led. I had previously looked in Burke under Lindsay and although Lord Lindsay is included, I could find nothing relevant in either his pedigree or his arms. I now know that this title is borne by a different branch of the family. Sure enough ,under Crawford I struck oil. At the head of the entry was the Earl’s coat-of-arms, not entirely the same as Ralph Lindsay’s but present was the checky argent and azure on a field gules and present was the family motto ENDURE FORTE. The lineage occupied eleven columns of print!

With a sense of anticipation, I started to read and learned “that the house of Lindsay is found in possession of very large territories in England soon after the Conquest in 1066AD. Different members of the family have been conspicuous, not only for their wealth and power but also for the distinction with which they have occupied offices of great public importance”. The first ancestor appearing in Burke is Sir Walter Lindissi, “noble and knight” early in the twelfth century. He was succeeded by his son William, grandson Walter and great-grandson William, first proprietor of Crawford. I read on and – Bingo! Great, great-grandson Sir David Lindsay was married to who else but Aleanora, great-granddaughter of Ralph de Limesy!

As all the hundreds of people mentioned in the following columns of successors were titled folk, I knew I should not find among them anyone as humble as Ralph Lindsay ESQ, of Durham and Norwood. I also knew that it would probably take me the rest of my life to trace his progenitors. I decided therefore to try a long shot and wrote to the Earl of Crawford at the House of Lords, enclosing a copy of my sketch of the coat-of-arms on Pirton Court and a copy of my History of St. Mary’s. The Earl replied from his seat at Balcarres in Fife, “You write about Ralph de Limesy, about whom I know a bit and Ralph Lindsay, about whom I know nothing”. It turned out, not unexpectedly, that the Earl knew quite a lot about Ralph de Limesy. There followed several pages of handwritten and very interesting information, a family tree of his early ancestors, which he had compiled for me and a comment that he had enjoyed my booklet about the church. His account took me back to an age of chivalry and honour when the great families of Europe wove their complicated alliances in order to maintain or increase their wealth and power. It would occupy a complete Magazine to describe the comings and goings of the medieval house of Lindsay and so I have endeavoured to separate out that which is of most interest to us.

According to the Rt. Hon. Robert Alexander Lindsay 29th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres his forbears originated in Flanders. The first known ancestor was Rolf de Ghent, Count of Alost (situated between Brussels and Gent and now known as Aalst) in the 11th century. The Counts of Alost were descended from the Emperor Charlemagne whose Carolingian empire stretched across most of Europe. Rolf married Gisela, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and together they bore three sons. The second of these was Gilbert de Ghent and the third Ralph de Ghent, born circa 1040AD.

A number of Flemish families became refugees from internal dynastic struggles in Flanders in the early part of the 11th Century and settled in the Seine Valley in Normandy. Among them were the de Montforts and later, in the middle of the century, Gilbert de Ghent and Alice de Montfort were wed, thus uniting two noble Flemish families situated, one in Flanders and one in Normandy. Gilbert’s younger brother Ralph, who became known as Ralph de Limesy was probably given the Limesy estates (northwest of Rouen) belonging to the de Montforts as part of the marriage settlement.

When Duke William of Normandy invaded Britain in 1066 not all his army was Norman. Some of his supporters were from as far afield as Italy and many of his knights, including Gilbert and Ralph de Ghent were of Flemish origin. This was not surprising, firstly because in 1053 William had married Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders and secondly because they included those Flemish nobles that had settled in Normandy. For services rendered during the Conquest of Britain    -Gilbert received 172 manors in various counties of England and his brother, Ralph, received forty including Pirton. Many of those granted to Gilbert were in Lincolnshire which in medieval Latin was known as Lindissi. Gilbert was therefore known as Gilbert de Ghent on the Continent and as Gilbert de Lindissi in Britain. One can see how this soon became Lindsay.

Gilbert de Ghent/Lindsay died in 1095 and was succeeded by his son Walter who, with other Flemish nobles, established himself in Scotland in order to protect his kinswoman Maud granddaughter of Count Lambert of Lens when her husband, David Canmore, became David I of Scotland in 1124. The ruins of the castles they built at Earlston, Edzell, Luffness and Wauchope remain to this day.

Sir Walter de Lindsay died in 1130 and was succeeded by his son William, grandson Walter and great-grandson William who appears as the first proprietor of Crawford. He was succeeded by his son David de Lindsay, circa 1200AD.

Returning to the 11th century, Gilbert’s brother Ralph de Limesy was awarded by William the Conqueror estates in Warwickshire, Somerset, Devon, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire. where he built the Priory of Hertford and endowed it with lands and tithes at Pirton. He died circa 1100 and was succeeded by his son Alan, grandson Gerard and great-granddaughters Basilia, who married Hugh d’Oddingselles and Aleanora who married Sir David de Lindsay. At this point I cried “Eureka”, as the connection between Limesy and Lindsay was proved and I knew for certain why Ralph Lindsay, FSA, had bought the advowson of an obscure village in which to install his nephew, Revd. Ralph Lindsay Loughborough.

According to the Earl the union was a dynastic, arranged marriage to unite the two branches of the family and consolidate their landholdings in Britain. The marriage resulted in a daughter Alice who married Sir Henry de Picquiny. This accounts for part of Pirton being known as Pirton Pinkey for a time. I say part because upon the death of Gerard’s son John de Limesy without issue Pirton, in common with all the other Limesy lands was divided between John’s sisters Basilia d’Oddingselles and Aleanora de Lindsay and the two manors resulting were known by their surnames. In due course, however, on payment of a sub-fee both portions were held by the d’Oddingselles until 1301 when Sir Henry de Picquiny’s grandson granted the reversion of their portion to the Crown. But that’s another story for another time.

One would have to trace the 19th century Ralph Lindsay’s pedigree back to the 11th century to ascertain his connection with the medieval de Lindsays. However, the Earl of Crawford reckons it is a racing certainty that being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities he had researched and found sufficient evidence of such to procure the grant of arms he displayed. No doubt he was the son of a younger son somewhere along the line. Anyway, I am convinced but it seems that the title of this article should really be “The Flemish Connection”.

I wonder what Bill Loughborough in California will say when I tell him that he is probably descended from Emperor Charlemagne the Great !

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