William d'Aubigny 'Pincerna' and 'Brito' - individual identities from historic records

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William d'Aubigny 'Pincerna' and 'Brito':

Individual identities from historic records

The latest of three articles in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise on the ancestors of Warden of the Isles Philippe d'Aubigné was published in the 2010 edition. It is a rebuttal of the article published the previous year by Rosemary Hampton

It is reproduced here in full, with sections of text highlighted in red to correspond with comments by Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson at the end.


For many years it was thought that William d'Aubigny Brito was a direct ancestor of Philippe d'Aubigny, the first Warden of the Channel Islands. There is now evidence that Philippe was actually a descendant of a brother of William, probably named Geoffrey. Historic records also mention a William d'Aubigny pincerna[, and, as more instances of the name WIlliam d'Aubigny, (c1110-1140) have emerged from archives, historians have been challenged to piece together their identities. Unfortunately inconclusive and contradictory interpretations have been reproduced in various secondary sources, so have been perpetrated. Some were based on limited records, and many illuminating primary references were overlooked. Key references in this respect are those that differentiate between various William d'Aubignys. Only one William d'Aubigny identified some of the problems, but interpreting these, and others, leads to a different conclusion here.

The name William d'Aubigny is documented in primary sources with the cognomens pincerna (cup bearer), possessing the role of chief butler to Henry I (1100-1135) and brito (understood to mean that he was a Breton, from Brittany), William d'Aubigny pincerna has been identified as the founder of Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk, in 1107, having held many estates in East Anglia after 1092. William d'Aubigny brito held many estates in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire before 1110 and later became successor to Robert de Todeni, Lord of Belvoir in Leicestershire. He married Cecily Bigod, who was a granddaughter of RObert. She inherited Belvoir on the death of her mother, Adelais (de Todeni) in about 1130. These facts alone do not establish whether they were different people.

Evidence from archives

The date of death of William d'Aubigny pincerna is recorded as 1 November 1139. He is alleged to have been buried in Wymondham Priory, where his wife, Maud (Matilda) Bigod was also buried, having died in childbirth around 1120. In contrast, charters up until 1146 by King Stephen suggest that William d'Aubigny brito lived beyond 1139, and probably died between 1148 and 1155. He is understood to have been buried in the CHapter House of Belvoir Priory, thus suggesting that he was a different individual from William d'Aubigny pincerna.

As a member of the court of Henry I, William d'Aubigny pincerna witnessed in England and France over a hundred royal charters, and witnessed more before his death in King Stephen's reign. William d'Aubigny brito also witnessed many charters and was a benefactor to various Priories. It should be noted that the Archdeacon of Ely from about 1110 was named William brito. He is a more likely candidate for instances of that name, rather than William d'Aubigny brito. There is some evidence that both WIlliam d'Aubigny pincerna and William d'Aubigny brito were occasionally witnesses to the same charter. This would unequivocally identify them as two distinct individuals.

William d'Aubigny pincerna is known to have had an elder brother Rualoc, a younger brother named Nigel, who died in 1129, and two others with unknown names inferred from nephews of Nigel, named Humphrey and Samson (d'Aubigny). Their parents have been established as Roger d'Aubigny (of Saint Martin d'Aubigny, Manche, Normandy) and his wife Amicia. The pedigree of Amicia has not been established, but speculation that she was Avice de Clare, who is known to have married Ralph (Raoul) de Fougères, must be questioned. It has also been speculated that she was Amicia, a sister of Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, and Roger de Montbrai. It appears that there are no records that mention the above relatives of WIlliam d'Aubigny pincerna in association with the name WIlliam d'Aubigny brito.

No siblings have been directly recorded for William d'Aubigny brito, but nephews named Elie (Helias) d'Aubigny, Olivero (d'Aubigny), Osmundo 'de Chauenni', Iwen d'Aubigny (or de Chauenni) and Gauffridus de Chauenni, can be identified as all being brothers from Belvoir charters. One benefaction to Thorney Monastery hints that a father may have been named Geoffrey (d'Aubigny), so he would have been a brother of William d'Aubigny brito.

Another charter could imply thha may have died when his sons were young, if the son named Geoffrey was raised by Cecilia, his aunt. However, it seems more likely that this record, and another similar one, refers to the younger Geoffrey's wife, who appears to have also been named Cecilia.

William d'Aubigny pincerna married Maud (Matilda) Bigod, and at least three sons, WIlliam, Nigel and Oliver, and a daughter Olivia, have been identified. The eldest son WIlliam became Earl of Arundel in 1138-39. There appears to be no mention of these individuals linked to William d'Aubigny brito, neither wife, Maud nor their children.

Te children of William d'Aubigny brito by his wife Cecilia (Bigod) included William, Robert, Roger, Matilda and Basilia, and a further son, Ralph. Cognomens (secundus, tertius, quartus) of successive generations of sons named William is evidenced in some records to distinguish three generations following William d'Aubigny brito (primus). There is no known evidence to suggest that William d'Aubigny brito (secundus) was a second son of William d'Aubigny [pincerna by a second marriage.

Some of the Belvoir charters mention deceased wives of the benefactors, and in one case two wives are mentioned. If William d'Aubigny brito was previously married to Maud Bigod, who is said to have been grievously mourned by her husband, one might expect her to be included in one of the many benefactions that he offered. No instance of this has been found for William d'Aubigny brito.

The parents of William d'Aubigny brito are suggested by records of Thorney ABbey, and current historical interpretation gives them as 'Main', Seigneur de Saint-Aubin-d'Aubigné, Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany, and Adelais de Bohun. There seems to be no evidence so far to challenge these deductions, which have been proposed since 2000, for the pedigree of William d'Aubigny brito.


It is hoped that further research may bring clarity to remaining possible ambiguities, but the weight of evidence seems to indicate without exception that William d'Aubigny pincerna and William d'Aubigny brito were two distinct individuals. They happened to have lived so close in time, and had sufficient prominence, to become brothers-in-law to one another by marrying two sisters of a noble family. There are no identified contradictions to this conclusion, whereas the hypothesis that all contemporary archives represent a single individual raises a number of problems.

Comments by Mike Bisson

  • There is now evidence that Philippe was actually a descendant of a brother of William, probably named Geoffrey.

This assertion is taken from the introduction of Rosemary Hampton's article and is not supported by any other references.

  • There are no identified contradictions to this conclusion, whereas the hypothesis that all contemporary archives represent a single individual raises a number of problems.

It seems to me that this is the key to preferring Courtier's theory rather than Hampton's. Hampton, herself, identifies some of the problems inherent in her theory and fails to deal with them satisfactorily. She failed even to mention various other problems which have been raised by Courtier's article.

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