Who were Marguerite d'Aubigne's ancestors?

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By Mike Bisson

Philippe d'Aubigné

The first Warden of the Isles, appointed by King John to oversee the Channel Islands after the loss of his French territories and the islands' split from Normandy in 1204, was Philippe d'Aubigné. There has been considerable debate among specialists in Medieval genealogy as to Philippe's ancestry, and there have been three different articles on the subject in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise in the last 20 years.

The subject is important in Jersey because Philippe delegated much of his responsibilities to his brother Oliver, and Oliver's daughter Marguerite married the most important Jerseyman of the time, Sir Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen, and from them many Jerseymen and women from long-established local familites are descended.

The three Bulletin articles were as follows:

The main arguments put forward by the three writers are dealt with in comments attached to their articles. Here I intend to state the case for largely accepting the most recent of them. Although my views of Marguerite's ancestry differ in minor respects from those put forward in Martin Courtier's article, my research over a number of years led me some time ago to support his basic conclusions and to differ strongly from the views expressed by Rosemary Hampton's earlier article. But all three articles have been reproduced in full, so that the claims of the authors may properly be assessed by Jerripedia users.

Does it matter?

Before proceeding any further, the question of whether this really matters must be raised. Transcribing the three Annual Bulletin articles and writing this article has taken the best part of three days, which perhaps might better have been devoted to other historical articles on the waiting list for inclusion in Jerripedia.

The editors of the Société Bulletins have clearly believed that it matters. Rarely, if ever, have subjects away from the mainstream of Jersey history merited three articles in separate bulletins over a period of 20 years. And I am not aware of any instance of an article of the length of Rosemary Hampton's (16 pages with illustrations) being challenged in a further article in the following year's Bulletin.

I believe that it matters because Jerripedia is all about Jersey history, and specifically Jersey family history, and an ancestry which ties Jersey's principal family over many centuries - the de Carterets - to the barons of post-Norman Conquest England and pre-Conquest Normandy is one of the most important lineages to be followed outside the island. Several such ancestries are tracked in the Fascinating ancestries of island families section of Jerripedia, some equally controversial, some less so. Some family historians tend to concentrate on a broader, more detailed tree, whereas others are fascinated to be able to trace their family links way back in history.

Other genealogists specialise in particular periods in history, and there are many with considerable experience of the period in which the d'Aubignés and d'Aubignys lived. Much has been written about these two families and the men (or was it one man?) who married the Bigod sisters.

Research problems

I shall return to the individuals shortly, but first I want to deal with a key issue relating to researching the family links of individuals who lived nearly 1000 years ago.

It must be understood that research into families in the 11th to the 16th centuries is fundamentally different to the processes which can be used in more recent times. Those who start researching their family history today have access to relatives with knowledge of their immediate ancestors, to public registries of births, marriages and deaths, which in most cases will take them back over the first 100 years with comparative ease. Then census returns can be used, in conjunction with registry records, and transcriptions and indexes of earlier church registers, to get back another 100 years, and more.

Those with access to the relevant records can identify the parents of one generation of ancestors and then go and look them up, stepping backwards a generation at a time. That is a considerable over-simplification of an extremely involved and time-consuming process, but it is what family history research is all about. Around the start of the 17th century (or a few hundred years earlier depending on where one's ancestors lived) comes the big change. There were no church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials before then.

All research before the introduction of these registers relies on finding the names of individuals in a variety of documents - property contracts, wills, records of court cases, official charters, etc - identifying them from a whole variety of factors and then attempting to slot them into the correct position in family trees. This is a process which has taken genealogists centuries and continues to this day. New (or rather very old) documents are being unearthed all the time and studying them provides new evidence. Sometimes a newly discovered record will confirm what has previously been assumed about a family, but sometimes a dark shadow will be cast over what has hitherto been accepted and the process will have to start all over again.

Often it will be all but impossible to separate one branch of a family from another and assumptions will be made which remain to be challenged by other researchers who put a different interpretation on the available evidence. This is exactly what has happened and continues to happen with the d'Aubigné/d'Aubigny family.

Spelling variations

Perhaps I should next explain why I am using two different spellings for the name of this family (or families) when they have been referred to in the three Bulletin articles almost exclusively as d'Aubigny. It is this need to use the two different spellings which, in my mind, is fundamental to an understanding and proper interpretation of the relationships under review.

Surnames were very much in their infancy in the 11th and 12th century. Most people lived in very small communities and went through life known only by the name given to them at birth by their parents. These are variously known as forenames, baptismal names, Christian names, first names etc. At the time they were simply 'names'. But the range of names was very limited and eventually, as communities grew in size, it became necessary to be able to distinguish one Tom from another; Guillaume the miller from Guillaume the farmer.

So the two Toms may have become known as big Tom and little Tom, fair-haired and dark-haired Tom, Tom the son of Tom and Tom the son of Eric, Tom who lives on the hill and Tom who lives in the valley, and so on. Many different descriptions came into use to distinguish between people of the same name, and these descriptions began to pass down from one generation to another. Thus surnames were born. For men of noble birth, who tended to travel further afield than the ordinary man, the means of identification was more often linked to their place of birth or residence, particularly among the Norman barons. So the de Carteret family originated in the town of Carteret, the de Caens came from Caen, and the d'Aubignys came from Aubigny in what is today the Départment of Calvados.

The d'Aubignys

Usually the name of a settlement or village became established first, and people were named after the place rather than the other way around. It had been important to give names to places long before surnames were introduced. Sometimes, however, a place name would be changed to reflect the importance of the family which owned the village and surrounding land. And so it is believed that a branch of the d'Aubigny family settled in the west of Normandy at a village called St Martin, which then became known as St Martin d'Aubigny.

Rosemary Hampton argues in her bulletin article that early in the 11th century the d'Aubignys were banished from Normandy by the Duke and took refuge in Brittany, where they settled and acquired land at a place called St Aubin, close to Rennes and about 100 kilometres from their Normandy estates. Their new settlement became known as St Aubin d'Aubigné. This is certainly a possible scenario. The reason for the different spelling could have been that at this time Brittany and Normandy were effectively separate countries, ruled by Dukes who owed allegiance to the French King, but did more or less what they liked in their own territories. They also spoke different languages. Breton and Norman-French, which are both still spoken today, are fundamentally quite different languages.

Eventually, Rosemary Hampton says, the d'Aubignys were allowed by the Duke to return to Normandy, but retained possession of their land in Brittany. It is fundamental to her argument that in a later generation there was only one William d'Aubigny that the family continued to function as a single unit, holding land in both Duchies. If one accepts her theory that the d'Aubigné family has the same roots as the d'Aubignys - and there is no documentary evidence whatsoever to support this argument - I would still argue that over the next two or three generations family groups in different Duchies, speaking different languages and separated by over 100 kilometres could hardly continue to function as a single family unit. The d'Aubignés would, in my opinion, have evolved as an entirely separate family, inheriting property from each other as the Norman territories were handed down from d'Aubigny to d'Aubigny.

It is also worth noting that while my interpretation of the situation would preclude there having been only 'one William d'Aubigny' at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, Rosemary Hampton's interpretation would still allow for there having been two.

Jersey

We must now move forward to Jersey in the early 13th century, where our story really begins, with the appointment of Philippe d'Aubigné as Warden of the Channel Islands - King John's representative in the only part of the Duchy of Normandy which he retained after being ousted from France by King Philippe Augustus. Historians variously refer to this first Warden of the Isles as d'Aubigné, d'Aubigny and de Albini. Whatever views may be held about his ancestry, I believe that he was undeniably part of the d'Aubigné family of Brittany when he first came to Jersey in 1212 and that the d'Aubigny spelling is incorrect. De Albini, and variations, are simply the Latin version of the name used in official documents at the time.

No distinction was made between d'Aubigné and d'Aubigny when they were 'Latinised' and given that a large proportion of references to the two families which have been unearthed by historians are in documents written in Latin, it can readily be understood how so much confusion has built up about who was related to whom.

Philippe d'Aubigné was to be Warden of the Isles during different periods between his first appointment in Guernsey in 1207 and his death while on a Crusade to Palestine in 1236. Exactly when he held office is not entirely clear because his nephew, also Philippe, was formally appointed as his replacement during some of his many absences. Philippe also relied earlier in his terms of office on his brother, Oliver, to manage affairs in the islands for him when he was still officially in office as warden.

Oliver must have brought his family with him to Jersey because in about 1234 his daughter Marguerite, then aged about 25, married the 30-year-old Sir Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen. This marriage between the leader of the island's most important family and a niece of the Warden must have sealed what is believed already to have been a cordial relationship between the leading islander and the King's representative.

Marguerite's parents

I must here confess that Marguerite's father is much more frequently referred to as Ralph than Oliver, as indeed is the case in Rosemary Hampton's article. Philippe did also have a brother, Ralph, as well as sisters Gunnor and Matilda, but although Oliver's presence in Jersey is documented, there is no evidence that Ralph was involved in island affairs. It is possible, of course, that Marguerite had never been to Jersey before her marriage and that Philippe saw her as the best candidate among his immediate relatives for an arranged marriage to Sir Philippe de Carteret. But if, as I suggest below, Ralph took the French side in 1204 when the rest of his family sided with the English, a daughter of his would hardly be considered a suitable wife for a de Carteret.

Although much of the d'Aubigné family has been extremely well researched by specialists in this period of history, the branch which was involved in the Channel Islands was some way distanced from the principal barons and landowners in England and has been largely overlooked. I can only put forward my own views, based on years of research into Philippe d'Aubigné and his immediate family. These views show a fundamentally different ancestral line from Marguerite back to William d'Aubigné (or d'Aubigny as she calls him) sketched out at the end of Rosemary Hampton's article.

I believe that Marguerite was the daughter of Oliver, Philippe's younger brother, who was born in about 1177 (Philippe c1171 and Ralph c1173). If these dates are correct, there is some difficulty with Marguerite being named as Philippe's heir. It is believed that Philippe did not marry and have children, and that he outlived Ralph, which would have left Ralph's son, also Ralph (c1213-1291), as Philippe's heir, not Marguerite, regardless of whether she was Oliver or Ralph's daughter. Perhaps Oliver was born before Ralph and his son John died before Philippe, which would, indeed, have left Marguerite as Philippe's heir.

The father of the three brothers was Ralph d'Aubigné (1134-1190), Lord of Belvoir, who also died on a Crusade in the Holy Land. He was married to Sibyl de Valognes, born in Burton-on-Trent but also descended from a distinguished Norman family.

Identifying Marguerite's mother presents considerable difficulty. Oliver appears to have been married at least twice. The Dictionary of National Biography shows him married in 1221 to the widow of the leading royalist Philip of Oldcoates and also supports the view that it was Oliver rather than Ralph who was father of Marguerite by suggesting that Ralph d'Aubigné took the French side after 1204.

The DNB also names Ralph as father of Philippe, who was appointed Warden of the Isles during the absence of his uncle Philippe. I have not been able to confirm this from other sources, but unless Philippe and Oliver d'Aubigné had another brother, who else could have been the younger Philippe's father? But on the other hand, if Ralph had sided with the French in 1204, would his son have been appointed Warden of the Isles? Perhaps Philippe was the son of the mysterious 'Marchisius', whom the DNB suggests was another brother.

Oliver's wife is named by many sources as Amabel Ulecote (or Oldcoates), but others show Philip Oldcoates marring a Joan de Meynell, who also married Sewal de Munjoy and Oliver de Albini. Although some sources show Oliver marrying Joan de Meynell, followed by Amabel Ulecote, they could have been the same person. The problem is that a 1221 marriage was 12 years after Marguerite's supposed birth date of 1209, her brother John having been bore some four years earlier. The identity of Marguerite's mother is, therefore, still a matter of considerable doubt.

Further back

While accepting that this is disputed by Rosemary Hampton, I believe, as I have already indicated, that Marguerite's paternal grandfather was Ralph d'Aubigné, son of William d'Aubigné and Cecily Bigod. Rosemary Hampton shows no direct connection at all to the person she suggests was the 'only William d'Aubigny' but to his nephew Elie. There is no Elie that I am aware of in the d'Aubigné family, so this relationship would seem to depend on Rosemary Hampton's assertion that there was 'only one William d'Aubigny'.

The DNB is vague on Philippe and Oliver's ancestry, but says that their father was 'probably to be identified as Elias d'Aubigny', which would support part of Rosemary Hampton's argument. However, while not directly identifying Elias's lineage, the assertion that he was 'enfeoffed by William d'Aubigné (d1167/68), lord of Belvoir, with land at Belvoir, Ingleby, Saxilby, and Broadholme near Lincoln ...' would seem to identify his father as Ralph's elder brother William, and still take the line from Philippe and Oliver back to William d'Aubigné through an extra generation.

I cannot resist asking why, if Marguerite d'Aubigné was not a direct descendant of any William d'Aubigny, as Rosemary Hampton claims, it was felt necessary to write and publish such a long article in the Société Bulletin on someone who would, therefore, have had no real connection with Jersey?

But, as I have indicated above and in my comments appended to the three articles, I am satisfied that there was a William d'Aubigny, who married Matilda (or Maud) Bigod and had no connection whatsoever with Marguerite, and a William d'Aubigné, who married Matilda's sister Cecily, and was Marguerite's great-grandfather.

The Dictionary of National Biography is highly respected, but not infallible, and on balance is more supportive of my arguments than others.

Main d'Aubigné

There remains only the question of the identity of William d'Aubigné's parents. I am satisfied that no stronger argument has been advanced than that which identifies his as Main (or Méen) d'Aubigné, born in Brittany around 1056, and possibly, although only possibly, a descendant of Guillaume d'Aubigny, who was banished from Normandy to Brittany some years earlier. If there is a relationship, the available dates would suggest that if they were related, Main was Guillaume's grandson or grand nephew.

Main is believed to have been married to Adeliza de Bohun, whose paternal grandmother was Billeheude St Sauveur. Ironically this means that the very suspect link between the de Carterets and the St Sauveurs which is lost entirely if the d'Aubigny descendancy is rejected, is replaced by a much stronger link to the family of the Vicomte of Normandy through the d'Aubigné ancestry.

Conclusion

The problem remains that, as with all so distant genealogical questions, we will never know the full answer to any of these questions.

Two families

It may be noticed immediately that the spelling used for the surname of the Warden of the Isles in the headline and introduction of this article differs from that used by all three Bulletin writers in the headlines of their articles. Was he Philip d'Aubigné or Philip d'Aubigny? And is it important?

The answer is that he was Philip d'Aubigné, and the correct spelling of his name helps distinguish him and his family from the entirely different family of d'Aubigny. The existence of two families with similar names, originating close to each other in France, and both actively involved in the Norman Conquest of England and its aftermath, is at the root over most of the misunderstanding of their ancestries. Add to this the fact that members of both families called William were not only alive at the same time in England, but married sisters, and the confusion is compounded.

Many genealogists, Rosemary Hampton being just one of them, have sought to combine these two individuals and two families into one, but they are quite distinct.

It may be that the two families were originally connected, but no link has ever been proved.

French villages

The confusion between the d'Aubigné and d'Aubigny families is compounded further by references to them in many contemporary documents as de Albini. This is easily explained by the practice of writing most official documents in the period after the Norman Conquest in Latin, rather than English or French. Names in use at the time were not written as they were used but Latinized, and thus d'Aubigné and d'Aubigny both became de Albini. No wonder people have become confused!

The French names mean quite simply 'from Aubigné' and 'from Aubigny', but do these places exist, and where are they? St Martin d'Aubigny, which is where the Aubigny family originate, is in the Cotentin area of Normandy, a short distance inland from Lessay, and south-east of the port of Portbail. St Aubin d'Aubigné, to give it its correct title, is almost due south of St Martin d'Aubigny, over the regional border in Brittany, north of Rennes.

Rosemary Hampton's article shows an old roman road running between the two villages and suggests, erroneously in my belief, that they were both occupied by the one family.

One William or two?

The real confusion lies three generations back from Marguerite d'Aubigné, who married Sir Philippe de Carteret in about 1234. It is her great-grandfather William Brito d'Aubigné, husband of Cecily Bigod, who is frequently confused with William Pincerna d'Aubigny, who married Cecily's sister Maud (variously called Margaret and Matilda). I shall return to these two Williams (for separate individuals they undoubtedly were) shortly, but it is important first to examine the confusion which still exists, and is less easy to resolve, in the generations immediately above Marguerite.

Note: Regrettably pressure of work on other aspects of Jerripedia has meant that four years on, this article remains uncompleted. I hope to return to it before too long, but have more information sent to me by Martin Courtier, the author of the 2010 article, to study first - Mike Bisson

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