This is a story of my maternal ancestors. Prior to visiting Devon the first week of May 2019, I had populated my maternal ancestry family tree back to 1103.
According to "The Baronetage of England" in that year, "Galfridus (Latin for Geoffrey) Miles (Knight) had his seat at Northcote, in the parish of East Down in Devonshire (north of Barnstable, Devon), and that John Fritz-Galfrid (Fritz meaning the son of) held divers lands there, and in the hundreds (a subdivision of a shire which had its own court) of Witheridge, North Tauton, Black Torrington, etc. He changed his name to John Northcote. Galfrid de Northcote (John's son) lived in 1188, and held lands in Colstan, in the Witheridge hundred. According to the family history written by my grandfather in 1978, based upon the family tree provided by a genealogist in the 1960s, "John Fritz Galfrid came from Normandy to Devonshire in the town of Northcote. He became known as John de Northcote." So it appears that this story starts with the same ancestors. Galfridus is my 27 times great grandfather.
One note about the family name. The spellings were phonetic so varied considerably according to what the registrar heard.
Northcote is interchangeable with Northcott and many other variations...kind of like names recorded for immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Furthermore, last names were not considered a family name, but a description...either where the person was from, what his trade was, or his position, etc. It wasn't until 1390 with the imposition of the Poll Tax, which was to be paid by every person, that last names came into use to ensure that everyone had a unique name. Very few individuals had a middle name. The Herald Visitation document from 1570 that confirms the coat of arms and claim to aristocracy for the family uses Northcott for each male descendent in the family tree.
However, the tree was missing some important dates for baptisms (which would confirm the names of the parents), marriages (confirm the names of the spouses), and burials. I started my research at the Devon Heritage Center in Exeter, where Rachel was very helpful in providing historical genealogical documents. It turns out that the Parish Registry documents prior to 1702 for several of the parishes where my ancestors were baptized, married, and buried were destroyed. However, some annual reports to the bishop recording these events were available
so I spent several hours reviewing these documents and confirming what entries I could in my Ancestry.com family tree.
This story follows my ancestors as they migrated from East Down southeast towards Exeter. I visited East Down and the church built in Galfridus' time. It looked more like a fortress with tiny stain glass windows. Nothing is left of the original manor. At the Northcote Manor, where I stayed, only the foundations of a monastery that was converted to a manor remains.
Other than the names of the descendants and their wives, many of whom were the heiresses of large estates of ancient Norman families, not much is known until it was recorded that John Northcott was born in Crediton in 1426 to John Northcott and Isota Medford. He married Johanna Luttrell whose family owned Dunster Castle, on the north coast of Devon. For the next six generations, until John Northcott's birth in Crediton on 27 May 1570, the Northcotts lived in Crediton. They were rich wool merchants. This John was the eighth descendent of Galfridus named John, which complicated my research somewhat making sure I was attaching genealogical data to the correct John.
So my in
depth search for details about my ancestors began in Crediton. I had contacted Penny and Bill at the Holy Cross church to arrange a meeting where I hoped I could learn more. Bill and Penny showed me the stain glass window with the Northcott coat of arms, and a map of the city in the late 1500's showing what properties the family owned (Note the family name is spelled Norcote). I learned that several ancestors were governors of the church. Bill took me to the governors' chambers, where my ancestors walked and talked. He showed me a Roundhead uniform and other artifacts from the English Civil War. I toured the cemetery, but as with all other churches, no grave stones are older than the 1800's and the information was illegible. I then walked to one of the lots owned four centuries ago by my ancestors.
The next town, which became the ancestral home of the Northcotts, was Newton St. Cyres. No one was available to give me a tour of the St. Cyres and St Julitta church, but Brian, the church historian, provided me with a copy of the family history he had written with a description of all
the memorials to the family contained in this small church. The most impressive memorial erected in 1637 is the statute of John, the High Sheriff of Devon with his first wife, Elizabeth Rouse, who only had one son Anthony, and his second wife Susanna Pollard, who had eighteen children. The most prominent son was John, who King Charles made the first Baronet of Hayne in 1641 in return for providing funds, men and horses to quell an uprising in Ireland. Ironically, John would side with Cromwell's Roundheads during the English Civil War, and would command a regiment. He was also a member of Parliament. For more details, just Google John Northcote, First Baronet of Hayne. John married Lady Grace Halswell of Wells, which I visited at the end of my time in Devon. They had eleven children. John's eldest son Arthur, in accordance with the laws of primogenitor, would inherit the title and estates.
This is where the story gets mysterious. Arthur had two wives, Elizabeth Welsh, with whom he had three children, John, Arthur, and Elizabeth who died in childhood. His second wife was Elizabeth Godolphin, a prominent aristocratic family...her youngest brother was Sydney Godolphin, First Lord of
the Treasury under Queen Anne. He raised the money for John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to fight the wars against King Louis XIV of France.
In order to marry the second Elizabeth he had to get rid of the first. I learned at the Devon Heritage Center that Elizabeth Welsh was sent to Chagford where she died in 1553 at the age of 24. She left behind her two young sons, John and Arthur (incorrectly identified in Wikipedia as being sons of Elizabeth Godolphin), who would be next in line to inherit the title and estates. Up to this point I had wondered how the Northcotts ended up in Chagford with my six time great grandfather Mark, having been born there, and several generations living there. It appears that Sir Arthur had no interest in these sons, who were then cared for my their grandfather Sir John who left 4,000 pounds to his grandson John.
Meanwhile Sir Arthur married Elizabeth Godolphin and moved to King Nympton, well away from the family seat in Newton St Cyres, to an estate purchased from the Pollard family who were having financial difficulties having been on the wrong side during the English
Civil War. Sir Arthur kept the 4000 pounds intended for his son John, which was only redeemed years later when his son's widow Alice Leigh, who by then had married William Northcote, the youngest son of Sir Arthur and Elizabeth Godolphin, successfully sued Sir Arthur's widow Elizabeth Godolphin, now her mother-in-law, in the House of Lords. It appears that Sir Arthur may have been merciless in his conduct of public affairs. He signed the violent order against Non-conformists (all religious sects other than the Church of England) at the time of the Rye House Plot (to kill King Charles II) of 1683. Sir Arthur is not memorialized in the family church in Newton St Cyres, although both sons John and Arthur are.
As mentioned, John married Alice Leigh and Arthur married Margaret Gay, the granddaughter of the mayor of Barnstable. I was most interested in confirming that Arthur and Margaret were the parents of my direct ancestor Mark Northcott. Several on line family trees establish this connection, but the official genealogies state that John and Arthur died without issue. I have the registration for Mark's marriage to Jane Hannar, a commoner, the baptismal records of his children, and his
burial, but mysteriously there is no record of Mark's baptism, even to different parents, which would confirm his parentage. Also mysteriously, his mother Margaret Gay died in August 1679, his uncle John died on 1 January 1680, and father Arthur died on 26 January 1680, before the death of their father Sir Arthur. While it is possible that Margaret died in childbirth with Mark, it is highly improbable that all three would die within six months given that there was no widespread epidemic at this time. Given the foregoing information about Sir Arthur I suspect that he had something to do with these deaths which eliminated the sons of Elizabeth Welsh from inheriting the titles and estates, which would now go to his sons with Elizabeth Godolphin.. My hypothesis is that all baptismal records of John and Arthurs progeny, including Mark, were expunged by Sir Arthur.
So it appears that the family tree splits at this point, with Mark's descendants living in Chagford, then Lympstone, before my three times great grandfather Thomas, who was a fisherman, moved to Carbonear, Newfoundland in about 1813.
I visited Chagford, where Mark Northcott was born. The church records did not go back
as far as 1679 and there were no gravestones predating 1800. The church is where the murder of a bride Mary Whiddon inspired Richard Backmore to write the novel "Lorna Doone" in 1869. Lorne Doone was shot by Carver Doone as she married John Ridd. Fortunately, she survived. This was one of my favorite books when I was in middle school. I named my present cat Lorna Doone, and have since had to explain many timed that I didn't name her after the cookies. The hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" was also written here. I had lunch at the Three Crowns, where a different Sydney Godolphin was cut down in a fight with Roundheads during the English Civil War. I also visited Lympstone to see where Thomas sailed from.
At the other branch, Sir Arthur's son Francis became Third Baronet of Hayne, but died without issue; thus son Henry became the Fourth Baronet of Hayne. Sir Henry the Fifth Baronet of Hayne married Bridget Stafford, heiress to the vast Stafford estates, and moved the family seat to the Stafford's Pyne Manor in Upton Pyne. One condition of the marriage to this prominent family was that the eldest sons would include
Stafford in their name. The most prominent descendent in this line was Sir Henry Stafford Northcote, Eighth Baronet of Hayne who was made First Earl of Iddesleigh by Queen Victoria. Again, Google search his name to read about all his accomplishments. The present Fifth Earl of Iddesleigh, Sir John Stafford Northcote lives in Upton Pyne, but not at the manor which was sold by his father...the aristocracy was greatly impacted by death taxes. He owns a 2500 acre farm.
I visited Pyne Manor, presently wedding venue, and was given a tour by its present owner. Then I visited the church where many of the descendants of this branch of the tree are buried. I was given a tour of the church and graveyard by Veronica, the Warden. After the tour, I invited her for lunch at the local pub, the Beer Engine. It so happens that Sir John likes to have a pint at this pub at the end of each day. Recently he married the bar maid. I wonder if it was the beer or the maid that drew him to this pub. Veronica then invited me to tea at her home. After tea, I decided not to
wait for the three or so hours to see if I might meet Sir John at the pub.
After leaving Devon I continued my vacation in the Cotswolds and Kent, the subject of my next blog. In Canterbury I ran across some distant relatives. I finished my research at the British Library in London where I saw the original documents with the family coat of arms and family tree that confirmed that the family were aristocrats.
My helpers in Devon were the most wonderful, helpful, hospitable people that I would ever wish to meet. They made my ancestry research memorable as they fleshed out the names with stories. Thank you so much.
Now I must resume my marathon watching Downton Abbey...on my third season in two days!
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