The Corbett One Name Study


The Battle Abbey Roll

Listed below are details taken from this Roll but the following should first be read:

From the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th edition: (on LoveToKnow Free Online Encyclopedia)

BATTLE ABBEY ROLL. This is popularly supposed to have been a list of William the Conquerors companions preserved at Battle Abbey, on the site of his great victory over Harold. It is known to us only from 16th century versions of it published by Leland, Holinshed and Duchesne, all more or less imperfect and corrupt. Holinsheds is much the fullest, but of its 629 names several are duplicates. The versions of Leland and Ducheslle, though much shorter, each contain many names found in neither of the other lists. It was so obvious that several of the names had no right to figure on the roll, that Camden, as did Dugdale after him, held them to have been interpolated at various times by the monks, not without their own advantage. Modern writers have gone further, Sir Egerton Brydges denouncing the roll as a disgusting forgery, and E. A. Freeman dismissing it as a transparent fiction. An attempt to vindicate the roll was made by the last duchess of Cleveland, whose Battle Abbey Roll (3 vols., 1889) is the best guide to its Contents. -

It is probable that the character of the roll has been quite misunderstood. It is not a list of individuals, but only of family surnames, and it seems to have been intended to show which families had come over with the Conqueror, and to have been compiled about the 14th century. The compiler appears to have been influenced by the French sound of names, and to have included many families of later settlement, such as that of Grandson, which did not come to England from Savoy till two centuries after the Conquest. The roll itself appears to be unheard-of before and after the 16th century, but other lists were current at least as early as the 15th century, as the duchess of Cleveland has shown. In 1866 a list of the Conquerors followers, compiled from Domesday and other authentic records, was set up in Dives church by M. Leopold Delisle, and is printed in the duchess work. Its contents are naturally sufficient to show that the Battle Roll is worthless.

See Leland, Collectanea Holinshed, Chronicles of England; Doehesne, His/or/a Norm. Scriptores; Brydges, Censu~a Literaria; Thierry, Conqut,e c/c lAngleterre, vol. ii. (1829); Burke, The Roll of Battle Abbey (annotated, 1848); Planch, The Conqueror and His Companions (1871/2) duchess of Cleveland, The Battle Abbey Roll (1889); Round, The Companions of the Conqueror (Monthly Review, 1901, iii. pp. 91-Ill). (J. H. R.)


The Battle Abbey Roll

CORBETT: Corbat (sic) and his two sons, Roger and Rodbert (sic), are named by Ordericus among "the faithful and very valiant men" employed by Roger de Montgomeri in the government of his new Earldom of Shrewsbury. Corbet was also, according to tradition, consulted by William the Conqueror as to the defence of the Welsh Marches.

His ancestry, Blakeway tells us, ascended "to a very remote antiquity". The name denotes in Norman-French a raven: whether in allusion to the famous Danish standard (the Reafan), of which their ancestor might have been the bearer from Scandinavia under Rollo, or whether from a less noble source, cannot be determined.

It is certain that Corbet came with his second and fourth sons, Roger and Robert, to the invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy. Besides the two sons who settled in Shropshire, the eldest and the third, Hugh and Renaud, stayed behind.

Hugh is mentioned in some charters of the Abbey of Bec, in Normandy; and Renaud was in Palestine in 1096, with his two sons, Robert and Guy. From the last of these descended five generations, all of them men of eminent rank in France, distinguished crusaders in the Holy Land, and castellans or viscounts of St. Pol, which the Corbets continued to hold until Hugh Corbet, knight, fourth descendant of Guy, sold his viscountcy to the Count de St. Pol, in order to raise money that he might follow St Louis on his crusading expedition against the Moors of Africa.

Robert, son of Hugh, accompanied his father to Tunis, and was drowned there in 1270. Hugh, his son, settled near Cambray; and his descendants for four generations lived at various places in the Netherlands, till James Corbet removed to Antwerp; and Robert, grandson to James, migrated to Spain, where he left a fair posterity. These Corbets of France and Flanders bore three ravens for their arms, in token of their descent from the third brother.

A branch also of the Corbet family settled in Scotland, and were even allied to the Royal family there; for, in 1255, the Archbishop of St. Andrews writes a letter to the English Chancellor, Walter de Merton, on behalf of his 'beloved and especial friend, Nicholas Corbet, cousin of my Lord the King,' who had then certain affairs pending at the court of Henry III."

Corbet the Norman was dead before 1086: for his son, Roger Fitz Corbet, is the Domesday baron, and built a castle at Alfreton as the head of his honour, which he names Caux, from Pays de Caux, his former home in Normandy. "This was one of the Border castles which, for two centuries after Domesday, served its continuous purposes of aggression and defence." Eyton's Shropshire.

It stood in a strong position, commanding the pass called the Valley of the Rea; for, as a former marcher fortress, "it was exposed to all the turmoil of a hostile frontier"; and was taken and burnt by the Welsh in the time of his successor. Robert Fitz Corbet, the younger brother, held Longden and Alcester; but his line died out in the following generation, and it is Roger who is the ancestor of the numerous families that have planted the name in the county. He constantly appears as a witness to Earl Roger's charters; and continued the faithful liegeman of his two sons, for he and Ulgar Venator were the only Shropshire chiefs that adhered to the last to Robert de Belesme. He held Bridgnorth Castle for his Earl against Henry I for three months; and it is, according to Eyton "A question" whether he forfeited his estate by his rebellion. His son, at all events, peaceably succeeded to the barony in 1121; and the line continued, without a break, for more than two hundred years after that.

These Barons of Caus were assiduous at their arduous post as guardians of the frontier: and an ancient roll that names Robert Corbet among those present with Couer de Leon at the siege of Acre, is discredited by Eyton on the ground (among others) that "a Lord Marcher was little likely to become a crusader," having his hands so full at home. A daughter of this house, however, crossed the hostile border to become the wife of Welshman, Gwenwynwyn, Prince of Powys. She was the sister of Thomas Corbet, Sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire in 1248, whose wife Isabel, was sister, and in her issue co-heir, to Reginald de Valletort, a great feudal baron in the west. Their son Peter served in the campaign that closed Llewellyn's career, as well as in Edward I's Scottish wars, and was summoned to Parliament by him in 1293. He was "a mighty hunter," as his father had been before him*, and in 1281 received the King's commission to destroy all wolves, wherever they could be found, in the counties of Salop, Stafford, Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford: one more proof - if another were needed - that the alleged extirpation of wolves in Anglo-Saxon times is a fable.

The next in succession, Peter, second Lord Corbet, had no children, and settled his estates on his wife, Beatrix de Beauchamp, for her life. He died in 1322, and as she survived him and married again, his brother and next heir, John, the last Baron of Caus ("if such a title can be assigned to one who never enjoyed his paternal estates, and was never summoned to parliament), was reduced to a position of comparative beggary." He prosecuted the claim to his grandmother's Valletort's estates already ineffectually advanced by his brother, but never succeeded in recovering them. He, too, died s.p. sometime before 1347, the year of the decease of his sister-in-law Beatrix, then the wife of Sir John de Leyborne; and the estate (though not the barony) of Cause passed to the descendants of her first husband's two aunts, Alice de Stafford, and Emma de Brompton, as next heirs.

The ancient name was far from having died out with John Corbet (to whom, indeed, Burke attributes no inconsiderable family), but the exact relationship of its remaining representatives cannot now be determined. "Dugdale tells us of a Roger Corbet, summoned as a baron in 1327. It is difficult to say who this was. Summarily, it may be safely stated of all the families which have branched off from this house of Caus that none of them can be descended from any later Baron than he who died in 1222, and that therefore to decide their exact affinity to the parent stock, must be the work rather of a magician than an antiquary." Ibid

Not being conversant with the black art, I will confine myself to the existing family, whose pedigree is undisputed for the last seven hundred years. Richard Corbet, their ancestor, held Wattlesborough - one of Roger Fitz Corbet's Domesday manors - of the Barony of Caus in 1179; and a tower of his castle there is still standing. Blakeway claims for him the honour of being the head of the house, assuming that one of the earlier Barons of Caus resigned his rights of primogeniture to a younger brother, and was content to hold one of his own manors of him as an under-tenant. But to this theory there are formidable objections. "A Tenant-in-capite-per-baronium" could not divest himself of his primogeniture or alienate his barony in the way supposed. Instant forfeiture would have been the consequence, and, failing that, his act could not have bound his descendants. On his death his son might have recovered the barony by process of mort d'ancestre, and his descendants, however remote, could have achieved the same end by the process of Grand Assize.' Ibid At all events, the two lines diverged as early as the reign of Henry II; the baronial family bearing two ravens, and the knightly family a single one - Or, un corbyn de Sable - which has been cited as proof of their birthright.

Richard Corbet's son married the heiress of the old Anglo-Saxon family of Toret, and thus acquired Moreton-Toret - now Moreton Corbet, and the property of his representative. Wattlesborough, and the principal part of the Corbet estate, was carried away in the next century by "a great Shropshire heiress," the daughter of Sir Fulk Corbet, to John de la Pole, Lord of Mawddwy, and Justice of North Wales.** "This happened again in 1583, when the lands brought by the heiress of Hopton went by marriage to the Wallops and Careys." - E.P.Shirley.

Four baronetcies were granted to the Corbets in the first half of the following century: two by James I, and two by his son. That bestowed upon the head of the family, Sir Vincent Corbet, of Moreton-Corbet, ranked third in point of seniority, and dated from 1642. He was a devoted Royalist; and, in acknowledgement of his services, his widow received a life-peerage as Viscountess Corbet. The baronetcy expired in 1688 with another Sir Vincent, who only lived to be eighteen: and their ancestral estate of Moreton-Corbet passed out of the family with his sister, Mrs Kynaston.

But the ancient name, "famous even at the time of the Conquest," is carried on in the direct line by the descendants of Richard, a younger brother of the first baronet. One of them re-purchased Moreton-Corbet about 1742: and to another, Sir Andrew, the title was re-granted in 1808.

There is an old legend attached to this house, which Blakeway endeavours to transfer to Caus, in corroboration of the Baron's surrender of his birth-right, though it is Moreton-Corbet that it has always belonged. "Once upon a time, the heir went to the Holy Land, and was detained so long in captivity, that he was supposed to be dead, and his younger brother engaged to marry, that he might carry on the line. On the morning of the marriage, however, a pilgrim came to the house to partake of the hospitalities of that festal occasion; and after the dinner, revealed himself to the assembled company as the long-lost elder brother. The bridegroom would have surrendered the estate to him; but he declined the offer, desiring only a small portion of the land, which he accordingly received." - Antiquities of Shropshire.

There were so many junior branches of this family, that the mere enumeration of them is laborious; but I believe almost all of them are extinct: the three other baronies unquestionably are:

The oldest, granted in 1623 to Sir John Corbet, of Sprowston Hall, High Sheriff of Norfolk, only lasted till 1661: the year before his brother Miles, one of the regicides who had escaped beyond the sea, was captured at Delft, brought home, and executed.

The next in date was held by Sir John Corbet, of Stoke, "one of the five illustrious patriots that opposed the enforced loan of 1627:" but surely subsequently to the baronetcy conferred uon him in that very year. He was blessed with ten sons and ten daughters; but the line failed in the next century with two childless brothers (the elder of whom had married Harriet, sister of the great Earl of Chatham), and the estate passed to the nephew, Corbet D'Avenant.

The last baronetcy was received in 1642 by Sir Edward Corbet, of Longnor, in Shropshire, and Leighton, in Montgomeryshire, and expired in 1774.

Then there were Corbets of Hadley and Tasley, Leigh, and Sundorne, &c. in Shropshire: one branch in Cheshire and Lincolnshire; another in Wales; and one, if not two, in Worcestershire, where Chaddesley-Corbet keeps the name. "

In 1284, Sir Roger Corbet, of Chaddesley, held Chetton (Shropshire) in capite, by the service of finding a man to go to Wales on the KIng's service, who was to take one bow, three arrows and a caltrop; and also a cured hog; and when he reached the King's army, he was to deliver to the King's Marshal half thereof; and the Marshal was to give him daily of the same half bacon for his dinner, as long as he staid in the army, and he was to stay with the army as long as the hog lasted." The term of his service might thus be spun out by putting him on short commons.

* Thomas, Baron of Caus, obtained in 1224 the King's licence to pursue any three boars through the forests of Shropshire that he might unkennel in his own forest; and twelve years later, a confirmation by charter of the whole forest of Teynfrestanes - (Stiperstones).

** Yet the annual value of the lands was only 30, "because they lay on the confines of the Marches, and were devastated from day to day, and partly burned by the Welsh rebels." Bridgeman's Princes of S. Wales.