So. The Whittington family history often begins with a guy named Dick Whittington, a famous Mayor of London in the 14th century. But he didn’t have any children who carried on the name. He did have brothers from whom present family descends and we shall dwell on these brothers in a few pages. History does record their ancestors back in time to Viking lore. But present day Whitingtons can claim a grandparent that Dick Whittington also finds in his tree: Fulk III fitz Warin.
The man who claimed Whittington castle as his home, Fulk III fitz Warin (c. 1160–1258), ruled the border England shares with Wales. Fulk was a marcher lord, which meant that he was a high noble as were his father and grandfather. A man in this position was usually deeply trusted by the king that appointed him. The lord was required to protect the kingdom, providing a first response to any invasion in his domain. Fulk III was, of course, descended from I and II and there would be a line of little Fulks following Fulk III, Fulks 4 thru 11, as a matter of fact.
Historians trace the fitz Warin family back in time to his Dudeship, Warin de Metz of Lorraine (1075-1115). A Dudeship is a title that I bestow upon any guy who arrived in England as part of the Norman invasion (with William the Conqueror) but didn’t migrate with a title of nobility, or even have one granted by the Conqueror once they settled into their new digs. A “Dudeship” is the first step a family must take in earning a title or gaining wealth. On the mirror each morning as Warin shaved there was a little post it sign that said simply, “Prove Yourself Worthy.” Okay I made that up. He probably didn’t shave.
His dudeship Warin de Metz married Millette de Peverel and this is as close as the castle gets to being a “Whittington thing”. You see. Millette was the daughter of Sir Payne Peverel, Lord of Whittington. And with her marriage the castle became a fitz Warin property, for a moment in time.
Warin de Metz’s son (Fulk I) becomes Fulk de Warin (his father’s first name), Fulk son of Warin. He quickly earned that much desired title of nobility (Fulk) when he went to bat for King Henry II (1154-1189) and supported Henry’s mother, Empress Matilda, in her civil war with King Stephen (1092-1154). Matilda wanted the throne for herself and her son Henry, but Stephen had been king for two decades and was trying to set his son up for the job. It was not uncommon for families to go to war with each other over a kingdom. Siblings would kill each other to own the throne. I know this for a fact. I grew up in a house with three sisters and one throne. A battle for the throne was fought each morning before school. I should point out that Henry II and the Empress are great grandparents in the family tree. Stephen is an uncle.
The war between Matilda and Stephen raged for two decades and tore England apart. Fulk I had placed his bet on Matilda and he came out a winner. His reward: he was granted the manor of Whadborough in Leicestershire and the royal manor of Alveston in Gloucestershire. He did not get his mother Mellete’s property, the Whittington castle. Holding onto such properties required skills, nunchuck skills (to quote Napolean Dynamite). We will see if the Fulks have the skills needed to survive the games that royals play. After all, the Fulks were newcomers on the scene. Welsh warlords were new to the rules of war being instituted by the Normans and William the Conqueror’s descendants.
Fulk II took control of his father’s possessions at his dad’s death and thought he would be adding the Whittington Castle to his own estate. The Whittington castle was originally built by William Peverel (also known as Lord Whittington), and rumored to be a son of William the Conqueror. He originally built a manor house and it transformed into a castle to protect the turf from invading hordes of Welsh tourists armed with weapons and seeking wealth. When Fulk II married Hawise de Dinan, a wealthy heiress and daughter of Josce de Dinan our Grampa Fulk II felt entitled to her Ludlow castle as well. But here’s the rub: King Henry II had conferred ownership of those castles (Whittington and Ludlow) on Roger de Powys in 1165. Roger was a half brother to William Peverell and Milette. They shared a mother in common. Roger’s father, was a powerful war lord and land owner in Powys and the Welsh Marches. For more info about the Whittington castle please check out their official website.
As a point of order I want to note some anger and frustration that rips through my body when I write about these castles in Shropshire. As you will note when I get around to writing about my family history…. a great grandfather in my lineage, Sir Roger de Montgomery, First Earl of Shrewsbury, owned all this turf at one time, when King William the Conqueror was alive and ruling. But no! The Conqueror had to die and throw his empire into shambles, forcing Roger and his kids to rebel against one side of William’s family (Robert Curthose) and support the other (William Rufus), only to wind up losing everything when a third son (Henry) entered the picture and won out! The fortunes of war. So you understand my anger, right? I mean… I could be lounging on the banks of the River Teme, enjoying a carry out dinner from one of those fine foodie cafes in Ludlow…. all on an expense account provided by the Queen.
While Fulk II’s claim to Whittington castle was acknowledged in 1195, the deed (seisin) never did change hands. Fulk II never moved in or successfully got the tenants moved out. In feudal England no noble ever really owned a castle. The King or Queen owned the castle. The noble was merely a land manager subject to removal by the King or Queen on a whim or revenge motive. Apparently King John wavered back and forth on ownership of the castle and Fulk II never got to sleep in the master bedroom. Had Fulk II lived beyond 1198 the property may have become his. But his death triggered a change in King John’s attitude and the son Fulk III was denied ownership. Historians speculate and rumors suggested that the good king despised Fulk III.
Fulk III was determined to fight for what he felt rightfully belonged to his family: the Whittington Castle in Shropshire. It was considered sporting among the nobility to go to battle over a castle. The feudal age offered little opportunity for entertainment and a lot of money and energy went into military armaments and efforts. It was all a forerunner for our own National Football League (without the large television contracts). The castle was eventually replaced by football stadiums and the seating for spectators vastly improved. It would be kind of interesting if the victorious football team could take ownership of a stadium. Imagine beating the Dallas Cowboys and getting control of Jerry Jones’ properties! But I digress.
Fulk III took the requisite first step in trying to own the castle. He filed a written claim with King John (1166-1216). The claim was refused and for that reason the once faithful Marcher Lord, Fulk III, proved that he could no longer be trusted by his King. He rebelled against King John for three years beginning in 1200.
The King declared that Fulk III was an outlaw. This simply meant that he was fair game. When an Englishmen was declared an outlaw, it was a death sentence. There was no need to arrest the person, or bring them in alive. A sheriff was not required to do the job. Any person could rightfully hunt down the outlaw and kill him. Fair play was not required. Simply kill the guy and get on with your day. It was in this set of circumstances that a British myth began, a legend that would stretch over the centuries and expand to absorb more than one British outlaw in creating the image of Robin Hood. Fulk III was the subject of the famous mediaeval legend or “ancestral romance” entitled Fouke le fitz Waryn, which relates the story of his life as an outlaw and his struggle to regain his patrimony from the king.
It is not known why King John refused to recognize Fulk’s claim to Whittington as his rightful inheritance. Some attribute the animosity to a childhood chess match (true story) that ended in hostilities when Fulk and John were students at a royal academy within the king’s castle. In April, 1201 Fulk was in open rebellion against his King. He began with an army of fifty-two followers including his brothers William, Phillip and John, his cousins, and the family’s many tenants and allies in the Marches. Fulk was in full scale rebellion and caught the attention of King John as John ventured into France with his army.
But King John was busy suppressing the pesky Lusignans (yep, they are in our tree) and could not personally confront Fulk. He sent Hubert de Burgh, with 100 knights, to counter the rebellious Fulk and his sidekick, William Marsh, a notorious Somerset knight and pirate who took pleasure in capturing ships off the coast of Devon. Fulk’s guerrilla warfare tactics and knowledge of the terrain, as well as his good standing with the population (Robin Hood like) paid dividends.
In July 1202 Fulk and his men are reported to have taken refuge in Stanley Abbey in Wiltshire. Another man, Gilbert de Duure, is mentioned in records as “having been an outlaw associated with Fulk Fitz Warin”. Eustace de Kivilly, was pardoned earlier in 1202 by King John for “being associated with Fulk”.
Fulk’s efforts as an outlaw were pardoned by the King in 1203 and actually rewarded when he was given Whittington Castle on payment of 200 marks. His posse composed of family and friends was also forgiven. The castle would remain in the fitz Warin family until the death of Fulk XI in 1420.
The King was not a fool. He needed skilled and valiant warriors and Fulk III proved to be the best. Better to have him on one’s side than fighting him when there are more important battles to be waged in Europe and in England. Fulk III was an All Pro player and highly respected by many of the king’s barons. He was the JJ Watt of his time. When Fulk sought the hand of Robert de Vavasur’s daughter, Maud, a number of Barons came forward and supported Fulk’s request. The Fulk had such a reputation as a pirate that the recommendations came in handy. A few pints were downed by a few of our ancestors at that wedding.
Quoting directly from Wikipedia here:
“In 1207 Fulk III was clearly highly regarded by many of the king’s barons as evidenced by the identity of men known to have provided surety for Fulk’s fine of 1,200 marks to marry the heiress daughter of Robert le Vavasur. The suretors included the Peverels, Alan Basset, William de Braose (d.1230), a de Lacy, William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury and Henry de Bohun, 1st Earl of Hereford.”
All of these barons identified as Fulk’s references are found in our family tree. Henry Bohun, as one example, is a noted great grandfather linked to our Obadiah Bruehn (the man whose presence in New England links us to the Kings and Queens of England, France, Spain and several Inuit villages in northern Saskatchewan).
On 9 February 1214 King John is determined to end the rebellions in France. When the King sails for Poitou in a remake of the original battle of 1202, he has our man Fulk in his battle formation. Fulk serves under the command of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Gloucester. Geoffrey and Fulk had a lot in common. They both spent a large part of their efforts in opposition to King John. On this occasion they would unite in an effort to suppress a common enemy: the Lusignan monarchy. Within the year Mandeville and Fulk would turn the tables on King John and pin him down on the field at Runnymeade and force him to sign the Magna Charta. Many of the Barons who signed that great document are ancestors found in the Whittington family tree. Which isn’t really uncommon. British nobility married British nobility, when they weren’t bedding the French or Dutch, so if you are related to one noble you are probably related to a cadre of them. So, don’t get a big head over this.
In 1215, with the death of King John, Fulk III was one of many found harassing the Sherriff of Shropshire. The deceased King John left the country with an infant King Henry III (1216-1272). Under the circumstances, absent an adult king, the local sheriff seized all of Fulk’s properties in Gloucestershire. This did not go over well with Fulk. He had spent a decade getting his family moved into the Whittington Castle and he wasn’t going to let a sheriff take it away. UHaul trucks had not made their way into Shropshire and Fulk had other things to do besides relocating his master bedroom. By 1218 Fulk had made his peace with the necessary powers and his lands were ordered restored by the regents of Henry III. When children become monarchs in England, the ‘Regents’ are usually the relatives who jockey for actual power and control. The chances that a child monarch will live to see puberty are slim.
Living on the border with Wales put Fulk at odds with Welsh nobility. They shared a common border, a border that moved occasionally from east to west and back again. By 1220 the young King Henry was old enough to make a decision or appear to make one and granted Fulk some compensation in order that Whittington Castle could get a face lift and be better fortified. The effort proved futile as Llywelyn the Great, prince of Wales, decided to establish a residency there. Fulk regained his home the following year although his disputes with Llywelyn continued and more of Fulk’s lands were seized by the persistent Llywelyn. The match up between Fulk and Llywelyn was a prime time battle between two of Europe’s finest gladiators. It was a marque match up that sold out on the fight channels in England and Wales.
By 1228 a truce seems to have been reached between Fulk and Llywelyn following the intervention of the king. Throughout his life Fulk’s relationship with the King of England would vary in large part with his own property rights at Whittington. His role as marcher lord (Lord of the Marsh) and protector of the English border became critical to King Henry as Llywelyn continued as a threat to the west. The king would protect Fulk’s interest as Fulk defended against the Welsh prince. It was a symbiotic relationship that worked well for both men. There were no more rebellions against the British monarch on the part of Fulk III. Fulk III died in 1256 at the age of 91. Not bad for a guy at a time when the average man on the street was lucky to reach age 30. It is said that he died undefeated and went to Heaven to war with God about the furnishings in the break room.
Of the centuries of noble families residing at Whittington Castle, Payne Peverel (1075) was the last person with the word ‘Whittington’ as part of his identifying name. He was Sir Payne Peverel, Lord of Whittington. Miletta, his daughter and wife of Warin de Metz is a 24th great grandmother. One finds her by tracing back through various other family names including five generations of the de Warins and eleven generations of Littletons. In 1680, Esther Littleton marries William Whittington in Accomack, Virginia, thus bringing the line full circle.
1. Janet Meisel, p. 38
2. Janet Meisel, p. 39
3. Sidney Painter, The Reign of King John (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press 1964) pp. 280, 294.
4. Janet Meisel, pp. 41, 43
5. Janet Meisel, p. 42
6. Janet Meisel, p. 41
7. Janet Meisel, p. 41