There are neighborhoods in this world where the wealthy upper class congregate and wield power via the resources at their disposal. One can find gated communities across the earth and through the centuries. We have ancestors who lived in a variety of gated communities. Some were proprietors, others serfs and servants. Royalty found in the Whittington line clearly lived in the castles of France, Spain and England. Their surnames include the properties they governed. I stood on the castle walls of Chateaux Castlenaud on the south bank of the Dordogne River in southwestern France, 140 kilometers to the east of Bordeaux.
I knew from my research (which includes the research of many historians and genelogists) that I was standing in a ‘castle’ that was once part of my wife’s, and now my son’s, family lineage. Castelnaud is a beautiful cliff hanger of a fortress that has been the victim of the trebuchet and the passage of time. The fortress was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century (1200 AD). The castellan (keeper of the castle) at that time was Bernard de Casnac, not an ancestor. He was a powerful lord and held the villages of Aillac, Montfort and a personal favorite of mine: Domme. Bernard is important in the Smith family tree, not as an ancestor, but as a Lord protector of my Huguenot family members. A fervent defender of Catharism, Bernard was renowned for his particularly cruel treatment of Catholics. This was so typical of Christian behavior through the centuries, killing one another in the name of God. It makes one wonder! Will we ever come to our senses?
Unfortunately for Bernard, cruelty begets cruelty. Via the bloodline of Obadiah Bruehn (1606-1680) we find Whittington family members who counter the work of Bernard. In 1214, Bernard de Casnac and his family were driven out of his castle by the Catholic knight Sir Simon de Montfort who established his garrison there. A mere one year later, Bernard returned to reclaim possession of his castle. Bernard makes sure that every member of Montfort’s enemy garrison is hanged. Simon Montfort was not present and lived to see another day and create further havoc in the world.
The Montfort line is visible in the Whittington family tree for over five hundred years, dating back to the Duchess Alix de Montfort (1050-1091) and Gilbert de Ghent (1040-1094) in Belgium. Gilbert benefits from the Norman conquest of England and the family moves to Beaudescent Castle, Warwickshire, England. Five hundred years later, Lady Katherine Montfort married Sir George Booth. Booths beget Holfords and Holfords beget Bruehns and pretty soon it all runs through the Osborne clan and lands in the Hanover home of Grandmother Laurel Sullivan.
The Chateaux Castlenaud is spectacular and the view from the wall incredible. On a serene and sunny day it is impossible to imagine the horrors of war that constitute the history of this chateaux. Catholics were perturbed to learn Bernard had repossessed his property. The bishop of Bordeaux quickly ordered the castle be burnt to the ground. How you burn a castle is beyond me. It is composed of a lot of stone. Timber supports burn hot and destroy much of the structure, bringing about a collapse. Present day tourist information advises that nothing remains of the original fortress save “perhaps some reddened stones – some of which might have been reused for the construction of the new fortress.”
Castlenaud was rebuilt to check the French at the rival Château de Beynac across the Dordogne Valley. The village of Beynac is visible on the horizon in the photograph. The Dordogne was a hot bed of battles over the course of the One Hundred Year War that plagued all of Europe. Castlenaud was held in the hands of the Plantagenet ancestors and switched hands seven times during the course of the war. The French and British control of the Dordogne Valley ebbed and flowed like the tide in Biscay Bay over the century.
The advent of the cannon and siege tactics rendered castles like Beynac and Castlenaud obsolete. Fortunately, the French and British, do not necessarily remove old buildings as we do in America. They seem to appreciate the work of their ancestors, while we have no problem crushing a stadium that might be forty years old, they still have several coliseums that date back two thousand years. But don’t get me started on that.
I have assembled a list of castles that have been occupied by your mother’s ancestors. After I complete the list I will continue looking for the Irish farmhouses in my Hughes lineage and German and Swiss homes of the Weihermans.
If I find the deed to any of these estates I will be sure to hand it over to you for claiming purposes.
Chateau Montfort is also in the Dordogne River Valley. It is located in the village of Vitrac 10 kilometers upstream, to the east of Castlenaud. Of course, if one took a straight line flight it would only be 6 kilometers. But, the Dordogne is one oxbow after another, which simply adds to the character of this jewel of a stream. The original Chateau Montfort was razed by Simon de Montfort during one of his attempts at world domination. It was rebuilt and while the castle smacks of Disney like qualities, suggesting pristine picnics and ballets; good old Simon was one bloody bastard with a brutal edge to him. He met his match and his own end at the hands of another of our ancestors, ‘Longshanks’. Simon was thoroughly unrecognizable when his enemies decided it was time to dispatch him to hell.
Heighley Castle of Staffordshire: a medieval ruin, once home to the Audley family in 1233 and held for over 300 years. Charles I maintained it during the English Civil War. Roundhead forces destroyed it in the 1640s. It is now a mix of rock and vegetation, a prime Wisconsin dairy farm! Glaciers littered Wisconsin with rock. Oliver Cromwell’s men are responsible for the landscape at Heigley Castle. Hard to imagine the aristocrats dining on a balcony here. Alice de Audley (1215-1276) married Sir Peter Montfort I, 5th Lord Beaudesert. He died in the Battle of Evesham in Worcestershire in 1265. This battle ended the Second Barons War in which Whittington ancestors were found on both sides of the battle field, killing one another. King Edward I (aka: ‘Longshanks’) was imprisoned by Sir Simon Montfort (aka: Chateau Castlenaud and Chateau Montfort) and managed an escape with the help of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Longshanks (1239-1307) is your great grandfather 22 times removed.
Bedford Castle was a large medieval castle in Bedford, England. Built, roughly, in 1100 by Henry I. The castle was the scene of a lot of mayhem and suffering during the Civil War of the Anarchy and the First Barons’ War. The castle was controlled by Simon de Beauchamp, the son of Hugh de Beauchamp, a Brit who had helped the Normans conquer England in 1066. Beauchamps held the castle off and on through several conflicts. When an enemy of the King took control away from the Beauchamps, King Henry III laid seige to the castle. At high cost in lives and cash, a sequence of four attacks resulted in victory. Miners gained access to the inner bailey by collapsing part of the wall and attacked the keep itself, lighting a fire under the walls, cracking the stone and filling the building with smoke. Residents surrendered, the royal standard was raised and the garrison was hanged. The Beauchamps go their castle back in rough shape.
Chateau Falaise (Normandy, France) birthplace of William the Conqueror (ggf). It was from these castle walls that Duke Robert of Normandy (ggf) cast a longing eye at Herleva (ggm), a commoner’s daughter and ‘Voila’. The rest is history. The castle stayed in William’s family for several hundred years as part of the British/Norman domain established when he earned his handle ‘the Conqueror’ of England. King Philip II of France brought the fortress back into the French fold in the 13th Century. Like many castles in France it changed hands many times during the One Hundred Years War. Once William had conquered England he claimed ownership of all property as his own and doled out the castles, manors and estates to those who had been his ally during the campaign. He reserved the right to give and take property as he so desired.
Elmley Castle (England) The ruins of an important Norman and medieval castle, are now a deer park on Bredon Hill. Built for Robert Despenser (d.1098) in the years following the Norman Conquest and descended to his heirs, the powerful Beauchamp family. William de Beauchamp (ggf) inherited the earldom and castle of Warwick from his maternal uncle, William Maudit, 8th Earl of Warwick, in 1268. Thereafter, Elmley Castle remained a secondary property of the Earls of Warwick until it was surrendered to the Crown in 1487.
Adlington Hall The property transferred to de Legh lineage when Thomas de Corona granted ownership to his sister Ellen who was married to John de Legh of Booth in the early 14th Century. Constructed about the time Columbus was ‘discovering America’ the hall has always been occupied by members of the Legh (aka Leigh) family. The de Legh family united by marriage with other aristocratic families of medieval England: the Venables, Booths, de Stanleys, Houghtons, Bulkeley and Molyneux. The Molyneux line extends in the family tree through 15 generations from the year 1020 to 1389.
Stapleford Park was home to the Bruehn family of Chesire to the south east of Liverpool in the area of the Welsh marsh. There are two notable dwellings to consider here… the first is the chateau. The second is the prehistoric settlement close to Brook House farm in the parish of Bruen Stapleford. Radiocarbon dates show that the settlement was occupied from the end of the Middle Bronze age through to the end of the Iron Age, though no Roman artifact was recovered. The settlement consisted of six roundhouses, a large boundary ditch, linear features and a large number of other discrete features.
Bewsey Hall has been held in the trust of the Butler (Boteler) family. The Butler family ruled over large areas of England and Ireland, seizing land from Irish farmers. Those farmers were forced to either pay rent on land they once owned or leave and often die destitute. Sir John Butler, the subject of a British ballad, was slain at Bewsey Hall by ancestors Lord Stanley, Sir Piers Legh and William Savage. “They came over the moate in leather boats, and so to his chamber…. coming away with him, they hanged him at a tree in Bewsey Parke.”
Lostock Hall The estate of Lostock’s Hall in the rural area of Cuerden Green was built by James de Lostock, and given his name after his death. Lady Dionysia de Lostock (1205-1265) married Sir William le Boteler and Lostock Hall became a Butler property. As with most British castles and estates, the property moves from one Lord to another based on the will of the monarch and the strength of an army.
Chillingham Castle was home to the de Heaton family. Sir Thomas de Heaton (1288-1353) married Agnes and their daughter Isabel (1318-1344) married Hugh Cotton. Their daughter Margery married into the Venable family which descends into the Holford line leading to Obadiah Bruehn. Chillingham is located in Northumberland County and operates as a Bed and Breakfast featuring several ghosts as attractions.
Storeton Manor The early estates were not always awesome castles or magnificent homes. The house was some times more fortress than home. Storeton House, built c.1360 for William Stanley, has been converted into a farm buildings repurposing the old stone for contemporary use. The link provided here will redirect you into an archive of history related to Storeton, the Stanley family place in Medieval history. The Stanley family appears in the family tree with Walter de Stanley in 1220 and through eight generations to Isabel de Stanley (1413-1460) when she marries Robert Leigh.
Brereton Castle This castle is for sale as noted in the link. Maybe we should pool our resources. Breretons are commonly found in the family tree in the 14th and 15th century. Sir William Brereton played a prominent role in the English Civil War, leading the Parliamentary army to victory over Royalist forces.
Castle Gresley is a village and civil parish about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southwest of the centre of Swadlincote in South Derbyshire, England. The village is about 1 mile (1.6 km) west of the village of Church Gresley. The name Gresley comes from Albert Greslé, the first baron of Manchester and who was prominent throughout the midlands.
Castle Gresley has the remains of a motte and bailey castle known locally as Castle Knob.
Fine motte and semilunar bailey, although altered by modern earthworks. Motte 20′ high but site on hill top. The castle is documented in 1371-5.
May have been built at this time by William de Gresley, the eldest son of Nigel de Stafford (the place-name Gresley does not appear before c. 1125, that of Castle Gresley before 1252, and it is clear that Hearthcote (now represented by Hearthcote Farm) was the Domesday name for the vill. This late appearance lends support to the suggestion that the castle was built during the period of the Anarchy. (Turbutt)
Thumbnail sketches will be Continued….
Before the Rollingstones Concert
After the Concert.