Richard Whittington

ROBERT WHITTINGTON and JOHN BROWNING  – 1350 A.D.

While Richard (Dick) Whittington may be the most well known of the Whittington clan, Guy De Vyteinsen is the earliest member of his family found in old English records (The Doomsday Book).

Guy is said to be descended from a very ancient family of Normandy. He emigrated to England with William the Conqueror, circa 1066. The calculations, or estimates of his birth year tend to have Guy being born around the year 1060. This would make him a child of six at the time of The Battle of Hastings and apparently the son perhaps of one of William’s army. Upon examination I find no one by the name of Vyteinsen (or any variation thereof) listed as a Knight Templar of Normandy, 1066, engaged in the invasion of England. That list is engraved on a wall of the cathedral of Falaise in Normandy and found online.

Not surprisingly there are many on Earth who descend from William the Conqueror. Do the math. He had ten kids that made it to adulthood. Back in the day, ten children was common. So a generation later you have 100 kids. There are 30 generation between William and the present day! We are talking permutations here, not multiplication.

Both my father’s family and Nancy’s mother’s line can make the same claim probably through several different branches. We will follow those roots in the future. There are some interesting men and women tucked away in that part of the tree. While we are connecting to famous people here, Prime Minister Winston Churchill claimed Guy de Vyteinsen as one of his many 27th great grandfathers and Lady Diana claimed him as one of her many 29th great granddaddies.

I googled the name Guy de Vyteinsen and found nothing more than the usual assortment of websites related to family trees and genealogy and a present day shoe repairman living south of Basil on Sage, Nottingham. Were it not for the Doomsday Book citing Guy’s presence on Earth I would be skeptical and assume that he might be a fictional character created by a lady in curlers, munching on bon bons with wild pink slippers wrapped around her toes. Guy is identified as the father of Richard who has a son named Guy; and he has a son named Guy and so it goes through the decades and centuries. The spelling of the last name varies wildly through time right up to the present moment. I think there are forty variations on the surname, one for each generation! Okay, I exaggerate. But really! There are a lot of ways to spell Whittington. Ask Betty. She’s a Whitington.

Robert Whittington was born around 1350 A.D. at Pauntley Court, a rural manor near England’s border with Wales, to the north of Gloucester. Pauntley was home to the Whittington family for over 300 years of rowdy British history. One of my mother’s favorite British Poet Laureates, John Masefield, grew up in the area. Masefield spent a lot of time, perhaps fishing on the Old Mill Pond, and he loved the property. He called it “a place of great beauty and strangeness”. Masefield raised funds in an attempt to turn the house into a Home for Wayfarers in the early 1930s. This would be a fitting tribute to Whittington family endeavors. The fortune garnered by the Whittingtons in 1400 established a generous foundation that continues to provide for the destitute, 600 years later.

Whittingtons were members of the British noble class and served in the Parliament, for several generations. Some Whittingtons served more effectively than others. Robert set a family record for length of service. He sat for six terms in Parliament and also managed to serve his home shire (county). His father and grandfather had served before him. Not given to snobbery, Robert understood that he could use his wealth and position to help his fellow man. He tended to the needs of the poor. It appears he preferred serving as a coroner, justice of the peace and exchequer in his home shire and resigned Parliament to carry out that mission.

When the eldest of the Whittington brothers (William) died without child, Robert (next in line) not only acquired Pauntley but he also got his hands on the Robert Staunton family estate at Sollershope and Hopton in Herefordshire. This property was even closer to the marsh country of Wales.

Robert’s career began in typical noble fashion. He joined the King’s army. It wasn’t long before Robert Whittington and his fellow squires took part in a British campaign on the ‘French side’ of the English Channel. Large parts of France had become properties of the English monarch by way of marriage and warfare. On this occasion the Brits were trying to end years of civil unrest in the kingdom of Brittany. This is one of many points in our ancestral tree where my ancestors (Smiths) are in the same time and place with Nancy’s ancestors (Whittingtons). My son’s 18th great grandfather Robert Whittington served in the army of father’s 17th Great Grandfather Edward Despencer. The Despencers were fearsome soldiers, and often a notorious and bloodthirsty lot. Edward’s grandfather, Hugh, Lord Despencer, was a close ally of King Edward II. Hugh went from being the King’s favorite to an exile in France as the various forces among England’s elite vied for power and wealth. While in France, Hugh terrorized merchant ships and was proud of his reputation as the most vicious and audacious of all pirates. He became such a pain to the English, that the King decided to end Hugh’s exile and bring him back to British soil, where the King used the Despencer family as a killing machine, destroying forces opposed to the King. Hugh Despencer’s story and ghastly death as a traitor to the King will remain a story for another day.

Robert Whittington returned from battle in Brittany in 1375. Edward Despencer died within the year and Whittington maintained a lifetime friendship with Edward’s widow, Elizabeth Despencer. Whittington also became a very close friend of John Browning (1359-1416). Browning was a member of Parliament with possession of estates at Slaughter, Nethercote, Bourton on the Water, St. Mary at Hill, Thrupp, Harford, Ebley and Notgrove, manors of Melbury Sampford and Melbury Osmond in Dorset, and a few tenements at Tower Street in London. In order to secure all those properties, John Browning had to go toe to toe with his sisters and it did get combative. One sister, Elizabeth Browning Folville, was forcibly evicted from the Dorset estates as Browning staked his claim.

As happens when one goes looking for grandparents, it isn’t unusual to find them all clustered in the same villages in the days before auto traffic. In the case of the nobles their various estates were scattered about the pristeen countryside. Intermarriage was common, especially among the Brits. In true fashion of the day, John Browning married for money/property. Good looks were not as important as a terrific dowry. He married three times in his lifetime and became one of the countries largest landowners. He then set his eyes on the Whittington fortune when he arranged for his daughter Cecily (1387-1452), to marry Robert’s son, Guy Whittington (1385-1440). Fortunately for the present day Whittington clan, John Browning clocked out of life first and his many properties were divided between Cecily and his son from a previous marriage, John.

Robert Whittington’s relationship with Edward Despencer was without a problem largely because Edward was an honorable warrior, loyal to the King and England. His son, Thomas Despencer, was another story, more like Grampa Hugh Despencer. Thomas Despencer came to the support of Richard II against Thomas of Woodstock. For his effort Thomas was rewarded with an Earldom as the Earl of Gloucester in 1397. The title came with a nice chunk of land known as Corse Chase, including the village of Corse and surrounding countryside. Thomas switched allegiances and supported Henry Bolingbroke on Henry’s return to England and his quest to become King Henry IV. Henry was running his cousin Richard out of power and Thomas was betting on Henry to finish the job. The scheme didn’t work. King Henry IV had been an ally of the deceased Thomas of Woodstock and it was determined that Thomas Despenser played a key role in the death of Thomas of Woodstock. So Thomas lost his title as Earl. His property, Corse Chase, was handed over to our very own Robert Wittington.

The story doesn’t end there. Thomas Despencer switched sides again. Sooner or later this activity was going to catch up with him. He took part in the Epiphany Rising. A number of Barons who were disenchanted with Henry IV and with the Plantagenets, took aim at restoring Richard to the throne. They hoped to assassinate Henry IV. The plot failed. Edward of Norwich betrayed his buddies and revealed the plot to Henry. In fear for their lives the conspirators fled to the west of England and the mountains of Wales. Many were captured and killed by mobs of townspeople loyal to the king; Thomas Despenser was one of those captured by a mob and beheaded at Bristol on January 13, 1400. That had to be a Friday the 13th. I will bet a pound on it.

The last two decades of Robert Whittington’s life went rather quietly. He avoided political intrigue, skirmished over property claims and took care of his family: wife Margery and son Guy. He died shortly after his brother Richard and was buried in the Pauntley Church graveyard next to his home. The estate is now a Bed and Breakfast tucked away in the rolling plain of Gloucestershire.