There is no greater challenge in British-American genealogy than establishing a connection to William the Conqueror. After all, in the year 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, William, Duke of Normandy, was the last person to conquer England. All subsequent British history is an outgrowth of the amalgamation of the victorious Norman and the vanquished Anglo-Saxon cultures. They don’t make milestones much bigger than this!
So, if you are on the track of William and his companions, where do you start? We’ve pulled together some resources – some new and some originally printed in the 1800s – to help you in your search.
Perhaps the best place to start looking for where your history ties to William the Conqueror is the powerful little book, My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror, by Anthony Camp, former Director of the Society of Genealogists (London). This book contains a consolidated list of the companions of William the Conqueror. Preceding Mr. Camp’s list are the most important essays of the last century concerning this subject and, in particular, the list of companions named in the famous Battle Abbey Roll.
Mr. Camp also references those companions of the Conqueror whose names appear in the Domesday Book of 1086, that remarkable “quasi-census” of William’s domain taken 20 years following the conquest. Mr. Camp cross-references them to Lewis Loyd’s, The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families among others (both of these publications are discussed in more detail below). In the end, as he states in the subtitle to the work, Mr. Camp has come up with a fascinating list of “those who did and some of those who probably did not” come with the Conqueror.
As mentioned, tracking down less famous companions of William can be incredibly helpful. Used in addition to the information in My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror, The Roll of Battle Abbey contains the names of several hundred of the noble companions of the Conqueror. It is considered a cornerstone in feudal English genealogy as well as an extremely interesting and controversial record. This version, a compilation by John Bernard Burke, is a heavily annotated list of the companions of the Conqueror. These annotations provide an account of the origins of each companion and his relationship to William, a description of his baronies and estates, an assessment of his position in the feudal hierarchy, and a concise history of his life and times.
The Falaise Roll, an additional resource we recommend when trying to trace your lineage to William the Conquerer and those closest to him, is a list of 315 names engraved on the bronze memorial erected in 1931 in the chapel of the castle of Falaise in Normandy. These individuals were chosen because of the probability of their having fought in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Most of the work consists of biographies of those recorded on the roll. Additional biographies are given for other companions chosen from among many names for whom participation at Hastings has been specifically claimed.
Straddling the same time period and geographic regions, The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families deals with the Norman origins of several hundred families and related individuals, primarily those who settled in England between 1066 and 1205. The work contains two indexes – one of the families’ names and places, and the other of Norman overlords and their under tenants in England.
Mentioned earlier, the Domesday Book is the true starting point of English genealogy. In A General Introduction to Domesday Book (2 Vols.), Sir Henry Ellis’ work is designed to throw light upon the holdings of lands as well as instances of the hereditary descent of land from those who had possession in Saxon times. By far the greatest achievement of the work is the three indexes which comprise alphabetical lists of the names of all landowners and tenants, instancing the counties wherein they held land, the location of the original citation in Domesday Book, and details of their properties, marriages, and heirs.
Do you have another great resource that has helped you find your link to William the Conqueror? Tell us about it in the comments!
Image credit: A late-1800s engraving shows William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings, By Unknown engraver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.