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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English - Understanding Names in Genealogy  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Did Your Name Come with the Conqueror?

People are fond of aspiring to an ancestor in a notable shipload of founding fathers (and mothers) such as 18th century convicts to Australia, 17th century pious freedom seekers to North America, or 11th century pillaging warlords to England. Those unacquainted with genealogical practice are prepared to accept any flimsy evidence, or none at all, to be associated with a member of such a group. Our purpose here is not to reason why, but to examine the likelihood of actually proving such a linkage to the yearned-for English set, the Companions of William the Conqueror.

The Evidence

William certainly had thousands of men with him at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, but the names of less than 20 were recorded. Anthony Camp’s My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror ( 1990) has ably summarized the historical evidence, with an annotated list of all persons on each published list. He states that in 1901 the great Horace Round showed that the famous Battle Abbey Roll was probably a 14th century production, the original of which was lost in 1793, but many copies had been made of it, and creatively edited by various families, over the years. Other discredited lists include that done by Bernard Burke in 1848; the 1866 Dives Roll made for the 800th anniversary monument at Dives; and the 1931 Falaise Roll commemorative tablet which lists 315 names.

The Men

The 19 people considered by English experts to have certainly been at Hastings are listed next, followed by a list of eight others who were probably present.

The Confirmed Companions of William of Normandy

Aimery IV, Vicomte of Thouars
Engenulf de Laigle
Eustace, Count of Boulogne
Geoffrey de Mowbray, Bishop of Coutances
Geoffrey of Mortagne, afterwards Count of Perche
Hugh de Grandmesnil
Hugh de Montfort, Lord of Montfort-sur-Risle
Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, afterwards Earl of Kent
Ralf de Tosni, Lord of Conches
Robert de Beaumont, afterwards Earl of Leicester
Robert, Count of Mortain, afterwards Earl of Cornwall
Turstin Fitzrou

Vital of Bayeux
Wadard of Bayeux
Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville
William de Warenne, afterwards Earl of Surrey
William FitzOsbern, afterwards Earl of Hereford
William Malet, Lord of Graville
William of Evreux

Probable Companions of William of Normandy

Erchambald, son of Erchambald the Vicomte
Gerelm de Panilleuse
Goubert d’Auffay
Robert de Vitot
Robert fitz Erneis
Roger son of Turold

There were others who took part in the campaign but who were not at Hastings, and others, notably the great Normandy barons Roger de Beaumont and Roger de Montgomery who stayed home to serve as advisors to Queen Maud in Normandy, and came to England later.

The Families Descending from Them

Most English men and women today probably have the blood of many of the Companions flowing in their veins. Proving descent from any particular one is another matter, owing to paucity of records, especially between 1066 and the commencement of parish registers from 1538 onwards. There are major land and tax records from 1086, 1130, 1156 and a few later local ones, which give some genealogical evidence but were not intended to record pedigrees. To quote Thomsen (in Camp 1990), “The beginner can see at once the largeness of the desert and the long distances between the oases.”

Descent in the male line from only one, William Mallet, can be proven to the present day. Descents through females are equally important in today’s egalitarian society and there are several known, from at least ten of the Companions. Anyone who can show a descent from a mediaeval English baron could probably show a descent from all ten. It is far easier to prove a descent through the Royal line to William of Normandy himself, his heir-at-line being Albrecht of Bavaria. Further Norman families, whose progenitors were probably at Hastings but not in an extant record, can be identified as tenants in Domesday (Finn, Morris), and several modern descendant families are known: Carew, Fitzgerald, Gresley, Shirley, St. John (possibly) and Wrottesley. For further discussion and examples see Anthony Wagner’s (1983) English Genealogy.

Other Surnames from France

It is a common misconception that people with French-sounding names must have either come over in 1066, or were Huguenots. There were actually several different influxes of French surnames into Britain. The largest number of surnames introduced by the Normans were from their castles or villages in Normandy. Arundel, Bruce, Clifford, Devereux, Glanville, Mortimer, Mowbray, Percy and Warren come to mind as well as the forms that retained the preposition such as de Courcy and D’Abernon. Some developed into more than one form, including Dolley and Olley from Ouilly, and Turberville and Durbeyfield from Thouberville (Reaney 1967). The Bretons who fought at Hastings chose to settle largely in East Anglia which is the seat of the surnames Brett and Britton. They left their mark with other surnames such as Allan, Harvey, Jekyll, Jewell, Mingay, Sampson and Wymark. The union of England and France continued under the Plantagenet kings into the 15th century. There was trade and the crusades which assisted emigration of Frenchmen into England, bringing with them locative surnames such as Burgoyne (Burgundy), Gascoigne (Gascony), Mayne (Maine), Peyto (Poitou), Picard and Poor (Picardy). The Huguenot refugees, most of them literate skilled tradesmen, arrived in England during the 17th century bringing with them a further influx of French and Continental surnames such as Bosanquet and Garrick. There was a further movement of dispossessed aristocrats and their retinues across the English Channel after the French Revolution of 1787. Many of these French introductions were translated, thus we have Fairbrother for Beaufrère, Handsomebody for Gentilcorps and Whitbread for Blanchpain. The only safe way of knowing if you truly have a French name and from which wave of Frenchman you descend is to trace your own line back.

Descent from Earlier Anglo-Saxons and Celts

Apart from the royal lines, only the families Arden and Berkeley can be traced to pre-Conquest English forebears (Wagner). Domesday did not include the Celtic lands of Wales and Scotland because the boundaries of William’s kingdom did not include them.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English - Understanding Names in Genealogy offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

Category: England