Three brothers of this name, Walter, Berenger, and Osberne, are entered in Domesday as holding English baronies from the time of the Conquest. Walter, the eldest, who received as many as 107 manors in different counties, had his largest domain in Buckinghamshire, and was Earl of that county; Berenger held the barony of Fonthill, called from him Fonthill-Giffard, in Wilts; and Osberne that of Brimsfield in Gloucestershire. They were the sons of Osberne, Baron of Bolbec, who descended from Avelina, one of the sisters of Gunnor Duchess of Normandy,[1] and thus the kinsmen of their sovereign, "both owning a common ancestor in the forester of Equiqueville, the father of Gunnor and her sisters." The name—one of the greatest written in the records of the Conquest—is certainly not territorial, and as a sobriquet has been variously and ingeniously interpreted. The reading of "Liberal" or "Free-Giver" seems merely to rest on an atrocious mis-spelling of Giffard, and is inadmissible from its being English—a tongue wholly unknown to the Normans.[2] In M. Metivier's new 'Dictionnaire Franco-Normand,' there is a better-grounded explanation. "Giffair; rire comme un jouflou; Giffe, Giffle, Joue. Telle est l'origine de l'illustre famille Normande de Giffard." Giffarde signified fat-cheeked, and was so commonly applied to women employed in the kitchen, that it became a usual term for a cook or a scullery wench. Thus, Ducange gives "Giffardus," rendered ancilla coquina; and in Roquefort's 'Dictionnaire de la langue Romane,' we find "Giffarde: Joufloue, qui a de grosses joues—servante de cuisine." But it is not conceivable that such a nickname should have been given to a powerful noble of the blood royal of Normandy. "Giffle," in Romance, also means soufflet (blow on the cheek), and it is more likely the Giffards earned their name by their reputation as hard hitters.

Walter Giffard, as Count of Longueville and Baron of Bolbec, held a great fief in Normandy, and contributed thirty ships and one hundred men to the Duke's expedition; himself commanding his contingent at Hastings. It was not for the first time that he invaded England. More than thirty years before, he had come over with King Ethelred's son Edward, when, after the death of Canute, he made his ill-starred attempt to recover the crown. Since that time, he had gained the reputation of a famous soldier; had fought amongst the foremost at Mortemer, commanded at the siege of Arques, and been entrusted with the defence of the frontier district of Caux (which included his own Comte of Longueville) against Henry King of France. He next went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Jago de Compostella, combined, it may well be, with a private mission to Don Alfonso of Galicia, whom William afterwards affianced to his daughter Agatha. From thence he brought back to the Duke the beautiful Spanish charger that he rode at Hastings—the first of the three horses that day killed under him, and "the gift of a King that had a great friendship for him." When William was fully armed, and ready to mount, Walter Giffard himself led out this highly prized horse; and when Ralph de Toeni had claimed quittance of his service as hereditary gonfanonier of Normandy, it was to him the Duke first offered this post of honour. "Then," says Wace, "the Duke called to him Galtier Giffart. 'Do thou take this gonfanon,' said he, 'and bear it in the battle.' But Galtier Giffart answered: 'Sire, for God's mercy look at my white and bald head; my strength has fallen away, and my breath become shorter. The standard should be borne by one who can endure long labour. I shall be in the battle, and you have no man who will serve you more truly; I will strike with my sword till it is dyed in your enemies' blood.'

"Then the Duke said fiercely, 'By the splendour of God! my lord, I think you mean to betray and fail me in this great need.' 'Sire,' said Giffart, 'not so! We have done no treason, nor do I refuse from any felony towards you; but I have to lead a great chivalry, both soldiers' (soldeiers, mercenaries) 'and the men of my fief. Never had I such good means of serving you as now; and if God please, I will serve you; if need be, I will die for you, and give my own heart for yours.'

"'By my faith,' quoth the Duke, 'I always loved thee, and now I love thee more; if I survive this day, thou shalt be the better for it all thy days.'" On both sides was this pledge most faithfully redeemed. When, during the battle, Giffard was struck down in the melee, he was rescued by the Duke himself; and when the day was won, and the Conqueror, after kneeling down on the field to give thanks to God, was unbuckling his armour and preparing for rest, his old comrade was still watchful for his safety. He had ordered his tent to be pitched by his gonfanon, where the English standard had stood, and the struggle had been fiercest; and his supper to be served—a dark picture of the savage temper of the times—amid the heaps of slain that cumbered the ground; when, "behold, up galloped Galtier Giffart. 'Sire,' said he, 'what are you about? you are surely not fitly placed here among the dead. Many an Englishman lies bloody and mingled with the dead, but yet sound or only wounded, tarrying of his own accord, and meaning to rise at night and escape in the darkness. They would delight to take their revenge; and would sell their lives dearly; none of them caring who killed him, if he but slew a Norman first. You should lodge elsewhere, and let a careful watch be set this night, for we know not what snares may be laid for us. You have made a noble day of it, but I like to see the end of the work.' 'Giffart,' said the Duke, 'I thank God we have done well hitherto; and if such be God's will, we will go on and do well henceforward. Let us trust God for all'"—Ibid.

Walter Giffard survived that memorable day by nearly twenty years, dying about the time that the compilation of Domesday, for which he had been appointed one of the Commissioners, was brought to a close. In 1079 he had founded the Priory of St. Michel de Bolbec in Normandy. He left at least two sons and two daughters; Walter, his successor; William, who was Chancellor to William Rufus, and afterwards Bishop of Winchester: Rohais, the wife of Richard de Clare, and the great-grandmother of the renowned Earl Strongbow, and Isabel, married to Richard de Grenville.

Walter, the eldest son, having been confounded with his father by Dugdale and others, is generally considered to have received, rather than inherited, the Earldom granted by the Conqueror. But of this there is no evidence. "I can," says Mr. Planche, "find no ground whatever for the ordinary assertion that this second Walter, and not his father, was the first Earl of Buckingham."—The Conqueror and his Companions. There is no mention of him in England, but he was actively employed in Rufus' service in Normandy, where he fortified his castles against Robert Court-heuse. He died in 1103, and was buried in the church of an Abbey that he had founded for Cluniac monks at Longueville, leaving a son of his own name, who proved the last heir male. Walter III., a stout soldier in Henry I.'s French wars, died s. p. in 1164, having in his latter years founded Nutley Abbey in his park at Crendon, Bucks. His great barony of ninety-six knights' fees passed to the representatives of his aunt Rohais, Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford, and William Mareschal, Earl of Pembroke.

But if Walter Giffard's Earldom was short lived, the posterity of his two brothers was numerous and enduring. Osberne had, as I have said, his caput baroniae at Brimsfield, where the castle he built remained till 1322, when it was destroyed by Edward II.'s soldiers; but for more than one hundred years before that time, the head of the honour had been transferred to Winterborne-Giffard, in Wilts. His son Helias was the father of another Helias, who became a monk of St. Peter's Abbey at Gloucester, and of Gilbert, ancestor of the Giffards of Chillington. "To Helias II. succeeded Helias III., who in 1165 held nine knights' fees, and gave one hundred marks fine for livery of his inheritance. His successor was Thomas Giffard, who had lived in the time of Richard I., and was father of another Helias, who joined with the rebel barons against King John, and thus lost many of his estates."—Collinson's Somerset. The next heir, Sir John, a baron by writ in 1295, successfully recouped himself by the abduction of a wealthy widow. In 1270, Maude, Countess of Salisbury (the heiress of Walter de Clifford and his wife the Welsh Princess Margaret), wrote to complain to the King that she had been forcibly carried off by Sir John Giffard to his castle at Brimsfield, and was there detained against her will. He received a summons to appear before the King, but it came too late for the poor prisoner; as, though he denied the charge of violence, he admitted that he had married the Countess, and only paid the usual fine for having dispensed with the King's consent. This unfortunate heiress was the mother of two daughters, Katherine, Lady Audley, and Alianor, Lady Strange, who eventually became his representatives; for, though he married two other wives, and had a son by the last, the second Lord Giffard left no children. He had joined the Earl of Lancaster in his revolt against the tyranny of the Despencers, and was hanged for high treason at Gloucester in 1322.

The descendants of Osberne Giffard's younger grandson, Gilbert, are still to be found in Staffordshire. Gilbert's son William first adopted the present bearing of the house, Azure, three stirrups Or, in lieu of the arms of the Earls of Buckingham, Gules, three lions passant in pale Argent, that were borne by his elder brother.[3] Peter, the next heir, who went to Ireland with his kinsman Earl Strongbow, and received for his services the grant of an Irish manor, first acquired the present seat of the family.

"Giffard of Staffordshire cam to Landes by this meanes.

"The Lord Corpessun that was Founder of Studley Abbay in Warwickeshire, and that had a fair Maner Place half a Myle thens gave a Lordship of his yn Stafordshire, caullid Chillingtoun, in Frank Mariage with the one of his Doughtters to one of the Giffardes. After one of the Doughters and Heirs of Whitston of Whightston a Knight in Staffordshire was maried to one of the Giffardes; and of late tyme one of the Doughters of Montgomery of Careswell was maried to young Giffard Heire of Chillingtoun."—Leland. The son of this "young heire" received a visit from Queen Elizabeth at Chillington. In the following century, another Peter Giffard lived to witness both the downfall and restoration of his house. As a zealous loyalist, who had garrisoned Chillington for the King, he had been thrown into prison, and his estates put up for sale by the Drury House Commissioners. Several of his kinsfolk were with Charles II. at the fatal field of Worcester; and one of these—his nephew Charles—was among the few gentlemen that remained with the King after the battle, when, closely pressed by Cromwell's troopers, he was, in pursuance of Lord Derby's advice, endeavouring to reach Boscobel. They lost their way in the night on Kinfare Heath, and young Giffard, taking the place of their bewildered guide, conducted the King in safety to the appointed place. Boscobel then belonged to the Giffards, and was inhabited by one of their dependants, a poor wood cutter, named William Penderel. It was a solitary house, standing in a tract of the ancient Forest of Brewood; and had a cunningly contrived secret chamber, into which many a Jesuit priest—for the Penderels, like their masters, were staunch Catholics—and distressed Cavalier had crept during the Civil War. Lord Derby knew the place from having himself taken refuge there during a hot pursuit. But the King dared not linger under any roof; for a troop of rebel horse was quartered in the neighbourhood, and no time was to be lost. Dismissing his attendants, he disguised himself in a coarse suit, cutting off his hair, and blackening his hands against the chimney, and followed William Penderel into the inner fastnesses of the forest, while Penderel's brother Richard acted as scout. "The heavens wept bitterly at these calamities;" no dry place was to be found among the dripping trees; and Richard went to borrow a blanket from his sister-in-law, and folded it for the King to sit on. The good woman also brought him a mess of milk and eggs. When night fell, Richard guided him towards the Severn, hoping that they might be able to cross into Wales, but they found all the fords and passes strictly guarded, and after a weary tramp, returned to Boscobel at three in the morning. As the day dawned, the King discerned another fugitive descending from an oak-tree, who proved to be one of his own officers, Captain Carless, a Staffordshire gentleman who had served under Lord Loughborough. He persuaded the King to climb up into his hiding-place, telling him the wood would be searched in all directions as soon as it was fully light; and there, ensconced together within its friendly boughs, they spent the entire day. The troopers passed and re-passed on their vain quest below; their voices sounded close at hand; but the King, who had not slept for two nights, "slumbered away some part of the time" with his head resting on the trusty Captain's lap. When the search ended after dark, he was permitted to remove to the house; and the good wife brought him a piece of bread and a pot of buttermilk—all she had to offer, which he thought "the best food he had ever eaten." He remained for several days under the charge of the honest Penderels, who, at the greatest personal risk, harboured and guarded him with a devotion and fidelity that have been rarely equalled and never surpassed. Boscobel House, "the scene of such romance, heroism and loyalty," though much altered, is still standing; and a hole in the garret, reached by a ladder through a trap door, is shown as the King's hiding-place.

Old Peter Giffard lived to see the wandering fugitive again on the throne, and to receive from him a grant of his estreated possessions. He died, "full of days," three years after the Restoration.

The third Domesday Baron, Berenger, Lord of Fonthill-Giffard, Wilts, has left his name to two other manors in the county, Morris-Giffard, and Ashton-Giffard. His son Osbern occurs in Devon 1130; a second Osbern held fiefs there in 1165; and another descendant, Andrew, in the time of King John, resigned his Wiltshire barony to Robert Mandeville. See Hoare's Wilts. Thenceforward the family solely belonged to the county of Devon, and divided into several branches; one seated at Buckton, which terminated in 1372; one at Brightlegh, one at Tiverton, and one at Weare-Giffard, where their old manor house remains. Compton-Giffard, Aveton-Giffard, &c, still bear their name. They changed their arms, as their kinsmen of Chillington had done, adopting Sable three fusils in fesse Ermine; and like them, were zealous loyalists. One of the Giffards of Brightlegh, who was "decimated, sequestrated and imprisoned" during the Rebellion, "brought great reputation," says Prince, "to the Royal cause in these parts where he lived;" for "such was his deportment towards men in all his actions, as if he were conscious the eye of God was upon him." According to Sir Bernard Burke, this branch is still represented at Kilcorral, in Ireland. Lord Chief Justice Giffard, who was raised to the peerage in 1824, was a Devonshire man, born at Exeter, and took the title of Lord Giffard of St. Leonard's in his native county. Nevertheless, he bore, as his grandson now bears, the golden stirrups of Chillington with the addition of a chevron and border.

The Giffards were a widely spread family. In the time of Henry VIII., Leland enumerates two more branches besides those I have mentioned. "There be at this tyme 4 notable Housis of the Giffardes; one in Devonshire, a nother yn Hamptonshire, the thirde yn Staffordshire, the fourth in Buckinghamshire." And he incidentally alludes to a fifth. "Ther was one of the Giffardes of Shropeshire Companion to Syr Robert Knolles in the Batelles of Fraunce that was a Waster of his Lande." In Essex, Sir John Giffard of Giffard's Hall, who died in 1348, the last heir male, gave his name to Bower's Giffard. The Giffards of Burstall in Leicestershire (also extinct) received a baronetcy in 1660. I also find Norton Giffard in Gloucestershire.

Two of this race, Hugh and William Giffard, came into Scotland temp. David I. The latter was probably the "Brother William Giffard" of the monastery of Dunfermline, who witnessed one of the Scottish king's charters to the monks of May. Hugh had a considerable grant of lands in East Lothian, and his son further received from William the Lion in 1174 the barony of Yester. Another Hugh was one of the Regents of the Kingdom appointed by the treaty of Roxburghe in 1255, and died in 1267. He was popularly believed to be a wizard, and "must," as Sir David Dalrymple quaintly conjectures, "have been either a very wise man, or a great oppressor." In his castle at Yester there was a capacious cavern, called in the country Bo-Hall (Hobgoblin Hall) that was attributed to magical art:—

To hew the living rock profound,
The floor to pave, the arch to round,
There never toil'd a mortal arm—
It all was wrought by word and charm:
And I have heard my grandsire say
That the wild clamour and affray
Of these dread artizans of hell
Who labour'd under Hugo's spell,
Sounded as loud as ocean's war
Among the caverns of Dunbar.

"A stair of twenty-four steps (now fallen in) led down to this large and spacious hall, which hath an arched roof, and is still as firm and entire as if it had only stood a few years. From the floor of this hall, another stair of thirty-six steps leads down to a pit which hath a communication with Hopes-water." Sir Walter Scott makes this the scene of "The Host's Tale" in Marmion, where Alexander II., anxious to learn his fate, visits and consults the wizard knight, and is sent out to an enchanted encampment at midnight, where he breaks a lance with "an elfin foe, in guise of his worst enemy." A traditional curse still clings to the old castle, and it was noted by the country people, that the heir of the last Marquess of Tweeddale received the hurt of which he died while superintending some repairs that were going on there.

The last male heir of the Giffords—also Hugh—founded the collegiate church of Botham, or Yester, and died in 1409, leaving four co-heiresses. The eldest of these, Joan, brought the barony to her husband, Sir William Hay. The village of Gifford, about four miles from Haddington, retains the name, and gives their title to the eldest sons of the house of Tweeddale.

  1. William de Jumieges calls her their mother, but as her sister Gunnor was the great-grandmother of the Conqueror, this seems a chronological impossibility.

  2. "The Normans knew not what the English said; their language seemed like the barking of dogs, which they could not understand."—Wace.

  3. Their motto, "Prenez haleine et tirez fort" (addressed to an archer) connects these stirrups with the cross-bow or arbalest, "which had what is called a stirrup at the end of the stock, into which the foot was put in stretching it."—Planche.

-- Cleveland

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