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Norman-French Genealogy:
The Gernet Family

The Heysham family of England can trace their origin to William Highsame, a merchant born in about 1570 in Lancaster. I think it not unreasonable to connect them to John de Heysham [or Hesham], a merchant and bailiff of that town in the 13th century. However, they have long claimed that they find their earliest origins in the Gernet family of Normandy, a cadet branch of which were the Lords of the manor of Heysham from the 12th century. The claim, of course, is that the Gernet's of Heysham assumed the surname to show their ownership of the village and to differentiate themselves from the senior line of the Gernet family, who lived in Halton, Lancashire. It also assumes that someone, like John de Heysham, was one of their heirs. If so, then we may have a Norman-French heritage, assuming I can prove a relationship between the Heysham's of Lancashire and the Heesom's of Yorkshire.

Gernet Ancestors

As I interpret it, members of the Gernet family came to England around the time of the Conquest and were first given estates in the southeast of the country, notably in Essex and Hampshire. Later, a branch of this family received lands in the north, in Lancashire. This group then divided into at least four sub-branches: the Gernets of the manors of Halton (the senior line), of Heysham, of Caton, and of Lydiate. Over time their locative names, at least for the junior branches, became their surnames, that is "de Heysham," "de Caton," and "de Lydiate."

Footnote: "In no county in England do the names of the lands so much correspond with the surnames of their owners, as in Lancashire." - from "History of the County Palatine of Lancaster" by Edward Baines and William Robert Whatton
The Gernets of Halton may have also produced a line of "de Haltons," though they tended to keep the Gernet name the longest.

The Heysham family traces its origins to the Heysham branch of that Norman family. In the following reference it is even implied that the Heysham name was more ancient than that of Gernet, though I have no where else found this.

"the Lords of the Manor of Heysham acquired the surname of Cornet, eventually transformed into Gernet, in which name the manor long remained vested. However, junior branches of the family retained the ancient name and in the town of Lancaster there were in the seventeenth century more than one branch of the family bearing the name of Heysham." - from the “Life of John Heysham, M.D.”
At this point it is important to provide an important “however” to this theory. That our family was said to have Norman roots is almost too easy and too predictable. In the class conscious England of the eighteenth and nineteenth century's every family sought such “aristocratic” roots. A discussion of the medieval history of the village of Heysham notes that
"The local surname [Heysham] appears to have been used by several families, one of them, as already noticed, being tenants of the Prior of Lancaster." - from "The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster" Volume 8 by William Farrer and J. Brownbill
So some of those who bore the Heysham name might have been heirs of the Gernet's while others were not. There are several equally probable ways the family could have acquired the de Heysham name, though there is no way of proving or disproving any of the alternatives.

First, a man born in Heysham, having moved to Lancaster or beyond, might use the appellation to differentiate himself. For example he might be introduced, “This is John. No, not John of Halton, but John of Heysham.” This type of descriptor would also commonly be used in court procedures where surnames were lacking. The surname might stick and be passed onto his sons.

Second, an illegitimate child, the result of a union between a serving girl and one of the Gernet boys (or a bastard child of one of the Gernet girls for that matter), might appropriate the de Heysham name, both in pride of the connection and in defiance of a family that would not want this alliance recognized. However, it should also be noted that not all fathers of bastards rejected their children, especially at this early point in history. Many Kings of England set their bastards up as Earls or Barons, giving them everything but their name.

Third, a servant or a man sub-enfeoffed of the Gernet's of Heysham might be referred to, almost as if he were part of the property, as "of Heysham [manor]."

However, to make one final point in defense of the Gernet connection, the use of a “domain” name like de Heysham by someone not entitled to it, especially in Lancashire very near the bounds of the Gernet manors, could be dangerous. The family would jealously guard their entitlement because any unauthorized use of this domain name could diminish their entitlement, both now and to future generations. This is very like the way a modern corporation protects its trademarks. For example, use the uncapitalized word jeep in a publication and you will hear from Chrysler’s lawyers. In 1170, according to the Justicar of England, “every little knight in England had his seal" which protected their domain rights.

Serjeanty and Tenure

In the 12th century, Adam de Gernet de Hessam [that is, "Adam of the Gernet family of the vill of Hessam"], held the Heysham manor by the “tenure of serjeanty" or "service of Cornage."

Def: Serjeanty - A form of landholding under the feudal system, intermediate between tenure by knight-service and tenure in socage. It originated in the assignment of an estate on condition of the performance of a certain duty, other than knight-service. It ranged from service in the kings host, distinguished only by equipment from that of the knight, to petty services not much different than those of a rent-paying tenant or socager. Grand serjeantry was that held directly of the King.

Serjeanties included such major duties as acting as the King's Marshal or King's champion, and keeping the jail in Winchester Castle. Minor duties that rated a serjeanty included holding the king's head when he made a rough passage across the Channel, pulling a rope when his vessel landed, counting his chessmen on Christmas day, bringing fuel to his castle, doing his carpentry, finding his potherbs, forging his irons for his ploughs, tending his garden, nursing the hounds gored and injured in the hunt, and serving as veterinary to his sick falcons. The Gernets held the title of King's Forester of Lancashire, the most important serjeanty in the county.

The meaning of serjeant as a household officer is still preserved in the king's serjeants-at-arms.

The King's Forester

"Foresters and huntsmen occupied an ambiguous position in Angevin England. Some forest officials, including those serving the king, appear to have been keen to broadcast their exercise of office. A deed of Gilbert the forester's near-contemporary, William of Mitcheldean (Glos.), for the Cistercians of Flaxley styled himself regis forestarius . . . At the same time, forest officials were the subject of extensive animosity and widespread abuse . . . against 'the tyranny of foresters' (tyrannis forestariorum). Given the scale of this low regard, it must be significant that foresters and huntsmen figure noticeably as victims of violence in miracle collections and saints' lives." - from "The Murder of Gilbert the Forester" by H.F. Doherty in "The Haskins Society Journal 2011: Studies in Medieval History" edited by William North

Def: Cornage - \Cor"nage\, n. [OF., horn-blowing, tax on horned cattle, fr. F. corne a horn, L. cornu.] (Law). 1. An ancient tenure of land which obliged the tenant to give notice of an invasion (especially by the Scots) by blowing a horn or lighting a fire. 2. It later came to mean the requirement to be in attendance on the border of the county, with horn and white wand, whenever the King should come, to introduce him with sound of horn into the county, and in like manner to attend him on his departure.

"In England some estates were held on a cornage tenure, to blow a horn in case of an invasion, generally on the Scottish borders. The Barony of Burgh-on-the Sands, in the county of Cumberland, was anciently so held. "Rogerus de Hesam tenet duas carucatus terrae, per servitium sonandi cornu suum guando Rex intrat et exit comitatum Lancastriae."" - from "The British Army: Its Origin, Progress, and Equipment" by James Sibbald David Scott, Sibbald David Scott.

In the feudal era there were a number of "Peculiar Services and Tenures,"

"The following are entries in the "Test de Nevill," a book supposed to have been compiled towards the close of the reign of Edward II. or the beginning of that of Edward III., and consequently to exhibit the services and tenures existing about the beginning of the 12th century: . . . Roger Gernet, by being chief forester. William Gernet, by the service of meeting the king on the borders of the city, with his horse and white rod, and conducting him into and out of the city. William and Benedict de Gersingham [possible Gernet relatives], by the sergeantry of keeping the king's aeries of hawks. Gilbert Fitz Orm, by paying yearly 3d. or some spurs to Benedict Gernet, the heir of Roger de Heton [Heaton or Halton?], in thanage . . . Roger Fitz Vivian [Roger son of Vivian Gernet] holds the sergeantry of Heysham, by blowing the horn before the king at his entrance into and exit from the city of Lancaster. Thomas Gernet, in Heysham, by sounding the horn on meeting the king on his arrival in those parts." - from "Lancashire Folk-Lore," pages 278-280.

Feudal Tenure

Tenure referred to landholding. It implied that the landholder does not have absolute possession, but derived the right from some other person. It was an interest, or seisson, in land according to the services which the tenant was obliged to render in return for it. Outright ownership of the land, without obligation to others, was known as alod.

The ultimate source for all English property in the Medieval period was the King, who was known legally as the Lord Paramount. A lord might hold land immediately of another, but mediately of the King. Those who held lands immediately of the King were called his tenants in capite, or tenant in chief. They, in turn, could offer inferior tenures for which they had to pay their superior lord a fine for alienation of the estate. A man who was both lord and tenant was known as a mesne lord. His vassal was called the tenant paravail, because he was supposed to make avail, or profit, of the land. If a tenant had no heir, upon his death the estate went back to his lord. Such a reversion was called an escheat, or escheatment.

Tenure was classified as either free or unfree. Unfree, or servile, tenure was generally that of the villein, or serf, who performed manual labor and was a tenant at the will of the lord. The serfs were tied to the land as property of the manor.

Free tenure was a means for ensuring the performance of services required by the state. It included,

- Knight tenure. The obligation to provide military services, or a particular number of knights, when asked.
- Frankalmoign tenure. Lands were granted to religious bodies for spiritual welfare.
- Serjeantry tenure. The obligation to provide personal services or hold office, i.e. the forester.
- Socage tenure. The obligation to cultivate the land when villeinage was not available. The socage tenant held his land in return for performing duties for the lord. Socage developed many varieties.
Freehold fees were,
-- Fee simple, An absolute ownership of the land, including freedom of alienation.
-- Fee tail. An estate bestowed as a gift to a donee and limited inheritance outside a prescribed line of succession. An estate "entailed male," for instance, could only be inherited by a male child.
-- Life fee. An estate bestowed for the life of the donee only, who had no right of alienation.

Nonfreehold fees were,
-- Estate for years. One that will expire at the end of a fixed period.
-- Periodic estate. One for a set term, which is automatically renewed if neither party takes steps to terminate it. Most modern leases of real property and buildings establish periodic estates.
-- Tenancy at will. One that may be terminated by the tenant or the landlord.
-- Estate at sufferance. When a tenant continues to occupy the land after the right to occupancy has expired, the tenancy subsists only so long as the landlord does not object.

As a money economy developed, most of these services were commutated into fixed monetary payments.

Origins of the Gernet Name

What I find most interesting about the orgins of this name is that it developed so early, circa 1050, when the use of surnames was in its infancy. There are several theories about the origin of the Gernet surname, though none of them can be proved. From the conspicuous service of cornage it has been said that,

"the Lords of the Manor of Heysham acquired the surname of Cornet, eventually transformed into Gernet, in which name the manor long remained vested." - from the “Life of John Heysham, M.D.”

Similar to the above, Gernet may be a variation directly from "cornett," the hunting horn that symbolized the family's hereditary rank as royal foresters.
"See, too, the seal of Roger Gernet, hereditary forester in the the honour of Lancaster, which depicts him on horseback, blowing his hunting horn (Durham, DCM 3.2.4 Ebor 4). Roger Gernet was described in 1212 as holding his property of the king in forestaria (Bk. of Fees, i, 212). In 1226 Roger, his brother Vivian, and one Roger the forester were accused of killing a man because Roger and his men had been contradicted 'concerning the perambulation of the forest in those parts' (quod ipsi oblocuti sunt de perambulacione foreste in partibus illis) (Rot. Litt. Claus., ii, 163b, 166)." - from "The Haskins Society Journal 2011: Studies iin Medieval History" by William North
The instrument we understand today as a cornet, a brass trumpet with a slightly smaller bell, was not developed at this time. The cornett was a curved wooden instrument, looking something like an animal's horn, that was fingered like a flute and was known as early at the tenth century. Doug Garnett, another researcher of this family, indicates that the family were also heralds and that the cornett was part of the family coat-of-arms.
"Although I have not been able to find a copy of the original design for the Coat of Arms granted to the early GERNET family of Halton, it is said to have included a representation of the royal hunting horn that was a symbol of their hereditary office. The hunting horn or bugle was probably used as a mark of the family's trade or entitlements and their Coat of Arms was derived from these hallmarks of their royal appointments." - Doug Garnett
I haven't seen that in contemporary arms, though much later the Garnett's of Quernmore Park used a buglehorn, similar to that shown below.

I don't find either of these explanations satisfactory because the Gernet name was established before the family gained the office of Forester or began to render the service of cornage.

During the Middle Ages in England gernet was a word which meant pomegranate, the fruit. The original root word was the Latin granum, meaning grain or seed. Granatus meant having many seeds and it was the Romans who called the fruit a granatum and, later, pomegranate, that is, an apple, pome, having many seeds. The scientifict nomenclature for the pomegrante tree is Punica granatum referring to what the Romans believed was the Punic, i.e. Carthaginian, origins of the fruit.

Later the word gernet evolved into garnet. The pomegranate plant even became known, for a time, as the garnet-tree and the fruit as the garnet appille, or apple. - from "The Anglian" by Charles Harold Evelyn White.

In French the word was rendered as grenat and in Spanish as grenada, making the automobile of the 1970's a Ford Pomegranate.

One of the armorial symbols of the royal house of Spain was a pomegranate, a play on the city of Granada, the last holdout of the Moors in Spain which the Spanish, under Ferdinand & Isabella, conquered in 1492. At the left is the badge of Catherine of Aragon, daughter of those monarchs, showing the fruit.

The semi-precious stone we call a garnet was then known as a gernet from its resemblance in color and shape to the grains or seeds of the pomegranate. In the following poem, circa 1200 [temp. Edward I], the author compares his mistress to a variety of gems and flowers.

Ic hot a burde in a bour, ase beryl so bryght,
Ase saphyr ih selver semely on syght,
Ase jaspe the gentil that lemeth with lyght,
Ase gernet in gold and rubye wel ryght,
Ase onycle he is on y holden on hyght
Ase diamand the dere in day when he is dyht . . .
- from "The History of English Poetry" by Thomas Warton
Gernet was also rendered as gernad, garnad, garnard, granat; or plural as garnetes, grenaz, or grenas.

The English gernet was an adaptation of the Old French grenet (also grenette, grenat, grenate), which, as an adjective, also meant "of a dark red color," probably from the color of the pomegranate's seeds. Note how the French grenet became in England, gernet. This "er" inversion was common and will be significant in our later discussions.

So the name Gernet may have been a nickname, meaning simply red-haired or ruddy complexioned. Applying that to our generation (1) ancestor Ralph de Gernet, who you'll read about below, we have Ralph the Red, which kind of reminds me of the Viking, Erik the Red. I would be more comfortable with this explanation if there were other examples of this use of le gernet as an appelation, as there are for le roux or the English "rufus."

To keep the derivation going, a small bomb thrown by hand is called a grenade because, in the 16th century, soldiers thought the early versions looked like pomegranates and were filled with "seeds," or grains of powder. A company of soldiers trained to handle grenades became known as grenadiers. They were at the forefront of assaults, lobbing their grenades, then forcing their way through the resultant breaches. Grenadiers had to be tall and strong enough to hurl these heavy objects a great distance so as not to harm themselves, or their comrades, in the blast. The use of the grenade declined in the 18th century, but grenadier survived as the name for elite assault troops.

There are a couple of locative explanations for the derivation of Gernet. First, there may be a relationship to the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Amongst the names given that island in the Medieval period were Guarnet and Gernet. The surname may thus mean "of Guernsey." Wace, the ancient English poet, referred to Chernerin, a place which may have been Guernsey. The most common translation of Wace's ancient prose is:

"Unt tant coru e tant sigle,
En Chernerin sunt arive . . ."
Other translaters have evaluated this differently.
"Other copies read Gernerou or Gerneui; in Peter Langtoft it is Guarnet, in Robert of Brunne Gernet, and in Robert of Gloucester, more correctly, Gernesey, from Geoffreys Garnareia."
- from "Layamons Brut, Or Chronicle of Britain: A Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of the Brut of Wace" by Layamon, Wace, Society of Antiquaries of London.

Similarly, there is, in the department of Calvados, in the arrondissement of Bayeux [Bayou], in Normandy a village known as Guéron. The family name, as Gueron-et, might show their origins in that place. Note, in the Gernet's of Halton page, that Vivian Gernet was said to be 'of Gueron' by at least one researcher. Gueron is located just south of the town of Bayeux, of which William I's half-brother, Odo, was the Bishop. Its lords were known as the Seigneurs de Gueron. Turstin de Gueron was listed in the Dives list of those knights that accompanied William the Conqueror on his invasion of England in 1066.

"Gueron: Calvados, arr. and cant. Bayeux.
In 1086 Turstin de Giron or Girunde was an under-tenant of Odo biship of Beyeux in Buckinghamshire and Kent. In the Bayeux Inquest of 1133 Gueron occurs as a 'vavassoria' of the bishop of Bayeux." - from "The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families" edited by Charles Travis Clay and David Charles Douglas

Def: Terra Vavassoria - The fief or land of a vavasour, a free man, not necessarily a vassal, from whom military service was due. Also as a knight of only middle rank.

There is an Ascheter de Gueron listed in the Index Personarum et Locorum of the "Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum: The ACTA of William I 1066-1087." Is Ascheter possibly a profession vice a given name? That is, as in escheat, when an estate fell into the hands of the lord or the state for want of an heir. Spelling variations include Guerrin, Guerren, Guerin, Guerinne, Guerrein, Guereon, Gerin, Garin, Le Guerin, Guerenne, Guerry, Le Guerinne, De Guerin, De Guerrin, and Du Duerin. Guillaume Guerin of Normandy settled in Quebec in 1704.

Doug Garnett feels, after extensive research, that the family name was actually of archaic French origin. The most plausible theory, according to him, being that the family surname evolved from the old French word gernetier, meaning grain-keeper, perhaps indicating an early occupation or a social position, as in superintendent of the grain reserves. This word actually began as grenetier, as is described in the following.

"greniers - royal salt warehouse. In most of France, the king held a wholesale monopoly of the sale of salt. The salt tax monopolists (independent contractros, i.e. tax farmers) had to bring their salt to a royal warehouse, where a royal official, the grenetier, registered it and oversaw its later distribution to merchants. The tax farmers collected, on behalf of the king, a fixed amount on every muid of salt registered by the grenetier. The grenetier also served as the judge in the first instance of all small-scale lawsuits related to the salt tax. Each warehouse also had a controller, to check on the grenetier, and an offical measurer of salt. All these offices were venal [open to bribery; mercenary]." - from "The State in Early Modern France."
The reference to the salt tax is, for our purposes, anachronistic since it was not established until the 13th century. However, I have seen references to both "le grenetier du grenier a sel," or grenetier of the salt warehouse, and to "le grenetier des graines," or grenetier of the grain warehouse, so the word may apply to both the warehousing of salt and grain. Grenier referred to a warehouse, barn or granary. In Middle English this became gerner, or storeroom. Again, the root word is the Latin granum, as it was for gernet. The French word grenetier was transposed when it came into England, both by swapping the "re" for "er," and Anglicizing the suffix.
"gerneter n. Also garneter, garnter. [OF grenetier] One who has charge of a granary, also, a surname; gerneteres man, a servant assisting in a granary . . . Close R. Edw. I 451: William Gerneter. (1318) Pat. R. Edw. II 285: Alexander Gernetersman. (1322) . . . " - from the "Middle English Dictionary"
The d'Estouteville's, an important Norman family mentioned below, were at one time "du grenetier de Rouen" - from "Chronique du Mont-Saint-Michel (1343-1468)" by Simeon Luce. The great de Guise family also were grenetier. This could be a lucrative post and, not surprisingly, was often hereditary. Grenetier became a surname of course. There was a Jean le Grenetier, of Paris, in the 15th century and today Jean Roch Grenetier lives in Milwaukee, Benjamion Grenetier is a French du- and tri-athlete, while Benoit Grenetier, a vintner, lives in the Loire region of France. Lazare de Baif was the Abbot of Charroux and Grenetier, probably in Anjou or the region near Paris. So, was Grenetier also a town? I haven't resolved this point yet. There is, in Fécamp, a Rue Grenier a Sel, street of the salt warehouse.

In England the occupational title of gerneter was current as late as 1348 and that of garneter to 1603, as seen in Shakespeare's use of it in his Funeral piece for Elizabeth I. Supporting the supposition above, in the Fine Rolls of Henry III, Sir Roger Gernet of Halton, the King's Forester, was, in a dispute with the lepers of St. Leonards, referred to as Roger Gerneter. There is also a reference to a "William de Gerneter 1296" in "A Dictionary of English Surnames." A little later, in 1325, a Robert le Gerneter was a witness to document of the Petre family of Ingatestone Hall, in Essex. In a Latin text we have a reference to a Gerneter family in Durham,

". . . rendo sibi et haeredibus suis, de Willelmo Gerneter, unum messuagium, viginti et novem acras terrae, et unam acram prati et dimidiam, cum pertinentiis, in Norton', quae de nobis tenentur in capite, eaque in- . . ." - from the "Registrum Palatinum Dunelmense: The Register of Richard de Kellawe, Lord Palantine and Bishop of Durham" by Thomas Duffus Hardy, Richard de Kellawe
Also in Durham,
"Of the Durham merchants, one of them in a moderate way of business, two made two consignments each. Robert le Gerneter exported 8 sacks of wool and 200 wool-fells and 13 stones of wool and a last of hides." - from "Archaeologia Aeliana"
There was also a John le Gerneter and a "Ricardus le Gerneter essoniator abbatis de Fontibus optulit se iiij. die versus . . ." in York - from the Curia Regis. Jacobus and Ed. Garneter were litsters, or dyers, of York during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV.

I find the explanation above very persuasive, but that offered next is also. The English and Welsh Surname Dictionary has this to say about the issue:

"Garnett, Garnett - Bapt. 'the son of Garnet,' if such a personal name existed, but more probably 'the son of Guarin' [a given name of the period]. Although I have no absolute proof to adduce, I cannot hesitate to assert that this is the O.F. Guarinot (a diminutive in ot of the very popular Guarin), just as Warnett is Warinot (a diminutive in ot of Warin), the English dress of the same name (v. Wareing and Warinot). Assuredly it is a font-name, or the pet form of a font-name. An inspeximus [royal grant] of the charter of the manor of Ulverton, 10 Henry IV* [1409], is witnessed among others by 'Garnet our Forestor' (West's Ant. of Furness, p. 34)."
In the French language, unlike English, all nouns have gender, the suffixes -ot and -et denoting the masculine diminutive. So a young man, whose father's name was Guarin, might become known as Guarin-ot or Guarin-et, that is, "little" Guarin, just as a small lance is a lancet. Note that Ralph Gernet, below, was also known as Radolphus Guernet. The given name is apparently Germanic/Frankish in origin. Variations of Guarin include Guérin, Garin, Guarinet, Guarinus, Guerinnet, Warin, Warinus, Warren and Warrenus. Common given names in Normandy include "Garin, Gerrin, Guerin, Guerinaud, Guerineau, Guerinet, Guerinon, Guerinot" - from “Surnames in Normandy.”

The date of the charter for "Garnet our Forester," above, can not be right. The Gernet family lost the hereditary title to the Earl of Lancaster, a son of Henry III, who had revoked it in 1280. If we assume the above should actually be '10 Henry III,' that would be 1226, or when Roger Gernet was still Forestor.

I have an undated charter of the chapter house of St. Evroul in which Humphrey de Merestona gave all his land in the demesne of Danblainville. This was witnessed by a Guarnerius. Another document, of 1092, was witnessed by Gislebertus Guarnerii filius.

Kate Monk's Onomastikon, or dictionary of names, describes the given name Warin [the English of Guarin] as a "tribal name" of Norman or Germanic origin, "or the placename La Varenne, 'game-park'." The Wiktionary refers to two different Norman surnames, both rendered Warren, "one from a Germanic given name war(in) "guard", another from a place La Varenne "the game park" in Normandy." The name of the town of La Varenne itself was derived from the Old French garenne, which meant game park, or reserve, or perhaps most explicitly, game fencing. The town of Clichy, northwest of Paris, was known as Clichy-la-Garenne, Clichy the Warren, for its role as a one-time game preserve. A garennier, or in England warrenier, managed a game park. This seems to lead us back to the Gernet occupation of forester. Could the family have been foresters prior to the Conquest? That is, were they garenniers vice grenetiers? The Gernet name would then derive from garennier-et, or Garin-et, the son of the game keeper. Interesting, but if the Gernets brought their occupation with them from Normandy, they pursued it only in Lancashire. I've found no records of the Essex or Hampshire lines being foresters or game keepers.

Note that the Dukes of Normandy had established royal forests and forest laws in the 9th and 10th centuries based on the Carolingian model. The forest of Eu, north of Fécamp on the Norman coast, was a ducal hunting preserve as was the forest of Arques.


The name Gernet may have been pronounced like the gem, garnet, with the accent on the first syllable (GER-net), or like the name, Garnett, with the accent on the second (ger-NET). That reminds me of a situation here in San Diego. The city fathers named several sets of streets in the city, in alphabetical order, after trees (i.e., Ash, Beech, Cedar, Date), birds, authors, and, in the Pacific Beach area, gemstones. Garnet street, then, should be pronounced like the gem, but locals insist on putting the accent on the second syllable, leading to the rhyming complaint, "Its garnet, darn it!"

A modern looking at the Gernet name might assume that its first syllable was prounounced like the animal sound, 'grr.' However, according to Bill Bryson in "The Mother Tongue," before the time of Shakespeare there occurred what he called the Great Vowel shift in which most vowel sounds shifted forward and upward in the mouth. Because of this, what we read as 'er' they pronounced as 'ar;' person was parson, heard was hard, and defer was defar. How do we know this? Apparently researchers looked at the rhymes used by poets of this earlier period and how words were misspelled in letters. If this was so, then Gernet was prounounced as Garnet. Note that late in the 14th century Joan Gernet, the heiress of Halton manor, was referred to as Joan Garnet and by the 16th century almost all of the family were known by that name.

As a "French" name, was Gernet pronounced like ger-NAY or gar-NAY? By the way, I've always liked the German language because you pronounce everything just as written, while only the French would pronounce printemps as pron-tom. Gernay/Gernaey/Gernai is a family name in Belgium. Hugh de Gournay [Gournai], Seigneur of Gournay-en-Brie, in Normandy, was one of the Conqueror's companions. Grenay is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department of France.

Note also that several references on this page indicate that the French Guarin and English Warren were probably pronounced the same way. If so, the surname may have been "War-nay." But, my guess is that the English, in their peculiar fashion, would have pronounced this French name in an English way, just as the French Beuchamp is somehow transfigured into the English "Bee-chum."

A variation of Gernet, limited to Hampshire, was the use of the spellings Kernet and Chernet. What does that say about pronunciation? I would guess that in this case the first two letters of Chernet were prounounced as the tch of cherry vice the sh of cherie. I was pleased to see this point substantiated by Bill Bryon in "The Mother Tongue." He noted that French words adopted before the 17th century were Anglicized while those adopted afterwards were not. "Thus older ch- words have developed a distinct "tch" sounds as in change, charge and chimney, while the newer words retain the softer "sh" sound of champagne, chevron, chivalry, and chaperone."

The Gernet Family & the Conquest

Duke William’s invasion of England was supported not only by his Norman vassals, but by a wide variety of lords, knights, and freebooters from throughout northwestern Europe who hoped to gain both booty and lands. The Gernet's came to England at about this time and became part of the Norman overclass in England. Interestingly, at least to me, the Montague's, my wife’s family, also trace their origins to Normandy and a Drogo de Monte-acuto, who was born around 1040. See the Montague web page for more about this.

Historical Timeline: The Norman Invasion, 1066 AD

Duke William claimed that King Edward, during one of his forced stays at the Norman court when the Vikings were ascendent, promised the throne to William upon Edward's death, he being childless. Whether this is true or not, William planned to act accordingly. When, upon the death of Edward, the Saxon lords predictably selected Harold, the most powerful of the English Barons, as their King, an invasion was only a matter of time, and the English knew it. Harold raised an army and awaited the assault in the south, but was called north by a Norwegian invasion. He won a brilliant victory over them at Stamford bridge, but then learned that William had landed during his absence. The English army met the Normans after a forced march south. It is a subject of debate whether Harold should have delayed the subsequent battle to rest his troops, but he probably felt that any time wasted gave William more time to secure his position.

At this time Normandy was the most highly organized state in Europe and possessed one of its most professional armies. Its forces were characterized by armored cavalry, developed in France in response to the mobile tactics of Viking raiders in the north and Moorish invaders in the south. The Saxons, on the other hand, still employed heavy infantry deployed in a shield-wall.

The Battle of Hastings, like Waterloo, was a near run thing. The Saxons had taken a strong position on an eminence and established the shield wall, with Harold protected by his housecarls, an elite infantry force. After numerous failed attempts by the Norman cavalry to break this defensive position, the Normans decided to try a feint. They attacked again, then retreated in apparent disorder. A number of the Saxon warriors, exhausted and now exultant at their seeming victory, broke ranks to chase the disappearing horsemen. On command the Normans reversed their course and fell on these disorganized units, slaughtering them in detail. The final defeat came when Harold was killed by an arrow. Norman rule would end a long era of foreign invasion and introduce feudalism to England.

At the time of the Conquest the population of England was estimated to be about 1.5 to 2.0 million.

There have been many lists compiled of the men who accompanied William on his conquest, but all are in one way or another suspect.
- The most accurate is the Bayeux tapestry, commissioned by William not long after the victory. For those named, on the Norman side, see William's Battle Force.
- The Battle Abbey Roll, named after the abbey founded by the King at Hastings, may have been an accurate list at some point, but it has been spoiled by many additions by more modern family's trying to improve their genealogies.
- The Dives Roll was compiled in the 19th century based on a memorial at the Dives-sur-Mer church in Calvados, Basse-Normandie, that supposedly commemorated the men who followed William.
- The Falaise Roll was compiled from the works of Orderic Vitalis, Wace, the Bayeux tapestry and other researchers.
- The Domesday Book also cites some of these warriors.
- Another source available online is The Conqueror and His Companions, by J.R. Planché, Somerset Herald. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1874. This is one of the most fully researched and readable compilations.

The following is an attempt to identify an ancestor in the generation of the Conqueror, in France, using the naming conventions discussed earlier.

(-1) Guerin or Du Grenetier des Graines (c1020)

A possible/theoretical French ancestor of both the French Grenets and the English Gernets. A father, named Guerin, or occupationally du Grenetier des graines. He would be a member of the petty nobility and, based on later affiliations, a vassal or client of the Montgomery family.

His supposed sons, William Grenet and Ricard Gernet, were newcomers to Normandy circa 1088 when they were enfeoffed out of ducal properties around Fécamp by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of the Conqueror. They may have also held lands in England circa 1094 as William Chernet of Hampshire and Richard Gernet of Essex. If newcomers, then where did their father, Guerin, come from? My best guess at this point is Chartres, to the east of Normandy, in the old county of Blois. There was a family of Gernets living there from at least 1096 to the 17th century. They appear to have been merchants or tradesmen of some consequence. Might their fortune have been based upon a patronage job as du grenetier de Chartres in the 11th century?

There is a reference in the "Battle Abbey Roll" to a companion of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings known only as "Greuet; no doubt for Gernet, a well known Lancashire house." A foot note advises: "This transposition of the letter "r" is by no means uncommon. Gernon, for instance, is several times given as Grenon in Domesday." The book is surprisingly quiet on the substitution of "u" for "n." Another online researcher helpfully notes that when reviewing lists that "have been copied, recopied and miscopied several times" errors creep in. "Handwritten "u's" and "n's" tend to get confused as might "e's" and "a's."" So perhaps Greuet=Grenet=Gernet.

The Battle Abbey Roll

The Battle Abbey was built on the site of the Battle of Hastings by William I to commemorate his victory, and house the monks who said prayers to speed his soul, and those of the knights who died in the battle, through purgatory. The Roll of the Battle Abbey, which purports to list the companions of William the Conqueror at Hastings, is notoriously unreliable. Over the centuries most every family in England has managed to finagle an entry on the roll for themselves. If all the names noted were correct it would have been a very crowded battlefield. Some of the entries are accurate and many are not. The issue is, which is which?

The Abbey Roll goes on to say, "The name [Gernet] appears in the Norman Exchequer Rolls of the twelth century. "Guillaume de Carnet" is entered on the Dives Roll . . ."

Dives Roll

The Dives Roll was compiled in 1866 by Leopold Delisle and included 485 "Companions of William the Conqueror at the Conquest of England in 1066." This was subsequently inscribed on a memorial erected in the church at Dives-sur-Mer where William prayed before leaving France. "In many instances, the [Dives] list seems to be taken from [the] Domesday Book, but as the Duchess of Cleveland said, it is to be regretted that he [the Dives Roll compiler] has in no case cited an authority or given a reference." Delisle was a genuine scholar, but the roll is considered to be an unreliable source for William's companions. Some go as far to call it an outright fabrication. Again, however, the issue is, which entries are true and which are false?

Names of interest on the list include,

Ansger de Montaigu
Drew de Montaigu
Gautier de Laci
Geoffroi du Bec
Geoffroi Martel
Guillaume Belet
Guillaume de Carnet
Hugue de Bolbec
Hugue de Laci
Ilbert de Laci
Ive Taillebois
Niel d'Aubigni
Niel de Gournai
Raoul Taillebois
Robert Guernon
Roger de Laci
Roger le Poitevin

No Gernet surname variations appear on the Falaise roll.

Falaise Roll

The Falaise Roll 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.

Names of interest on the list include,

Ansger de Montaigu
Dreu de Montaigu
Gautier de Lacy
Geoffroi du Bec
Geoffroi Martel
Godefroi de Villers
Hugue de Bolbec
Hugue de Gournay
Hugue de Gournay "le Jeune"
Ibert de Lacy
Ive Taillebois
Raoul Taillebois
Roger de Montgomeri
Roger le Poitevin

The scenario would be that a man called Greuet or Guillaume de Carnet took part in some fashion in the invasion of England, perhaps under the banner of Roger Montgomery. The Montgomeries were richly rewarded by the Conqueror for their service and they, in turn, would have rewarded their own retinues. The earliest lands available for patronage were in the south and east of England where the Gernet family first appears as land-owners. Later, when the north of England was subdued, at least one member of the family was granted land in what would become Lancashire.

Historical Timeline: Reign of Kings

1066-1087 William I, the Conqueror. William was the bastard son of the last Duke of Normandy and was forced to learn the art of war early as his Barons fought him for control of the Duchy. An effective leader, and bloody in retribution, he built a strong state, then looked around for other worlds to conquer.

After the Battle of Hastings William consolidated his power in the south. Recognizing the importance of London, he built the Tower of London to control the population of that city. This castle, painted white to enhance its visibility & dominance, became known as the White Tower. He also built a ring of fortresses a day's march from London to protect the city from attack, of which Windsor castle was one.

Later he would attack the problem of northern England.

The period immediately after the Conquest was a time of unhappiness and unrest, and Saxon England was perpetually on the verge or in the throes of rebellion. In the north a number of great men strived for control. The first was Earl Copsi, an old ally of Tostig, who was made earl by William in a period when his control in the south was still uncertain. Copsi, however, was quickly murdered by Oswulf, the son of the old Saxon Earl Eadwulf, who then maintained himself as earl until he too was murdered, by a brigand. Gospatric, a grandson of Earl Uhtred and cousin to Oswulf, also vied for the earldom and held it for a while after purchasing the right from King William. He could not, however, relinquish the habit of rebellion and sided with the Atheling, a prince of the old house of Wessex, in his attempt to eject the Normans.

At one point Northumbria was given by William to a Norman lord, Robert de Comines, but he and his small army were ambushed and destroyed before they could take power. Also by this time Waltheof, son of the old Danish Earl Siward, had come of age and was ready to retrieve his patrimony, leading the last, and most bloody, of the rebellions. The Scots also took every opportunity to seize lands while the north was in turmoil.

After these many uprisings and disturbances King William, having secured his position in the south, led his Norman army north to teach the Saxons what happened to those who defied his authority. The Norman's ruthlessly crushed the numerous rebellions in what became known as the "harrowing of the north," a vicious campaign which included an artificial famine brought about by Norman destruction of food caches and farming implements. This campaign, akin to Sherman's March to the Sea, left an unequalled devastation from which the north did not recover for many years.

Gospatrick was able to make terms with the Conqueror and ruled again for a few years as Earl, but once William had things firmly in hand Gospatrick was stripped of his title and exiled. William had married Waltheof, the son of the old Earl Siward, to his niece, Judith, in 1070 and gave him the Earldom in 1072. However in 1075 Waltheof once again became involved in revolt, this time in company with several Norman Earls. Defeated in battle, he gave himself up to William, who beheaded him. This was considered harsh, if not unfair. Norman knights involved in the rebellion merely had lands confiscated and were imprisoned. William was said to have been obsessed by guilt over this treatment of Waltheof, who became revered as a Saxon martyr.

Lordship of Northumbria subsequently passed through Bishop Walcher of Durham, an incompetent leader who was murdered in 1080, to Aubrey de Coucy, a Norman. By the way, the de Coucy family in France is the central focus of the history A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman. Control of the north was so difficult, however, that de Coucy resigned the position. He was regarded as "of little use in difficult circumstances" of which there were plenty. It was only with the assignment of Robert de Montbray, or Mowbray, another Norman, in 1086 that a family powerful enough to control this region was found.

The actions of these great men were imitated at every level of society so that even in the meanest village some man, stronger and more ruthless than the others, dominated and exploited his neighbors.


When Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine frontier into Roman Gaul, they came over as ein volk, each a single people ruled by a King from their own tribe. They were somewhat eglatarian with a very flat social structure. They were the Allemani, the Germani or the Burgundi. Feudalism, contrarily, was, in Norman Cantor's phrase, an "irresponsible kingship" in which mutual obligations between a leader and his warband replaced kinship. These Kings and Barons had no necessary blood relationship with the people they ruled and had, in fact, little concern for their welfare, hence "irresponsible."

How did and why did feudalism arise? I'm no scholar, but the fact that relatively small Germanic tribes took over the government of an already large indigenous population may explain the initial kinship-to-kingship break. But more importantly, feudalism was a reflection of a weak central power that lacked the administrative structure to govern a large nation.

Feudalism was characterized by the granting of hereditary fiefs in return for military service and political support. The nobles judged their King by how open-handed he was and they maintained their allegiance to the man that could provide them with power, wealth and position. In turn they maintained their positions by the same process, providing their own retinues with lands, revenues and titles. The size of their following reflected their importance and power.

There was an inherit weakness in this plan, however. If the King or a Baron called upon his vassal, would he come? We're all familiar with the term, "the check is in the mail." With no other ties to bind the lord and vassal together than mutual obligation, each call would result in a kind of moral mathematics. That is, I owe my lord my support in the coming battle, but what are the odds that he will win? If he may not win, shouldn't I change my allegiance now or negotiate for a better deal? Marriage was a favored tactic to strengthen the tie between vassal and lord.

The Mowbray's, like the de Coucy's and the de Montgomery's, who we'll discuss immediately below, were more than just a family name. They were a great clan whose power derived from their vast land holdings as well as access to and influence with the King. This power attracted many alliances with other families which were cemented through the bonds of marriage. The Gernet family probably counted themselves, originally, as part of the Montgomery family. After that family's fall the Gernet's attached themselves to the Mowbray clan through a marriage with a Mowbray daughter.

"The Norman upper heirarchy was not large. This elite group consisted of 22 honours or baronies which virtually controlled all of Normandy and contributed largely to Duke William and the invasion and Conquest of England. They were the Counts of Aumale, the Mortimers, the Giffards, the Ferrierers, the Counts d'Eu, the Tosnys, the Bisets, the FitzOsberns, the Warrens, the Marmions, the Grantmesnils, the Malets, the FitzGilberts or Baldwins, the Tancarvilles, the Vernons, the Beaumonts, the Paynels, the Aubignys, the Monforts, the Estouvilles, and the Gournays. These houses, or their offshoots, or lesser houses, would play an important role in English history for the next 3 centuries, and give rise to thousands of distinguished surnames throughout Britain. To the observant, it will be noticed that certain other significants familes are missing from this role of honour such as the Baliols, the Bigots, the Bullys, the de Lacys, the Mandevilles, the Mowbrays, the Montgomerys, the Pomeroys, the Percys, the St.Johns, the Tracys, the Skiptons, the Montfichets, and many others. The circumstances of the latter names and their subsequent rise to fame are variable and complex, and are bound up with the Norman protocols from which surnames emerged either in Normandy itself or later in the settlement of England." From - Shropshire and the Domesday Book.

In the meantime, after the harrowing of 1070, many of the lands previously occupied by Saxon nobles were given to William's Norman supporters. In about 1074 Count Roger of Poitou was made lord of lands in Essex, Suffolk, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, and Hampshire. However the principal part of his lordship was in what was then called inter Mersam et Ripam, "between the Mersey and the Ribble" rivers, now southern Lancashire.

These extensive holdings were grants made by William in reward for his father's assistance at the Battle of Hastings. Roger was the third son of the great Earl Roger de Montgomery II, the seignior of Mont gomerii in the arrondisement of Lisieux in Normandy and, later, the first Earl of Arundel and Shrewsbury. The Earl was William's Governor in Normandy during the campaign of 1066.

Earl Roger de Montgomery returned to Normandy with Queen Matilda and the Conqueror's eldest son, Robert, as William's representative and became head of the council that governed the Duchy in William's absence. This close bond with Robert, later Duke of Normandy, seems to have strongly affected the family's decisions when the throne became vacant on the death of William II, below.

The de Montgomery Family

The family of Earl Roger of Arundel and his son, Count Roger of Poitou (sometimes Pictavencis, or in the West Riding as Roger le Poitevin).

Law & Order in the Norman Era

It was in early Norman times that the "constable" first appeared. The name came from a Latin phrase "comes stabuli" (a master of the stable), and was a very high office in Norman society. A century or so after the Conquest and certainly up to the Middle Ages, there were men called constables taking over the role of the tythingman.

Manorial courts, or Courts Leet, also gradually took over from the Sheriff's courts, and they elected those officials who were to serve for the next year on duties for the common good - ale tasters, bread-weigher and the constable. The latter was responsible for bringing wrong-doers to the court. Thus, and to the end of the 13th century, the constable was appointed by a local court but had responsibility for keeping the King's Peace and his laws.

In 1285 the Statute of Winchester introduced a system of "Watch and Ward," through watchmen in towns which had walls. The watchmen could arrest strangers during times of darkness. All the townsmen had an obligation to act as watchmen when called, and failure to act resulted in a spell in the stocks, where those arrested were kept. It also revived the "hue and cry" system, making the whole population responsible for pursuing a fugitive, and thirdly it required, through the Azzize of Arms, that all males between 15 and 60 to keep arms at his house, to be used whenever the High Constable of a Hundred might order.

The type of arms depended on a man's social standing. The poor would have bows and arrows, the rich had to have a horse, a sword, a knife and helmet, and these would be inspected twice a year by the two high constables appointed in each Hundred. These high constables were also responsible to the Sheriff of the county for selecting petty constables and watchmen.

This structure of law enforcement was maintained until 1829 when the Metropolitan Police were founded.

Members of the Gernet/Grenet family continued to live on both sides of the channel. See Grenet Family of France and Gernet Family of England.

Steve Hissem
San Diego, California