Rediscovering a lost medieval English family, 1066-1550

Volumes One and Two draft covers together

In the early 1400s, everyone in England knew the name Rochford. Family members were among the leading knights of the royal household and the realm. Yet today, all that survives are a few old place names, some muddled local histories, and very little else. The story of this family has been a mystery for half a millennium.

My aim is to unravel that mystery. Over the years I have collected thousands of pieces of primary evidence about the Rochfords. I have used these to reconstruct their story, from the 1100s until their final days in the time of Henry VIII. On this site, I am sharing it all.

The book – Volume One
Rochford of Fenne and Stoke Rochford, Volume One: The Origins Rise and Fall of an English Family, 1066-1550, tells the story of the family through biographies of its eighteen principal members. Read online or download the PDF.

Original records – Volume Two
A companion volume of records, citations, working notes, etc., for researchers. Contains all the citations for Volume One, 1200+ abstracts and transcripts, and commentary on their interpretation. PDF only.

Genealogical charts
One huge genealogical chart showing thirteen generations of the family from the 1100s to the 1500s, with coats of arms and illustrations. Also several smaller charts, and a few maps from the book showing various places associated with the Rochfords.

Continue reading “Rediscovering a lost medieval English family, 1066-1550”

The first battle of Lincoln, 2 February 1141

The first battle of Lincoln, 2 February 1141

This illumination depicts the first battle of Lincoln, on 2 February 1141, in the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. It comes from a copy of Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum made around the year 1200.[1] It is included in my chapter on Ralph of Fenne, who was the ancestor the Rochfords of Fenne through his daughter and heiress, Albreda.

Continue reading “The first battle of Lincoln, 2 February 1141”

Map of the Rochfords’ homelands at Fenne and Scrane

Map of the area around the Rochfords' homelands at Fenne and Scrane

This map is my attempt to map the area around the Rochfords’ homelands at Fenne and Scrane, roughly as it was in medieval times. The different colours of land are the different parishes, each with a main settlement near its centre. The coastline and boundaries are based on Ordnance Survey maps of the early 1800s – they probably changed a little over the years.

Fenne Chapel was in existence as early as the 1100s, in the time of Ralph of Fenne, but it disappeared after the 1500s, and today the site is occupied by the Ball House Inn.

Pecche or Peachy Hall was presumably the site of the manor house of Sir Ralph de Rochford II of Fenne’s local nemesis, Lucy Pecche, in the late 1200s. It is now the site of Peachy House, Church End Road, Freiston.

Rochford Tower, meanwhile, was built around 1460 by Henry Rochford of Fenne, and is still standing today. It and the nearby Benington Tower (which is now called the Hussey Tower) were built in the mould of Ralph, Lord Cromwell’s famous Tattershall Castle, albeit on a much less grand scale.

Download a larger version of this map here

The Kirkstead Cartulary

An index from the Kirkstead Cartulary relating to property in Scrane, 1200s (Copyright The British Library Board, Cotton MS Vespasian E XVIII).

Like many people of their time, the Rochfords and their Fenne ancestors were generous in their gifts to local religious foundations. In the 1100s and early 1200s they had a particularly strong connection with Kirkstead Abbey, which was founded by Hugh son of Eudo, lord of Tattershall, in 1139.

It was said that Hugh visited Fountains Abbey in the wilderness near Ripon in Yorkshire, and he was so impressed by what he saw that he lured several of its monks to a new, carefully selected site on his own land: a “place of horror like a vast solitude” surrounded by wild brushwood and swamps, perfect for men in search of a purer life.[1]

The discovery of the Kirkstead Cartulary in the British Library has provided a huge amount of background information on the Fennes in particular, for a period in English history where there are few surviving records of men of their status. They were landowners, but not nobles.

Continue reading “The Kirkstead Cartulary”

The view across Boston Haven to the fields of Toft and Scrane

The view today across Boston Haven to the fields of Toft and Scrane. Photo copyright Tormod Amundsen of biotope.no.

This wonderful photo, by Tormod Amundsen of biotope.no, is the headline image for my chapter on Early Fenne and Scrane. The view looks north-north-east from Frampton Marsh, across Boston Haven, to Toft (now called Fishtoft) in the middle, Scrane to the right, and Freiston beyond. At the top left, you can just see the town of Boston itself. Fenne is barely visible to the east of Boston.

These were the homelands of the Rochfords of Fenne.

Continue reading “The view across Boston Haven to the fields of Toft and Scrane”

The will of Sir Ralph Rochford III of Fenne, died 1440

Sir Ralph Rochford III’s last testament of 1439, will of 1440, and probate documents, in the Westminster Abbey Muniments Room, copyright the Dean and Chapter of Westminster

One of the exciting discoveries during my research of the Rochfords has been this: the original manuscripts of the will of Sir Ralph Rochford III of Fenne, who died in 1440. They were hiding among a wodge of old deeds relating to the manors of Fenne and Scrane, in Westminster Abbey Muniments Room. They have survived the years in excellent condition, are easily readable, and have seals still attached, although the latter have crumbled and rubbed over time.[1]

Sir Ralph is probably the best known and most successful member of his family. He was a close aid to Henry IV, a leading knight of the Lancastrian period, and a mentor and guardian to the young Henry VI. He led a terrifically exciting life. But his death was calamitous: afterwards, his family’s fortunes spiraled. His will is a very significant document and record of his life.

Continue reading “The will of Sir Ralph Rochford III of Fenne, died 1440”

The earliest confirmed likeness of a Rochford

There is not much to see in the north chapel of the church of St Peter in Walpole today, but in the 1700s it was full of stained glass and a few monuments in memory of the Rochfords who were lords of one of the manors in that town in the 1300s and 1400s. Fortunately, details of these were captured by the Norfolk historians Francis Blomefield and Charles Parkin.[1]

The first of the Rochfords to be based permanently at Walpole was Sir Ralph Rochford of Walpole, the second son of Sir Sayer de Rochford of Fenne. He seems to have been based there from about 1350, and it was during his time that much of the church was rebuilt after a catastrophic flood in 1337. It is very likely that Ralph was one of the principal benefactors to the reconstruction project.

Continue reading “The earliest confirmed likeness of a Rochford”

Rochford of Rochford and Berden, 1140-1309

There are several places in England and France that gave their names to families called Rochford. One of these is the village (or town, as it is now) of Rochford near the south coast of Essex. The family who were lords of the manor in this village took their name from it, and made it their primary base. They appear to have been the progenitors of most other families in England called Rochford too.

In this article, I look at the history of this family.

Continue reading “Rochford of Rochford and Berden, 1140-1309”

Rochford of Braintree and Bocking, 1386-1577

In the 1400s, there was a family of Rochfords connected with the town of Braintree in Essex. I have no idea where they originated from. One would guess they were cousins of the Rochfords of Rochford and Berden in Essex – a tremendously wealthy family who were in the area from at least the mid 1100s. But what little evidence I have found suggests that the Rochfords at Braintree may have been more closely related to the Rochfords of Fenne.

This article looks at the hazy history of these mysterious individuals.

Continue reading “Rochford of Braintree and Bocking, 1386-1577”

Which Rochford married a daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings? Two important documents from the Hastings of Gressenhall archives

MR 316 242 x 5

Most accounts of the Rochfords refer to a marriage at some point between a Rochford male and a Hastings female. Two documents from Norfolk Record Office show that there was such a marriage, but not between the individuals most scholars have claimed.

This article compares the traditional account, misleading abstracts from Norfolk Record Office, and the evidence of the original documents themselves – and shows why research from primary sources is so vital.

Continue reading “Which Rochford married a daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings? Two important documents from the Hastings of Gressenhall archives”

Estates: Clipston on the Wolds, Nottinghamshire

Fine recording Waleran and Albreda's 1198 purchase of property at Clipston from Matilda de Badelesmare

From the late 1100s to the late 1200s, the Rochfords of Fenne also had an estate at Clipston on the Wolds in Nottinghamshire.

The Victoria County History site reports that work is in progress on vol 3 of its history for the county, and that Clipston will be covered. I shared with the following account of the Rochfords’ estates in the village, since it appears from the latest draft text that the author has not yet discovered this.

Continue reading “Estates: Clipston on the Wolds, Nottinghamshire”