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.
The traditional account
The most common variation of the Rochford-Hastings marriage theory is that John de Rochford the Younger of Boston, who died in 1410 and was succeeded by his daughters, married Alice, daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings. The earliest example of this claim that I know of is in Blomefield’s Norfolk, in his account of the Rochfords under the village of Walpole. While Blomefield’s account is very useful, he had a tendency to make ghastly errors that persist in many accounts today.
There is plenty of evidence that this John de Rochford married a lady named Alice. They appear together in the earliest records of him in the 1370s, and were still together in 1398. Alice seems to have died soon after, and John asked to be buried beside her in his last testament given just before he died in 1410.
On the other hand, there is very little evidence of who Alice actually was – and what little there is suggests that she was a Fastolf rather than a Hastings. John and Alice’s daughter and coheiress Margaret is known to have married Frederick Tilney. There is a pedigree of the Tilney family in Rye’s edition of the Visitations of Norfolk, 1563, 1589 and 1613 (pp287-8) that correctly documents this, and gives the arms of “Rochford and his wife – Quarterly or and gules, a bordure sable bezantee; impaling, Quarterly or and azure, on a bend gules three escallops argent.” The dexter (first) coat belonged to the Rochfords, while the sinister (second) is best known as the Fastolfs’. It was most definitely not the Hastings’ coat, Or, a manche gules.
You can read more about this John de Rochford and his wife Alice in my biography of him here.
Incorrect abstracts in Norfolk Record Office
By contrast, meanwhile, there is a very brief abstract of an indenture among the archives of the Hastings of Gressenhall family in Norfolk Record Office, and it reads thus:
MR 316 242 x 5
1) Sir Hugh de Hastynges.
2) Sir Saere de Rocheford.
Relating to settlement on marriage of Sir Saere to Isabell daughter of Sir Hugh de Hastynges.
Dated at Grimston (Notts) Monday in feast of St John AP & Ev. 10 Ed III
So that would seem to be the matter settled. It was John’s father Sir Sayer de Rochford, rather John himself, who married a daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings; she was called Isabelle, not Alice; and this all happened around 1336, long before John was born, which was some time between about 1354 and 1357.
Perhaps Blomefield had been thrown off by a note in the Hastings pedigree in the The Visitation of Yorkshire in the Years 1563 and 1564 (p155), reporting that one of Sir Hugh Hastings’ daughters was “Izabell wyff to Sir John Rochester Knight”. He attempted to correct it with the knowledge that a Rochford had married a daughter of Sir Hugh, and that John’s wife was called Alice… and ended up getting it wrong, as is so easy with this kind of puzzle solving.
I recently received a photo of the above indenture from Norfolk Record Office, together with a photo of another indenture from the same collection involving Sir Sayer, this time from around 1356. This is the published abstract of it:
MR 297 242 x 4
1) Sire Hugh de Hastyng.
2) Sire Sayer de Rocheford.
Relates to manor of Screyng in Hoiland and mese in Grimeston.
12 Apr. ? 30 Ed III
It turns out that the agreements these two indentures record are very different to what the abstracts would suggest. Here they are, starting with the “later” one, which turns out not to be from 1356 at all:
Norfolk Record Office MR 297, 242 x 4
Agreement between Sir Hugh Hastings and Sir Sayer de Rochford regarding marriage between Sir Sayer’s son and heir John and an unnamed daughter of Sir Hugh. Also refers to the manor of Scrane and property at Grimstone.
Dated 18 April 1336 (definitely not 12th April 1356)
This indenture is made between Sir Hugh de Hastyng on the one part, and Sir Sayer de Rocheford on the other part.
Be it known that the said Sir Sayer will enfeoff certain persons in the manor of Screyng in Holland with its appurtenances, and also in a messuage [? un mees] in Grymeston with all its appurtenances, in the manner herein written.
And be it known that the said certain persons will re-enfeoff John son and heir of Sir Sayer de Rocheford and the daughter of Sir Hugh de Hastyngges in the said manor of Screyng, to have and to hold to themselves the said John and daughter of Sir Hugh, and to the heirs of their bodies begotten, and if they should be without heirs of their bodies begotten [then] to the heirs of the before said John.
And also certain persons will re-enfeoff the said Sir Sayer in the said messuage [mees] with the land and tenements appertaining in Grymeston in the county of Notyngham, to have to the said Sir Sayer for the term of his life, and after his decease [then] the tenements to John the son of the said Sir Sayer and to the daughter of the said Sir Hugh and to the heirs of their bodies begotten, and if they should be without heirs of their bodies begotten [then] to the heirs of the said John.
And by reason of these covenants above said, it is agreed between the said Sir Hugh and Sir Sayer that John the son and heir of the said Sir Sayer will marry the daughter of the said Sir Hugh.
For the marriage and the things above said to hold and to affirm, the before said Sir Hugh [agrees?] to give the said Sir Sayer two hundred marks of sterling.
And besides this, if the said John, after the re-enfeoffments made by the said certain persons in the manner above said, dies during the ten years then next following, the said Sir Hugh will give to the said Sir Sayer £40.
And if the daughter of the said Sir Hugh dies in the before said ten years, the said Sir Sayer will give to the said Sir Hugh £40.
And besides this, it is agreed that the said manor of Screyyngg will remain in the keeping of the said Sir Sayer for as long as the children wish to remain in his company, so that the said Sir Sayer [will provide?] for the before said children appropriate subsistence.
And when the children wish to be apart from the company of the said Sir Sayer, the said Sir Sayer will ordain appropriate [illegible] for the said children, and render up to them the said manor of Screyng.
The eighteenth day of April in the tenth year of the reign of King Edward III after the Conquest, and at the manor of Screyng
(The line giving the date reads, in the original Norman French: “Le dyshuytysme iour de April l’an du reyne Roy Edward Tierz apres la conquest dysme…”)
One seal, broken, with Rochford arms – Quarterly a border bezanty
Indenture between lord Hugh de Hastynges and lord Saere de Rocheford, of the manor of Screyng.
Indenture between lord Hugh de Hastyngs and lord Saer de Rocheford 10 Ed: 3.
Norfolk Record Office MR 316, 242 x 5
Agreement between Sir Hugh Hastings and Sir Sayer de Rochford regarding marriage between Sir Sayer’s son and heir John and Sir Hugh’s daughter Isabelle. Refers to financial obligations between them.
Dated at Grimstone, 30 December 1336
This indenture made between Sir Hugh de Hastynges on the one part, and Sir Saere de Rocheford on the other part, testifies that, as the foresaid Sir Hugh is obliged in £20 sterling by an obligation simple to the foresaid Sir Saere, likewise the foresaid Sir Saere is obliged to the foresaid Sir Hugh in £40 by another obligation simple.
The foresaid Sir Hugh wills and grants for himself and for his executors that if John son and heir of the foresaid Sir Saere marries Isabelle the daughter of the said Sir Hugh, according to the covenants between them pronounced, [and] dies within the ten years next following the making of these, the obligation simple made to Sir Saere shall remain in force. And if the said John survives fully the [whole?] ten years the obligation simple made to Sir Saere for £20 shall be held for null in whomever’s hands it comes to, and [therein?] it shall be annulled.
Likewise the said Sir Saere grants for himself and his executors that if the said John son and heir of the foresaid Sir Saere marries the said Isabelle, and Isabelle dies within the before said ten years, that the obligation simple made to Sir Hugh for £40 shall remain in force.And if the said Isabelle survives fully the before said [whole?] ten years then the obligation simple made to Sir Hugh for £40 shall be held for null in whomever’s hands it comes to, and [therein?] it shall be annulled.
In witness of which, to these indentures the parties before said have interchangeably put their seals. Given at Grymston in the county of Notingham, Monday in the feast of St John the Apostle and the Evangelist, in the tenth year of the rein of King Edward III after the Conquest.
(This feast is on 27 Dec, which fell on a Friday in 1336, so the Monday was 30 Dec.)
One seal, face rubbed, but probably Hastings arms – A manche.
Indenture between lord Hugh de Hastynges and lord Saere de Rocheford.
10 Ed: 3. A marriage accord between John son and heir of Saere de Rocheford and Isabel daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings. Pedigree.
So what can we make of all this?
First, it is important to know that the John de Rochford who married an Alice and died in 1410, and whose daughters succeeded him, was not born before about 1354, and was not Sir Sayer’s eldest son and heir. Sayer actually had two sons called John – and it was the other, whose mother was Sayer’s first wife Elizabeth, who was his eldest son and heir, born by 1330.
So clearly, it was this older John de Rochford who was contracted to marry Isabelle, daughter of Sir Hugh Hastings. I refer to him as Sir John de Rochford II of Fenne in my account, but normally he was called just “Sir John de Rochford” in his lifetime. He was knighted very young – by 1350 at least – and lived until about 1392. The younger John, by contrast, was generally known as “John de Rochford the Younger” or “of Boston”, until he himself was knighted in 1399, after which he was called Sir John de Rochford like his late older brother. All very confusing, but the two can be distinguished in most records on this basis.
The older John’s relationships have been something of a mystery – particularly the question of who was the mother of his eldest son, Sir Ralph Rochford III, who would become probably the most famous and important member of the whole dynasty.
Between perhaps 1362 and 1373 John married a lady named Beatrice, widow of Robert Hansard of South Kelsey. She could have been Ralph’s mother – the dates are reasonable.
Alternatively, The Visitation of the County of Lincoln in 1562-4 (p119) records that Sir John married a daughter of Sir Nicholas Tamworth named Maud, and that Ralph was their son. It is plausible, and Ralph’s later actions suggest he had some connection to the Tamworths, but no solid evidence has turned up.
And finally this new (or very old, depending on how you look at it) piece of evidence tells us that John was at the very least contracted to marry Isabelle Hastings as early as 1336. Assuming the marriage went ahead, she could equally have been Ralph’s mother. Ralph died in 1440, so he would have been about 90 if he was born in, say, 1350 (remembering that John and Isabelle were still children in 1336). That would have been a wise old age for the time, but not unheard of.
Interestingly, Sir Ralph went on to marry a lady named Margaret Russell whose own mother, Margaret, was also a Hastings – Isabelle was her aunt. If Isabelle was Ralph’s mother, then his wife Margaret would have been his first cousin once removed.
You can read more about his fascinating life here.