The early Norman-Breton lords of the Boston area

Duke William of Normandy defeated the English King Harold at Hastings in 1066 – an event that would set English history on a new course. Over the following twenty years England was flooded with new lords from the continent, while their native Anglo-Saxon counterparts either assimilated or fled.

In this short post, I look at the Breton connections of the lords in the Boston area.

Soon after the Conquest, King William invested his nephew Alan Rufus, earl of Brittany, as the chief lord of a huge swathe of land across Yorkshire and elsewhere in England. The picture above, from the Register of the Honour of Richmond of 1480, shows Alan of Brittany kneeling before the king to pay homage and receive this gift.[1]

Alan’s English lands later came to be called the Honour of Richmond, after the castle he built at Richmond in Yorkshire. These lands included some choice spots in and around the fledgeling port town of Boston in Lincolnshire, which quickly established valuable trading links across Europe.[2]

Another important chief lord in the area was Guy de Craon, whose family came from Craon, just 13 miles east of Brittany’s modern borders.[3] He was succeeded by a son also called Alan. (You can read more about the early history and Domesday landholdings of the Boston area in my chapter on Early Fenne and Scrane, and also David Roffe’s excellent article on Boston.)

In early records from this area, such as those in the Kirkstead Cartulary and Huntingfield Cartulary of the mid-1100s, the name Alan appears frequently.[4] This name has strong Breton connections, and this fact may signify that a substantial Breton community had established itself around Boston under the patronage of the area’s new Breton-Norman lords.

The earliest ancestor of the Rochfords whose name we know was Alan of Fenne. He lived in the early-to-mid 1100s, and he was a vassal of the successors of both Earl Alan of Brittany and Guy de Craon. Alan of Fenne’s heir was Ralph of Fenne, and Alan’s younger sons were called Hamo and John. These were all Continental rather than native Anglo-Saxon names: the Fennes were almost certainly of Continental, and possibly Breton, origin. Their origin must have been as migrant adventurists, coming over to England before or soon after the Conquest in search of new opportunity and vacant lordships.

It was clearly a successful undertaking: over the course of several hundred years their Rochford descendants would rise to be among the wealthiest families in Lincolnshire.


[1] Bodleian Library, MS. Lyell 22,

[2] Open Domesday, Count Alan of Brittany,

[3] Open Domesday, Guy of Craon,

[4] Kirkstead Cartulary, BL Cotton MS Vespasian E xviii; Huntingfield Cartulary, Lincolnshire Archives 3ANC2/1,


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