About Our Northumbrian Ancestors

Recorded history gives some insight into how the line’s ancestors lived. Where contextual information could be sourced, I have compiled a little background, mostly related to the male line, to provide some depth to individual’s lives. Where information could be sourced about the women in the family line, this is when the Fetherstonhaugh men married into wealthy and/or powerful families.

Sir Ralph (Ranulf) Grammaticus (The Latinist) of Featherstone County, Yorkshire (born abt 1020) appears in the Domesday Book of 10861 and seems to be the first of our recorded ancestors. He is believed to have travelled to England from Normandy in 1066 with William the Conqueror’s army, as vassel to Ilbert de Lacy (Laci, Lascy – born abt 1030). Following the Battle of Hastings Ilbert was granted the Honour of Pontefract, in addition to substantial lands in Lancaster, Nottingham and Lincolnshire. The Honour of Pontefract consisted of 150 manors covering almost 500 square miles west of Yorkshire, where he built Pontefract Castle and was considered one of the most powerful Barons in Yorkshire2. These manors together formed a substantial military defensive function for England against incursions from across the northern border3.

A Butler’s position in medieval England was to manage the household’s wine cellar, which was a highly respected and trusted position at that time, as wine was something only the very rich could afford. However, due to Ralph’s high degree of learning, and his military activities, its likely he also supervised both his lord’s estate and household, which was the role of a 1st Steward, and a title given to his descendants. Ralph also held lands and is recorded as gifting 20% of his income from one of his manors to St Clement’s Chapel in Pontefract4.

Below: from: The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal (1879)5

Sir Ralph is listed in the Battle Abbey Roll6 as present with Ilbert at the Battle of Hastings. After the battle Ralph was granted a number of manors near to Pontefract including Featherstone*, Nostell, Puston [Preston] Jaglin, Knottingley**, [West] Hardwick, Thorpe Audlin, Shippen and Sturton. Ralph had a wife, Edeline, and a brother Ernulf with whom he shared some of the manors. Puston Jaglin and Hardwick were inherited by Ernulf’s son. Ralph had two sons, Richard Grammaticus who inherited Knottingley, and Ralph Pincerna, the eldest and our ancestor, who inherited Nostell, West Hardwick and Featherstone, which then in turn went to his son, Sir Amfrey. Three distinct families emerged: the de Prestons, the Grammaticuses and the Featherstones4,7.

Ruins of St Clement’s Chapel, Pontefract Castle, Tim Green CC2.0

*Featherstone was a settlement recorded in the Domesday Book that consisted of 20 villagers, 15 smallholders, six ploughlands, three lord’s plough teams, seven men’s plough teams, two churches and woodland, and an annual value to its lord Ilbert de Lacy of 3 pounds in 1086 and 5 pounds in 1066.1

**Knottingly was a settlement in the Domesday Book with a recorded population of 8 households in 1086. There were six villagers, two smallholders, four ploughlands, 1.5 lord’s plough teams, 1.5 men’s plough teams, woodland of 0.5 leagues and four furlongs of mixed measures. The annual value to the lord was 2 pounds in 1086 (down from 4 pounds in 1066).1

The loss in land value from 1066 to 1086 was a result of the ‘Harrying of the North’, a brutal military campaign by the Norman King, William the Conqueror8. It was aimed at squashing the Anglo Saxon rebellions north of the Humber. The Humber formed a boundary at this time, separating Northumbria from the southern kingdoms. The name Northumbria derives from an Anglo Saxon word ‘Norðhymbre’ or “the people north of the Humber”7.

This section of the Bayeux Tapestry left9 depicts the burning and looting that took place during the ‘Harrying of the North’ and below Vitalis (1853, p25)8 makes comment on King William and the brutality that occurred.

The campaign is thought to have resulted in the death of up to 75% of the population and 66% of all villages contained wasted manors. Only 25% of the population and plough teams remained with a reported loss of 80,000 oxen and 150,000 people. Both Ilbert and Ranulf the Latinist of Featherstone, as his Butler, played a significant role in the ‘Harrying’.

Ilbert, Ralph and Ernulph were also recorded as benefactors of the hermits of Nostell, a religious settlement living in woods c1100, which later became dedicated to St Oswald. The foundation of this religious community is suggested to coincide with a renewed veneration of St Oswald, king and martyr, when a new shrine to St Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral was built2

The Latinist’s son Sir Ralph Pincerna (born abt 1042), was also Butler and “faithful knight” to Ilbert and Ilbert’s son Robert I de Lacy, who acted on occasion as the King’s agent in Yorkshire2. Ralph accompanied Robert de Laci when he was banished to Normandy c1110 by Henry I, who feared Robert may support Henry’s older brother’s claim against the crown. Both Ralph and his lord Robert likely died in exile although Robert’s titles were later reinstated to his sons. Almost full restoration of estates came to the de Lacys with the reign of Henry II c1154 after considerable dispute and armed conflict3.

Ralph Pincerna’s son Sir Amfrey of Featherstone (born abt 1075) was too, in his turn, Butler to Robert de Lacy born abt 1070). Robert and Amfrey followed their forefathers in gifting to the clerics of Oswald a church and cemetery before Robert’s exile, which was later to become Nostell priory “one of the richest Augustinian priories in the North of England” 2.

Sir William Federstan or de Featherstone (born about 1135) was Sir Amfrey’s son and continued to hold the position of 1st steward and the Fee of Featherstone from the de Lacys. William also granted the living and tithes of the Parish Church of Featherstone to the monks of the Nostell Priory and confirmed his father Amfrey’s gifts to the Canons of Nostell “for the health and soul of Hadawise his wife” (above, excerpt4). However, William and his son Sir Elias (or Helyas) appear to have been involved a number of activities outside the law, with William owing money (and listed as a fugitive from the courts) and Elias being prosecuted for breaking the king’s peace by robbery in 12044. No penalties for these offenses seem to have been recorded, so perhaps they were able to evade the charges because of their power and standing brought through William’s wife.

William was married to Hadawise (or Avice) de Tynedale, daughter of Robert of Tindale, the first Baron of Langley. Consequently he was granted, by Avice’s father, the fee from land beside the South Tyne river including a manor hall house. William’s marriage brought with it a strong alliance to the Scottish border baron, his brother in law, Adam de Tynedale, and Parkinson7 records Elias, William’s son, was a favourite nephew and a cousin to the King of Scots.

William’s descendant Thomas (abt 1255 – abt1312), began to fortify the hall against Scottish raiders and a square three-storey Pele Tower was added c133010. The fortified Hall House later became Featherstone Castle (see Northumbrian Ancestral Seats ).

Thomas married Mariota Ainsworth de Molneux (abt 1278 -1360) who survived him for some years as his widow. She is recorded as giving 100acres of land to a John and his wife Alice of Westherle in 1312 (see above extract11 p354), which may suggest that Mariota had owned land in her own right even prior to Thomas’s death. Mariota entailed the manor of Fetherstonhaugh on her first son Thomas, who appears to have had no children, after which it passed to the next son Alexander I, who was in possession of the manor in 1358.

Alexander’s subsequent line inherited the manor of Fetherstanhalg and the associated Castle of Featherstone. He was ancestor to Alexander II (abt 1370), and Alexander III (before 1400), then Nicholas Fetherston of Kirk-Oswald (1436) who fathered Alexander (1468) and Richard (1471). Richard served as a chaplain to Queen Catherine of Aragon and along with two others was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Smithfield on 30 July 1540, under Richard Cromwell’s Act of Attainder for “adhering themselves to the Bishop of Rome”. More about Richard can be found in the Featherstone Family News12.

Mariota’s fourth son, William, now carries our ancestors away from the Featherstone Castle line. He was referred to as William of Stanhope Hall, probably having acquired wealth and lands from the de Stanhopes through marriage. Alexander’s son was Robert Fetherstonaugh de Stanhope. After that there was a succession of descendants about whom little is recorded except for basic demographics, until Michael de Stanhope who was born abt 1515. Although Michael was a second son, he inherited after Roman, the first son, died falling from a horse aged 13. Michael’s Will is below:

Aug. 14, 1569. Michell Fetherstonhaugh of Stanop, esquyer, etc. To be buried within the quyere of the parishe church of Stanhop. To my wyfe, Isabell Fetherstonhaughe, the thirde part of all my goods. To my dowghter, Johan Fetherstonhaugh, on hundredth pounds to mary her withall and she to be ordered by my son, John Fetherstonhaugh. To my son, Lancelot Fetherstonhaugh, one annuitye of 4Z., and in defalt of such payment he to enter on the tenement called the Hole. I gyve to him 20L for his portion. To my sonne, John Fetherstonehaugh, eightene oxen going at Stanhope and twelve kye with ther calves and foure score youes, one hundredth wethers, and one sylver salt double gylt, one sylver pece and a doson sylver spoynes, left unto me as heyrelumes perteyning unto the house. And I give him my hole lease of Stanhope mylle for the better mayntenanc of his house. I owe unto Henry Welden, 207., and to Christofer Welden, 67. 13s. id., to be paid unto them in full contentaeion and satissfaction of ther child’s porcions and of the arreragies of these13.

Michael’s grandson Ralph was a JP of County Durham from 1618 to his death in 1636. He and his younger brother Francis are referred to in the History of Parliament in the following exerpts14:

Francis  is described in the History of Parliament : the House of Commons 1604 – 1629 as the younger son of a northern gentleman, Fetherstonhaugh was in the service of Thomas Cecil, 2nd Lord Burghley by January 1604, but had probably entered Burghley’s employ during the latter’s tenure of the lord presidency of the Council in the North (1599-1603). Featherstonhaugh, whose surname was often shortened by contempories to ‘Fetherston” … (was) elected in his absence in January 1621, he was, by the narrowest of margins, the first of his family to enter Parliament, as shortly thereafter he was joined at Westminster by his elder brother Ralph14.

Between them, the two brothers chalked up committee appointments and made three recorded speeches. It was presumably this Member (Ralph or Francis) who was named to the Durham enfranchisement bill on 6 Mar., and he seems to have subsequently acted as the unofficial spokesman for the county. During the debate on secret inquisitions on 30 Apr. it was probably he who desired that the bill be extended to cover county Durham and was named to the relevant committee. On 24 May one of the Fetherstonhaughs again desired that his county should be included in another bill, this time concerning licences for alienations. In addition, the county of Durham was included within the scope of the bill concerning moor burning in the northern counties, to which committee a ‘Mr. Fetherston’ was appointed on 26 May. The other committee appointments are difficult to apportion between the brothers14

Mr. Fetherston’ was mentioned only once in the records of the second sitting, when he reminded the Commons that Dr. John Cradock, being a proctor in Convocation, could not be summoned to answer charges of abusing his powers as a diocesan official. Fetherstonhaugh later married Cradock’s youngest daughter, though he seems to have experienced the utmost difficulty in exacting her portion from her mother and sisters. After differences with his son John in 1634, he (Ralphe) was apprehended and an order was made for his lands to be sequestrated by the Council in the North. He executed a nuncupative will on 24 Nov. 1636 and was buried at Stanhope three days later. His son was a royalist in the Second Civil War14

Ralph’s Wills are shown below13, pp 45, 270 , the first appears to indicate he was a family man and a fair landlord for his time, providing bequests to his daughters, friends and servants.

However in 1634, there was a dispute (details unknown) with his eldest son John (John was a royalist in the 2nd civil war). Following this disagreement Ralph was apprehended and his lands were seized by the Council of the North15 (reason unknown). In 1636 he made a ‘nuncupative will’ (which is a will that is declared verbally, shortly before death – and “being sick in bodie, but of good and pfect memorie”. He was buried at Stanhope 3 days later.

Prior to Ralph’s death, the Court of Chivalry 1634/35 recorded a case brought by Ralph against a Henry Featherstone regarding misuse of Ralph’s Coat of Arms15. Ralph accused Henry of burying his wife and brother ‘with great funerals’, fraudulently using ‘the armes of Fetherstonhaugh of Stanhop Hall in the Bishopprick of Durham, beinge an auntient familye and of great antiquitie in that countie15. Henry was also prosecuted for setting up a monument to his father in St Dunstan’s church in Fleet Street, upon which he displayed the arms of Fetherstonhaugh ‘to the great wrong and prejudice of that familye.‘ Ralph Fetherstonhaugh Esq of Stanhope Hall, Durham, produced the above coat of arms15 as an exhibit in the case and wrote to Sir Henry St George that he believed Henry Fetherstone had acted more out of ignorance than evil intent, but still wished the arms on the offending funeral monument to be removed. The letter is below:

Good sir, I perceive Mr Henry Fetherston of St Paule’s Churchyarde is called into your courte for givinge my coat armoure upon escouchions at the funeral of his father, wherein I cannot but commende your justice and care to preserve the right of ancient families; so have I allso thought fitte thus farre to expresse myself unto you that I canne for my part be contented to remitte the wronge for this tyme (wch I conceive to have proceeded rather from ignorance then any evill affection or intention to have donne me wronge) so as by some acte of the courte my right to beare that coate may be declared, and to the ende that no memorie of that wrong may be lefte to posterity, by colour wherof wee may in future tymes receive prejudice, as by sufferinge that coate to remayne engraven or depicted either upon the toombe or elswhere in the churche, that he may by authority of your courte be enjoyned to deface the same and to make newe with suche difference as you in your wisdomes shall thincke fitte to appointe unto him, wherein hopinge you will affoorde me your best furtherance in preservinge the righte of my house, with remembrance of my best affection to your father Sir Richard and yourselfe I cease and allwayes will remayne.

Yours in all true offices of freindshippe unfainedly assured’ 15.

Our line continues through Ralph’s youngest son, Cuthbert (1621-1693). Cuthbert settled in Ireland when fleeing after the Battle of Worcester and the beheading of his cousin Sir Timothy Fetherstonhaugh, of the Kirk-Oswald Fetherstonhaughs. Sir Timothy, who was reputedly ‘involved’ with the Earl of Derby, was taken prisoner at Wigan and beheaded at Chester by Milton, one of Cromwell’s Colonels, with Timothy’s eldest son Henry also dying, slain in battle. The Battle of Worcester was the last battle of the civil war, where Oliver Cromwell defeated King Charles II.

Left: Sir Timothy is in The Frontispiece to Winstanley’s ”Loyall Martyrology”, 1665 in the National Portrait Gallery. As a royalist, he was put to death by Cromwell in 1651.

After fleeing Northumbria following the civil war Cuthbert purchased land in the Counties Westmeath and Meath, and in Phillipstown, where he married and became the “Father of our Irish line” (Our Irish line)


  1. Powel-Smith, A. Open Domesday. Accessed June 18th, 2023. https://opendomesday.org/place/SE5024/knottingley/
  2. Frost JA. The Foundation of Nostell Priory, 1109-1153. Borthwick Institute for Archives. University of York; 2007 https://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/publications/papers/
  3. Honour of Pontefract. Wikipedia; last updated April 24, 2023. Accessed June 12th, 2023. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honour_of_Pontefract
  4. Farrer E. Early Yorkshire charters; being a collection of documents anterior to the thirteenth century made from the public records, monastic chartularies, Roger Dodsworth’s manuscripts and other available sources Vol 3. Edinburgh; Printed for the editor by Ballyntyne, Hanson 1914-16. Accessed 3rd July 2023. https://archive.org/details/earlyyorkshirech03farruoft/page/138/mode/2up
  5. The Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society. The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, Volume 5. 1879, digitized 2017. Accessed July 3rd, 2023. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society and Topographical Journal Volume 5 https://archive.org/details/YAJ005/mode/2up?q=ra
  6. Duchess of Cleveland. The Battle Abbey Roll with some account of the Norman lineages Vol II. 1889; digitized by Linton, M.A., 2007. Accessed July 4th 2023. http://www.1066.co.nz/Mosaic%20DVD/library/Battle%20Roll/Grammori.html and https://www.1066.co.nz/Mosaic%20DVD/library/Battle%20Roll/Lacy.html
  7. Parkinson R. The Origins of Elias de Featherstone of Fetherstonhaugh. The Featherstone Family News, 2012;6 (11):1-28. Accessed June 21, 2023. https://featherstone.one-name.net/members_data/0003aa/documents/issue60-2011-4.p
  8. Vitalis O. The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy 1075-1143 London: Bohn, 1853 Accessed July 22nd, 2023. https://archive.org/details/ecclesiasticalhi02ordeuoft
  9. Myrabella. Motte and Bailey Castle, Bayeux Tapestry. World History Encyclopedia. Last modified May 16, 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/image/8757/motte-and-bailey-castle-bayeux-tapestry/
  10. Wilson R. Featherstone Castle Northumberland. The Featherstone Society’s Newsletter, 1999; 1(11):14-18.
  11. Hodgson J, Rev. A History of Northumberland, in three parts. Newcastle Upon Tyne: E Walker. 1820;Pt 2 Vol 3:353-6. Accessed July 21, 2023. https://archive.org/details/ahistorynorthum01tynegoog/page/352/mode/2up?q=Featherstonhaugh
  12. Featherstone, P. The Castle Featherstones. Featherstone Family News, 1997: 1(3):14-15
  13. Wills and Inventories from the Registry at Durham. Wood HM. (ed.) London, JB Nichols & Son, 1835. Accessed July4th, 2023. https://archive.org/details/willsinventories1424unse/page/44/mode/2up
  14. Lefevre P. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, Cambridge University Press, 2010. Accessed July 15th, 2023. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/fetherstonhaugh-ralph-1573-1636
  15. Cust R, Hopper, A. (Eds) ‘346 Kings Of Arms v Fetherstone’, in The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640. British History Online. Accessed June 16, 2023. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/court-of-chivalry/346-kings-of-arms-fetherstone

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