Percy Origin Revised

New research has realised some very interesting information regarding the ancient origin of the Percy Family.

The relationship between the Tessons, Hauteville and de Vesci families also encompasses the Percies. It is thought from one source that the Tessons (who held one third of old Normandy, under Duke William) were the umbrella family of the Percies which is described here later. Activities well before 1066 show that the Tessons had concrete links with Alnwick, Northumberland at the time of Edward the confessor and marriage into the de Vesci family shows up this connection well. Alan de Percy was born in Alnwick in c 1038 which may be able to tell us more.

Ralph Tesson (1017) who had castle La Roche near St Lo (Percy Country) had two sons Roaul and Erneis. These chaps did not get on well and split the family honour. One commentator says that Erneis Tesson founded his own new family name, being from the place he was from, de Percy.

The following collection of notes endeavors to summarize my findings. More will be added on the Percy, Tesson and de Vescyin connection in the future and on going DNA research hopes to uncover even more! 

We have a remarkable instance of the credence attained by unsupported statements of the elder heralds in the case of the house of Percy, Earls and Dukes of Northumberland. The whole early pedigree of this historical family depends upon the unauthenticated statement of a herald of considerable eminence in the reign of Elizabeth, named Glover.

He was a man of attainments, and of great industry, and in general his statements are deserving of credit. But in this particular case, whether it was that the temptation of gratifying the ancestral aspirations of so powerful a family as that of Northumberland that overcame his usual discretion, or whether he may have derived his information from some foreign and untrustworthy source, it were impossible now to determine. Suffice it to say, that he derives this family from Mainfred de Percy, a Danish chief, who is said to have lived before the time of Rollo, and whose descendants, named alternately Geoffrey and William de Percy, continued in succession Lords of Percy, until the last William de Percy of Normandy went to England and founded the English house of Percy. On examining this statement, the first difficulty which causes hesitation is the alternate repetition of the names of Geoffiry and William, which was inconsistent with the usual system of nomendature in those ages. But what presents a far more serious difficulty is this. Percy did not belong to any private family, but was part of the ducal demesne; consequently it is difficult to suppose that the name of De Percy could have existed, as the estate did not belong to a private family and in point of fact, the name is not mentioned in any record till shortly before the English Conquest, and it had probably been assumed not long previously, for in 1026 the estate of Percy was still part of the demesne of the Duke. We are, therefore, obliged to come to the conclusion that the whole early pedigree produced by Glover must be rejected.

These few examples of the difficulties which are to be found in the pedigrees of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries will suffice to indicate the necessity, in the interest of truth, of examining carefully the statements of the genealogists of former times before they are adopted as reliable. The state of the English pedigrees generally, indeed, appears to be such as to demand a careful re-examination with the additional light thrown on such topics by the intelligent criticism of the present century, and the greatly increased knowledge of the sources of medieval history.

Duke Richard, by charter dated 1020, granted to his spouse, in dowry, Coutances and its county, with the castles of Carusburc, Holm, and Bruot, the court of Ver, and the court of Cerisy-sur-Seine, Agons-on-the-Sea, Yalengias (Yalognes P), the abbey of Portail, the town and port of Sames, the town and port of Hage the town of Balteis,and Egglandes, the courts of Percy and of Moyon, and the town of Cathim in the county of Bayeux. ‘It is clear that many junior branches of the Norman houses obtained fiefs, from whence they assumed new names, and ere long became new families. Thus the Tessons appear to have had junior branches named Marmion; Percy, and Beuron (Byron). There were certainly many sub enfeoffments in Normandy which created noble families not mentioned specifically in the Feoda Nomumnus; but the total number was, after all, very limited. There was no sort of resemblance between the ancient nobility of Normandy, that three thousand families appear to have become seated in England at the Conquest: but many of these were not purely Norman, but came from adjoining provinces including Flanders. The Norman aristocracy may have numbered 2,500 families, of which 1,500 were seigneurs and lesser barons, and fifty greater barons, the nobility and gentry, in short, bore pretty much the same proportion to the population of the Duchy as the corresponding classes do to the masses of the English population at this moment. Such was the position of society in Normandy before the Conquest. The great masses of the Normans were tenants of the nobility and gentry, and copy holders, free tenants, retainers, farmers, artizans, tradesmen, mariners, burgesses, and merchants.

The grant was confirmed by Robert Fitz-Emeis, a Tesson, and probably an ancestor of the Marmions or Percys. The latter houses and the Tessons bore a fesse, and so also did the descendents of Ralph Baiart, with a difierence of three mullets. Godfrey Baiard in 1166 held a Ralph Tesson, who brought 120 knights of his dependence to the aid of Duke William at the battle of Val des Dunes 1047, founded c. 1065 the Abbey of Fontenay near Caen (Gall. Christ, xi. 413). A charter of Ralph Tesson was witnessed by William Marmion or Marmilon, probably his brother, c. 1070, who with his family possessed part of Fontenay. Robert Marmion, his son, Viscount of Fontenay, passed into England with the Conqueror, and had extensive grants, his descendants a century later holding seventeen fees in England and five in Normandy. The Tessons of Normandy bore gules, a fesse ermine and the Marmions vair, a fesse gules; and the Percys,’another branch, azure, a fesse indented or. Percy.

It has been noticed else where that the early Percy pedigree is not authentic. The real origin may now be considered.

Percy after 1026 became the property of a branch of the Tessons the greatest baronial house in Normandie and so continued in the reign of Richard I. Ralph Tesson was of Anjou in the tenth century. Ralph Taxo; his son, witnessed with Fulco, Count of Anjou, a charter of King Robert 1028. He or his father, acquired a barony in Normandy, perhaps by marriage, and founded the abbey of Fontenay and in 1047 Ralph Tesson of Cinquelais led 120 knights of his dependence to aid Duke William at the battle of Val des Dunes (De Gerville, Anc. Chateaux).

The Tesson barony in 1166 consisted of 60 knights’ fees. From this House descended the Mabkioks, of whom William Marmilon of Fontenay (a Tesson estate) witnessed a charter of Ralph Tesson, probably his brother, in 1070. The Byrons seem to have been another branch. The Percys probably derive from Emegis or Emeis Tesson, brother of Ralph and co-founder of Fontenay 1050. He had William, Serlo, Picot and Ralph de Percy, who came to England 1067, and from whom the English Percys descended. The arms of these families show their common origin. The Tessons bore a fesse, the Marmions the same, the Percys a fesse indented, the Percys of the South fessy or barry, and the Byrons bendy or fessy. The distinction is chiefly made by tinctures.

This House, which inherited by marriage from the Norman House of Percy, and was the source of the great historical Earls of Northumberland is too well known to require detail.