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Normandy links to England for the early Plante name

The first evidence occurs – for both names Plant and Plantagenet – around the same place, at the same time. Reaching back to much earlier times, the ancient male-line DNA of the main Plant family indicates that a few millennia ago they had come from the south, perhaps from Gascony [Fig 1] or further south in Spain. There is also an isolated occurrence of the name Planta in the Alps in Roman times. That aside, the first known evidence for the Plant name is in western Normandy [Fig 1] in 1180.

Fig 1: Western Europe around 1100
Western Europe ca.1100
Map extracted from TPC, p 14.

The Longspée-Audley (L-A) feudal hypothesis links together the locations of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century records for the Plant(e) name, based mostly on its occurrences in England. Indeed, even by the sixteenth-century, the geographical distribution of Plant wills remains remarkably coincident with the earlier locations of the Audley nobility along with their family ties. However, the late twelfth-century record in Normandy of Plant and some similar names suggests an initial cradle of development there that predated the L-A hypothesis


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Historical sources.

Preamble: an outline of the general historical context

The so-called Norman invaders of 1066, conquering England from across the Channel, have received an unsteady appreciation – empathy has fluctuated through times of changing inter-regional conflicts. A greater unity of sentiment arose after the allied landings of 1944, as inscribed on a pediment at the British military cemetry in Bayeaux. Translated, this reads:

We who were vanquished by William [the Conqueror] have liberated the country of the victor. [TN p145]
While this fulfils its prime purpose of respecting the dead, some might consider it misleading: it conflates more modern loyalties with radically different complexities of authority back in times nearer the 1066 conquest. This matters because the years 1180 to 1280 correspond to evidence for the arrival of the English Plant surname from Normandy during times when change in Normandy was pivotal to the Anglo-French rule of two kingdoms.

Two of the conqueror William's half brothers had provided the two largest numbers of personally supplied vessels for the invasion in 1066: specifically Robert of Mortain (120 ships) and Bishop Odo of Bayeux (100 ships). [TN p133] These locations, Mortain and Bayeux, are both towards the western reaches of Normandy. So also was the titular location of count Hugh d'Avranches (60 ships) who, by 1071, had the additional title of earl of Chester with his heirs long dominating lands such as around the subsequently known most populous Plant homeland in England as well as widely scattered lands elsewhere. This Avranches-Chester link from western Normandy to England's most populous Plant homeland resonates, it seems, with the likely origins of the Plant surname, though some uncertainty then remains as to whether this name came from western Normandy as a fashion, indeed as a name not dissimilar to the celebrated twelfth-century name Plantagenet, or whether there was a physical migration from Normandy to England of one or more people already bearing Plant as a surname.

Post-conquest England and Normandy

Following the conquest of England, there were marriages between the ruling Normans and some more native 'Anglo Saxon' families. For example, there was a Norman marriage into an English family called 'Aldithley' (now spelled Audley) that presided around a region that we now know to have become the Plants' most populous homeland in England. The main general impression given by the 1086 Domesday survey is one of a wholesale takeover of England's lands by lords from Normandy; but, despte this, it seems that beneath the highest magnates approximately half of the manorial lords in the early twelfth-century were of English origin, rather than French. [TEA loc.650]

England had been captured in 1066 by Bretons, Flemings and Frenchmen, as much as by native Normans who were intially ninth-century northmen from Scandinavia. [TN pp140, 196, 198] The 'Norman feudal system' was introduced into England by the victorious king William of 1066. This system had served William well in his duchy of Normandy. The king's principal vassals were awarded lands that were dispersed throughout England, in order to avoid the formation of principalities that might threaten his authority. [TN p144] Anglo-Saxon values were added to the mix, such as an already well established system of sheriffs who effectively represented the king in the counties. [TN pp145] This combination of 'good governance' was tried first in England before it spread to the Plantagenet-ruled Angevin Empire, which extended throughout western France, and thereafter the system was finally adopted throughout the whole of the growing kingdom of France. [TN p196]

Though English remained the language of the people in England, it was heavily influenced by a dialect of French which evolved into Anglo-Norman and which remained the language of England's aristocracy until the fourteenth century. [TN p144] By 1087, inhabitants of different origins were living together in England, apparently on good terms. A point of relevance to our considerations is that Saxon names gave way to more fashionable Norman forenames, such as William [TN pp144, 198] and such fashion no doubt had some cachet for surnames, which were being introduced into England as by-names allocated by record keepers; these then developed into hereditary surnames. More than just adopted fashions, there was also some migration of Normans bringing Norman surnames. For example, the formative surname 'de Plantes' had evidently migrated to England by 1282. If we bear in mind that these were times of non-standard spelling, this can be seen to be the same name as 'de Planteiz' which had been present earlier (1198) near 'le Plantis' in the Orne region of Normandy. There was also an abbeviated form 'Plauntes' in England by 1275 and, even as late as 1443, a goldsmith called William 'Plantes' is recorded as a 'Norman alien' at Salisbury in Wiltshire – it seems that he, or his forebears, had travelled roughly 225 miles north into England from apparent origins at le Plantis in southern Normandy.

Nobility and a developing social structure

Western society in late medieval times developed a view of itself as an arrangement of hierarchical classes, with differing levels of prestige. As modern scholarship sees it [TEA loc.200] 'magnates' (or 'peers' as they became called from the 1250s) developed a superior form of knighthood while common knights or 'bachelors' occupied a lower, but still noble, status level.

Knights bachelor were focussed on the golden spur and were ranked below knights banneret who were carriers of the banner of a magnate. By the 1220s in France, a lower social group – 'squire' – was forming and was considered noble, albeit below knights bachelor. In England however, county knights were inserted into a pre-existing scheme of county admininstration thereby delaying the elevation of non-knightly administrators to being considered 'noble'. [TEA loc.1522] By 1225, there were some signs of an emerging proto-gentry in England, in the form of families associated with knights though they were not knights themselves – however their right to being worthy enough to marry into the nobility was being actively opposed. [TEA loc.1564] In time this led on, in the fourteenth century, to a noble group below knights: namely, 'gentlemen'. A concept of the 'gentry' with no particular role, other than social class, emerged as a peculiarity in England. Social tiers beneath knights progressively coalesced, generation by generation, in a cascade of class hierarchy that has left contended traces of class in England even to this day. [TEA loc.1572]

For example, both Robert Plant (1280) and the manor of 'la Planteland' (1310) were near the manor of Thornbury whose lord was Hugh Audley whose goods were substantially under-assessed in 1327; also, the poor were taxed at the same rate as his administrators who thereby gained financial advantage from being classed as 'not noble'. [PE p466] Unsurprisingly, such practice became a widespread cause of resentment by the poor and this played its part in inducing the recognition of a subsequent 'low-noble' English class – the 'gentry'. [TEA loc.1522]

The noble role of knighthood

A traditional view for late medieval times has been that figting men were mostly raised, at times of peace or war, by 'knights fee' (i.e. knightly duties in return for holding land). However, this has been amended, in scholarship since the 1980s, to a belief that most knights were raised by the more flexible means of direct payment. [TEA loc.774] This might apply for example to a feuding man called Durand Plante (1180) in Normandy.

Though scant mentions of individuals usually give little or no direct indication of status, it seems that some early Plants were around the edges of being noble. For example, we can consider the aforementioned Durand Plante, a fighting man in Normandy (1180); and also Robert Plant of Saltford (ca.1280) 'once bailiff of Marsfelde'. By the mid thirteenth century, there was a whole range of important local officers, such as baronial seneschals, coroners, and hundred bailiffs. [TEA loc.1522] In England (unlike France), such administrative roles in themselves were considered insufficient for being considered noble though some could have had a supplementary claim to that status. For example, nobility through knighthood could be earned by winning one's spurs at tournaments. In the reign of Henry II, tourneying was banned in England, requiring a visit to northern France where one could engage with the high nobility and their knights. This ban in England was in place at the time of Durand Plant in Normandy (1180) whose feuding was evidently closer to an arena of 'noble' competition and conflict. The ban in England was lifted when Henry II died (1189) and, by the 1250s and the times of Robert Plant, tournaments were operating notably in Northamptonshire and the midlands of England. [TEA loc.940]

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Here, I present a wider framework of lords than just that of the Longspée-Audley (L-A) feudal lords over the Plants, whom I take to start with William Longspée, ca.1176-1226, whose descent married into the Audleys in 1244. Here, I select some aspects of the earlier historical environment, including the involvement of this Longspée's mother and others of the earlier nobility who presided over Anglo-Norman locations associated with the early Plant name. The broader context, included here, involves kings and their magnates and leads on to the L-A hypothesis of those particular L-A lords that are most relevant to early evidence for the Plant name in England.

From its earliest known medieval occurrences, the name Plante and some similar names evidently link east and south Normandy, in northern France, to East Anglia in eastern England. This can be considered alongside the context of Ida de Tosny whose family origins were in south-east Normandy. She was the mother of Henry II's illegitimate son William Longspée (ca.1176-1226) and she went on to marry into the Bigod earls of Norfolk whose major region of influence was around lands in East Anglia. Longspée was granted the honour of Eye based in Suffolk and, in himself, this Longspée earl of Salisbury provides an early link to both Normandy and East Anglia, as well as to the subsequently known, most populous homeland for the Plant name in the north west midlands of England.

A more tenacious feudal link, since much earlier, from Normandy to the most populous Plant homeland is provided by the earls of Chester. From the first they retained the title of viscomte of the Avranchin along with title to other west Normandy lands: the Avranchin was near the western border of Normandy with Brittany. They held their lands here through descent from Hugh d'Avranches (ca.1047-1101) who had been granted in 1071 the earldom of Chester in the NW midlands of England – this had followed on from Hugh's 1066 role in the Norman duke William's conquest of England. The tenacity of these Chester earls provides a strong link, in particular, between two key locations for the Plant name: specifically, the Plante name at Coutances in western Normandy in 1180 and the Plants' subsequently known main homeland in the north-west midlands of England, which was around the border of north Stafforshire with east Cheshire.

It is of course uncertain how much a single historic event at a particular date might have affected the now-known locations of the early Plant name. However, it seems possible that the name could have spread from Normandy under some well recorded administrative links in the early thirteenth century, if not earlier given the Chester earls' land holdings in both locations dating back to as early as 1071. It is a pervasive problem that early records are fragmentary and desired details are missing, leaving it substantially unknown in the case of the Plant name, when precisely it first became a surname, and where.

In the available evidence, there is just a faint trace of surviving Plant records for a possible trail of migration from Normandy to its most populous subsequent homeland. First, there is a journey of around 400 miles, by land and sea, from the 1180 Plante name as recorded in west Normandy to the location of a surviving 1301 Plant record at Ewloe near Chester. Then, by joining the dots further, we reach the most populous Plant homeland, around 50 miles to the east.

This route has a feudal context, which was provided by the lands and activities of the 6th Chester earl in particular. For example, he granted protection in 1200-03 to both Savigny Abbey in west Normandy and its daughter house Poulton Abbey; these two Abbeys were near the locations of the aforementioned Plant records, surviving respectively from 1180 in Normandy and by 1301 near Chester. This link between these distant Plant name locations has a further context – that of England's royal withdrawal of 1202-3 from northern France which included, by 1204, the departure of the 6th Chester earl from western Normandy. There is then a context for the remaining 50 mile trek of Plant name locations, from near Poulton to the main Plant homeland which was provided in 1214 by the earl's refoundation of Poulton Abbey to become Dieulacres Abbey at the heart of the Plants' subsequent most populous homeland. This monastic move (ca.1214-20) provided better protection for the relocated abbey, being further from Wales. As a further less well known detail, there is a surprisingly late cross-channel charter, dated 1231, directly between the abbeys of Savigny and Dieulacres. This date coincides with a time when the 6th earl was attempting to regain control of his erstwhile western Normandy holdings (1230-31), including lands near Dieulacres Abbey's old motherhouse at Savigny-le-Vieux. This was a stubborn link that had long been maintained by the Chester earls though, by 1231, it was changing into being a link that was more about nostalgia, as it was not to survive at the top level of mainstream history.

There were other early Plant name locations. For example, Robert Plant (1280) of Saltford had been 'once bailiff Marsfelde' which was evidently Marshfield in the hundred of Thornbury, south Gloucestershire with the manor of Thornbury just across the Bristol Channel from Chepstowe which is associated with the manor of la Planteland as recorded in 1310. This Robert's one-time Marshfield bailiwick had passed to Keynsham Abbey in 1170, which is barely 2 miles from a 1275 residence for Thomas and Helen Plant at Bitton in south Gloucestershire, with Robert's nominal location of Saltford also nearby across the county border in Somerset. Both were about 8 miles from Marshfield which had been granted the right to a market in 1265. At first sight, a mention of Hugh Audley as earl of Gloucester by 1314 appears to chime with the Longspée-Audley (L-A) hypothesis for the lords who presided over the Plants. However, in this case, Hugh Audley's proximity to the south Gloucestershire Plants is too late to explain the arrival of Plants here – they are perhaps better seen as a separate migration of the Plant name from Coutances in Normandy, or as associated with a family link to the 5th earl of Chester, or as associated with the activities of William Longspée and his widow. This exemplifies some early uncertainties around the L-A hypothesis which, though more complex, are discussed with added detail here.

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Setting the scene of England's acquisition and loss of lands in France

Following the conquest of 1066, William duke of Normandy became king of England. Around that time in 1100, Anjou was just a small area around Angers [dark area in Fig 1 above] to the south of Normandy.

Fig 2: Angevin Empire of Henry II
Angevin Empire under Henry II
Map extracted from LAL, p 36.

However, by 1120, Anjou had been enlarged to Greater Anjou, combined with Touraine to its east and Maine to its north, the latter reaching the southern border of Normany (Maine and Normandy are shown in Fig 3). Following on from 1120 and the further enlargement to the Angevin Empire of 1154 (Fig 2) reaching throughout western France, these possessions collapsed to largely just England and SW France (Fig 4) as shown after 1214 [EUNAK p19].

Fig 3: Battle of Bouvines, 1214
Battle of Bouvines
Map extracted from LAL, p 226.
  Fig 4: Angevin Empire after 1214
Angevin Empire after 1214
Map extracted from LAL, p 412.

Henry II's Angevin [Bempire from 1154 leads into the so-called Plantagent times. Geffrey Plantegenest (sic) became the Count of Anjou by inheritance from 1129 and then duke of Normandy by conquest from 1144. This helped secure the right of his eldest son Henry, along with the hereditary right of Henry's mother, to become king Henry II of England in 1154. This enlarged the lands to be associated with the English kings beyond those that had been associated with the 1066 conquest, which had cemented the block of the 'Anglo-Norman' lands, specifically Normandy and England; Henry II's further enlargement added not only his father's hereditary lands around Anjou but, also, by his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, it had brought lands as far south as the Pyrenees – as indicated, this full engrossment into Henry II's Angevin Empire, dominating much of western Europe's Atlantic coast is shown in Fig 2.

Henry II was born and died in Greater Anjou [EUNAK p23]. Following his death in 1189 and that of his son Richard the Lionheart in 1199, Richard's youngest brother king John lost the duchy of Normandy in 1204, so losing the lynchpin of the Angevin Empire. Though Henry II had spent 60% of his reign in France [EUNAK p12] he had been in his southern lands of Anjou and Aquitain for only 20% of his time [EUNAK p23]. Anjou was the homeland of the Angevin kings but England had given these kings their wealth and Normandy was the hinge that joined the whole together [EUNAK p23].

With king John, this Angevin Empire was not to last. It fell despite the efforts of some of the king's vassals, such as the earl of Chester and the Longspée earl of Salisbury, who were relevant to subsequently known locations of the Plant name in England.

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The withdrawal from Normandy and defending the kingdom of England

In the few years of his reign (1199-1204) before Normandy fell, John was in Anjou and Poitou [to Anjou's south, Fig 1] for around 30% of his time: however, these two regions – Anjou and Poitou – fell easily, dispite John's short-lived victory and Mirebeau in 1202; and, after John's departure from France in December 1203, the capital Rouen of Normandy fell on 24 Augest 1204. John was the first king since the conquest to have been both born and to die in England. After 1204, the king went to France only in 1206 and 1214, to try to regain his continental lands via Poitou [EUNAK p12].

For his expedition of 1214, John sailed to La Rochelle and campaigned to the south and then north, regaining Anjou with a plan to cut across south of Normandy to Paris. At that time, Paris was the capital of the small [Fig 2] but growing [Fig 4] directly ruled lands of the kingdom of France.

William Longspée can be connected to the 1204 withdrawal from France and he also played a role in John's 1214 offensive that attempted to regain continental lands. As he can also be connected to the spread of the Plant name to England, I will here include some detail of Longspée's particular role.

King John's illegitimate half brother, Longspée earl of Salisbury, was to take part in a pincer movement towards Paris from the north east to join John's 1214 offensive from the south west – however, this was blocked by king Phillip of France [Fig 3]. In fact, Longspée had sailed to Flanders the previous year and had seized or destroyed a large part of the French fleet anchored at Damme. This had ended the plan of king Philip to invade England. For John's retaliatory plan of 1214, the Salisbury earl sailed to Flanders again, this time to join forces with John's nephew Otto, the Holy Roman Emperor [Fig 3]. However, William Longspée was captured at the battle of Bouvines on 27 July 1214 [Fig 3] and, with defeat at this battle, England was left without continental lands except for Gascony (now in SW France) near the Pyrenees [Fig 4].

King Phillip's son, Prince Louis of France then made inroads into England during 1216-17 joining a barons' rebellion against John until this English king died in October 1216. The rebellion then became a war of English succession. The instability was compounded by the fact that John's appointed son, Henry III, was still in his minority.

Both the Longspée earl of Salisbury and the 6th earl of Chester featured in this struggle. Chester was steadfastly with the king while Longspée strayed only briefly.

A turning point in Prince Louis's campaign in England came with the battle of Lincoln, on 20 May 2017, at which the English royalist forces were split into five factions, two being commanded by William Longspée of Salisbury and Ranulph III, the 6th earl of Chester. By the end of September 1217, Prince Louis had left England, never to return.

The Chester earls had long featured amongst the most powerful magnates in England and they will be mentioned repeatedly throughout the following account, especially in connection with their aforementioned relevance to Plant name locations. King John of England is perhaps best known for his loss of Anjou and Normandy (1202-04) which was followed by the barons' revolt against him. This is famously associated with the issue of Magna Carta (1215) detailing in particular the rights of his barons. The 6th Chester earl issued a similar but not identical Magna Carta for his relationship with his barons, as well as the relationship of these barons with their tennants – this oddity relates to the Chester lands being a relatively autonomous region (palatine) with a particular role to defend the king's realm from a more rebellious north Wales.

Fig 5: The counties of England
Map from PE, p 13.

As well as Cheshire with its capital of Chester, the 6th Chester earl had already held land in Lincolnshire [denoted Lincoln in Fig 5] and, following the aforesaid battle of Lincoln [capital of Lincolnshire], he was created earl of Lincoln as well as of Chester on 23 May 1217, just three days after the battle.

This earl had taken the cross (promise to the pope to support a crusade) along with king John though they were both absent from the first contingent of the 5th crusade which reached Acre in the autumn of 1217. With relative stability in England, the earl of Chester and Lincoln departed from England to join the crusade in Egypt in the first week of June 1218 returning in the summer of 1220 [ROC p77-80].

By no choice of his own, king John had spent more time in England than any of his Norman and Angevin predecessors, except for king Stephen (1135-54) who had been similarly fully occupied in England by the English Anarchy [EUNAK p138]. Despite king John's well known dealings with the northern barons, he was with his itinerant court rarely anywhere in the north of England; nor in East Anglia, nor in the south-west peninsular nor even in the south east outside London. Instead, he was particularly often around the old Anglo-Saxon capital of Winchester near the mid south coast of England with some spread of frequent locations especially towards the south-east Midlands [EUNAK p136]. The route of English kings to France had most normally been via Winchester through Hampshire [Fig 5] rather than through the south east ports of Kent and Sussex where the kings' direct holdings, perhaps surprisingly, were sparse [EUNAK p161] but were held through the offices of various nobles.

Away from the English lands that were most toured by king John, there were thirteenth-century Plants in Lincolnshire and, at least by the 14th century, in the north west Midlands [e.g. just west of Cheshire by 1301]: these Plants were in locations that had been more particularly under the authority of the earl of Chester as a leading magnate of the king. Similarly early Plant locations in East Anglia had been around a region of influence of the Bigod earls of Norfolk though, that said, Norfolk county was dissimilar to Cheshire – Norfolk was amongst the shires where royal estates directly held by the king constituted more than 20% of the total value of that county's lands, even though they were barely ever visited by the king. By contrast, the northern Welsh Marches (around the contested borderlands of England and Wales) were not only rarely visited but also contained no royal demesne (land held directly by the king): here in the north west Midlands, William the Conqueror had handed over completely the counties of Cheshire and Shropshire [Fig 5] to their respective earls [EUNAK p160-1]. This tradition carried over to the 13th century when the administration of the palatine of Chester was then awarded to the heir to the English throne.

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An early record for the Plante name at Coutances in western Normandy in 1180

Though it is generally unsafe to attach too much emphasis to a single Plante record, the historical context of the feudal lords around Coutances in 1180 provide an interesting link from a Plant presence at Coutances reaching as far as the subsequently known location of the main Plant homeland, which was in particular in north Staffordshire near its border with east Cheshire [Fig 5] in the north west midlands of England.

In the first survivng exchequer roll for Normandy under the English kings, there is an 1180 record for a Durand Plante at Coutances [Fig 6 below] under the jurisdiction of Vicomte William de St John. This Plante was fined for waging a duel upon a duel. The exchequer entry gives the fee to the king with the barest of detail, just stating that it was taken from the chattels of Durand Plante. The fee was 26s 3d, perhaps a slightly clipped two marks (26s 8d) for two duels.

Durand's fine came only slightly after a great council at Windsor, on 10 April 1179. For the first time, this offered men involved in seisin of land the chance to avoid judicial duel by instead having the case decided by a jury of twelve law-worthy knights chosen by four [HTYK p261]. More generally, a fine of an odd mark (13s 4d) was typically levied on litigants who had committed some procedural irregularity [EUNAK p187].

In a judicial duel, victory implied God's judgement of innocence. It was only in strictly approved circumstances that a champion could be employed by an accused or accuser to fight a duel on their behalf [EUNAK p182]. No doubt, there were men who were more ready than most to engage freely in duels. This might possibly have been the case for the two duels in a year that seem to have happened at Coutances in 1180. That said, there were some circumstances in which a duel was hard to avoid.

Somewhat later, in a case of 1221 at Kidderminster, a man captured in the company of thieves 'confessed that he is a thief ... and turned approver to fight five battles'. Approvers were convicted felons who were spared on condition that they agreed to fight their comrades or other criminals [EUNAK p182].

Durand's fine of 2 marks tells us little about his full worth. However, it can be placed in a contemporary context. The 1181 Assize of Arms placed free laymen with 16 marks in chattels or income on a par with holders of 1 knight's fee [EUNAK p216]. A knight's fee was the resposibility to fund a 'man at arms' with armour and a battle horse [EUNAK p213]. Around that time there appears to have been around 5,000 knights in England though the title was not much used – it did not appear as a title for a witness even as late as 1181. After 1220 however, the title knight (milites in Latin) occurs with increasing frequency as an honorific title after the names of men witnessing charters. The Assize goes on to distinguish free laymen with 10 marks of chattels or income from the remaining free men, indicating that there was a class that was not of 'knightly income' but who were still marked out above the mass of freeholders [EUNAK p 216].

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Vicomte William de St John and the Plantagenet name

On Henry II's return from Ireland in May 1172, both he and the Young King were at Mont-St-Michel [bottom left of Fig 6] in its Chapter House where they reconfirmed a grant by Abbot Robert to William de St John [HTYK p114]. This was the title of the forestership of a forest at Bévais [BHO, La Manche part 1, 1172], perhaps at the Beauvais near Barfleur [top of Fig 6]. William de St John was a leading official in Normandy, a familiar of king Henry II and one of the tutores of assistance to the king's eldest son, who was known as Henry the Young King [HTYK p96].

William de St John (or of St Jean in French) was the feudal lord over Durand Plante at Coutances. He also held other lands, such as his uncle's rebuilt castle of 1117 in the Avranchin renamed St Jean-le-Thomas, St Jean being the family name and Thomas refering to the uncle. This cliff-top castle was less than 7 miles from Mont-St-Michel [Fig 6].

Vicomte William de St John was party to several deeds in west Normandy and Anjou [BHO, La Manche parts 1, 2, 3 and 4; Calvados part 1; Anjou part 1]. For example, in 1155 he had opposed the right of the Abbot of Mont-St-Michel to a judicial duel at Mont-St-Michel for the honour (estates) of St Pair, on the grounds that Mont-St-Michel was outside the honour [BH0, La Manche part 1, 1155]. St Pair is roughly midway between Avranches and Coutances [Fig 6], around 20 miles south of Coutances and 15 miles from Avranches, with the castle at St Jean-le-Thomas being roughly midway between St Pair and Avranches.

Vicomte William had been a frequent witness to charters issued 1170-71 by the Young King who was acting as co-regent with his father. These charters included ones made at the Young King's court at Bur-le-Roi, about halway along the 20 miles from Saint-Lô to Bayeux [Fig 6].

One such charter of 1170-71 was a gift to Monteburg Abbey [roughly 15 miles south of Barfleur, Fig 6]. This Abbey was, for exmaple, the mother house of Lordes Priory in Dorset [on the south coast next to Hampshire in Fig 5].

A separate gift dated ca.1180 of land to this priory appears in a charter preserved in the Montebourg cartulary; this was witnessed by the interestingly named William Plantapeluda. The meaning of Plantapeluda is hairy shoot, the same as for Bernard Plantapilosa who had exerted his authority, around 869-72, near le Puy which is now in southern central France. This meaning can also be compared with the name Plantegenest, which is the earliest known form of the royal name Plantagenet. The spelling Plantegenest first occurs in surviving records around 1175-1180 at the Abbey of Marmoutier at Tours near Anjou and also (as Plante Genest) at the Abbey of Bayeux [Fig 6] near the Cotentin peninsular – the meaning of Plantagenet is usually stated to be sprig of broom which is, by coincidence, an instance of a hairy shoot.

Fig 6: Around the 1180 Plante record at Coutances
Around the Cotentin peninsular 1173
Map extracted from Normandy map in HTYK, p 159.

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The earl of Chester in the Avranchin and others

In western Normandy, young Hugh, the 5th Chester earl was also viscount of the Avranchin [around Avranches near botton left of Fig 6] and also viscount of the Bessin and of the Val de Vire, as well as being lord of the honours of St Sever in the Cotentin and Briquessart near Bayeux [Fig 6] – he also held the important castle of St James de Beuvron, shown as St James near bottom left of Fig 6. This is on the southern border of Normandy, which is shown by the broken line along the bottom of Fig 6, with Brittany to the west.

At the outbreak of hostilities at Easter in 1173, Hugh was amongst several who joined the Young King's cause, along with two of this young Henry's younger brothers: to wit, the future king Richard I and Geoffrey, who was betrothed to the Duchess of Brittany. For the rebellion, Earl Hugh made his base at the south-western border of Normandy with Brittany, instead of staying with his lands in the English Midlands.

The young Hugh of Chester brought with him several vassals from the north Welsh marches, such as William of Rhuddlan [HTYK pp143-4]. When king Henry II received news at Rouen on 21 Aug 1173 that earl Hugh and others had taken refuge in the castle of Dol in Brittany [bottom left of Fig 6], he raced the nearly two hundred miles from eastern Normandy to Dol in just two days. The rebels surrendered the castle on 26 Aug, after the king offered lenient terms, agreeing to spare life and limb.

Henry II clearly regarded this seige of Dol castle, along with his capture of earl Hugh and others, including 'eighty knights of great name', as crucial to his defence of his empire [HTYK pp169-70]. Normandy was the lynchpin of Henry II's Angevin Empire, which reached from the borders of Scotland to the Pyrenees [Fig 2]. It was his most important theatre of war [HTYK pp151-2] – the king stayed in or passed through Normandy in all but four years of his 35-year reign (1154-89).

Henry II's leniency towards his captives is not unusual in this age from the later 11th century to the early 14th which is one when Norman and Angevin England rarely experienced political violence between members of the aristocracy in the wake of power struggles [EUNAK p60].

Hugh of Chester was captured at Dol on 26 Aug 1173 then brought as a prisoner from Barfleur [top of Fig 6] to Devizes castle in Wiltshire by Henry II on 7 July 1174 [HTYK p 194]. He was released in 1174 and his lands restored in Jan 1177. He died in 1181 and was replaced as earl of Chester and viscomte of the Avranchin by the approximately nine year old Ranulph de Blundeville (d 1232).

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Some other rebel earls in England in 1173-74

During the Young King's rebellion of 1173-4 against the king, the Young King's allies held several castles including a wedge of eight through the north-west Midlands of England, from Chester through Tutbury to Leicester [boxed symbols in Fig 7, with corresponding counties denoted in Fig 5 as Cheshire, Staffs and Leics]. These happen to coincide with a wedge of subsequently-known locations for the Plant name, including at Leicester [capital of Leicestershire] by the mid 15th century. This spread of Plants was apparently due, at least partly, to a gradual migration of Plants from their main homeland near the source of the river Trent, which is shown in Fig 7 with its source between Chester and Tutbury.

A principal rebel force was led by the earl of Leicester [HTYK p172-3] who sailed from Wissant in Flanders and arrived in England on 29 September 1173 to join the Bigod earl of Norfolk in East Anglia. Hugh Bigod, the first earl of Norfolk (d ca.1176), held the rebel castles of Framlingham and Bungay [HTYK p173] as represented by the boxed symbols near the right edge of Fig 8. Apart from these castles, other symbols in Figs 7 and 8 are for castles that were held by the king Henry II though some were attacked by the rebels [underlined symbols]. These included Walton, Ipswich and Norwich, which were around the extent of the earl Bigod's main domain of influence [Fig 8].

Fig 7: Midlands castles during the 1173-4 rebellion
Midlands Castles 1173-4
Map extracted from East Anglia and Midlands map in HTYK, p 174.
    Fig 8: Corresponding East Anglian castles
East Anglian Castles 1173-4
Map similarly extracted.

The earl Leicester's plan was to break through to join up with rebel castles in the NW Midlands and ultimately with William the Lion of Scotland. On 13 Oct 1173, the two rebel earls in East Anglia – earls Leicester and Bigod – took the large motte and bailey castle at Haughley [HTYK p173] but then returned to earl Hugh's principal base at Framlingham [Fig 8]. Just 4 days later on 17 Oct, the king's forces stormed the rebel forces at the battle of Fornham [Fig 8] and the earl Leicester was captured along with others [HTYK p177].

At this battle, earl Hugh of Norfolk was opposed by his son, Roger Bigod, who carried the banner of St Edmunds from Bury St Edmunds [Fig 8] to the battle [HTYK p176]. Some years later, when news was received of earl Hugh's death on pilgrimage to Palestine in 1177, Henry II took the opportunity to weaken Bigod power by denying Roger the earldom [HTYK p235] despite his loyalty in 1173. Subsequently in 1181, Roger married the king's mistress Ida de Tosny and, upon Henry II's death, he became the 2nd earl of Norfolk in 1189.

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Coincidence of earl Bigod locations with Plant and similar names

Ida de Tosny was the mother of the illegitimate son William Longspeée (ca.1176-1226) of Henry II – Longspée had held Pontorson castle [Fig 6] in western Normandy in 1198 and 1203, before the withdrawal to England.

In 1181, this Ida had married the 2nd Norfolk earl, Roger Bigod. Upon the death of the 3rd earl, Ida's legitimate grandson, the 4th earl of Norfolk Roger Bigod (ca.1209-1270), became a ward in 1225 under her illegitimate son, the Salisbury earl William Longspée, not long before Longspée's death in 1226.

There is surviving evidence in the Close Rolls for the name Roger Plantin as serjent to the 4th Norfolk earl, Roger Bigod. The first known record for this is in 1254 and then the spelling becomes Plantyn in a record for him as the earl's butler in 1258. Another record in the same year relates to Roger Plantyn holding lands in Norfolk.

The title of sergeant for Roger Plantin typically meant a man of arms, less well equipped than a knight. The fact that evidently the same Roger Plantyn was a little later the Bigod earl's butler and held land can be compared with the more prestigious evidence at the start of the thirteenth century that 'Ralph de Tosny holds Walthamstow for the sergeanty of going on campaigns in person with the king'. The mention of 'in person' was evidently to rule out his simply paying a fee to cover the expenses of someone else taking his place [EUNAK p265].

It is likely that the Bigod earl had more than one butler – the butlers of the earl of Chester took turns at his court, otherwise living on their own land. In a charter of ca.1142, earl Ranulph II of Chester granted land to one of his butlers in return for service. The butler's obligations included mewing a hawk when he was in his own house, like a free man, but whilst in court he was free of all other duties. Such office was often hereditary and linked to the tenure of land [EUNAK p132].

The year 1258 coincides with the 4th Bigod earl being a leading member at the Oxford Parliament which produced the Petition of Barons with 29 clauses covering various issues, the most significant legislation since Magna Carta. The 4th earl's younger brother Hugh Bigod was appointed justiciar of England (1258-60) wherby he conducted extensive investigations into corruption by local officials, aided by four knights in each county, without him travelling to each county himself [PE p73,104-5].

In the same general region as Roger Plantyn, there is William Plauntes in Norfolk in 1275 and William Plante at Cambridge in 1279. The former spelling Plauntes might well relate to the 1198 name spelling de Planteiz, in Orne in south Normandy – this evidently means 'from le Plantis' in Orne. In England, there is similarly the spelling de Plantes in 1282 at Huntingdon near Cambridge; both Cambridge and Huntingdon appear in both Figs 7 and 8 and their counties are shown as Cambs and Hunts in Fig 5 alongside the county of Norfolk.

Amongst the various possibilities, there is the aforementioned one that the Plant name in England could have derived from le Plantis in southern Normandy. Instead, there is a possible descent from the 1180 occurrence of the Plante name in western Normandy, or even as outlined here from Plantyn in Norfolk. There are also the names Plantul in Orne ca.1189-99, de la Planta (alias de Plant') at Chinon and Loudon near Anjou in 1202, and de le Plaunt and Plaunt at Rouen in eastern Normandy in 1273. These similar names hence suggest various possibilities for the origins and meaning of the Plant name.

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A wider and more powerful influence of feudal lordship

The strength of the Longspée-Audley hypothesis for Plant name origins arises with the evidence that these particular lords – Longspée and Audley – held a notable influence only in some rather limited places and yet these localities are ones that coincide well with the known early records for the Plant name. Quite differently, the earls of Chester were generally more powerful and held more widespread estates, especially in Normandy and the midlands of England. Though their influence does not relate so specifically to all early known Plant locations, they warrant mention in so far as they are well recorded and studied and appear near some Plant locations, such as in Normandy and the Plants' subsequently known main homeland in the NW milands of England.

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The Cheshire earls in Normandy

The exploits of Hugh II, 5th earl of Chester around his hereditary lands in the Avranchin have been been outlined already above. Upon his death in 1181, a year after the 1180 Durand Plante record, the Chester and Avranchin titles passed to his (approx) 11 year old son Ranulph III. Following his minority, Ranulph was belted earl in 1187 and knighted by the king Henry II at Caen [far right of Fig 6] on 1 Jan 1189 [ROC p2].

The Chester earls were hereditary Viscounts of the Bessin and held several Norman castles and their environs, notably Vire (Calvados), Barfleur (Manches, Fig 6) and St James de Bouvron (Avranches, Fig 6) as well as other scattered lands. The earl's ancestral holdings in Normandy, by 1172, enfeoffed 5178 knights' fees [ROC p12].

Ranulph's troubled marriage of 1189 to the Countess of Brittany brought him the honour of Richmond in England with 140 knights' fees and he often styled himself on charters as duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond. However, the Bretons evidently preferred Ranulph's step son Arthur of Brittany [ROC p13]. While king Richard the Lionheart ravaged the Breton borders, Ranulph imprisoned his wife – the mother of Arthur – at Pontsoron [Fig 6] in 1196 and secured her in his great stronghold St James de Beuvron [ROC p14].

Ranulph III's second and less troubled marriage in around 1199-1200 was to Clemencia, widowed step sister of Geoffrey of Fougères which is across the Breton border and around 30 miles south of Avranches. This brought him the Vale of Mortain in Normandy (around 20 miles east of Avranches) and other benefits. On 23 Sept 1199, king John's first Normandy grant to Ranulph was the great Castle Semilly (arrondisement Saint-Lô, Fig 6) halfway along the Coutances-Bayeux axis [ROC p15].

Ranulph III passed from England to Normandy in the early summer of 1199 not to return until the turn of the year 1204, apart from a time early in 1201 [ROC p12]. By the early 13th century, Ranulph held 71316 knights' fees in Normandy [ROC p13]. By Jan 1204, he returned to England, not to return to France until an attempt to recover Normandy between Feb to Oct 1214. With the fall of Normandy, Ranulph lost his extensive Normandy holdings. Yet he was soon to be compensated with vast acquisitions in England [ROC p17].

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The 6th earl Chester's better fortunes in England

In 1210, Ranulph III of Chester joined king John and others against the Welsh [ROC p23]. This was followed by a truce which lasted from June 1213 to the spring of 1215 [ROC p24]. In Oct 1213, Ranulph and Longspée and the Ferrers earl of Derby were amongst 11 earls who were commanded by the pope, as confilct between clergy and king waned, not to use the conflict as an excuse for causing trouble in the realm [ROC p 26]. Ranulph emerged as a leading royalist magnate [ROC 27] especially in the great baronial revolt of 1215-16 [ROC p27] and in the later reissuing Magna Carta in 1216-17 [ROC p28]. Ranulph's sister Alice had wed the Ferrers earl in 1192 [ROC p2] and together they controlled Cheshire, Staffordshire, Nottingham and Derbyshire – even in Lincolnshire, only a half dozen of Ranulph's men joined the 1215-16 baronial revolt [ROC p28].

A strengthening of Ranulph's possition occurred first in May 2015 and was confirmed in August with the grant of the fortress and manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme in north Staffordshire - this was the first of many rich benisons bestowed upon Ranulph in king John's final months [ROC p31]. In July 1215, half the great honour of Leicester was acquired by Ranulph from the king though it returned to royal hands in 1218 [ROC p33]. At the end of Jan 1216, Ranulph received the custody of the castle and county of Lancashire and on 13 April he was granted custody of Bridgenorth castle and of Shropshire and Staffordshire [ROC p34]. Unlike Longspée's brief desertion of John, Ranulph remained loyal until the end of John's reign on 18 Oct 1216 [ROC p35] and he was one of 3 earls named as executors of John's will, the others being William Marshal of Pembroke and the Ferrers earl of Derby [ROC p36].

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The earl Chester's estates in England

The power of the Norman Chester earls owed less to their possession of Cheshire than to their scattered holdings elsewhere in England that belonged to the great honour of Chester [ROC p105]. Piecing together the evidence is not straightforward being reliant on the availability of surviving records for lands held by military service with a duty of knights fees (kf). In documentation dated 1170-1232, Ranulph III's English estates outside Cheshire included around 122 kf mentioned in documents dated 1170-1232, becoming 217 kf adding those mentioned by 1243 and 243 kf when adding also some mentioned still later [ROC p106]. Besides these, Ranulph III held the honour of Bollingbrook from 1198 amounting to around a further 68 kf in Lincolnshire [ROC pp 112-13]. He also held 13 castles besides some that he only held briefly; these included 5 in Cheshire and 5 more in the adjoining north Welsh marches: to wit, 3 in Flintshire and 1 at Degannwy in Caernarvonshire and 1 at ?Wrexham in Denbighshire – the others elsewhere were Bowes in Yorkshire, Chartley in Staffordshire and Bollingbrook in Lincolnshire [ROC p114].

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Coincidences with early Plant locations at Burgh le Marsh and Saltford

With so many scattered holdings of the Chester earl, it might seem almost inevitable that some might be close to the known early Plant locations in the Midlands of England. Aside from the Plant locations mentioned for East Anglia and Normandy above, there are two particularly notable locations of seemingly well established Plant families by as early as the later 13th century: specifically at Burgh le Marsh in Lincolnshire and at Saltford in north east Somerset [Fig 5].

Near Burgh le Marsh there was land of the honour of Chester outside Cheshire, such as land for example at Wainfleet (4 miles away) Friskney (7 miles) and Wrangle (10 miles). More particularly in Burgh le Marsh itself, there was property of the honour of Richmond which the 6th earl of Chester, Ranulph III held by his first marriage in 1189, mostly until his death in 1232.

On the other hand, this Ranulph III held fewer known estates in Gloucestershire (amounting to 9 kf) and none known in Somerset: the nearest to Saltford of those mentioned is Bisley around 35 miles from Saltford to its north east. For a more local link between western Normandy and Saltford in north Somerset, we can consider earlier times.

It was considerably earlier when Geoffrey de Montbray (d 1093) was bishop of Coutances and the holder of the land around Saltford. This provides a precise link between two of the earliest known Plant locations: Durand Plante at Coutances in 1180 and Robert Plonte of Saltford ca.1280-1303.

Also, around mid-way between Caen and Coutances, in 1174, the bishop of Bath (6 miles from Saltford) had dedicated a church at St Lô [Fig 6] to the honour of the martyr [Thomas Becket] archbishop of Canterbury. This is recorded in the archives of the Abbey of St Lô in the diocese of Coutances [Trans Vol II fo 87]. It indicates another link between the locations of Durand at Coutances (1180) and Robert of Saltford (1280).

A still-surviving stone manor house was built at Saltford by the second earl of Gloucester (d 1183) who links to the earls of Chester. His sister, Maud of Gloucester (d 1189), was Countess of Chester as the wife of the 4th Chester earl, Ranulph II (d 1153), and mother of the 5th, namely the aforesaid Hugh (1147-81). In particular, she was mother to her son Hugh (b 1147) during his minority as next earl from 1153-62. Her brother, the second Gloucester earl was the son and heir of the first Gloucester earl, Sir Robert de Caen (d 1147), an illegitimate son of king Henry I. Caen [Fig 6] is in western Normandy, though around 50 miles to the east of Coutances. This second Gloucester earl founded Keynsham Abbey (ca.1166) just a couple of miles from the known Plant locations of Bitton (1275) and Saltford (ca.1280). In 1314, the earldom of Gloucester passed by marriage to Hugh de Audley who was also lord of Gratton manor in the main Plant homeland.

In the Longspée-Audley hypothesis, we have that in 1232 countess Ela, the widow of William Longspée had given land around 3 miles south of Bath in Somerset for the relocation of Hinton Priory; also, in 1216, Longspée himself had been High Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset. There had been a more precise link much earlier between the Plant locations of Coutances and Saltford in the times Geoffrey de Montbray (d 1093). Also a rather less precise one in 1174, involving the bishop of Bath (6 miles from Saltford) and in Normandy at St Lô (18 miles from Coutances, in the diocese of Coutances). Another involves the earl of Gloucester and his sister the countess of Chester who was mother of the 5th earl of Chester (1147-81); this is the aforesaid Chester earl who campaigned around western Normandy around the time (1180) of the record for Durand Plant.

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A possibly earlier link from Normandy to the main Plant homeland

Just as there are links from Coutances to Saltford as early as the 11th and 12th centuries that could have provided a naming influence continuing on to the 13th century, there might conceivably have been something similar for the main Plant homeland.

Though the earliest known Plant records are somewhat later, the subsequently known main Plant homeland by the 14th century was near the border of the northernmost tip of Staffordshire with south east Cheshire [Fig 5]. The Chester earls had held land in Staffordshire by 2135 knights fees including, in the north, Alstonfield [1 kf], Chartley [2 kf], Newcastle [1 kf], Longsdon and Rus[h]ton [1 kf]. The earliest known Plant record in south Staffordshire is in 1401 at Wombourne and, amongst the known estates of earl Ranulph, the nearest is at Pattingham [1 kf] 5 miles away.

Though these coincidences of land locations do not amount to a convincing connection of the Plant name exclusively to the Chester earls, these earls are amongst those who set a scene, including for the main Plant homeland. From earlier times, there was a centuries-old powerful link of the earls of Chester, who had long been also Normandy viscounts of the Avranchin for example in the west of Normandy. Upon the loss of Normandy (1204) and a retreat more fully into England, the changed focus of the Chester earls helps explain the location of thirteenth-century Plant records in Lincolnshire for example. These Chester earls also provide an indirect link to the main Plant homeland – this involves a relocation of Poulton Abbey to the site of Dieulacres (1214) in the very heart of the main Plant homeland.

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A Cistercian link north from Normandy to the main Plant homeland

A close proximity of the Plant name with erstwhile holdings of the Chester earls is evident in 1301 with a record granting Richard Plant rights to coal at Ewloe. This first known Plant record around the NW midlands of England, at Ewloe, was less that a mile from Hawarden castle, which was one of three castles in Flintshire held by earl Ranulph III. The Plant name flourished in particular around 50 miles to the east in its so-called main homeland around Leek near the nothern tip of Staffordshire [Fig 5] where, as outlined above, there were other earl Chester land holdings.

The earliest known evidence for the Plant homeland around Leek is in the mid 14th century, though it can be noted that the Plant name was already well established around there by then. This suggests that Plants could have been there from earlier, albeit unrecorded: indeed, perhaps from much earlier. There is, in general, a lack of suitable early records here to provide any certainty but nonetheless we can consider some known aspects of the early context of this 'main Plant homeland' location. As is normal for times this early, this relies not least on considerations of the aristocracy, not because they were necessarily the most relevant but because the vast majority of the remaining population at that time are known to us only as occasional specks within a foggy landscape, with sometimes some clearer signposts in some surviving records for the more prominent nobility.

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A notable Abbey refoundation and its earlier foundation

In 1214, Dieulacres Abbey had been refounded in the Plant homeland around Leek by Ranulph III earl of Chester, having been relocated around 50 miles east from its initial site at Poulton near Chester. Dieulacres is the only religious house that was founded (actually refounded) by this parsimonious 6th Chester earl. His refoundation still included land gifted earlier to the Poulton monks, whilst the refounded Abbey of Dieulacres itself was built during ca.1214-20 in the upper Churnet valley, across from Leek town towards the northernmost tip of Staffordshire [ROC p49]. It has been claimed that this 50 mile trek, from Poulton near Hawarden to Dieulacres, is reflected in reputedly the most beguiling poem in Middle English dialect (with the contemporary writings of Chaucer effusing less richness of mystery, nature and romance).

Prof RWV Elliot has pointed out topographical features described in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which are closely similar to features along the 50 mile trek from Poulton to Dieulacres. It has been surmised that this poem was written by a Dieulacres monk [LFC p97] familiar with this journey while portraying a less judgemental moral mission than some more religious writings.

In the 2nd of the 4 parts of the poem, Sir Gawain arrives at 'Holy Head' which is identified with the now village of Holywell, near the river Dee in Flintshire 10 miles north of the earl Chester's castle of Hawarden. Holywell is famous for the legend of the seventh-century St Winifred who was beheaded and then restored by having her head placed back on her shoulders. This legend is strikingly similar to the Christmas events at the start of the poem when Sir Gawain takes up the challenge to behead the Green Knight who then picks up his own head and replaces it. This is part of a challenge by the Green Knight, riding in on his green horse, that Sir Gawain should then meet him one year hence to be beheaded in turn, in the visiting knight's Green Chapel. A parallel has also been drawn with the contemporary beheading of John de Warton at Leek by retainers of the Abbot of Dieulacres – it just so happens that one of these retainers was called Thomas Plonte.

When one reads the poem to trace the places visited by Sir Gawain, from Holywell he needs to cross the river Dee (such as at Harwarden 10 miles south or Poulton 10 miles further). The route of Sir Gawain's imaginary journey, in part 3 of the poem, reaches the castle of Sir Bertilak (similar to Celtic words meaning 'churl' [rogueish, unmannerly] or 'contentious') of Hautdesert (a mix of Old French and Celtic words, probably meaning 'High Wasteland' or 'High Hermitage'). This has been identified with either Beeston Castle, rising above the Cheshire plains, or perhaps more convincingly the hunting lodge of Swythamley in the north of Leek parish, near the Cheshire-Staffordshire border. Here the 3-day temptation of Gawain by Bertilak's wife is intercut with the blood and heat of Bertilak's hunt, together suggestive of both chase and seduction. 'Swthamley' (sic) was a 'hunting seat' of the earls of Chester and it was described at that time [LFC p108] as having 'shades and open purlwes and many beasts, hart, hind, buck, doe, wild boar, wolves and grizzly-bears.

In the final part 4, Sir Gawain reaches 'The Green Chapel' in high ground – this is identified with the distinctive Luds Church, a narrow and deep shaded cleft in the rocks, its steep sides covered in the greenery of moss and ferns. Luds Church is not far from the Swythalmey Grange of Dieulacres Abbey. At the Green Chapel, the Green Knight reveals himself as Sir Bertilak who then narrowly spares Sir Gawain of the reciprical beheading, finally declaring that Sir Gawain is the most chivalrous of knights.

The earlier location of Dieulacres, as Poulton Abbey, was near Chester on the banks of the River Dee where it had been founded in 1146, as a daughter house of Savigny Abbey, which was near the Avranchin in Normandy. This was shortly before Savigny merged with the Cistercian order in 1147 [SAE p159] though it retained some of its own administrative structure in connection with its daughter houses until later.

The hereditary Chester earls had long held a special relationship with Savigny Abbey and, in 1200-03, earl Ranulph III took Savigny with its possessions – on both sides of the English Channel – under his protection [ROC p39]. This was during the lead up to England's loss of Normandy (1202-4). The protection of two Savignac abbeys in particular – Savigny and Poulton – no doubt involved the earl's nearby castles of respectively St James de Beuvron in Normandy and Hawarden in Flintshire near Chester.

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A relatively late cross-channel link

The abbey at Savigny-le-Vieux, now in ruins, was less than 15 miles to the east of earl Ranulph's stronghold castle of St James de Beuvron near the south western boundary of Normandy [Fig 6]. This abbey was also around 10 miles south of Mortain, with one of many Savignac daughter houses being located there. Earl Ranulph's second marriage had brought him the vale of Mortain, that is the broad river valley of the Sélune to the south of Mortain [Fig 6]. In particular, the count of Mortain had considerable holdings in Coutances – so also did the bishop of Coutances – both alongside the holdings there of William de St John, who in 1180 held authority over Durand Plante.

I have already mentioned that the other relevant abbey under Ranulph's protection, in 1202-03, was Poulton. This Abbey was around 8 miles south east from the first known Plant record around the NW Midlands region of England – that is, a Plant at Eweloe in 1301 very near the Chester earl's castle at Hawarden.

England's loss of Normandy in 1204 affected, of course, Savigny Abbey's links with its traditional daughter houses in England. During the first half of the 13th century, only 4 of its charters, out of more than 400, mention England. Three, dated 1219, concern revoking an annual payment to an English clerk. The other is an agreement between the abbeys of Savigny and Dieulacres [SAE p167] for which the date is well after the 1214 refoundation of Poulton as Dieulacres. This date is the 1st July 1231 – a significant date, late in life of the 6th Chester earl Ranulph III – just 3 days before his truce with the king of France.

This charter [AN L//969 no 424] was by the abbot (Adam) of Dieulacres 'and the convent of the same place' sending greetings to the abbot and convent of Savigny [note: convent could mean a society of monks or nuns, not necessarily nuns as in general modern usage]. It pays Savigny homage and service on behalf of Thomas son of William de Folkestone 'which he has been accustomed to make to us (Dieulacres) for some time for the land that he holds from us in the said township of Folkestone'. Amongst the nine named witnesses, there are locative names for the abbey locations of Furness (Cumbria), Combermere (Cheshire), Buildwas (Shropshire) and Croxden (Staffordshire). This indicates a remaining regard of English abbeys for Savigny, one that relates not least to the Chester earl.

The previous year, in the spring of 1230, Ranulph had accompanied Henry III for the English king's attempt to reclaim erstwhile English lands in France. Both Ranulph and Henry III had landed in Brittany. Thereafter, it seems that the earl did not accompany the king's progress in the summer [ROC p97] through Poitou to Gascony [Fig 1]. Instead, by the August, Ranulph had fortified his ancestral castle of St James de Beuvron. He evidently used this as a base from where he burnt the neighbouring castle of Pontsoron [Fig 6] and towns and castles in Anjou, returning to his base without loss of life [ROC p98]. The king left and arrived back in England on 28 October 1230. In April 1231, following the death of William Marshal the younger, Ranulph became the commander of the remaining English forces – they resisted the king of France's attacks on Brittany in the June, until a truce was made on the 4th July 1231. Ranulph then returned to England in late July.

Ranulph died in late October of the following year: his vicera were removed at Wallingford, his heart was buried at Dieulacres Abbey and his body at St Werburgh's Abbey in Chester [ROC p100].

Savigny Abbey's proximity to Ranulph's base at St James de Beuvron was no doubt relevant at the time of Dieulacres's aforesaid charter of agreement with Savigny, on 1st July 1231. In England, the abbeys of Poulton and Dieulacres are more typically associated with Combermere Abbey, whose lands are mostly near the boundary of Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire. This was itself a Savignac daughter house, with its 1133 foundation witnessed by the 4th earl of Chester, Ranulph II.

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Local manors and monks around Leek

In more local detail in England [cf Fig 9], the Plants' most populous homeland around Leek can be associated with Audley tenancies which date back to the late 12th century.

The 6th Chester earl, Ranulph III, had inherited Leek from a royal grant of 1093 to the 3rd earl. In 1214, the 6th earl granted Leek manor to Dieulacres Abbey [ROC p40]. He also granted a second adjacent estate in the 'land of of Rudyard' [EDA p83] to the monks, for the 'building of a new abbey', possibly a further move of its location that was never made [ROC p41] though this might perhaps relate instead to some early variance of land boundaries from those shown in Fig 9 for a later date.

In the further nearby manor of Horton with Gratton [Fig 9], Emma wife of Adam de Audley had inherited the tenancy, followed by their son Adam (d by 1211) and then this Adam's brother Henry de Audley held it in 1218 following a judicial duel against Hervey de Stafford [VCHS7].

By 1244, the Longspée family had married into the Audleys and a connection of the Plant name from western Normandy to Leek might date back to as earlier as this, with the earl Chester links dating back to much earlier.

Together the main Plant homeland influences, following the loss of Normandy (1202-04), as confirmed by 1214, and again in 1231, can be summarised quite neatly by facts including ones for the sheriffs of Staffordshire: (1) there was a link as early as 1146 from western Normandy to Poulton Abbey; (2) the Poulton monks moved to Dieulacres during 1214-1220; (3) the earl of Chester was sheriff of Staffordshire in 1216-1222; (4) William Longspée then held that office in 1223; and, then (5) Henry de Audley held it in 1227 and 1229. This led on to close proximities of the Plant name to the estates of the Audley family, as documented from around 1300, and which can be related to the locations of Plant wills even into the 16th century.

Fig 9. Early modern division of Leek parish...
Quarters of Leek Parish 1609 and probably by 1553 [VCHS7]

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Early lands of Dieulacres and the Plants

Along with the Audleys, the role and origins of Dieulacres Abbey can be considered to be of primary relevance for the early Plants: Dieulacres and Audley lands were alongside one other within the Plant homeland of Leek parish.

Savigny had begun as an independent religious order, founded by St Vitalis, a hermit preacher in the forests of Maine and Fougères. Its definitive foundation date was in 1112 at Savigny-le-Vieux, when the forest was given to Vitalis by Ralph de Fougères. Savigny Abbey had many benefactors before it merged with the Cistercian order in 1147 [SAE p159].

Savigny's style of foundation by a hermit was similar to that in 1101 of Fontevraud Abbey in Greater Anjou. This was near Chinon where there is early evidence for the Plant name: specifically, Eimeric de la Planta held lands in 1202 at both Chinon and Loudon. Fontevrault and its daughter houses followed a rule based on that of St Benedict. The royal so-called Plantagenet family (though evidence for the Plantagenet name is rare until later) were notable as Fontevraud's great benefactors.

Savigny's daughterhouse, Dieulacres Abbey, though nominally Cistercian apart from its first year at Poulton, was at odds with some main Cistercian principles. Two situations developed for working the lands of this Abbey, one clearly akin to Cistercian principles and the other more like the Benedictine ones for example.

Lands around the initial grants at Poulton Abbey and also around Leek, evidently followed Cistercian principles, with a measure of direct exploitation of the lands by the Abbey under the monks themselves. Conversi, or lay bretheren responsiblle for farm work, are explicitly mentioned in a 1257 charter for lands at Poulton. Also, granges near Leek – such as New Grange, Foker and Westwood [Fig 10] – were held by the Abbey and were still not leased out at a later date. This suggests that direct exploitation of land was remaining as normal here, using the Cistercian grange system. By contrast, it seems that serfs and hired labour were used on some of its lands, as is evidenced explicitly at Field near Uttoxeter; this system was more in harmony with land practice on Benedictine estates for example [EDA p86].

The initial lands granted to Dieulacres in 1214 evidently stretched through Leekfrith: that is, north from near Birchall to Merebrook [Fig 10]. Its further estates were amassed by grants of scattered farms, such as on the west side of Gun towards Rudyard [Fig 10], and various other scattered lands much further afield. This made it difficult to apply Cistercian land management principles, which required the use communal cultivation and the avoidance of contact with laymen [EDA pp85-86]. Avoidance of contact was also made difficult by its grant of the town of Leek with its market.

Around the end of the 13th century, Dieulacres's main income was from wool; this earned rather above the average for a Cistercian monastery. For the Cistercians in general, this economy changed around 1350 more to cattle and rents. Dieulacres was well placed for cattle rearing; though rents later became the most important source of income [EDA pp92-93].

By the 1530s, rents provided 70% of Dieulacres's temporal (as opposed to spritual services) income. About 40% of the rents came from Leek and Leekfrith by the 1530s compared to 12% in 1291 [EDA p95]. Early Cistercian principles were evidently more dominant in the core lands around the Abbey than elsewhere to begin with, but leasing lands around Leek had increased by the 1530s.

Answering the question of how exactly early Plants first participated in core Dieulacres lands involves grasping at rather few clues, though we know that Plants were involved with the Abbey from the 14th to the 16th century. For example in 1406, the Abbot granted to Edward Plont a lease of 39 years for two messuages including one identified as 'Calwo-heye de Roche-graunge as of old', the other having been built with grant of wood for the second messuage between the house and Swythuley (presumably Swythamley in Heaton). These apparently lay outside the initial 1214 grant to Dieulacres as suggested by Fig 10, since Roche Grange is 1.7 miles to the north of Meerbrook towards Heaton and further into higher ground, though the mention of 'graunge' suggests Cistercian principles.

Fig 10: Wagstaff's estimate of the initial grant to Dieulacres in 1214[Historical source EDA – copyright ©Keele University]

1214 grant to Dieulacres
Map extracted from EDA, p 84.

Closer to the Abbey site, though later, Lawrence Plant (of Reede-yerth) was evidently in the Abbey's core lands by 1504, at a location that remained repeatedly with the Plants until 1732. He sold items to a gentleman called Ralph Rudyard (Raufe Rydrort) in a deed of 1504 and, shortly after, in administrations around the times of the 1538 dissolution of Dieulacres, Reginald and Laurence Plant are listed as renting land at Rederth, in a Dieulacres rental roll compiled in 1543. There was then some continuity of Plants at Red Earth, as recorded in Plant wills from 1587 to 1732. There is still now a Redearth farm, on the southern side of Gun near the location of '?House of Ralph Bec' as marked in Fig 10 – this suggests that Rederth was located very near, if not in, the initial estate of Dieulacres Abbey. A 1524 document records that Reginald and Lawrence Plant, yeomen of Leekfrith were sued for debt by the Abbot, indicating at least some degree of interaction with the Abbey, perhaps for unpaid rent for example.

There were also other Plants around Leek in the 1543 Dieulacres rent roll, in the Frith and in Tittesworth and in Lowe [cf. Fig 9]; their documentation is outlined here. Amongst other places in the Frith, the Plants are mentioned as at Hulme mylne for example which was apparently in the area between Merebrook and the '?House of Dodi' location as marked in Fig 10, with Stoneycliffe just half a mile south east of the latter. In the times of Henry VI (1422-61, 1470-71) there is mention of a Richard Plant of Stonscliffe (sic) and there is a 1568 will for a Richard Plant of Stony Cliff with some appreciable family detail appearing in some subsequent Stoneycliffe Plant wills.

In the relatively recent map below [Fig 11], Red Earth is shown in the bottom left corner and Stony Cliff three miles away near the mid right edge. Tittesworth is shown near the mid bottom edge with New Grange above it, nearer the centre of the map. Middle Hulme and Upper Hulme lead off in a direction from New Grange to the right part of the top edge.

Fig 11: 1864 map of some early Plant locations across the northern part of the initial grant of land to Dieulacres
A slice of Leek parish
Extract from first edition of the one inch OS Map of England and Wales, Sheet 27.
Note. In Fig 9, the southern extreme of Leekfrith is much further south than the label 'Botton of Frith' shown at the mid top edge of Fig 11.

In 1291, the arable lands of Dieulacres were largest around Poulton and around nearby Dodleston [EDA p88] though these lands were of relatively low value when compared to some arable lands around Leek. Lands around Poulton evidently survived from the times of the Abbey's earlier foundation, though Dieulacres continued to aquire small pieces of land there, suggesting a poilcy of consolidating their retained holdings [EDA p93]. By 1344, ten specified locations of arable lands have been identified around the locality of Poulton [EDA p88]. These included arable at Bretton, which is just 3 miles from the 1301 Plant record at Ewloe, where Richard Plant was granted rights to coal. That said, the ambiguity of early secular or monastic loyaties is reflected by the fact that this Plant was nearer still, at less than a mile, to the Chester earl's castle at Hawarden. This castle still reflected conflict with the Welsh – for example, it had recently been captured during a revolt, in 1298, by Madog ap Llywelyn.

Around Leek parish [cf Fig 9] in 1344, Dieulacres held arable lands at Heaton, Rycroft, Wetwood, Hulme, Tittesworth, Cockshut, Horton, Leek and Birchal [EDA p87]. This is around the time when Plant records first appear near here. They have been found most especially in the surviving records of the Macclesfield Court Rolls which concerned lands adjoining to the north of Leek parish. Plant records in these largely unindexed Rolls are, for the most part, not easily found but they have been found earliest for the 1360s and the Plants seem well established by then – as I have mentioned above, this suggests that the Plants had likely been well established near here since earlier.

Early Plants have been found in these Rolls relatively more easily in payment lists for pannage, associated with a fee or fine for allowing pigs to forage. It might perhaps be relevant that Dieulacres held both urban and arable land at Macclesfield itself in 1344 [EDA p87] though mentions of pannage or of pigs in the Dieulacres Cartulary appear only at Morridge (near Leek), Aldeford (near Poulton), Byley (near Middlewich), and Field (near Uttoxeter) [EDA p85].

In 1373, Thomas Plontt was fined for having pastured a bullock near the northern boundary of Heaton in Leek parish, the penalty being that it was over the boundary into Macclesfield Court territory. As mentioned above concerning evidence for 1344, Dieulacres held arable land in Heaton on the Leek side of the border.

In 1379, Thomas Plonte had aided a beheading at Leek; he was charged along with the abbot of Dieulacres, though this Plonte subsequently produced a royal pardon.

Further north, by 1383-84, Ranulph Plont appears in the Macclesfield Court Rolls, as leasing land at Rainow – the Dieulacres Cartulary mentions pasture at Alderley [EDA p90] where there is a Monks Heath just to its south though this is around 7 miles to the west of Rainow. This Alderley in Cheshire is not the same Alderley shown in Fig 11. Evidence for some evident descendants of this Ranulph Plont of Rainow follows on in the Macclesfield Court Rolls.

So begins much of the evidence for Plants around their most populous, subsequently known 'main homeland'. The proximity of the early influence of Dieulacres Abbey is clear, though coincident locations with the Audley lords is more widespread, particularly around Staffordshire especially in its north. Before then, in both Normandy and England, the Chester earls and Longspée and others seem relevant to having set the scene for the beginnings, as far as they are known, of the Plant name.

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In places in England with a Norman influence, the Plant name might have survived for a while, perhaps first as an early minor place name (now lost to history) before it became applied as a so-called locative surname to some nearby individuals who became named Plant to indicate their local address. There is evidence for such naming in Normandy

(e.g. the settlement of le Plantis giving rise to the nearby name Rad de Planteiz, 1198);
also, elsewhere in France
(e.g. Planty giving rise to Guilame de Planty, 1271).
There is evidence of such locative bynames or surnames evidently losing their 'de la' or similar prefix on their way to becoming more simply Plant
(e.g. Eimeric de la Planta in 1202 is also written de Plant'; John and Richard de la Plaunt and Geoffrey Plaunt in 1273 all occur together as merchants in Rouen; Henry de Plantes in 1282 and William Plantes in 1275 both in East Anglia).
Such locative origins for Plant as a surname could have arisen severally, from more than one 'planted place': they might refer to origins near a local vineyard or orchard for example.

As well as this being possible for some putative minor placenames spread through the widespread lands of the Chester earls, another coincidence of linked locations for the Plant name, in both Normandy and England, is apparent in that the bishop of Coutances (d 1093) had held a manor at Saltford (near Bath) in the late 11th century. This then links together evidence of Plant name at Coutances (Normandy) in 1180 to the name's occurrence at Saltford (England) by 1275. This might perhaps have resulted initially from a 'planted place' name as a French fashion near Saltford, which persisted through a few early centuries and led on to the Plant surname there. There is also evidence of some later administrative connections for a while between Bath (near Saltford) and western Normandy.

Besides a locative or toponymic origin, there are other ways of coining a surname. One such is suggested by the late twelfth-century name Plantul in south Normandy which can, like Plante at that time, mean a seedling or a young plant. In the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), plant is listed figuratively as a young person or novice.

(These young person meanings are not found unambiguously in surviving English texts, until a little later. However, this can be not least because English was little used by the literate or the aristocracy before the mid 14th century whereas, in Old Irish and Welsh, plant means clann or children. An early Celtic influence could have arrived for example from Poulton Abbey near Wales with its relocation renamed as Dieulacres Abbey at Leek in the most populous Plant homeland. Available evidence for an 'offspring' meaning of 'plant' has offspring as singular – child – in early-modern Cheshire but as plural – children – in surviving modern Welsh).

For the meaning 'young person' or 'novice', one type of novice is a person in monastic training, before taking vows. Or, the name could have been occupational, with a sense of 'planting' or 'establishing', perhaps referring to the work of a lay brother or a more secular peasant. We might imagine, for example, a role of laying down (planting) the footprint of a religious or more secular foundation;

(plant meant 'sole of foot' from the earliest times and there is also early use in English of planting meaning founding or establishing a settlement or religious foundation).
Or perhaps Plant could have applied to the role of clearing and tending arable land around such a foundation;
[LFC p101 comments] 'much of the land given to the monks [of Dieulacres] by the earl of Chester was covered in moorland, heath, waste or forest and so a great deal of clearing had to be done to make the land suitable for agriculture';
or perhaps planting an orchard or tending herb gardens;
[LFC p96 notes] 'from original records we know that the Abbey [of Dieulacres] had gardens which would have grown culinary and medicinal herbs such as roses, lavendar, garlic and fennel'.

More particularly, all such types of surname – toponymic, nickname, occupational – can be coined more than once, though perhaps adopted with only one sense throughout a region and perhaps only once for one family at a particular place (as for smith). With more than one origin to a name, there is not necessarily a need for a man already called Plant to have migrated hundreds of miles between early known Plant name locations. That said, the 2016 Oxford Surname Dictionary has pointed to a possible 500km journey by land and sea, in order to explain the names Henry de Plantes in Huntingdonshire in 1282 and William Plantes in Norfolk in 1275. Adding more detail, these can be compared with the name of a man called Rad de Planteiz who was evidently from le Plantis in the Orne region of south Normandy and was known to that same region in 1198, before much the same surname is found around 500km away a few generations later in England.

Evidence of a possible Anglo-Norman influence for the Plant name is strong, and there are various possible meanings for the early names Plantul and de la Planta in northern France that might be thought to link through to England. Given the possible 500km migration of the name 'de Planteiz' from Normandy, there is similarly a possible arrival of Plant descendants in the English Midlands from the south. Both Durand Plante and the Chester earls were in western Normandy by 1180 and it is well documented that successive earls travelled repetatedly through the 600km between Coutances and the most populous Plant homeland. Hence, it is reasonable to consider that the sixth earl, for example, might have brought with him the idea of the Plant name to be ascribed to some peasants around Leek, if not bringing men from Normandy already called Plant to arrive as retainers at the specific locations for example of Poulton and Dieulacres under the earl's protection.

Around Dieulacres, the Y-DNA evidence indicates that the Plant name was likely coined for several local men in the so-called Staffordshire Moorlands. This was a region with challenges as is exemplified by its having the highest village in England (called Flash) in modern times. A fourteenth-century poem for this region, by the poet of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight', includes the phrase 'that wyz that al the worlde planted' (sic) which would be applicable to the lord (or abbot or earl) who oversaw the coining of the name – the first Plants here might have been noted for their pioneering toil and labelled 'Plant' for their 'planting' of isolated settlements or farmsteads amidst the taming of heath, marshes and forest. At least some of this activity was in connection with the Cistercian grange system;

(e.g. in 1406, the Abbot granted to Edward Plont a lease of 39 years for two messuages including one identified as 'Calwo-heye de Roche-graunge as of old').

This same poet states elsewhere 'god hadde plauntid paradise of delyte' (sic) reflecting a subservient role for mere men as children of the church, such as applied to laymen of the abbey with a work ethic including an entreaty 'Here Doe O Lord Svre Plant Thy Word' (sic) as carved in stone on a door lintel at nearby Wincle Chapel. This context of the most populous Plant homeland raises possibilities beyond just the late twentieth-century favoured meaning 'gardener'; and, more widely, there were medieval 'plantings' of 'planted places' in both England and France.

As always, this leaves us with questions shrouded in medieval mists. These include the question of whether the main Plant family, with its early branches on the western flank of Staffordshire, was a favoured family with a Norman connection or whether it originated as just one of the several north-east Staffordshire families from the moorlands around Dieulacres. The latter possibility is perhaps the simpler, with the main family growing at least partly just by luck, with a fast start in western Staffordshire and some branches migrating then more widely. For an alternative possibility, it is already evident that the genetic precursor of the main Plant family came from the far south-west enclave of France. However, this might have happened far too early to be relevant to the early years of the Plant surname's formation in England. As yet, at least part of this journey could have been as early as the Bronze Age, long before the high medieval years of Norman subjugation in England. There are some ancient cousins in Cornwall and others near the English Channel though, as yet, no genetic cousins of the main Plant family have been found that branch off as late as even early medieval times – a finding perhaps related to a lack of genetic studies in France. Future Y-DNA studies might shed further light.

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