Staunton Hall, north front.


AT the time of the Domesday Survey, the manor of Staunton was held of King William I. by Walter de Aincurt, an important baron in the counties of Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln, whose chief seat was fixed at Granby in the former shire. The Staunton estate was a property of average value; its yearly render to the lord was estimated at £5, as against £4 assigned respectively to Walter's manors of Bulcote and Thurgarton, £4 10s. to Hoveringham, and £6 to Cottam. Its population consisted of 4 sokemen, or customary freeholders, 11 villeins, the predecessors in title of the copyholders of the present day, and 2 bordars or cottagers. In addition to the central manor of Staunton, the estate comprised appurtenant land in the adjacent villages of Alverton, Flawborough, and "Dallington," a name now lost, in the occupation of 12 sokemen who, apparently, paid rent and customary dues to the lord of Staunton, and may have rendered certain agricultural services in connexion with the routine of his home farm. In1086 the whole manor was held of Walter de Aincurt by a certain Malger; and since the sixteenth century this Malger has been regarded as the ultimate ancestor of the family which forms the subject of the present essay.

It is distinctly probable that this belief is correct, but at present it is not susceptible of direct proof. The fifty years which follow the Domesday survey form the obscurest period in the whole of English local history; and no record has been preserved to throw light upon the ownership of the Staunton estate during this time. The continuous history of the family begins with Geoffrey de Staunton, who was living at the close of King Stephen's reign; and there is no direct evidence to connect him with the Malger of Domesday. On the other hand, the fact that the son of Geoffrey bears the name of Malger, though by no means conclusive, may well be significant; and the distance between the date of Domesday Book and the reign of Stephen is not too great to be bridged by the lives of father and son. One thing, at least, is certain; the assertion in the famous rhyming pedigree of the Stauntons that the original Malger held Staunton Tower in Belvoir Castle "before William came in" must be regarded as an innovation of Elizabethan date. Belvoir Castle was itself undoubtedly founded by Kobert de Todeni, the Norman lord of Bottesford and the ancestor of the dukes of Rutland; the early Stauntons without exception bear French names; and there is good reason for believing that the modern form of the place-name Staunton, instead of the more usual Stanton, results from the Anglo-Norman pronunciation introduced by its foreign lords. That Staunton was the seat of a Norman lord at a date when feudalism was still militant is shown by an early deed in which Robert de Castell granted to Peter le Vineter his tenement of the castle in Staunton. Staunton Castle has disappeared, but we may infer that it was a rudimentary structure consisting of wooden buildings upon an earthen mound with a stockaded enclosure appended to the latter. Such fortresses were erected everywhere in England by the barons and knights of the eleventh and twelfth centuries; surviving remains are still to be remarked in Nottinghamshire at Laxton, Annesley, and Aslocton, and Belvoir Castle is only a more fully developed example of the type.

Among the record evidences which relate to the family of Staunton, the earliest in point of origin, though preserved only in a fourteenth century copy, is a charter by which Oliver d'Aincurt granted to William d'Albini the younger, the fee of two knights which Geoffrey de Staunton held, which also Ralf d'Aincurt, Oliver's grandfather, had given to the said William's father. William d'Albini the younger, lord of Belvoir, died in 1166; and the author of this charter may therefore be identified with Oliver d'Aincurt, grandson of Ralf d'Aincurt, founder of Thurgarton Priory, killed in 1141 in the battle of Lincoln. Of the date or circumstances of this transaction nothing is known; but the charter serves to carry back to the time of King Stephen the connection of the Staunton family with Belvoir Castle. The name of Staunton tower in the latter shows that the duty of castle-guard formed an element in the feudal service rendered by the Staunton family to their new lords.

The wife of Geoffrey de Staunton was Beatrice, a member of the family which held lands in South Muskham under the Archbishops of York. A portion of her dowry lay in Kelham, and with her assent was granted by Geoffrey her husband to Rufford Abbey, then newly founded. The gift was confirmed by King Stephen upon a visit to Worksop in the last year of his reign; and after Geoffrey's death, in consideration of three marks and a cow, Beatrice, then married to Eudo d'Albini, re-affirmed the grant.

Malger de Staunton, son of Geoffrey and Beatrice, is a shadowy figure. He was enfeoffed by Henry Hose in seven bovates of land in Staythorpe of the fee of Averham, and he witnesses a charter of his neighbour William Morin relating to land in Kilvington and Alverton, but otherwise he remains obscure, and even his wife's name is unknown. It is with his son, William de Staunton, that documents relating to the Staunton family and their property first became numerous. His wife, according to a manuscript written by Robert Staunton, who died in 1582, was Athelina, co-heiress of John de Musters, of Bassingham, in Lincolnshire, from whom the Staunton family received a portion of that estate, and although the authority is late, the statement probably was derived from some earlier document, for the Stauntons were certainly in possession of part of Bassingham in the thirteenth century. In the time of King John, William de Staunton is found witnessing a charter of his lord William d'Albini III. of Belvoir, but the most remarkable documents with which his name is connected relate to an earlier period than this, and were issued under his own name.

When the third crusade was preached in 1190, William de Staunton, it would seem, took the cross in his own person. Ultimately, however, remaining at home, he sent in his stead one Hugh Travers, a villein dwelling on the Alverton portion of the Staunton estate, first emancipating him and his brother John. The original charters of manumission have been preserved among the Staunton documents, and are probably the earliest existing records of the kind subsequent to the Noman conquest. A facsimile is here given of two of the Deeds which relate to these transactions—the original manumission of Hugh Travers and the charter by which, upon his return, he was endowed with land in the village of Staunton, for he was placed under the protection of the church of Staunton and held his laud of its rector by a yearly rent of a pound of incense and a pound of cummin. From these beginnings, it may be noted that the Travers family flourished exceedingly in the course of the next two centuries, more than sixty documents relating to lands held by them in Alverton, Kilvington, Orston, and Flawborongh, being preserved among the Staunton manuscripts. They came in time to hold land of other lords than the Stauntons—Thomas de Hotot, for example, a member of the ancient family of the Hotots of Bottesford, is found granting to Hugh, son of Hugh Travers, of Alverton, licence to enclose his messuage in Alverton with a wall, and their line did not become extinct until after the middle of the fifteenth century, when Alice Frost, of Bottesford, sold to Thomas Staunton the land which she had inherited from the widow of William Travers.

With the exception of the Travers manumissions, the surviving records which relate to William de Staunton are few and of little general interest. No collection of ancient documents is complete; and in the seventeenth century note was made of a number of Staunton Deeds which are not now extant. Among them may be mentioned the following charter of William de Staunton, which deserves translation at length:

"Know (all men) present and future that I William son of Mauger de Stanton have granted and given and by this my present (deed) have confirmed to William Aucipi (Fowler) son of Roger of Claypole and his heirs for his homage and service one bovate of land in the territory of Stanton, namely half a bovate of land which William Faber (Smith) held with a toft and edifices to the same appurtaining and half a bovate of land in the same territory which I made for him out of my Demense. To hold and to have in fee and inheritance to him and his heirs of me and my heirs with all appurtenances within the town and without, freely and quietly for all service and secular demand saving forinsec service by the office of Hawking from the Feast of St. Michael unto the Feast of Easter and the said William shall be at my table during the whole said term. And of his own property he shall make and repair all Nets of Hawking and everything which belongs to the office of Hawking except a Horse and a Boy and Mews for the Crane Hawks (Stallos Grucarios). But if the said William by infirmity or any accident for one year hereafter shall be hindered so that the said office of Hawking he cannot faithfully perform then the said William shall give yearly for the aforesaid land to me and my heirs in his life eight shillings of Sterlings at four terms namely at Easter 2shs., at the Feast of St. John the Baptist 2shs., at the Feast of St. Michael 2shs., at the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord 2shs. But the heirs of the said William in like manner shall hold the aforesaid land of me and my heirs by the office of Hawking from the Feast of St. Michael unto the Feast of Easter. But if the heirs of the said William by infirmity or ignorance or by any accident be hindered so that the said Office of Fowling they cannot or know not how lawfully to sustain then they shall give to me and my heirs yearly for the aforesaid land ten Shillings of Sterlings at four terms, namely at Easter 2shs. and an half, at the Feast of St. John the Baptist 2 shs. and an half, at the Feast of St. Michael 2shs. and an half, at the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord 2shs. and an half, and I and my heirs will warrant the said bovate of land with all its appurtenances in the Town of Stanton against all men to the said William and his heirs so long as the said Office of Hawking as aforesaid they shall lawfully sustain, and that this my grant and gift may be stable for ever this writing by the fixing of my seal I have been corroborated. These being witnesses Ranulf Morin of Kilvington, William son of Henry of Alverton, Gerard de Hou, Henry son of Henry of Alverton, Robert Russel of Stanton, Gervase Clerk of Stanton, and many others."

William de Staunton (says Charles Mellish) must have been very fond of the diversion of Hawking when he parted with half a Bovate of his Demesne lands and made a tenancy of it for ever upon that service. The Bovate of land is valued to the heirs at 10 shillings yearly. We will suppose the Bovate 18 acres, and multiplying the 10s. by 15 to obtain some idea of the present day value the rent now would be £7 10s. The establishment for the Falconer of William de Staunton is very magnificent for a private gentleman in the time of Richard I., for the expense of keeping Hawks even in the reign of Edward I. was enormous. The maintenance of one Hawk per day was, if at Court 11/2d., if Hawking 1s. This last is worth in present money 15s. a day, If then William de Staunton kept several Hawks the expense most probably was equal to the present mode of keeping Foxhounds.