All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
More information at

Saturday, 26 January 2013


Amongst my Gurney ancestors, Hugh de Gournay came over to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. By then he was already an important military figure, having commanded the Norman fleet in 1035. Hugh’s grandson Gerard de Gournay (still using the Norman spelling of his name) married Edith de Warren, a daughter of William first Earl of Warren (another Norman) and his wife Gundreda, who was herself a daughter of William the Conqueror.

This was a connection worth advertising. Wisely, like so many fathers since, Gerard decided to name one of his daughters after his mother in law. Born in around 1093 Gundreda de Gournay was beautiful, known to all as La Belle Gondrée, and she is my 29x great aunt.

The ruins of St Leonard’s Hospital, York, built after fire destroyed the city's St Peter’s Hospital in 1137 – St Leonard’s held lands donated by Gundreda de Gournay

Aunt Gundreda in turn married well, to Neil D’Aubigny, who had inherited the confiscated lands and title of another Norman family, Montbray (anglicised as Mowbray). After the death of Neil she continued to live in Thirsk Castle, the D’Aubignys’ stronghold in Yorkshire. She also enjoyed an annual stipend of £41 12s 3d drawn from revenues from Brinklow Castle, a former Mowbray motte and bailey in Warwickshire. She used her wealth for good works, and there is an undated record of her donation of four oxgangs of land at Bagby (just outside Thirsk) to the Hospital of St Leonard in York. (An oxgang was the amount of land an ox could plough in a season, around 15-20 acres, so this was a generous gift.)

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the new Norman rulers of England, and as so often before and since the Scots were the problem. In the mid-1230s a group of twelve monks led by Abbot Gerald fled a Scottish assault of their church at Furness in Lancashire, and arrived in York looking for a new home. There, Archbishop Thurstan received them graciously and promptly directed them to Gundreda a few miles to the north in Thirsk, mindful perhaps of her kinship with Stephen de Blois, founder of Furness Abbey and a grandson of William the Conqueror.

Furness Abbey, founded in 1123 by Stephen de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror (engraving by Thomas West, 1774)

From a sense of family duty Aunt Gundreda did what she could to accommodate and entertain the homeless Cistercians, but in 1238 passed them on to a relative, Robert D’Alnetto. D’Alnetto was a former monk at Whitby on the Yorkshire coast now living as a hermit at Hode, east of Thirsk on the moors above Helmsley. There they founded a new church dedicated to St Mary and St William.

Whitby Abbey, founded in the 11th century by Reinfrid, a soldier of William the Conqueror

Under a certain amount of pressure from Thurstan, Gundreda continued to send provisions to the monks, but their needs must have been a drain on her fiscal and administrative resources. In 1140, after her son Roger de Mowbray came of age and took control of family affairs, she persuaded him to endow the new church with cow pastures at Cam Farm and other lands in East Yorkshire (at Wildon, Scackleton and Ergham) so that they could generate income and provide for their own needs.

Finally in 1143 Gundreda and Roger moved the whole operation down off the moors to Byland, a fertile sheltered dip in the hills where the monks built (with Mowbray money) one of the most beautiful little abbeys in Yorkshire. I'm a Scot, and I married a Yorkshire girl; so I'm really pleased with the way this all worked out!

Byland Abbey, from The Record of the House of Gournay by Daniel Gurney (1848), founded in 1143 in part by Gundreda de Gournay, a great granddaughter of William the Conqueror

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...