I wrote here recently about my 29x great aunt Gundreda de Gournay, who was a great granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Believe it or not, it only occurred to me afterwards that – since I am descended from her brother Walter – I too must be a descendent of the man who invaded England in 1066. D’oh!
My ancestral Gurney line stretches back quite convincingly nearly 1100 years to my 35x great grandfather Eudes. Eudes was a Viking, a follower of Viking leader Rollo the Dane, to whom in 912 the battle-weary French king Charles the Simple ceded a daughter Gisèle in a marriage-for-peace settlement, along with lands in northern France – lands still known as the Norseman’s lands, the Norman’s lands, Normandy.
Charles the Simple gives his daughter Gisèle to Rollo in marriage (from a 14th century manuscript)
Rollo in turn rewarded Eudes with land of the Pays de Bray in Normandy. It suggests that Eudes wasn’t a particularly close follower: Bray comes from the same Gallic root as brackish, and means a swampy, muddy marsh.
Nevertheless Eudes stuck at it and his son Hugh was the first man to fortify the already ancient village of Gournay-en-Bray. Hugh’s son Renaud de Gournay was the first on record to adopt the village name as his own.
11th century decoration on a column in St Hildevert’s Church, Gournay-en-Bray (otherwise rebuilt after fire destroyed most of Gournay in 1174)
The Norman Gurneys arrived in England with Gundreda’s great grandfather (Renuad’s grandson, my 31x great grandfather) Hugh de Gournay, one of the Conqueror’s most senior commanders. Hugh, with his son also called Hugh, fought alongside William at the Battle of Hastings, bringing with him “numerous forces that did great execution amongst the English” according to one 19th century historian. He benefited from the distribution of conquered lands just as Eudes had done before. In Hugh’s case he was given Yarmouth in Norfolk, and Gurneys have been an important family in that county ever since.
But remarkably, 1066 was not Hugh de Gournay’s first visit to England with a Norman invasion force. Thirty years earlier he led a Norman fleet in another assault on British shores.
A Norman fleet (from the Bayeux Tapestry)
King Cnut (he of the waves story) died in 1035. He ruled much of Scandinavia and England and his passing triggered several contests for the various crowns which he had vacated. Cnut had won the English throne after defeating the Saxon incumbent Edmund Ironside (son of Aethelred the Unready) in 1016. In 1036 a certain prince Edward hired Norman mercenaries to get it back for the Saxons.
The Norman force, in ships under Hugh de Gournay’s command, landed somewhere near Southampton. The attempt was, at least at this stage, unsuccessful. After a small skirmish in the area Hugh, Edward and the rest of the troops returned to Normandy. Hugh pursued a successful military career there before having another crack at England with William in 1066.
Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror
(from the Bayeux Tapestry)
This Edward was in fact the future Edward the Confessor (a son of Aethelred’s second marriage), who spent his early life in exile in Normandy as a king of England in waiting, and finally ascended the English throne in 1042. It was his death in 1066 which triggered the events leading up to Hugh’s return with William later that year at Hastings. So my 31x great grandfather Hugh de Gournay fought for two of the great early English kings, Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror (who as it turns out is another of my 31x great grandfathers!).