The Earliest Male Ancestor of the Despenser Line in England?

In my next few posts I shall be taking a look at the ancestry of the Despensers through the direct male line. Most of my resources are concentrated around the later 13th and early 14th centuries, so going back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries has proved rather difficult. Nevertheless, thanks to a reputable online genealogy site and its genealogical researchers as well as some diligent manuscript searching of my own, I’ve managed to come up with as much as can be presently gleaned on the origins of this family.

This post looks at the first of the male ancestors in England…

Hugh de Berges

Hugh de Berges came over with William in the conquest. The origin of the name de Berges cannot be unquestionably confirmed and many theories have arisen concerning it, especially on genealogy sites. The four I have seen and looked at are as follows:

  •  A place in Sussex – I have looked at maps of modern day Sussex and can not find any Berges. There is, however, a Burgess Hill which I thought may possibly have been a corruption of the older name. However, the town was originally named for the family of Burgeys who first appear in the records (Subsidy Rolls) in 1296. I also looked at the online Domesday Book but could not find any place name that matched or was in any way similar to, Berges. There is, however a mention of a place called ‘Berges’ that can be found on British History Online at, notes 12 & 13, in which one Urse de Linces was dealing with lands in ‘Berges’. However this does not make it any clearer a to whether Berges was in Sussex or not.
  •  Sixhills, Burton-on-the-Wolds, Leicestershire. I found this on a post in a Medieval genealogy forum but without any explanation ( Although the location is perhaps more probable than Sussex, I cannot find any link between this place and the origin of the name de Berges whatsoever.
  •  Somewhere in Normandy – Considering the first Hugh de Berges was born pre Conquest, it is most likely that he came over with William of Normandy in the Conquest and settled here. Therefore it is possible that the name comes from somewhere in Normandy. Again, I have checked the maps and cannot find anywhere of that name although it is possible that it either has disappeared throughout time or else become subsumed by a larger settlement.
  •  According to a post on a thread on Gen-Medieval ( by John Ravilious (who has done some marvellous work on the Despenser family tree) ‘he may have been the son (or other successor) of Hugh, who held 2 carucates of land less 1 bovate in Bortone (Burton on the Wolds) of earl Hugh at Domesday Book, 1086’. I have looked as much as I can for this entry and can’t find it so have e-mailed John for some help. When I know more, I’ll update this post.

Personally, my money is on the Normandy theory. The early Despensers, whatever names they gave themselves, were heavily associated with the earls of Chester, including the first earl Hugh d’Avranches, who also came over with William. It is my contention, although I cannot prove it, that Hugh d’Avranches was the overlord of Hugh de Berges and his family in Normandy, and that this association then continued in England.

There is a mention of him in the charters of Garendon Abbey, transcripted by John Nichols in the History and Antiquities of Leicestershire, Vol III, Pt 2 in which he makes a gift to the abbey of three carucates of land, a gift later confirmed by his son Ansketil and Ansketil’s uncles, Thurstan de Queniborough and Radulf. The Latin reads:

 Noverint cuncti fideles, tam posteri quam presentes quod ego Turstinus de Queniburgo, cum consilio & consensu Radulphi fratris mei, & ceterorum amicorum, concedo & confirmo donationem quam donavir Hugo de Berges & Asketillus filius ejus, nepos meus Deo & ecclesie Sancte Marie de Geroldonia; III carucatas terre in Burtuna …

Thurstan de Queniborough was the brother of the woman Hugh married, although sadly we do not know her name. Their father also cannot be identified for certain but may have been one William de Queniborough who held lands from Geoffrey de la Guerche according to the Domesday Book of 1086. They had one son, Ansketil.

A piece of Grisaille glass from Garendon Abbey - only fragments of the abbey now remain.
A piece of Grisaille glass from Garendon Abbey – only fragments of the abbey now remain.


Note – Much of the work in the post would not have been possible without the valuable work of genealogists John P. Ravilious and Clive West who have delved deep into the antiquities of the past and found some gems. I have tried to go back to their sources where possible and have added my own take on the origin of the surname.





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