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Post Great Ashbys of History: Richard, Alice, James, and Safrid
Created by John Eipper on 07/04/18 4:22 AM

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Great Ashbys of History: Richard, Alice, James, and Safrid (Timothy Ashby, South Africa, 07/04/18 4:22 am)

I have been fascinated by the recent postings by various WAIS colleagues about genealogy.

For me, research into one´s family background is a means of feeling a personal connection with history--enabling me to relate to historical events that my own flesh and blood participated in. Imaginatively stepping into an ancestor´s shoes (or armour, as you will read below).

In this regard, let me pause for a moment to remember 19-year-old Private James Ashby of the 8th Virginia Regiment, who was KIA during Pickett's Charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, 155 years ago yesterday (July 3rd).

I've previously written about various family members´relationship with George Washington, etc. I am fortunate to have been born into a family that has a well-documented genealogy. Eighteenth- and 19th-century sources such as John Nichols´ The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, and Burke´s The Landed Gentry (which included the first three generations of the American branch, from which I descend), begin the family history from 1299, when Richard and Alice de Ashby purchased the manor of Quenby, Leicestershire. However, over the past few years I determined to push the genealogy back as far as possible through archival research, indisputably establishing that we took our surname from the village of Ashby Magna (Big Ashby, as compared to the nearby hamlet of Ashby Parva, Little or Lesser Ashby, in Latin). This led me to my earliest "English" ancestor (in the direct paternal line), a man named Safrid aka Sasfrid (recorded in the Domesday Book as both "Safridus" and "Sasfridus").

Although the historical evidence is largely circumstantial (with the exception of the primary source of the Domesday Book), I believe that Safrid was a soldier in the Norman army of William the Conqueror that won the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, and radically changed the course of British (as opposed to just English) history. The Domesday Book, 1086, records that Safrid was granted seven manors or parts of manors in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire, including Ashby Magna, confiscated from Saxons named (in Domesday) as Edward Cild, Fredegi "of Hanging Houghton's, Gytha, 'wife of Earl Ralph,' Aceshille, Alwine 'of Claydon' and Ælfheah" of Normanton. Although King William legally owned all the land in England, he rewarded his roughly 8,000 surviving soldiers and followers with land taken from the defeated Saxons. Safrid was probably one of these. Domesday states that he held his land as a feudal subtenant from William Peverel, the reputed illegitimate son of King William "The Bastard"). Peverel is recorded as having fought at Hastings as a knight, and the King subsequently awarded him 162 manors in the English Midlands.

Safrid was also probably a Norman cavalryman, most likely having Peverel as his commanding officer (later sources state that Safrid was a "military knight). Peverel was born circa 1040--making him around 26 at Hastings --and I believe that Safrid was his contemporary in age. Mid-20s was the prime age for medieval knights. There were only around 2,000 Norman cavalrymen at Hastings, and around 1,750 survived the battle, many having been killed after the battle when they were chasing retreating Saxons and fell into a deep ravine (known by the French as the Malfosse--evil ditch) and were slaughtered by Saxons who turned on them. Obviously, Safrid wasn´t one of these or I wouldn't be writing this today!

Safrid is a Scandinavian name, so he was probably Norman and first or second generation as previous Viking invaders of Normandy intermarried, learned French, and adopted Francophone names. The Domesday book generally only records first names, so it would be difficult to discover Safrid's surname (if he had one). Later, he is referred to as "de Basford," which was the manor where he actually lived. He deeded his younger son Phillip the manor of Ashby Magna and the legal records began referring to him as "de Ashby" or "de Esseby" (i.e. Phillip from Ashby). His son was Robert de Esseby (Ashby), who built the Church of St. Mary the Virgin (see photos below).

I´ve developed a new interest in the Norman Conquest, and plan to visit the battlefield this October on the 952nd anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

Photos below of the Ashby Magna Church, and my daughter, Georgina, at the Quenby Chapel, in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Hungarton, where she was christened. The font she is standing next to (where she was baptised) is a hollowed base from a Roman column taken from a ruined temple in Leicester during the Middle Ages, and the silver with the Ashby arms was given to the church by Shuckburgh Ashby in 1765. Considering our current WAIS discussion about armorial bearings, I will comment on ours in another posting, as it derives from an incident during the Crusades. The coat of arms is from an early 18th century funerary monument in the chapel.

JE comments:  On this Independence Day, Tim Ashby reminds us that 1776 was almost yesterday compared to the deep history of Hastings and the Normans.  Your genealogical discoveries are the stuff of epic, Tim.  Let us dedicate today's WAIS to Safrid and especially to young James, still nearly a child, who gave up his life on that sweltering day in Gettysburg.

Photos below.  Happy 4th, and may you ever stay far away from the Evil Ditch.







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  • Ashby-de-la-Zouch (John Heelan, UK 07/05/18 4:24 AM)
    Tim Ashby (4 July) might be interested in the name of a small market town in UK's Midlands that I lived near for six years, Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

    Wikipedia tells us that "The Norman French name extension dates from the years after the Norman conquest of England, when Ashby (as it is shortened to these days) became a possession of the La Zouche family during the reign of Henry III."


    JE comments:  Historically speaking, Ashby-de-la-Zouch is no slouch.  It has a famous 15th-century castle, which from the pictures appears to be in ruins.  A de la Z was also a garrison town for the Cavaliers during the Civil War, as well as a spa destination in the early 19th century.


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    • Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and a Family Coat of Arms (Timothy Ashby, South Africa 07/07/18 5:47 AM)
      I appreciate John Heelan's note about the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch (July 5th), which I visited some years ago while staying at the Jacobean family home of Quenby Hall (then owned by distant cousins), which is not far away.

      In the summer of 1982, while a graduate student, I spent my weekends partying and excavating one of the Quenby cellars, and my weekdays shadowing (i.e. hanging out with) the SDP leader Dr. David Owen, who had recently co-founded the (political!) party as an alternative to Labour and the Conservatives (it was a noble but short-lived initiative).


      While I have no family connection to Ashby-de-la-Zouch (as mentioned previously, we take our surname from Ashby Magna, about a dozen miles away), the La Zouch family perch on a gnarled branch of my genealogical tree, Thomas Ashby married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of John Burdet and Elizabeth de la Zouch. The photo below shows an armorial escutcheon over the doorway of the medieval courtyard at Quenby which is quartered with the arms of Ashby of Quenby (Azure a chev. Ermine between three leopards' faces Or) in the upper left and Zouch of Lubbesthorpe, the ten circles or "bezants" in the lower right quarter.


      Although the crest above the shield looks like a lion's head, it is actually supposed to be a leopard ("On a mural coronet Argent a leopard's face Or"). The craftsman who carved this sculpture in the 1540s probably had no idea what a leopard looked like.


      In medieval heraldry, a family's armorial bearings had meaning. The "mural coronet" was a hereditary badge of honour awarded to a soldier who was the first to scale the walls of an enemy city or castle. I hope that my research will uncover which of my ancestors received the mural coronet and under what circumstances. We have an oral tradition that a member or members of the family fought in the Crusades, and that the leopard head and the coronet originated from some battle in the Holy Land. Although the Ashby crest and shield were officially recorded in Camden's Grants, 1602, I know from wax seals and stone carvings that they were in use at least 300 years earlier, so it's possible that they date from the Crusades, perhaps from King Richard "The Lionheart's" ill-fated expeditions of the 1190s.


      JE comments:  The Zouch/e coat of arms features two goats, or possibly rams, but goats strike me as cozier.  The coat of arms of Aldona's hometown, Lublin, features a goat prancing over some grapes.  I always wondered how this came to be, as the city is not famous for either.


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  • The Italian who Saved Churchill's Life (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/05/18 4:41 AM)
    A fascinating post from Timothy Ashby (4 July). Congratulations to him for his great research and illustrious ancestry.

    Timothy mentions the battle of Hastings (1066) as changing the course of British history. Practically all major battles change the course of history but sometime they are also forgotten.


    We may consider two great battles that happened in the month of July not too long after Hastings: The battle of Hathin (lake of Tiberiade), 4 July 1187, and the battle of Despenaperros (Las Navas de Tolosa), 16 July 1212.


    In the first Guy de Lusignan, king of Jerusalem and Cyprus, was defeated by the Saladin, who a few months later could conquer Jerusalem and bring an end to the Christian kingdoms in the Middle East.


    In the second Alfonso VII of Castilla, Pedro II de Aragón and Sancho VII of Navarra fought together, prophets of the future union of Spain, and defeated the Moors of Al Nasir. As a result the Arab domination of Iberia began to crumble.


    Considering Timothy's love for South Africa, let me remember a little-known battle or more precisely, a skirmish. On 15 November 1899 a group of Boers commanded by an Italian volunteer, Major Camillo Ricchiardi, derailed a British train on which the young Winston Churchill was traveling. The latter was considered a war criminal as he was armed with dumdum ammunition forbidden by the International Conferences and was condemned to death.



    By the way, the UK supplied plenty of dumdum ammunition to the Ethiopian Army in 1935, which led to a brief Italian retaliation strongly condemned by the "good" side.


    Ricchiardi opposed the sentence and saved Churchill. Suppose that Ricchiardi had not spared Churchill.  In July of 1940 might we have had a compromise peace in Western Europe?


    JE comments:  Camillo Ricchiardi (1865-1940) was an extraordinary adventurer, full of romantic wanderlust. Prior to moving to South Africa, where he married Paul Kruger's granddaughter, he had lived in Siam/Thailand.  After South Africa, he relocated to Argentina and later Morocco, where he lies buried.  The 200-strong Italian Legion gained an excellent reputation among the Boers for its reconnaissance work and skill in asymmetrical warfare.


    Wikipedia tells us that Churchill was never officially condemned to die.  Rather, Ricchiardi saved Churchill by throwing away WSC's dumdum-equipped pistol before he was caught with it.  Churchill would later escape from captivity.


    There's a TV series in Ricchiardi's extraordinary life.


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