Pelham Genealogy - Origin of the Pelhams
There are numerous problems involved in tracing any family line and the Pelhams are no exception. After 1588 all parishes in England were ordered to keep vital records. Before 1588 records were sporadically kept at the whim of the local priest, if at all. When records were kept, they were stored in the church but uprisings, civil wars and reformers made them vulnerable to destruction and loss. Some parish records were deliberately destroyed. Actually, it is amazing that so much did survive. Additionally, some families kept records of their own, along with copies of charters or land grants or wills. Marriage did not require a license. The couple merely had their intention to marry -- the banns -- announced three Sundays at church and then had the vows read before the priest and two witnesses at the church door. The fact of the marriage would be written by the priest and given to the bride; these "marriage lines" were often the only record and if lost or destroyed there was no proof of marriage.
Babies were baptized on the third day of life unless the mother was deathly ill, so no birth record was needed. The birth date was not recorded because it was not considered to be important. The date of death was not usually recorded; instead, the date the heir received his due and paid whatever fee was required was recorded, like the probated will would be recorded in later years.
A note on dates: From the sixteenth to seventeenth century, after the reform of the calendar, dates were recorded as either "old style" (O.S.) or "new style" (N.S.). For seventeen centuries the New Year began on Easter, but as Easter Sunday is never the same date twice, April 1st was a compromise date. After 1757 those who still celebrated the old New Year's Day were called "April Fools."
What does this mean to us? We have these series of notices:
"'At St Mary Magdalen's Old Fish Street: m. 29 Feb 1720 Peter Pelham and Martha Guy
Philip Mercer referred to the Pelhams as being of Norman stock with a Saxon name, but he did not elaborate. Milham tells us that the Pelhams descended from Sir John de Pelham, but does not tell us where he got his information. The connection has not been found.
In 1690 Arthur Collins in Peerage, the precursor to today' s Burke's Peerage, stated that the name was Saxon and the well-known coat of arms, with three pelicans, date from 1181 and the family goes back to Ralph who in 1086 held his ancestral Pelham lands from the See of London.
Pelham is indeed a Saxon name, a place name. The element pel means peel: pale: palisade: walled and ham means homesteading: home: dwelling place as in bane and hamlet. In other words Pelham loosely means a fortified dwelling and could be applied to a walled farm or villa or even a hill fort-cum-motte and bailey "castle."
We do not know when the family which became the Pelhams received land or why. In 1034 Gilbert Crespin was the Baron d'Bec in Normandy. His son William Baron d'Bec Crespin was confirmed in possession of his ancestral lands of Pelham in 1066 as recorded in the "Domesday Book. " At the time Bec was an important place, the home of St. Lanfranc. William's adult sons were Goisfred d'Bec, Ralph d'Bec "of Pelham," Gilbert d'Bec Abbot of Westminster, and Walter d'Bec of Eresby whose descendants were the Barons d'Bec two centuries later. Ralph d'Bec de Pelham's adult sons were Robert d'Bec (ca. Henry I) and Alan d'Bec in 1272. All of the noble Pelhams descend from Robert, alternating the usage of de Bec and de Pelham until the mid-13th and 14th centuries. Even the original Crespin continued. By the end of the 15th-century, one family had become three distinct ones on both sides of the channel.
The Pelham lands confirmed to Ralph Crespin d 'Bec in 1086 were in Hertfordshire and it was held in fee from the Bishop of London. This means that the Pelhams were knights who owed their military duty to a bishop -- bishops seldom wage war -- in return for their lands which the crown could not tax.
In 1210 Jordan de Pelham was knighted and received Pelham's Arse ( the back section of Pelham Major). His cousin Peter d'Bec, the only Peter to appear on our charts, was the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire before 1218. It was a very lucrative post. In 1234 two Pelhams who also held lucrative posts were John, a Cambridgeshire bailiff, and Simon, a tax collector in Essex. Neither appear on our charts. In 1251 Simon sold the rich Cowling Manor. In 1235 Henry Pelham conveyed lands in Lincolnshire (Thornton Abbey) to churchmen Eustace and Henry Pelham. In 1270 Roger Pelham received lands in Lincolnshire, probably through inheritance. These last also do not appear on our charts.
In many families, only the eldest son, who would inherit, would be listed, as did daughters who inherited land. Younger sons, if they attained prominence or land by default, would be listed. Only in 1588 do we find a uniform reporting of all children who survived birth.
This article first appeared in Volume 11, No. 6 of The Cannoneer.
Sussex Archeologia, published periodically over a century, these are the reports of an antiquarian society in book form. The relevant material is scattered through many of the four dozen volumes. No index. Swem Library, College of William and Mary;
The Early Pelhams, Lady E. Pelham, limited edition of 500 copies privately published in England early this century. Besides setting out the conventionally accepted genealogy, she gives an exhaustive overview of legal notices concerning Pelhams from 1141. Rare Book Room, Duke University Library;
The Parishes of London Registers are bound copies, parish by parish, including the special registers of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Swem Library;
The Royal Court Rolls/The Pipe Rolls, Camden Society, 1870s to 1930s. All royal records that survived the ages. Despite claims of court appointments since 1300 for several Pelhams I found none listed. These are records of all deeds, charters, payrolls, grants, reports to the crown, confirmation of fiefs, etc. All in the original language. Swem Library;
Royal Visitations, Camden Society. Henry VII and VIII ordered all their domains inspected. Swem Library;
Microfiche of Collins' The Worthies of England and Collins Peerage 1690, Christopher Newport University Library.