William George Willis Watson.

The house of Martin; being chapters in the history of the West of England branch of that family online

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Online LibraryWilliam George Willis WatsonThe house of Martin; being chapters in the history of the West of England branch of that family → online text (page 1 of 13)
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WiVh an Introduction


H. Tapley Soper, f.r.hist.s.




a^ ffratrem flDibi,


"Trf S a lad I many a time gazed upon the memorial brasses

—Z-JA and tablets in the beautiful Church of Crewkerne, and

>V<S) vvondeied and wondered what kind of people they

were whose names are perpetuated in these pieces

of metal and stone.

One dull sheet of brass always interested me because of the
quaintness of the crest which surmounted the coat of arms — a
monkey gazing into a mirror.

I could see from the inscription below that these were the
arms and crest of Adam Martin of Seaborough. The desire to
know more of this man grew upon me, and the information I
have gleaned I now offer to, I trust, an indulgent public

I hav'e endeavoured to recover from the huge scrap-heap of
history some local fragments, and to give in the following pages
incidents in the lives of men who were prominent in assisting
to mould the history of this country — men who were closely
associated with and who brought honour to the West of England.

To my brother, Mr. Edward J. Watson, F.R.Hist.S., F.R.S.L.,
Mr. Morris Drake for his illustrations, and to Mr. H. Tapley Soper,
the Exeter City Librarian, I am greatly indebted for much
valuable assistance, and had it not been for the excellent
Reference Library of the City of Exeter, this book would
probably never have been written.

But here it is, and if in offering such information as it contains
I am adding anything of interest to local history, then I am well
repaid for my labours.

W. G. Willis Watson.
Exeter, 1906.


'\ j HE importance of the study of family records has yet to be

Jl^ fully recognised. As a handmaid to the investigation of

the wider subject of general history, and, perhaps, more

especially of local topics and domestic manners and customs, its

helpfulness cannot be overestimated.

Since the days of the old historians who essayed, unaided,
to write concerning the constitution and doings of the whole
world, the fashion of recording history, like that of locomotion, has
changed. Students are no longer satisfied with generalities.
Proofs of the most minute details are demanded. Therefore, we
find modern histories absorb the work of a number of writers,
each learned in a particular period, or expert in a special subject
or phase of a question. Thus it often happens that the labours
of many years result only in a monograph on a single subject —
lucid and comprehensive — instead of a long row of volumes full
of loosely drawn, undigested statements, for which no tittle of
evidence exists ; many of them copied, it may be, from previous
workers in the same field, and accepted ipso facto.

Personal records form a very important byway of history.
Nowhere is carelessness more often apparent than in this branch
of research work. And the Martin family have been particularly
unfortunate at the hands of historians. It only needs a glance
at the vast number of authorities quoted to show the reader that
Mr. Willis Watson has aimed above all at accuracy. He clears


up many discrepancies which have found their way into print,
and have been accepted by one writer after another as facts ;
and, after judicious sifting and comparisons, he presents to the
reader in a continuous narrative what is, no doubt, the most
accurate account of a family, which in its day and generation must
have been amongst the most important and influential throughout
the Western Counties, for, as the author says, " The history of
the Martin family from Norman times to the end of the fifteenth
century is the history of England in cameo."

Mr. Willis Watson has dealt principally with those Martins
who lived and laboured in Somerset. Devon, and Dorset.
Whether or not all who bear this honourable name are connected
with the family of which the great Saint Martin of Tours was a
member it is impossible to say. We think it more than
probable ; but for them to be able to trace their origin even
from the Norman Knight, Martin de Turonibus, who came to
England with William the Conqueror, is something of which they
may be proud.

Should the thirst for knowledge end with the perusal of this
book the reader will be well repaid. Mr. Willis Watson has
given us an interesting word picture, presenting to view many
incidents connected with mediaeval times. He forces one to
ruminate over the changes, both governmental and domestic,
which have taken place since the days of the Conqueror and his
immediate successors. The Martins literally carved their way to
the front. He traces the doings of the chief members of the
family from the period when a portion of Wales, then an
unconquered country, fell a victim to Martin de Tours, whose
prowess also brought him estates in Somerset and Devonshire.
Then, step by step, he introduces us to men who on account of
their loyalty to their King and country added acres to their pos-
sessions, and, consequently, power to their names, until he reaches


William Martin, who can very justly be placed in the foremost
rank of men who are remembered as the pioneers of the English
judicial system which, as Mr. Watson remarks, " has grown up
through long ages and, which, founded on a basis laid down by
that shrewd and enthusiastic lawyer, Henry II, is now a pattern
for the world."

Then, in turn, he brings upon his stage Martins who were
brave soldiers, members of the Bench and Bar, successful traders,
and men who have left honoured names in the annals of the
country. And, as the author leads the reader from one noted
character to another, he deals with some degree of fulness with the
manners and customs of the periods, and, incidentally, raises
questions of considerable importance.

One of these is as to when the office of coroner was instituted.
It is a point which is of intense interest, and Mr. Watson's remarks
thereon may mduce some readers to pursue a course of research
in order to throw further light on the matter. This is but an
indication of what the book contains ; the whole work is instruc-
tive, and in parts reads like a romance. It should prove of strong
personal interest to many West Country people, for there are
few families of repute in the West which are not in some way or
other associated with the Martins or with the times in which they
flourished ; and numerous indeed are the towns and villages in
Somerset, Dorset, and Devon which have close connection with
this family.

The saying of Sir Thomas Overbury that " The man who has
nothing to boast of but his illustrious ancestry is hke a potato ;
the only good belonging to him is underground," can be regarded
as a mere pleasantry. We are beginning to realize that the better
to understand the history of the Nation we must study the records
of the families who have played their parts in and have furnished


the bone and sinew of national action. Mr. Willis Watson's book
possesses a special interest for all who bear the honoured name
of Martin, by whom it will be welcomed as an instructive historical
work, flavoured with a strong personal interest.

It is, further, a valuable contribution to the literature con-
cerning the West Country, and it should prove of considerable
value to students interested in the past history of this part of

H. Tapley Soper.

Exeter, 1906.

tJistor^ of the Martin Jfamil^e.

REWKERNE Church is the chief architectural feature

of this pretty Somerset town — a town cradled amid

surroundings which might well excite the envy

of the less favoured children of that great

mother, who has given some of her best to the dwellers in the

land of the Somersaetan, a district claimed by Professor Freeman

to be older than England itself.

It is no plebeian's child. Sentinels protect it on every hand.
Stretching from the north, away to the west, on to the south,
round to the east, and back again to the north, these guards
have stood faithful as century has succeeded century, preserving
their charge from the rude attacks of Boreas, and turning even
the thunderbolts of Jove from their destructive courses.

And Nature, who loves her children with an affection which
passeth understanding, has lavished upon them the most bril-
liant garments, and has surrounded them with a setting such
as no mortal could ever command.

Where such pearly dress as the apple tree puts on in the
month of May.^ Where such diamonds as the dewdrops
glinting in the rays of the rising sun } Where such a cloth of
gold to tread as the meadows richly covered with buttercups ?

And the fairy elves dance the moonlit night through round
the anemones, drink their fill from the golden kingcups, and


rock themselves to sleep on the nodding bracken in the midst
of the woods, guarded by the Dryades.

Ilygeia herself might have dwelt in this locality, with Diana,
the Napaeae, and the Hamadryades for companions. Each could
have chosen their sportive areas within sight of the other, for
trees, hills and dales, and hunting ground mingle in delightful

Through the dim mist of ages, Crewkerne can be seen
holding an important position. And legend gives it close
connection with the Arimathean Joseph, who, with his twelve
companions sent West by Philip, bearing with them the Holy
Grail, landed on Albion's coast, and, eventually, reached the
beautiful Isle of Avalon. And that Httle band of pilgrims, with
roods aloft, passed through Vv'hat is now the town of Crewkerne,
and marked their halting places.

" Around the thirdly planted rood — the rood that rose
beneath the hill of Cunnygar — a little thorp sprang up, and
teachings of the Christes evangely were made foreby the sacred
spot where Joseph rested. Eftsoones one of the holy-men
recoursed, and made his cell anigh, and lessoned to the heard-
groomes, and kept up the cross. Betimes the thorp was yclept
Cruce-earn, the hermitage beside the cross.

" There at the rood, with naught but heaven above, the
eastern hermit stood, as later did the Saxon priest, telling to
wights who tarried the story of His love ; and till the church
arose upon the western knoll no other spot was hallowed like
as this.

" In time the timbem cross gave place to one of stone, and
Master Leland tells us how that when he stopped at ' Croke-
horn ' he did ' see a praty crosse environed with small pillers.'
But now no trace remains of this, nor of the hermitage,
natheless their names outlive them ; and as if to mark the very
spots where rested these rare monuments, two ways called
Hermitage and Cross Tree Streets were made.


" The former still exists ; the latter lives but in an ancient
deed. And so the places of the rood and cell can yet be
traced, and, standing at the bottom of the Hermit's Street, in
fancy we behold them ; and further back our memory leads us
till we see Saint Joseph and the Holy Grail, and afterwards the
hermit preaching to the folk whose chapel was the open air,
whose organ was the birds of heaven.

" This is the quaint and simple legend told of Cruce-eam,
now Crewkerne, the hermitage beside the cross."^

By legendary lore Crewkerne is thus connected with the
introduction of Christianity into England, and with that little
Church of Glastonbury, described by Ambrosius in his conver-
sation with Sir Percivale : —

" From our old books I know
That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury,
That there the heathen Prince, Arviragus,
Gave him an isle of marsh whereon to build ;
And there he built with wattles ;rom the marsh
A little lonely church in days of yore." ^

And in gazing at Crewkerne Church standing upon the
western knoll, one turns in thought to conjure up the preaching
places of the town through remote ages, and to compare their
simplicity with the grandeur of this pile occupying the founda-
tions of a building which existed in Norman times.

The Church is full of interest. Its most attractive feature
is the west front, a piece of work so grand that few churches
in the county — renowned for its ecclesiastical architecture — can
compare with it. Indeed Professor Freeman considers it to
even rival the west front of Bath Abbey. The curiously
carved gargoyles always claim attention, and the archaeologist
has an intensely interesting problem ever before him awaiting

' E. J. Watson'e The Legend of Crewlteme. ' TennyBon'e The Holy Qrail.


solution — the reason of the external " stone seat," situate at the
south-east comer of the south transept

This curious feature consists of a pointed arch between two
buttresses, the space above being roofed over with stone slabs,
thus forming an arched recess nearly eight feet high by about
three feet wide. At the back, against the wall of the Church,
is a stone seat, sixteen inches wide and eighteen inches high,
the full length of the recess, the floor of which is now about
sixteen inches higher than the ground outside. In the wall
above the seat is a niche, probably for a statue. What was the
original use of this strange seat.'*

Then, internally, the nave at once calls forth words of
admiration, for its great height is most striking. The massive
pillars, the seven-light west window, and the mural monuments
attract the general as well as the more critical visitor.

The memorials in brass are few in number. But two or
three of them are of the greatest interest, connecting Crewkerne
Church with families of high repute in the days which are passed.

On the east wall of the south transept is an etched brass
bearing this coat of arms: —

Argent two bars gules, impaled with a barry of six, ermine
and gules.

Crest : — On the stump of a tree, couped and erased, Argent,
a monkey, sejant, proper, collared and lined Or,
looking in a mirror framed of the last.

The Motto is : — Accedimvs, Svccedimvs, Decedimvs.

Underneath are the words : —

These are the Armes
of Adam Martine of Seaboro^
Esq' and his wife the dafter of Hvbvrde Hvss
of Sedland, Esq^ '«

And as one looks at the quaint crest and motto, and the old
carved letters, one is inclined to wonder who " Adam Martine,"
of " Seaborow," was, and who was the " dafter of Hvbvrde
Hvssie," and where is " Sedland " ^

Martin Brass in Crewkerne Church.


It has been suggested that the Martins^ were kinsfolk of
Saint Martin, the famous Bishop of Tours, who lived in the
fourth century. True, the suggestion is only indirectly made,
but an examination of it reveals a curious blunder. Dugdale
says the first of the name was Martin de Turon, who came into
England with William the Conqueror.^ Westcott adds that
this Martin had a sister caJled Concha, or Conches, wife of
Calfulnius, or Calprunius, presbyter Brittanus, who v/as the
mother of the famous Saint Patrick of Ireland.^ And Prince
perpetuates this legend* with the result that many other writers
have adopted this strange piece of history.

Westcott has confounded Saint Martin of Tours and Martin
of Tours. The latter came over with the Norman Conqueror
in ioG6.^ Consequently he could not well have been a brother
of Concha, the mother of Ireland's Patron Saint, for the famous
Saint Patrick was born in the latter half of the fourth century.
He was reared a Christian, and he had relations {j)arcntes) in
the Britains. Patrick's father, Calpomius, a son of Potitus, lived
at a place called Bannauem Taberniae, near which he had a
small farm. He was both a deacon and a decurio, and, there-
fore, belonged to a Roman colony. His wife, Conceso, or
Concha, a Frank, was a sister of Saint Martin,^ or, at least, a

Saint Martin of Tours was bom at Sabairia or Parmonia, in
Lower Hungary, in the year 314.^ He was a strange character,
being described by some as a gloomy ascetic, by others as an
imposter, and a crazy lunatic. But there are chroniclers who
have painted his character in brighter colours.

' There is considerable variation in '' Dugdale's Bar., i, 729.

the spelling of this name — Martin, * Cal. of the Carew MSS., The Book

Martyn, Martine, etc. The later Devon- of Houth, 16.

shire branch of the family adopted ^ The Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick,

"Martyn." i, 9.

^ Dugdale's Baroriagium, i, 729. * Matt. Paris' Chronica Majora, \,

' Westcott's View of Devonshire, 594. 1 70.

* Prince's Worthiea of Devon, 574.


Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers, and Sulpicius Severus, the
French ecclesiastical historian, wrote of him in " elegant Latin,"
and, although, probably, not altogether free from bias, Sulpicius
Severus was amongst those who studied him closely, for he was
one of his disciples.^ His Viia S. Martini Tiironensis was,
it is recorded, printed in 1480.

Saint Martin became Bishop of Tours in 371. To the zeal
and charity of a bishop this man joined the humility and poverty
of an anchorite, and so that he might detach himself the more
from the world he built the celebrated monastery of Marmoutier,
situated near the city of Tours, between the Loire and a steep

There is a doubt as to the date of Saint Martin's death.
One writer gives the event as happening on the 8th November,
397 ; another the 1 1 th November, 400 ; but according to the
Roman Calendar of Saints, the date is fixed as the nth Novem-
ber, 397, and from it originated the feast of Saint Martin. The
place of his decease was Candes, and he is one of the first of
the Saints Confessors to whom the Latin Church offered up
public prayers.^

Stories are told of the miraculous cures performed after
his death in his name. Sidonius says the body of Saint Martin,
•venerated over the whole earth, in which virtue resides though
life be at an end, was taken from its original resting-place, and
carried to the Church of Saint German, Auxerre. Startling
miracles astonished the people of the district, and the cures being
paid for, a dispute soon arose as to the division of the spoil.

The Turonians claimed the whole of the proceeds, urging
that Saint Ivlartin, their patron, had called the contributors
together by his miracles. But the natives of Auxerre considered
they had a right to their share, because Saint German was a
saint by no means unequal in merit to Saint Martin.

A test was applied, with the result that Saint Martin is said
to have fully justified the confidence reposed by his followers

' Encyclopspdia Britannica, xxi, 702. ' Encyclopaedia Britannica, xv, 582.


in his power to perform mighty cures, and the Turonians who
brought the body to Auxerre filled their purses by the assistance
of their patron.^

That Adam Martin, a brass to whose memory is still to be
seen in Crewkerne Church, descended from the family of which
Saint Martin of Tours was a member, is problematical. That
he was of the family of Martin of Tours, who came to England
with the Norman Conqueror, is a fact beyond doubt.

Martin de Tours^ was a general officer in the anny of
William I,^ and a bold and warlike adventurer. His name,
entered as Le Seig. de S. Martin, is included in a table of all
" the noble capteins and gentlemen of name as well Normans
as other strangers, which assisted Duke W^illiam in the con-
quest of this land." And it is also repeated in " the Roll of
Battell Abbeie."* Fighting was his profession ; and he, like
many others, accompanied the Norman William to England,
not only to do battle, but to share in such spoils as were to be
distributed by the successful invader. William readily admitted
persons to his friendship and bestowed honours on them without
distinction. He was particularly generous to his followers.
Baronies and fiefs of the Crown which belonged to the adherents
to Harold were confiscated, and the Normans became possessed
of many great estates ; in fact, the English nobles and gentry
were swept on one side and foreigners occupied their places

Martin de Tours fully shared in the grants which were made
by his Royal master. First, he became possessed of lands in
the maritime parts of Somerset and Devonshire.^

The gifts, probably, included the manor of Dartington, in
Devonshire, an estate associated with noble families. Wilham
de Falesia is recorded as its owner when Domesday was com-

' William or Malmesbury's Chronicle ' Hutchins' History and Antiquities

of the Kings of England, Il6. of the County of Dorset, ii, 5S2.

' Also known as ilartin de Turon * Holinshed's Chronicles, ii, 3, 7.

and Martin de Turonibua. ' Fenton's Historical Tour through

Pembrokeshire, ii, 521.


piled.^ He was in possession in the twentieth year of
WilHam I, but in loSS^ it came to the Lord of Cemaes^ together
with other lands which WilHam de Falesia held in the county.'*

Combe Martin and Martinshoe, in Devonshire, bear names
which have been associated by other writers with this man.^
But it is said that Combe Martin, at all events, did not come
into the possession of the Martin family until after the death
of Sir Jeffery or Galfrid Camvil, or de Camville, husband of
Matilda Tracy, in the reign of Edward I,^ after which the
property passed to William, Lord Martin."

Then as to possessions in Somerset, when Domesday was
compiled Blagdon, or Blachedon, as it was then called, was
held of the king by Serlonis de Burceio, but soon after the
Conquest most of the estates of this man also came into the
possession of the Martin family.** In fact, the manor was the
head of their large barony, being held of the king hi capite by
the service of one knight's fee ; and the lordship continued in
their hands in regular succession until i8 Edward 11.^

The mention of a knight's fee suggests an interesting feature
in the early tenure of land and its responsibilities. When the
Normans conquered England they introduced the feudal law
in all its rigour. And this was based upon a military plan. All
the lands in the kingdom were divided into what were called
knights' fees, in number above 60,000, and for every knight's fee
a knight or soldier {miles) was bound to attend the king in his
wars for forty days in a year. Thus the king always had at his
command 60,000 men to do him service and without cost ; ^°

' Domrsdo;/ Coofc (Record Office Re- * Westcott's Ficw 0/ jDcfonsTitVe, 252 ;

print), 346. Risdon's Survey 0/ Devon, 350.

' Hutchins' History of Dorset, 582. ^Worihy'sDevonshire Parishes, ii,3^g.

* Spelt also Camaes, Kemeys, Ca- ' See page 27.

moys, Camois, Kemmoys, Kemmeys, ^ Domesday BooJc (Record Office Re-

Kemoys, Ceamwys, etc. print), 418.

* Sir William Pole's Collection to- ' Collinaon's History of Somerset,
wards a Description of Devonshire, 16. iii, 569.

^^ Blackstone's Commentaries, i, 410.


and there was this further advantage that the defence of the
realm was placed in the hands of the king's own subjects, which
was far preferable to trusting to hirelings or foreigners.

There is a question as to how much land was required to
constitute a knight's fee. Selden contends that it did not
consist of land of a fixed extent or value, but was as much as
the king was pleased to grant upon the condition of having
the service of one knight. In 3 Edward I, a knight's fee was
estimated at twelve ploughlands, and its value (though it varied
with the times) in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II was
stated to be ;^20 per annum. ^ It has also been given as between
100 and 500 acres of land suitable for cultivation, ajid in
Staffordshire the average was 3,000 acres, inclusive of woods

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Online LibraryWilliam George Willis WatsonThe house of Martin; being chapters in the history of the West of England branch of that family → online text (page 1 of 13)