The Noble Gilbert Women


To this point, my genealogical studies have focused on the patrilineage from William Gilbert, the earliest suspected progenitor of the Gilberts of Compton, through my son.  However, this following of the male line is a vestige, a reflex (if you will), arising out of an interest in a surname – almost matter-of-factly passed through the male line.  However, this is only one way to see one’s heritage.  One’s father-to-son bloodline is virtually no more a contributor to one’s genetic makeup than one’s mother-to-son (or mother-to daughter, for that matter) line.  Indeed, any combination of relatives leading from the past to the present contribute roughly equally to one’s ancestry, regardless of the transmission of a name along with the DNA.  Therefore, it is time to look at the women who married into and contributed to the ancestral line I have been examining. 

In these times, it might be tempting to think that women have been marginalized, with great contempt, from the earliest times – an ugly outgrowth of our male-dominated tribal past.  However, my readings of medieval property records, along with other historical documents, suggests that this undeniable second-rating of women and their accomplishments has had most of its momentum in only the last few hundred years.  Speaking only broadly of the parts of Western culture I have studied, women often had central roles in society and government.  Tellingly, mentions of these women were not accompanied by footnotes of astonishment or exception, but in the ho-hum, common drone of any legal document of any epoch.  This hints at the common-place nature of powerful, influential, and important women.  For example, archeological evidence supports the idea that early Celtic tribes were routinely under the leadership of powerful women – Boudica of the Iceni comes to mind.  Famously, Viking women had a right to divorce.  In the Anglo-Norman times of my studies, it was the marriage of the obscure Geoffrey Gilbert to Lady Joan Compton that bestowed upon him Compton Castle and propelled his line into modest nobility.  This was not because it came as a dowry, but because in the 14th century Lady Joan was an heiress.  Geoffrey’s great-grandfather, William, himself emerged from historical obscurity with his marriage to the high-born and well pedigreed Elizabeth Champernowne of Clist, who could trace her bloodlines back to King Henry I, William the Conqueror, and all the Dukes of Normandy.  A hundred years later, another William Gilbert would marry another Elizabeth Champernowne, this time of North Tawton, Devon.  Two hundred years after that, Katherine Champernowne would marry Otho Gilbert of Greenway (in a separate line), giving birth to notable explorers Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh. 

What follows is a catalog of all the women I am aware of who married into my line of Gilbert men, trying to account for their heritage based on surname and any actual genealogical data I have:

Elizabeth Champernowne, of noble Norman ancestry, having other Norman ancestors by the names of Valletort, Nonet, Dustanville, and Bret. Bret is an interesting name because it has roots in Old French, meaning ‘Breton’, or Celtic Bretons who likely escaped the early Anglo-Saxon conquest by coming to Normandy and ultimately helping to ‘reconquer’ England in 1066.

Lady Alice, with no record of her last name, but likely of Norman heritage based on the Old French origins of her first name.

Amy Thomas, with a last name that’s hard to pin down, but possibly Cornish or Welsh.

Joan Compton, mentioned above, she was heiress to the Norman family of de la Pole and of Compton, which may have been Anglo-Saxon.  Some of her ancestry includes Dalditch (probably Anglo-Saxon) and Peverell (Norman).

Elizabeth Champernowne of North Tawton, mentioned above, and likely the great-grand-niece of the previous Elizabeth Champernowne, of the same notable Norman family.

Isabel Gambon (Norman)

Elizabeth Hill (Anglo-Saxon)

Hanna Lacey, whose surname likely derives from the famous Norman de Lacy family.

Joan Hackett, where my Gilbert line diverges from the Compton line and into Somerset, is a Norman name nonetheless.

Jane Roberta Hayden, with her Anglo-Saxon surname, might be from the de Hayden family in Somerset.

Joan Pierce, corresponding to this Gilbert’s location in Somerset, is of an Anglo-Saxon family first mentioned in that place.

Margery Morken bears an ancient Welsh name that might even derive from Old Norse.

Elizabeth Bennett was the first Gilbert woman in this line to make the dangerous trip to America, likely following after her husband, Thomas, who had already arrived in Connecticut.  If this is true, she likely would have had the daunting task of caring for her young son, John Gilbert, along the way.  Elizabeth also had the children Ezekial, Josiah, Obadiah, Jonathan, and Sarah.  Judging by the sudden shift in first names from Norman to Biblical, and considering the time (mid 1600s near the English Civil War) we might surmise that these Gilberts were puritans fleeing persecution.  It’s hard to determine, but her surname seems English and is likely derived from ‘Benedictus’- common among people of Anglo-Norman descent.

Amy Lord has an ancient Anglo-Saxon name derived from ‘hlalord’ or ‘keeper of the loaf’, meaning ‘one responsible for feeding others’. 

Elizabeth Smith (Anglo-Saxon)

Lydia White, with a Norman surname, likely derived from Le Blanc.

Sara Bradshaw (Anglo-Saxon)

Sara Magruder, whose surname is an interesting one from Scottish Gaelic, derived from Mac Grudaire, a nickname meaning ‘son of the brewer’ – a name originating in Perthshire.

Matilda Todd, Todd coming from the Scottish Borders and northern Middle English.  Her last name and Midwestern location make a relationship to Mary Todd Lincoln a tantalizing possibility.

Isabelle Plew (Bavarian)

Sarah Jane Furrow (Ulster Irish)

Marie Tarant, wife of James Madison Gilbert, was my great grandmother.  Her parents were from Sadska, Bohemia, with Holem being her mother’s maiden name.  This Holem is likely a derivative of another Czech name.  Of great tragedy to our family, her nephew George Tarant, was a waist gunner on a B-24 liberator that was shot down over Denmark on June 21st, 1944, by the Luftwaffe’s Lieutenant Woeske.   

Mildred Marie Scheetz, my grandmother, bore a surname from the Rhineland in Germany, with ancestors named Nickerson (Anglo-Saxon), Williams (possibly Welsh), Platt (also Germany), Klein (again from the Rhineland), Muckley (Rhineland still), and Daum (also German).

Gloria Jeanne Elliott, my mother, bore a spelling of the ‘Eliot’ name that may have been ancient Pictish from the personal name Aelfwald – said to have originated in Liddesdale, Scotland.  Mom had ancestors named Kahl (Germany) Krouse (Germany – my maternal grandmother’s maiden name), Pease (Orkney, Scotland), Schnider (Bavaria, Germany), Allis (back to Norman once again), and White (a second instance of this Norman surname, from le Blanc, in the genealogy).

Johanna Katherine Henbest, my children’s mother, bears a rare French Huguenot surname associated through DNA services and online sources with a single county in England whose refugee Huguenot population underwent a near wholesale relocation to Missouri.  Ancestors include Pfiefer (Austrian), Sparks, (a rare case of an Old Norse word coming to us from Old English), and Ennis (Cornwall).

Now it is down to my daughter, who is about to marry into an Italian family having an Anglo-Norman or Scottish last name!  She will carry with her a massively complex background of Anglo-Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Bohemian Czech, a whole lot of German, French, a touch of Congolese, and a myriad of other origins! 

Angela Gilbert, Lady of Compton Castle and High Sheriff of Devon in 2016 – 540 years after my 17th great grandfather, Sir Otho Gilbert of Compton Castle, held the same office.
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