The Seigneur de Biarz is twice mentioned by Wace in his Roman de Rou. First in company with Richard d'Avranches --
" D'Avranchin i fu Richarz
Ensemble od li cil de Biarz " ( l. 13,600-1).
and subsequently thus --
" Des Biarz i fu Avenals" ( l. 13,632).
Which might or might not be the same person, or simply that there was more than one of that family in the Duke's army. "There were the Avenels of the Biarz." Les Biards being a bourg on the banks of the Selune, canton of Isigny, arrondissement of Mortain.
The companion of the Conqueror is assumed by Le Prévost to have been William Avenel, Seigneur des Biards, who was seneschal of Robert Comte de Mortain, the Duke's half-brother, and would therefore probably follow his lord to the wars. There is no reason, however, that one or more of his brothers (he appears to have had five) should not have accompanied him.
The name of Avenel does not occur in either of the Rolls of Battle Abbey, but it is included in Brompton's List, and the rhyming one of Leland. A sub-tenant of that name occurs also in Domesday, holding half a hide of land in the hundred of Cendovre, under Roger de Montgomeri, Earl of Shrewsbury; but we trace no grants from the Conqueror to any one of the family in reward of their services at Senlac, a circumstance which excites the surprise of the authors of Les Recherches, to whom we are indebted for many particulars of the early lords of the Biards or Es-Biards.
According to Vincent de Beauvais, an historian of the thirteenth century, one Harold Avenel was the first of the family who settled in Normandy, whither he had accompanied Rolf, of whom he was a kinsman as well as of the Paynels, the Taissons, the Giffards, and others of Scandinavian origin, and his statement, though not always to be relied upon, is in this instance fairly supported by documentary evidence. In a charter by Hugues, the son of John de Roceto, A.D. 1035, granting to the Abbey of Marmoutiers the Church of St. Martin de Belesme, the gift is declared to be made with the consent of Odo, brother of Henry I King of France, of Geoffrey Count of Anjou, Ivo Bishop of Séez, and of the grantor's kinsman, Herve de Braviard (Biuard, or Biard). In another charter, dated 1067, having reference to a dispute respecting the above donation, the name recurs of Herve, the kinsman of Hugues de Roceto, in conjunction with that of a Sigemberg des-Biarz, apparently the son of Herve, who also seems to have been the father of Ormellinus, surnamed Avenellus, who, with the consent of his wife Avitia, in 1060 concedes a third of his rights on the Church of St. Martin de Say.* [Gall. Christ. Instr., col. 153.] Sigemberg des Biarz dying without male issue, we find the sons of his brother Osmellinus joining the name of Biarz to that of Avenel, borne by their father.
We thus arrive at the epoch of the Conquest, when it appears that Sigemberg des Biarz was still living, and possibly Ormellinus his brother also, as he and his wife Avitia were benefactors to St. Martin de Say in 1060. Sigemberg if not too old might therefore be in the battle, and be the "Seigneur" de Biarz of Wace, distinguished from the "Avenels," his nephews, none of whom could have succeeded to the lordship of Des Biards before 1067.
These Avenel, sons of Ormellinus and Avitia were, as I have already intimated, six in number. William, the seneschal, selected by Le Prévost as the combatant at Senlac; Ranulf, living in 1081; Joel, Abbot of La Couture in 1081; Walter, living in 1081, and Herve and Traslen, or Gradin, both living in 1106.
William Avenel des Biarz in 1082, in conjunction with his brother gave the Church of Vezens and the Priory of Les Biarz to the Abbey of La Couture in the diocese of Mans of which his brother Joel was the fifth abbot; and Ranulf, his other brother, caused the gift to be confirmed by his son and heir, Rainold Avenel, at that date in his childhood. The same William Avenel also witnesses the charter of Robert, Comte de Mortain, by which he founds a prebend in the college of St. Evroult for the priory of Mortain in 1088. His wife is unknown, but his sons by her were William, second of that name, Richard, Robert, and Hugh Avenel. From William II descended the Avenels of France, the elder branch of which family terminated in the male line with the death of his great-grandson in the fourteenth century, whose daughter Guillenine brought the whole of the Barony des Biards to the house of Le Sotherel.
How the Avenel of Domesday was connected with William the Seneschal, and from which of his brothers the English branch descended, remains yet undecided; but an Avenel of Haddon witnessed the foundation charter of the Priory of Linton in Nottinghamshire by William Peverel in the reign of Henry I, in company with Henry de Ferrers, Ralph Ansleyn, and others.
The same Avenel by his own charter granted to that priory two manors which formed part of his domain of Haddon. Another charter by William Peverel in the register of Lenton is witnessed by a William Avenel, and a Robert Avenel subscribes the foundation charter of the Abbey of St. James at Welbeck; and I am inclined to believe that Ranulf, one of the younger brothers of William the Seneschal, was the progenitor of the English Avenels.
Vincent has transcribed a charter of William, the son of William Avenel, wherein he names Richard de Vernon and Simon Basset as the husbands of his two daughters and heirs, with whom they had lands in Haddon and Welbeck, and we obtain the name of the daughter who married Richard de Vernon from a charter of their son William de Vernon, who calls his mother Avicia Avenel, a family name which we can trace from the wife of Ormellinus in the eleventh century to the Avicia Avenel who married John Rollesly in the fourteenth.
By the above charter we see how Haddon passed from the Avenels to the Vernons. The romantic but authentic story of the flight of the fair Dorothy, daughter and co-heir of Sir George Vernon, with Sir John Manners, from Haddon Hall, has been told too often to call for repetition here, and is only referred to in illustration of the Norman descent of the Dukes of Rutland from Ormellinus, "qui cognominhabitus Avenellus," through the baronial house of Vernon, a scion of which also demands our notice, under the name of
Added to this site through the courtesy of Michael Linton, who provided scanned text.