Here we have the name of an illustrious Norman, the progenitor of a race from which the noblest families in England are proud to trace their descent; and, strange to aay, beyond this fact little or nothing is known about his own family which can be supported by credible authority. Even the origin of the name of Giffard, Gifford, or Giffart, as it is indifferently spelt, has yet to be definitively settled.
The story that lias been so often told about it, viz., that it signified a free-handed or liberal giver, is without any substantial foundation, and is, I believe, one of the many which have been so detrimental to the study of genealogy and heraldry, by misleading tlie inquirer or checking research altogether. It is upon the authority of William of Jumièges that this Walter Giffart, the companion of the Conqueror, the first we know of that name, has been set down as a son of Osborn de Bolbec by his wife, indifferently called Avelina and Duvelina, sister of Gonnor, wife of Richard, Duke of Normandy. Granting this to be true, as we have no documentary evidence to contradict it, the appellation of Giffart or Gifford, appears to be one of those sobriquets founded on personal peculiarities so commonly applied to distinguish certain members of a family previous to the general establishment of hereditary surnames.
Instances of the practice are familiar to the veriest schoolboy, and in the preceding memoir I have mentioned Lambert the Bearded, Eustace with the Eye, and Eustace with the Whiskers. Hence the complimentary suggestion of " Free-Giver," which I should be happy to leave undisputed could it be borne out by etymology. The family, however, was Norman, not Saxon; and it is in the Norman-French, or Low-Latin of the eleventh century, that we must look for its derivation. The word occurs in both those dialects. In Roquefort's Dictionnaire de la Langue Romane, "Giffarde" is rendered "Joufloue, qui a des grosses joues — servante de cuisine," the word being derived from giffe "the cheek," giffle also signifying in the same language "un soufflet," or blow on the cheek. An old French poet, Gautier cle Coisiny, complains that women of every class paint themselves, even the torchepot, " scullion," and the Giffarde, " kitchen maid or cook." So in the new Dictionnaire Franco-Normand, by M. George Métivier, we have "Giffair, rire comme un jouflou." And, to my great satisfaction, I find that this esteemed philologist has come to the same conclusion as myself, for under that word he has " Giffe, Giffle, Joue. Telle est l'origine de l'illustre famille Normande de Giffard, nom répandu très au-delà de cette Province (Jersey, of which Mons. Métivier is a native) et de nos îles." Vide also Ducange, sub voce "Giffardus," who has a similar interpretation, "Ancilla coquina." It is almost impossible to resist the conviction that Giffard, in the language of that day, signified a person with large cheeks, and was in consequence applied to a cook, who is popularly represented as fat and rubicund.
I beg to apologise to those of my readers who may not take any interest in such disquisitions, and hasten to the sayings and doings of Walter Giffard, with whom the name, whatever it meant, could not have originated, as an Osborne and a Berenger Giffard were his contemporaries, proving that the sobriquet of an individual had become the appellation of a family.
We first hear of him in 1035, as a companion of Hugh de Gournay in the abortive attempt of Edward son of King Ethelred to recover the crown of England (vide vol. ii. p. 113), and next in 1053, when he was left by Duke William in command of the forces blockading the Castle of Arques, and at that period was Lord of Longueville, and already past the prime of life, judging by his account of himself only thirteen years afterwards. In the following year Wace informs us he was intrusted by the Duke with the defence of the district of Caux, in which Longueville is situate, on the occasion of the invasion of Normandy by Henry, King of France. Subsequently he appears to have made a pilgrimage to St. lago de Compostella, in Spain, or may perhaps have been sent there by the Duke on some mission to Alfonso King of Galicia, to whom William afterwards affianced his daughter Agatha, after the breaking off of the match with the Saxon Prince Edwin. All we learn from Wace is that in the great battle William's first horse had been brought to him by Giffard from Spain, "the gift of a king who had a great friendship for him." The Lord of Longueville accompanied his sovereign to England, having furnished his fleet, according to the List published by Taylor, with thirty vessels and a hundred men.
Previous to the battle, Raoul de Conches, the hereditary standard-bearer of Normandy, having prayed quittance of service on that day, that he might fight with greater freedom in the field, the Duke called to him Walter Giffard, and desired him to bear his gonfanon, who also requested to be excused the honour on the plea of being too old and too feeble. "For the mercy of God, sire," said the old knight, "look upon my white and bald head; my strength is impaired, and I am short of breath," and in answer to the Duke's passionate reproaches, urged that he had a large contingent of men-at-arms in the field, whom he was bound to lead into action, and at the head of them he was ready to die in his sovereign's cause. Whereupon the Duke excused him, and assured him that he loved him more than ever, and that if he survived that day it should be the better for him (Walter) as long as he lived.
We hear of no special exploit performed by him during the battle, Benoît de St.-More merely saying that he was struck down in the mélée, and rescued apparently by William himself. At its close, however, after Harold had been mortally wounded, this brave old Lord of Longueville, with his bald head and his white locks, is accused of assisting to mutilate the body of the heroic King!
It would be an indignity to the noble veteran to defend him against so infamous a charge, and fortunately there is no need to do so, for it is unsupported by any evidence, and the accuser stands convicted of falsehood and exaggeration sufficient to deprive him of any character for honesty whatever.
When the fight was over, and the victorious Duke had ordered a space on the top of the hill to be cleared of the dead and dying, that his tent might be pitched there, and signified his intention to sup and sleep on the spot, Walter Giffard galloped up to him. " Sire," he said, "what are you about? You are surely not fitly placed here among the dead. Many an Englishman lies bleeding and mingled with the slain, but yet living, and though wounded, only waiting to rise at night and escape in the darkness. They would delight to take their revenge, and would sell their lives dearly, no one caring who killed him afterwards, so he but slew a Norman first, for they say we have done them great wrong. You should lodge elsewhere, guarded by one or two thousand men whom you can best trust. Let a careful watch be set this night, for we know not what snares may be laid for us. You have made a noble day of it, but I like to see the end of the work." The Duke, however, adhered to his original determination. (Roman de Rou) There can be no doubt, I think, that this Walter Giffard who fought at Hastings was the person to whom William the Conqueror, in 1070, gave the earldom of Buckingham; for, old as he is said by Wace to have represented himself at that period, he lived nineteen years afterwards, and was one of the Commissioners intrusted by William to superintend the compilation of the great survey of England, and I can find no reason whatever for the ordinary assertion that his son, the second Walter, was the first earl.
There is evidence that in 1079 he founded the priory of St. Michel de Bolbec, and he is reported to have died about 1081, which we may fairly understand to be 1085, the year in which Domesday was begun and completed.
The wife of this Walter was Ermengarde, a daughter of Gerrard Flaitel, by whom he had a son, the second Walter, Earl of Buckingham, who died in 1102, and with whom he has been confounded. He had also a second son named William, who was Chancellor to William Rufus, made Bishop of Winchester by Henry I, 1107, and died in 1128, and a daughter, named Rohais or Rohesia, wife of Richard Fitz Gilbert, from whom descended the great house of Clare.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.