RICHARD DE NEVIL
was the fourth son of Baldric the German, and so called from his fief of Neuville-sur-Tocque, in the department of the Orne, the arrondissement of Argentan, and the canton of Gacé. The name of his wife is as yet unknown to us, but she bore to him four sons, Gilbert, Robert, Richard, and Ralph. Gilbert, apparently the eldest, is the "Gilbert Normanus" traditionally said not only to have come over with the Conqueror, but to have been the admiral of his fleet.
This assertion, apparently first made towards the close of the fifteenth century, is reported by Leland on the authority, as he tells us, of "a roulle of the genealogie of the Erles of Westmoreland," but giving us no idea of the date of that roll or the authorities from which it was compiled. At best it can only be looked upon as a family tradition supported, as Mr. Drummond appears to think, by the device of a ship which is to be seen on the seal of his grand-nephew Henry de Neville, preserved in the Duchy of Lancaster Office, and the date of which would be between 1199 and 1216.
My experience in these matters induces me to draw an inference from this fact directly opposed to that of Mr. Drummond. It is my belief, founded on the many analogous examples I have met with in the course of a tolerably long period passed in such investigations, that the tradition of Gilbert de Neville having been an admiral has actually arisen from the appearance of this ship, which, so far from indicating any such office, is nothing more than a device alluding to the family name; Nef, in the old French language signifying a ship, and, therefore, picturing the first syllable of Nefville, as we find Muscæ (flies) upon the old seals of the Muscamps, and hosts of similar and much farther-fetched canting devices.
Nearly all the strange stories and bold assertions to be met with in the works of early historical writers are found upon examination to have originated in an attempt to account for such concetti, and if Gilbert's uncle did really contribute so large a contingent as forty ships to the invading fleet, the supposition in the present instance seems a very natural one. Monsieur Leopold de Lisle, one of the ablest antiquaries in France, has in a recently compiled catalogue which has been cut in the stone of the western wall of the Church of Dives, introduced a Richard de Neuville amongst the followers of William, but no Gilbert; but neither by him nor by the Viscount de Magny, who has printed the list with some additions in his " Nobiliaire de Normandie," is any authority quoted in support of the statement, and they have probably so distinguished him from observing that the first of the name, and who was a contemporary of Duke William, was Richard de Novavilla, the father of Gilbert; but this Richard had also a son named Richard, and that some of the sons or nephews of the elder Richard were present at Hastings is very probable.
The name of Nevil, it has been confidently asserted, does not appear in Domesday. Like many other confident assertions, it is untrue. Dugdale, who states this, and those who have followed him, have overlooked the name of Ralph Nevil, who held Thorpe of Turold, Abbot of Peterborough. Sir Henry Ellis has also omitted the name in his "Introduction " and indexes. It occurs however in the Clamores in Westriding, county Lincoln, and if Ralph the bishop's man be identical with the Ralph Nevil of Thorpe, as there is reason to believe, he was tenant of several other lands at the time of the survey, and we have seen that the youngest brother of Gilbert was named Ralph.
Be this however as it may, it is no disparagement to the family of Nevil to hesitate, in the absence of positive authority, to number their direct ancestor amongst the leaders of that famous host; for many of the greatest men in Normandy set down in the catalogues as having fought at Senlac are now known to have first set foot in England after Duke William had secured the crown.
Gilbert, the traditionary admiral, was the direct progenitor of Isabella de Neville, wife of Robert Fitz Maldred, Lord of Raby, and sole heir to her brother, the Henry de Neville before mentioned.
From her son Geoffrey Fitz Maldred, who assumed his mother's name but retained his father's arms, sprang the magnificent tree the branches of which are truly said to have overshadowed the land. This Saxon line of Nevil has given to England two queens, a Princess of Wales, a mother of two kings, a Duke of Bedford, a Marquis of Montacute, Earls of Northumberland, Westmoreland, Salisbury, Kent, Warwick, and Montacute; Barons Nevil, Furnival, Latimer, Fauconberg, Montacute, and Abergavenny; Duchesses of Norfolk, Exeter, York, Buckingham, Warwick, Clarence, and Bedford; a Marchioness of Dorset; Countesses of Northumberland, Westmoreland, Arundel, Worcester, Derby, Oxford, Suffolk, Rutland, Exeter, Bridgewater, and Norwich; Baronesses de Ros, Dacre, Scrope, Dovercourt, Mountjoy, Spencer, Fitz Hugh, Harrington, Hastings, Comyn, Willoughby de Broke, Hunsdon, Cobham, Strange, Montacute, and Lucas; nine Knights of the Garter, two Lord High Chancellors, two Archbishops of York, a Bishop of Salisbury, of Exeter, and of Durham
I regret that the nature and limits of this work debar me from particular notice of many members of this wonderful family, the above remarkable list of illustrious descendants being of itself a departure from the rule I have generally observed of confining my annotations to the origin and actions of the actual companions and contemporaries of the Conqueror. Memoirs of "the Peacock of the North" and "the King-maker" would alone demand a volume for their illustration; and it is unnecessary to point out the impossibility of doing similar justice to the many distinguished descendants of other families whose ancestors are recorded to have been present with Duke William at Hastings, and would have equal claims on my consideration.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Michael Linton, who provided scanned text.