The name of this great historical, prolific, and widespreading family, of which no less than ten branches are recorded in the Baronage of England, appears in every list of the companions of the Conqueror, but is not mentioned by any of the contemporary writers. Nor do the old lists in which it occurs give the baptismal names of the persons recorded, and we have therefore to search in other quarters for evidence that will enable us to identify the particular member or members of the family who may be fairly presumed to have been present in the battle of Hastings.
In this instance, Domesday supplies us with sufficient information to justify us in admitting the probability of the statement of MM. de Magny and Delisle, that it was a Hugh de Bexuchamp who for his services at the time of the Conquest, received four lordships in Buckinghamshire, and forty-three, or the greatest portion of them, in Bedfordshire, and was the immediate ancestor of the Beauchamps of Bedford.
Of his own parentage I have found no note, but he was most probably descended from the Norman lords of Beauchamp of Avranches, seated between that city and Granville, and a kinsman of the Robert de Beauchamp, Viscount of Arques, in the reign of Henry I, who is first mentioned by Orderic under the year 1171, when by the King's order he seized the castle of Elias de Saint-saens, who had the guardianship of the young heir of Normandy, William Clito, with the object of arresting that prince and consigning him to captivity.
By his wife, unknown, Hugh de Beauchamp is said to have had three sons: Simon, who died without issue; Pagan or Payne, to whom William Rufus gave the whole barony of Bedford with the castle, which was the caput or head of the barony, and Milo, the ancestor of the Beauchamps of Eaton. Thus Dugdale and others; but there is undoubtedly some confusion here which, though noticed by the English translator of Orderic, has not been cleared up by him.
The De Beauchamps who so strongly defended Bedford Castle were, according to Orderic, the sons of Robert de Beauchamp, and not of Hugh, as above stated; and if this Robert be identical with the Viscount of Arques we have just heard of, the whole line of Beauchamp of Bedford is thrown into disorder.
Orderic says that King Stephen, against the advice of his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, laid siege to Bedford, but as it was the season of Christmas, and the winter very rainy, after great exertions he had no success. Indeed, the sons of Robert de Beauchamp defended the place with great resolution, and until the arrival of the Bishop, the King's brother, rejected all terms of submission to Stephen. Not that they resolved to deny the fealty and service they owed to him as their liege lord, but having heard that the King had given the daughter of Simon de Beauchamp to Hugh, surnamed the Poor, with her father's lordships, they feared they should lose their whole inheritance. (Lib. xiii. cap. xxxvi)
Now here we have also the information that Simon, who is said to have died without issue, left a daughter, for that she could not be the daughter of the second Simon in the pedigree, son of Pagan, first baron of Bedford, is clear, as that Simon was living in the eighth of John, 1207.
Dugdale, upon no authority that I can see, calls her the sister of the defenders of Bedford, whom he describes as the sons of the second Simon de Beauchamp, steward to King Stephen, which is simply impossible, for the reason just given. We have therefore three different fathers to choose from for the progenitors of the line of Eaton.
Let us now turn to the account of the siege of Bedford by another contemporary writer. The anonymous author of the Acts of King Stephen, says -- "The King having held his court during Christmas (at Dunstable) with becoming splendour, despatched messengers to Milo de Beauchamp, who by royal licence had the custody of the Castle of Bedford, with orders that he should hold the castle of Hugh, and do service to him instead of the King. If he readily obeyed this command he should have honour and reward, but if he withstood it in any manner, he was to be assured that it would be his ruin. On receipt of the royal message, Milo replied that he was willing to serve the King as his true knight and to obey his commands, unless he attempted to deprive him of the possessions which belonged to him and his heirs by hereditary right; but if that was the King's intention, and he endeavoured to execute it by force, he would bear the King's displeasure as best he could; and as for the castle, he would never yield it unless he was driven to the last extremity. Finding how things stood, the King's indignation was roused against Milo, and he raised an army from all parts of England to lay siege to Bedford. Aware of his approach, Milo swept off all the provisions he could lay his hands on, making violent seizures both from the townsmen and the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, with whom before he had been on good terms. as belonging to his lordship. These supplies he stored in the castle, and securely closing the gates he for this time excluded the King's people without any loss on his own side. The King, however, after carefully reconnoitring the fortifications, placed under cover bands of archers at convenient posts, with directions to maintain such a constant discharge of arrows against those who manned the battlements and towers, as should prevent them keeping a good lookout and hold them always in a state of confusion.
"Meanwhile, he exerted all his energies to have engines constructed for filling the trenches and battering the walls. All that skill and ingenuity, labour and expense could compass was effected. Night watches were posted at all the castle gates to prevent any communication by the besieged with their friends without, or the introduction of provisions or necessaries within the fortress. By day every means were employed to distress and annoy the enemy. But the castle stood on a very high mound, surrounded by a solid and lofty wall, and it had a strong and impregnable keep, containing a numerous garrison of stout and resolute men, so that the expectation of soon taking it proved abortive, and the King having other affairs on his hands which required immediate attention, withdrew, leaving the greater part of his army to carry on the siege, with orders that in case the engines could not effect the reduction of the place, a blockade should be maintained till want and hunger compelled its surrender. After the King's departure the besieging army continued their hostilities, till the garrison, having exhausted their provisions and finding their strength failing, confessed that they could hold the place no longer, and therefore surrendered it to the King according to the laws of war."
Now, in this circumstantial account we hear only of Milo, and there is no hint as to his parentage; but he is spoken of as the holder of Bedford Castle under the King, and as the then head of the family defending his inheritance for himself and his heirs. If he had brothers with him, which Orderic's language implies, they must have been younger sons of Robert the Viscount and Milo his successor; in which case, how was he related to the nameless daughter of Simon, the wife of Hugh de Meulent, surnamed "the Poor," Earl of Bedford ? A word, by the way, of this surname, the explanation of which is clearly given by the author of the "Acts of King Stephen" in a subsequent passage in his history, though no modern writer appears to have paid attention to it.
The reader is told that King Stephen bestowed the earldom of Bedford on Hugh, surnamed the Pauper, and naturally imagines that the said Hugh was raised by the munificence of his sovereign from a state of poverty to rank and affluence. The case, however, is exactly the reverse, for thus says the author just quoted: "Hugh, also surnamed 'The Pauper,' who by royal licence possessed the earldom of Bedford, after the expulsion of Milo de Beauchamp, conducted his affairs with so much negligence, like the careless and effeminate man he was, that, willing or not willing, he gave up the task to Milo, becoming by the righteous judgment of God, from an earl a simple knight, and from that shortly a penniless man." It was not, therefore, Hugh "the Poor," or "the Pauper" who was made the Earl of Bedford, but Hugh de Meulent, third son of Robert Earl of Leicester, by a daughter of the great house of Vermandois, a man of noble birth, who being created Earl of Bedford, reduced himself by his own folly and effeminacy to so miserable a condition as to acquire the appellation which has been associated with his name for seven centuries, and not unnaturally misled our later annalists and annotators. (The intelligent English translator of Orderic even observes in a note (vol. iv, p. 195), "Nor was it any wonder that the sons of Roger (Robert ?) do Beauchamp should oppose the alliance of their cousin-german with a person of such mean substance as this Hugh." An altogether gratuitous assumption.)
Still we are unable to affiliate Milo, who, whether the son of Hugh or Robert de Beauchamp, must, if the above account can be depended upon, have been in 1137 in possession of the patrimonial estates, including the Castle of Bedford, for which he was commanded thenceforth to do homage to Hugh de Meulent instead of to the King. Pagan, to whom the barony of Bedford was given by William Rufus, must then have been dead; but as he left issue by his wife Rohesia two sons, Simon and Pagan, the eldest of whom confirmed the gifts of his mother, the Countess Rohesia, to the Priory of Chicksand, and to the Abbey of Newenham, founded by his father, and was sheriff of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire in the reign of Richard I, it is in our present state of information impossible to account for the position of Milo and the language attributed to him. He appears to have been living in the reign of Henry II, when, with consent of Pagan, his heir (not his son, observe), he gave a mill at Bedford to the monks of Bermondsey.
But I must hasten to the line of Beauchamp of Elmley, from which sprang all the most distinguished personages of this proud and potent family. Here again we are met with the same difficulty at starting, for no one has yet been able to show the relationship of Walter, the earliest known of this branch, to Hugh, the companion of the Conqueror, or to Robert the Viscount of Arques. We first hear of him as the husband of Emmeline, daughter of Urso d'Abetot, and sister of Roger, who, for slaying a servant of King Henry I, was banished the realm, and all his estates given to his brother-in-law, this Walter de Beauchamp (then called of Bedford), with the office of Dispensator Regis, which Robert, the brother of Urso, had formerly held; and the shrievalty of Worcestershire to hold as freely as Urso had done, confirming also to him the lands given him by Atheliza, the widow of Urso. Making Elmley Castle in Worcestershire his chief residence, he and his descendants were thenceforth known as Beauchamp of Elmley.
William, the fourth in descent from Walter, married Isabel, sister and heiress of William de Mauduit, Earl of Warwick, who brought with her the honours and estates of that noble family to swell the fortunes of the already powerful and affluent one of Beauchamp. Henry, the sixth earl in descent from William, was created Duke of Warwick by King Henry VI in 1444, and by the marriage of his sister Anne with Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, he became Earl of Warwick in right of his wife, and is well known to every schoolboy as "the King Maker."
From the same William descended the branches of Alcester and Powick, and the co-heiresses of Richard, last Lord Beauchamp of Powick, carried the representation into the families of Willoughby de Broke and Lygon, ancestors of the present Earls of Warwick and Beauchamp. As in my previous memoir of Nevil, I must express my regret that I am debarred from even briefly describing the interesting events and gallant exploits of the most important members of this family: of Guy Earl of Warwick -- not the legendary killer of the Dun Cow, but the valiant leader in the battle of Falkirk, "The Black Dog of Arden," as he was called by Piers Gaveston, an insult which cost that unworthy favourite his life upon the Hill of Blacklow.
Of John, son of that Guy who bore the royal standard at Cressy, and was one of the founders of the most noble Order of the Garter, or of Richard, an account of whose magnificent array and knightly prowess in the celebrated jousts at Calais would of itself occupy more space than the longest notice I can afford to give to the most important companion of the Conqueror, I cannot venture to speak. I must even apologise to the general reader for the genealogical details which I have been led into by the imperfect and perplexing pedigree of the early Barons of Bedford.