It is with great diffidence that I offer any observations whatever on this very mysterious family, from whom so many of the noblest houses in England claim a descent.
Wace enumerates amongst the combatants at Senlac, "William ki l'on dit Crespin," and he has previously mentioned "Cil ki donc gardont Tillieres," who, if not the same personage, must have been one of the family, and is presumed by M. le Prévost to have been Gilbert Crispin, second of that name, brother, according to some genealogists, of William, who was Seigneur de Bec-en-Caux, and whose name appears in charters of the dates of 1080 and 1082. But if brothers, of whom were they the sons?
The late Mr. Stacey Grimaldi, who considered himself a collateral descendant of the family of Crispin, or Crespin as indifferently written, took great pains to establish the fact, and published in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for October, 1832, a pedigree, founded on his researches, differing from that set forth in the appendix to the works of Lanfranc by D'Achery. His son, the Rev. Alexander B. Grimaldi, of Eastry, Kent, has most kindly intrusted to me what I may call the working papers of his father; but unfortunately they do not throw sufficient light on the point in question. Mr. Stapleton, in his illustrations of the Norman Rolls of the Exchequer, only deals with the later generations, and Le Prévost, in his notes on Wace, simply makes a statement differing from that of Mr. Grimaldi, without citing any evidence in support of it.
According to the latter, Crispinus, Baron of Bec, was the son of Crispina, daughter of Rollo, by Grimaldus, Prince of Monaco. By his wife Heloisc of Guynes and Boulogne, Crispinus had five sons, one of whom, Rollo, was the father of Goisfrid de Bec or Marescal, and Toustain Fitz Rou, the standard-bearer at Hastings. Another, named Gilbert Crispin, first succeeded his father as Baron of Bec, and had three sons, William, Gilbert, and Milo, all present at Hastings. The usual provoking omission of the names and families of the wives of these noble Normans renders it impossible to verify their descent, and deprives genealogy of half its interest. In this particular case it is exceedingly deplorable, ,as any information respecting the female members of this family would tend to clear up the mystery still involving those of Malet, Lincoln, Roumare, Tankerville, and others, as I have already pointed out.
We may fairly consider, however, that William Crispin I was the son of Gilbert, Baron of Bec and Castellan of Tillières, who defended that fortress against the French King Henry, and reluctantly surrendered it to him by command of the boy-duke William at the commencement of his reign. According to Père Anselm, who quotes, however, no authority, his mother was Gonnor, sister of Fulk d'Aunou, the companion of the Conqueror. She was also the mother of four other children -- Gilbert, who succeeded his father as Baron of Bec; Robert, who died without issue; and two daughters -- Emma, married to Pierre de Condé, and Elise, wife of Robert Malet.
According to the same genealogist, William Crispin who fought at Senlac married, previous to 1077, Eva, the daughter of Simon de Montfort l'Aumary, by whom he had William Crispin II, the doughty warrior at the battle of Bremule, and Gilbert, who became a monk in the Abbey of Bec, and eventually Abbot of Westminster.
William Crispin I, the subject of this memoir, we have previously heard of as one of the victorious leaders in the murderous battle of Mortemer, 1054. He must have been a very young man at that time, and probably it was the first combat of consequence he had ever been engaged in. He was living in 1082, when he witnessed the foundation charters of the Conqueror to the Abbeys of St. Stephen and the Holy Trinity, at Caen, and the confirmation of the privileges of the Abbey of Fontenville, in the same year, at the council held at Oistel, near Rouen. No particular exploit is recorded of him at Senlac, nor do we hear of his being employed in any military service either in England or Normandy after the Conquest. He was probably deceased before 1085, as his name does not appear in Domesday, Milo Crispin, a brother of his, according to Mr. Grimaldi, but not named by Père Anselm, being at the time of the survey in possession of certain estates, some of which may have been granted previously to William.
His brother Gilbert was probably, as already mentioned, the personage "who held Tillières" in 1066, and followed his feudal lord to England. He and Henry de Ferrers charged the English together, each having brought a large company into the field. All who opposed them were either killed or captured. "The earth trembled beneath them" (Rom. de Rou, 1. 13,503). From him descended the Seigneurs de Tillières, one of whom, Gilbert, presumably his son and heir, was the second husband of Eleanore de Vitré, afterwards wife of William Fitz Patrick, first Earl of Salisbury.
Milo, the tenant in Domesday, is not attempted to be affiliated by Dugdale, and is altogether ignored by Anselm. I do not find him in any way alluded to by Wace as having been in the battle, and Mr. Grimaldi alone makes him a brother of William and Gilbert. Whoever he might be, he was a very substantial personage, possessing no less than eighty-eight lordships in England at the time of the survey, and, by marriage with Maud, daughter of Robert d'Oiley, becoming Lord of Wallingford, in Berkshire, the castle whereof he made his principal seat.
But I must now return to the sisters of William and Gilbert, one of whom, called by Anselm Elise, he marries to Robert Malet. This is important, ff true, for in that case she may be the sister of William Crispin, otherwise named Hesilia (Elisia?), mother, according to the pedigree in D'Achery, of the William Malet who fought at Senlac, and gave Conteville (however he came by it) to the Abbey of Bec.
I have pointed out the curious association of the names of Herleve, mother of the Conqueror, and Gilbert Crispin. Is it probable that she survived Herluin, and married secondly Gilbert, Baron of Bec-Crispin and Castellan of Tillières, and that Conteville passed in this way by his daughter, Hesilia or Elisia, to her son William Malet, who gives it, you observe, to the Abbey of Bec, and not to Gerstein, founded by Herluin?
We have no dates or evidence whatever of the marriage of Gilbert with Gonnor, or of their decease, and where there is so much confusion and incertitude a little speculation is perhaps allowable when provoked by evidence hitherto apparently disregarded. There is a charter of foundation of the priory of Châteauceaux, printed by Morice in his "Histoire de Bretagne," Preuves, tom. i, pp. 384-5, which contains some interesting information respecting a branch of the Crispin family to be identified. In English it would run thus: I, Gaufridus (Geoffrey or Godfrey) Crispin, Lord of Châteauceaux, for my salvation and the redemption of the soul of my beloved wife Margaret, and with the assent and authority of my brothers, Herluin, Onderic, Joscelin, and Ralph, &c.; and the gift is witnessed by Theobald, his eldest son, the lady Girbergia, his mother, and Simon Crispin, his brother; a William Crispin being also named in the charter. Le Prévost, in his notes to Wace, strenuously opposes the theory of Mr. Grimaldi, who derives Toustain Fitz Rou and Geoffrey de Bec from the same stock as the Crispins. "William Crispin," he says, "first of the name, Lord of Bec-Crispin, a celebrated barony which has given its name to the two communes of Notre Dame and of St. Martin du Bec-Crispin, near Montvilliers. This family has nothing in common with Toustain, standard-bearer to the Duke at Hastings, and originally of Bec-aux-Cauchois ;" the former being in the arrondissement of Havre, and the latter in that of Yveto.
This is very authoritative, but requires some documentary evidence for its support. In the charter to Châteauceaux we find a Gaufridus Crispin, who may be the brother of Toustain, though his name is not mentioned; in which case Girbergia would be the wanting wife of Rollo. But unfortunately she is not named by Mr. Grimaldi, and Gaufridus does not name his father, so that we are still unable to decide that controversy.
Toustain Fitz Rou is said to have been the grandfather of Walkelin Malet. I am weary of saying, "is said," but as that would take us two generations below the Conquest, I need not pursue that line or "bestow my tediousness" any further on the general reader.
I shall therefore conclude my notice of the Crispins by observing, that from Geoffrey de Bec, or Marescal of Domesday, Mr. Grimaldi derives the present family of Fitzwilliam.