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Fay Sampson’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)



THOMAS CRUWYS was the second son of John Cruwys, lord of the manor of Cruwys Morchard, and his wife Joan. Thomas’s father was a younger son, who had become lord of the manor when his nephew Humphrey died too young to start a family.

  1. F Johns estimates Thomas’s birth at around 1416, during the short but glamorous reign of Henry V. He had an elder and two younger brothers, and at least one sister.

Thomas was in his early teens in 1430, when his father died and his elder brother, another John, succeeded as lord of the manor at the age of sixteen. Like his father before him, Thomas had no expectation that he himself would be lord of the manor one day.[1]


JOHANNA. Margaret Cruwys, using the documents at Cruwys Morchard House, could not give the name of Thomas’s wife. Johns used records held elsewhere. He names Thomas’s wife as Johanna, but does not cite his evidence for this.[2]

A deed drawn up by their son John, after Thomas’s death, bears a seal with two coats of arms. Stockdale, who catalogued the Cruwys documents, says the two escutcheons were (1) a bend between six (escallops), which is the Cruwys coat of arms, and (2) Vair. A plain vair, or ermine, shield is the escutcheon of the Chichester family. Burnet Morris, commenting on the seal, has a different interpretation. He says: “on the dexter side is the usual Cruwys coat, while on the sinister side is a simple coat of ermine.” He asks “Does that mean that Thomas Cruwys married a Plantagenet?” Johns adds: “It would seem that the two shields involved are those of John’s father and mother (or perhaps his grandmother); but whether the mother or grandmother was a Plantagenet, or a Chichester, or neither, I cannot resolve… The plain coat of ermine is the arms of Brittany (Earldom of Richmond).”[3]

The Plantagenets were the royal descendants of Geoffrey of Anjou and the empress Matilda. Their son Henry II, born 1133, was the ancestor of the subsequent kings and queens of England. Monarchs until 1485 are commonly described as Plantagenets.

The inquest into Thomas’s death in 1471 gave their eldest son John’s age as 22. So Thomas and Johanna must have married in or before 1449. Two more sons, William and Matthew, were born, and probably daughters too.

Three years after John’s birth, in 1452, Thomas’s brother died without leaving a son. The manor came unexpectedly to Thomas.[4]

Henry V had been succeeded in 1422 by his infant son Henry VI. In 1452, the year Thomas succeeded to the manor, Richard, Duke of York, laid claim to the crown. The following year, King Henry fell mentally ill and, for a year or so, Richard was appointed Lord Protector. But Henry’s recovery, and the birth of a son, dashed Richard’s hopes of peaceful succession to the throne. In 1455 the Wars of the Roses began, between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Thomas Cruwys took the king’s side. In the very first battle, at St Albans, the Lancastrian king was defeated and Richard of York again became Lord Protector.

There was strife of a different sort back in Devon, with a long-running dispute over the ownership of the estates of Ansty Cruwys (now East Anstey) and Little Rackenford. Thomas’s uncle Robert had married Margaret Cornu. Her father stole Thomas’s grandfather’s seal and used it to make forged deeds. When Thomas’s father succeeded to the manor Robert and Margaret’s daughters, Thomasine and Elizabeth, together with their husbands, Richard Pollard and William Norton, used these false deeds to claim ownership of the estates. A monetary settlement was made and the matter remained dormant, with the two women and their husbands in possession. Now that John Cruwys was dead, the dispute broke out again. A note dated 1463, written on the back of the deed in which the four claimants had settled with Thomas’s father, records:

“a day was set up at Kyrton, before John Copstone and Nicholas Rudeforde [Radford], and there in presence of him, and many other worshipful persons, it was openly proved that said deed was counterfeited, and that there passed no living thereby, and said John and Nicholas would have cancelled and destroyed the said false deed. And said William Norton and Richard Pollard went to them, and besoughte atte the reverence of God not to put them to open shame, and they would be sworne never again claim under said deed, but would stand to their award in all things, and then they would be sworn so to do, and thereupon the award was made in writing.[5]

Margaret Cruwys places this hearing around 1460, but Johns says it must have been earlier than 1455, since one of the judges, Nicholas Radford, was murdered that year. He suggests 1438, while Thomas’s elder brother was lord of the manor. Thomas would thus have inherited the contentious East Anstey and Little Rackenford.

In 1459 the dispute took a new turn. Johns says: “in a trial at Exeter, Thomas Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, recovered these lands from Thomas Cruwys and his brothers Nicholas and William Cruwys. The basis on which he did so is not clear, but presumably the overlord would not have been very happy about the various feoffments which had deprived him of ‘his rights’ at earlier times, and may simply have been ‘getting his own back’, metaphorically and literally.”[6]

But the Courtenay and Cruwys families were united in their loyalty to the Lancastrian King Henry. The war broke out again in 1459. The following year, Henry was captured at the Battle of Northampton. He was forced to declare Richard of York his heir, in preference to his own son, Prince Edward. But Richard’s victory was short-lived. He was killed in battle later that year. His son, Edward of York, took up his claim to the crown.

Thomas Cruwys followed his overlord, Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, to war. On 30 March 1461, they both fought for the king at the Battle of Towton in Yorkshire.

On that “appalling day, Palm Sunday 1461, the Lancastrians made a disastrous mistake leading to unparalleled slaughter in the Wars of the Roses. They formed up near the cross, which may already have stood by the track from the village of Towton.

“The Yorkist lines stretched across slightly higher ground at the Saxton end of the plain – with the wind at their backs. The wind carried the Yorkist arrows 150 yards beyond their estimated 400-yard range, causing carnage in the Lancastrian lines. Blinded by the snow in their faces, they could not even see their own arrows falling 40 yards short.  They had no choice but to charge, blind, uphill and scrambling over heaps of their own dead. Hand to hand combat went on for 10 hours. When the Lancastrian lines finally broke, the little river Cock was so choked with corpses the living scrambled across bridges of bodies.

“Although modern historians question the figure, several contemporary accounts, including those of the heralds whose gruesome job was to supply an official tally, say 28,000 died.

“The skulls studied by Sutherland and his peers show horrific injuries, including square holes punched by poleaxes and slash wounds of broadswords and battleaxes, including one skull slashed open diagonally from ear to jaw.”[7] 

Towton was a severe defeat for the House of Lancaster. The king and the royal family fled to Scotland and Edward IV seized the throne as the first king of the House of York. After the battle, the Earl of Devon was beheaded. Thomas Cruwys escaped death and received a royal pardon, but had to forfeit a large amount of his estates. Edward IV gave them to Henry Courtenay, though he too was beheaded for treason six years later.[8]

In 1465, the deposed King Henry was again captured, and this time imprisoned in the Tower of London. His strong-minded queen Margaret and his son Edward fought on, gaining help from France.

Back home, the row over the ownership of Cruwys Anstey and Little Rackenford rumbled on. Thomas’s cousin, Thomasina Pollard had evidently not given up, in spite of the forgery being exposed. A bond of 1467 refers to a continuing dispute over “the manor of Ansty Cruwys and lands and tenements in Little Rackenford and Sideham, between Thomasina Pollard, John Prous and John and Andrew Chalvedon on one hand, and Thomas and William Cruwys on the other hand.” All parties agreed to abide by the findings of an arbitrator, but his findings are not stated.

In 1471, Queen Margaret and Prince Edward landed at Weymouth and the men of Devon went to meet her. Thomas set out for the Battle of Tewkesbury, still loyally fighting for the Lancastrian cause. This battle, fought on 5 May, was the decisive defeat. Prince Edward was killed, as was the new Earl of Devon.

This time, Thomas did not escape, either. He died a few days after the battle, on 10 or 12 May. We do not know whether he was beheaded or succumbed to his wounds.

Later that month, Henry VI was murdered in the Tower. King Edward IV was secure on the throne, founding the new royal House of York.

Thomas was the last of the Cruwys family to fight on any battlefield until World War II.

His Inquisition Post Mortem was held on 11 Oct 1471 at Barnstaple. It concluded “that Thomas Cruwys of Morchard held no lands in Devon”. Johns remarks: “This seems very remarkable, but may be accounted for by actions taken between his death and the IPM.” His son and heir, John Cruwys, granted all his estates to King Edward’s younger brother, the Duke of Clarence. The handover seems to be have been nominal. John continued to enjoy possession.

We have no information about when Johanna died.


[1] T.F.Johns, Crewes of South Cornwall and their ancestors in Liskeard, Cornwall, and Cruwys Morchard, Devon. p.9. [WSL].
[2] Margaret C.S. Cruwys. A Cruwys Morchard Notebook. 1066-1874. 1936; Johns, p.9.
[3] Johns, p.20
[4] Johns.
[5] Johns, pp.16-17.
[6] Johns, p.18.
[7] Maeve Kennedy, ‘Centuries after the slaughter, conflict returns to England’s battlefields’, The Guardian, July 7 2008. Photograph: Universtity of Bradford, Asadour Guzelian.
[8] Cruwys.




Sampson Tree