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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)



A community history of Winkleigh parish notes that: ‘there is in England a gap in the records for the 15th century. So we have very little information about this period in England, and next to nothing in Winkleigh. It was a very prosperous period, mainly owing to the wool trade. There are few mentions of any records of the wool trade in Winkleigh, but it may have left its faint trace in the field names ‘woolhouse meadow’, which are on the old route to Bideford and there was a Guild for the woolcombers of the parish.

‘Prosperity for many was also due to the consequences of the Black Death, which so reduced the population that peasants were now able to work for wages, freeing themselves from the restrictions of the feudal structure. The changes an increased prosperity can be seen by comparing tax documents of the 14th and 16th centuries, but for the 15th, you will be lucky to find anything!’[1]

The gap is certainly evident in tracing the history of the Keynes family in this century. Both earlier and later, we have information about wives and Inquisitions Post Mortem, giving much information about properties owned and the age of at least the son and heir. For Nicolas we have only: ‘John, wch had issue Nicolas, wch had issue John’.[2] We do not know his mother’s name.

Because of the poverty of information, it is difficult to assess dates of births and marriages with any certainty. But there is a file of property deeds mentioning Nicholas and his wife dated 1418. Calculating from the known dates of birth of his grandfather and of the grandson who later succeeded to the manor, we can estimate Nicolas’s own birth date at around 1431. This was the year when Joan of Arc relieved the siege of Orleans and was then betrayed to the Burgundians and burned at the stake for heresy, under guard of the English army.

We may assume that Nicolas’s father John Keynes was lord of the manor of Winkleigh Keynes, since both his ancestors and his descendants were. But the once vast estates of the family in four counties had shrunk. They held only Winkleigh in Devon, and some properties in Dorset.

The Hundred Years’ War was slowly coming to an end. As a young man, Nicolas may have fought in the closing stages, perhaps in the unsuccessful defence of Normandy in 1450 or of Bordeaux in 1453, after which the war was over.


MATILDA. We know Matilda’s name only from a collection of property deeds dated Aug 1418. All of them relate to land owned by John Keynes senior, which is to pass at his death to his son Nicholas and his wife Matilda. This means the couple must have been married in or before 1418. That would give them a possible birth date in the late 14th or the very early 15th century.

The properties are in the parish of Buckerell, 3 miles west of Honiton.[3]

Unfortunately, we do not have any information about Matilda’s parentage.


It was probably around this time that Nicolas married. Other Keynes men who were lords of the manor married women from similar landed families in Devon or Somerset, and we can assume Nicolas did the same.

We estimate the birth of their eldest son John in the 1450s.

Sir William Pole tells us that Margaret, daughter of Nicolas Keynes, of Winkley, married Richard Chichester of Ralegh, in the parish of Pilton, ‘thauncient seite & dwellinge of ye name’.[4] Matching the generations of these two family trees, however, it seems more likely that this Nicolas Keynes was two generations earlier, and great-uncle to the 15th century Nicolas. His name occurs on a number of documents.

We do not know when Nicolas’s father John died and Nicolas became lord of the manor. In the absence of death dates, we cannot even be certain that John died first.

The oldest surviving memorial stone in Winkleigh church is to Edmund Keynes and is dated 1456. It lies to the north of the Gidley Chapel.[5] Edmund may be Nicolas’s brother.

In 1453 the young prince Edward was born, son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Henry’s cousin, Richard of York, who had a strong claim to the throne, was now no longer the heir presumptive. The scene was set for the Wars of the Roses, between the houses of Lancaster and York. Nicolas would be expected to support, and probably fight for, the side of his overlord, Lord Spenser. With Henry often incapacitated by mental illness, Queen Margaret led the king’s side. It was a bitter and bloody struggle. In 1460 the king’s army was defeated, but Richard of York was killed attacking the queen’s forces in the north. The following year, Richard’s son entered London to be proclaimed king as Edward IV.

Nicolas’s son John grew to manhood under the new royal House of York.

For a brief year, from 1470, Henry was restored to the throne. But in 1471, the Lancastrians suffered a crushing defeat at Tewkesbury. Henry’s son was killed, Queen Margaret was captured, and King Henry imprisoned in the Tower. Edward IV was king again. Later that year, Henry died in the Tower, almost certainly murdered by Edward and his brother Richard, later Richard III.

Nicolas died before June 1476, since his son John signed a deed relating to the manor of Winkleigh Keynes that month.[6] He was probably in his mid-forties or younger.



[1] Lesley McLean, ed., Winkleigh: A View of their Parish by the People of Winkleigh, (Beaford Arts Centre, 1997),  p.37.

[2] Sir William Pole (d.1635), Collections Towards a Description  of the County of Devon,(1791), p.432.

[3] National Archives: Devon Record Office: Z1/4/3-7.

[4] Pole, p.403.

[5] Lawrence Molland, A History of the Parish of Winkleigh in the County of Devon, (MS; WSL), p.133.

[6] IPM John Keynes 1494, [WSL].




Sampson Tree