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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)

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RICHARD DE CRUWYS is the first of this surname known to hold the manor of Cruwys Morchard, a tiny village between Tiverton and Witheridge.

Richard may be the son of Robert Cruwys, who was in Devon by 1175. Despite an old Devon rhyme which has the Cruwys family ‘at home’ ‘when the Conqueror came’, the family is believed to have originated in Flanders and to have arrived in the 12th century. It is possible that Richard was the first or second generation of the Cruwys family to be born in Devon, probably in the second half of the 12th century.

The family certainly did not hold the manor in 1086, when the Domesday Book was compiled, since Morchard was then held by William Chevre, or William Capra. Richard is thought to have been lord of the manor by 1199.[1]

Morchard, formerly Morcet, combines two Celtic words: mor, meaning ‘great, big’ and ket¸ meaning ‘wood’. The name Cruwys was probably added to distinguish it from Morchard Bishop, six miles away.

Reichel, in The Domesday Hundreds of Devon, writes: ‘it looks as if the Great Down Wood (Donewold) which formerly stretched away from Exmoor south-west as far as Dartmoor, like a wedge dividing the county into two portions, was at no very distant date before Domesday an almost uninhabited waste, partly moor, partly wood, with only here and there a small settler’s clearance, and that the four great intakes of Kings Nympton, Bishops Nympton, Chulmleigh and Cruwys Morchard were of comparatively recent origin.’[2]

Some impression of this forest’s size and significance can be seen, not only from its distance from Chulmleigh, twelve miles away, but from the presence of place-names involving ‘Nymet’. This was the Celtic word for a sacred shrine in a wood. Thus we have Kings Nympton, Bishops Nympton, George Nympton. This forest was a holy place in Celtic times.

The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086-7, has two references to Cruwys Morchard. It is named once as Morceth and once as Morchet. (TRE means the time of King Edward the Confessor, whose heir William the Conqueror claimed to be).

The land of the Bishop of Coutances included:

‘MORCETH. Algar held it in TRE, and it paid geld for 1 virgate of land and 1 ferding. There is land for 4 ploughs. In demesne is 1 plough, with 1 slave; and 4 villans and 4 bordars with 1 plough. There are 6 acres of meadow, and 100 acres of pasture and 10 acres of woodland. Formerly [worth] 5s; now 12s 6d.’

Under the lands of William Chevre we find:

William himself holds MORCHET. Almær held it TRE, and it paid geld for 1 hide. He took this away from Æthelweard son of Toki after King William came to England. There is land for 20 ploughs. In demesne are 4 ploughs, and 7 slaves; and 20 villans and 4 bordars with 7 ploughs. There is 1 smith, and 40 acres of meadow, and 200 acres of pasture and 30 acres of woodland. Formerly 40s; now it is worth £6. William holds this with Æethelweard’s land.’[3]

The Cruwys family took the manor about a hundred years after the Domesday Book was compiled and a century and a quarter after the Norman Conquest. They have been there ever since, though in a recent generation the name was passed down through the female line, to preserve the continuity.

When Richard Cruwys took over the manor in the late 12th century it must still have been a little island of settlement in a wilderness of forest and moor.

The Normans had been ruling England for over a century. English lands had been seized and re-distributed among the king and his Norman lords and bishops. There were repressive laws, with harsh penalties, denying ancient rights of hunting and pasturing. The Normans built themselves castles and fortified manor houses to protect themselves against a hostile people.

According to Dr. W. G. Hoskins, the Cruwys family are thought to have come to Cruwys Morchard House soon after 1200. The present house dates from 1594. Underneath are the remains of the original structure. He says: ‘The foundations of the old house showed walls nearly ten feet thick, and a stream ran across the cellar floor – in under one wall and out under another – to furnish the water supply in case of siege.’[4]

This grant of the manor was probably made in the reign of Richard I. He was a Frenchman who ruled England from 1189-99. The arms of the Cruwys family contains six scallop shells, which usually signifies a visit to the Holy Land. This could mean that one of the bearers was a crusader. The greatest  English involvement in the Crusades took place under Richard. Indeed, it was one of the reasons he was rarely seen in England. He was one of the leaders of the Third Crusade, which set out in 1189. Richard Cruwys may have accompanied him.

The next six generations of his descendants were knights. We have no information that Richard was, but he may have been.

Probably the earliest reference to Richard de Cruwys says that he was “taken into custody being accused of the death of Jordan de la Cell on Exmoor in 1200”.[5] Five generations later, his great-great-great-grandson, Sir Alexander Cruwys, was also accused of a violent death.

1200 was the first year of the reign of King Richard’s brother, John. He was the one of the most unpopular kings in England’s history. His most memorable act was to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, at the insistence of his barons. The charter was revised ten years later, under Henry III. Among its many provisions, it curbed the absolute power of the king, gave the council of upper-class tenants-in-chief power to veto taxation, and granted freemen the right to a fair trial.[6]

We know nothing of Richard’s marriage, but it is likely that the next lord of the manor of Cruwys Morchard, Sir Alexander Cruwys, is his son.

There is a deed which has been dated to the reign of King Richard (1189-99), or, as more modern historians prefer, some 20 years later. It is a grant of land by Henry de Tracy to Oliver de Tracy in return for the service of one knight. The numerous witnesses include both Richard de Cruwes and Alexander de Cruwes. This Alexander may, of course, be Richard’s brother or cousin.

There may be a second son. Contemporary with Alexander and his descendants, there was another Cruwys family at Netherexe, between Tiverton and Exeter. It was headed by Sir Richard Cruwys. Prince’s The Worthies of Devon, c.1700, says that Nether Ex was held by Otnel de Cruwys in Henry II’s time. He ruled from 1154-89, so Otnel could be Richard’s father.

Margaret Cruwys believes Alexander had inherited the manor of Cruwys Morchard from Richard senior by 1216.

As early as 1700, John Prince could write:

I add, as very remarkable, that they have lived ever since Sir Alexander Cruwys’s time in K.H.3’s reign, now near upon five hundred years together, in the same house at Cruwys-Morchard, with a handsom estate, without the least help of a gown, a petticoat, or an apron; i.e. without any augmentation from a lawyer, an heiress, or a trade, in the family.[7]

This is not quite true. Several of the Cruwys wives made significant contributions to their husbands’ estates.

W.G. Hoskins describes the dynasty at Cruwys Morchard thus: ‘the ancient squirearchy, the true deep-rooted squires who never made a fortune in law or in trade, and never produced anybody of note in Church or State.’[8]


[1] M.C.S. Cruwys, Records at Cruwys Morchard, Trans. Dev. Assocn. Vol 84, 1952. 1-19.
[2] Margaret Cruwys, A Cruwys Morchard Notebook, 1066-1874, 1939. [WSL]
[3] Domesday Book: A Complete Translation, ed. Dr Ann Williams, Professor G.H. Martin, Penguin, pp.287-8, 314.
[4] W.G. Hoskins, ‘Seven Hundred Years in One House’, broadcast on the National Programme, quoted in ‘The Cruwys Family: One of the Oldest in Devon’, The Devonian Year Book, 1944, p.10.
[5] Records at Cruwys Morchard.
[6] Encyclopædia Britannica, 1972 edn, Vol 14, pp.576-80.
[7] John Prince, Vicar of Berry-Pomeroy, The Worthies of Devon, c.1700.
[8] W.G. Hoskins, Devon, David & Charles, 1972, p.380.




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