A Medieval Family Saga

If the Cantilupe family had their own TV series it would be a bloodier version of the Forsyte Saga, with more Williams in it. We have them moving in powerful circles, close to King John throughout his reign and not just witnesses to the drama that unfolded throughout it,  but secondary players, named and shamed as being among his ‘evil counsellors’ by the chronicler Roger of Wendover. William I was King John’s household steward, while his brother Fulk (or possibly his uncle Fulk) was the ‘cruel and inhuman knight’ who drove the monks out of Canterbury on John’s orders.

William II, son of William I, was household steward to King Henry III throughout the minority and was at the sieges of Lincoln and Montsorrel, while his formidable brother Walter became bishop of Worcester. William II and his son William III (I did warn you) died within a few years of each other, William III of a fever contracted while on campaign with King Henry, and that left Bishop Walter has head of the family by 1254.

Bishop Walter was a main player in the Second Barons’ War, but this time the Cantilupes were not royalists, but siding with the rebel barons and their leader, Earl Simon de Montfort. William III’s surviving siblings included Thomas, bishop of Hereford, whose own career alone would make cracking viewing – from his dispute with Earl Gilbert de Clare over hunting rights to his own excommunication – and that’s just while he lived. After his death, the miracles he performed posthumously would be a whole series by themselves.

And I haven’t even really told you about the good bits, like William I and II’s stints as sheriffs, the trouble William III got into defying King Henry and throwing down John of Monmouth’s castle, or the fact that a distant cousin Hugh de Cantilupe killed someone and was hanged for murder.

And that’s just the 13th century.

In the 14thC, you have the murder of another William (I think William IV, by that point) in 1375, the impotency and dramatic anulment case of his brother Nicholas, and the mysterious disinheriting of their father (William V).

Oh, and the women in the family are interesting characters too. There are a lot of Mauds, and a feisty Juliana. I will be looking into these in a new series of posts, Keeping Up With The Cantilupes, to be followed by Keeping Up With The Corbets.

I know, I know, the cat’s research sounds more interesting, but she has marking to do.


A Medieval Family CV


  • Knights – check (“cruel and inhuman”, in fact, according to Roger of Wendover)
  • Battlefield/siege experience – check, mainly across Britain and Ireland, also Normandy et al.
  • Administration experience – check
  • Education – check, Paris, Orleans, Oxford
  • Lots of lands – triple check and counting, as long as the wife’s mother hurries up and dies
  • Castles – check, more than you can shake a trebuchet at
  • Lands in Wales and Ireland – double check
  • Counsellors to kings – check (“evil counsellors” of King John, named and shamed by chroniclers)
  • Household Stewards to royalty – check
  • Sheriffs – check
  • Bishops – check, two (plus an archdeacon but we can’t all be successful like our brothers, can we Hugh?)
  • Saints – one, check
  • Excommunicated – check, at least 2, see bishops and saints
  • Rebels – check
  • Royalists – also check (sometimes even in the same war)
  • Murder – double check (one a convicted murderer, one a victim of murder)
  • Pilgrims – check (Pontigny, Santiago de Compostela)
  • Crusades – not a chance, too much to do
  • Varied Naming Patterns – What’s wrong with ‘William’?


Pretty impressive – but where did they come from and how did they get there? I need to get to Normandy and have a look for the 11tC origins of the family, but it’s fairly clear that they originated from one of the small Norman villages called Cantilupe, probably the one in La Manche. All the villages derive their name from chanti+loup, the singing wolf or singing wolves. Wolves were a common nuisance across Northern Europe and Britain, so identifying their village is more speculation based on the area they seemed to be around most, and the area where they seemed to have the most connections.


Cantilupe Tracking – 12thC Evidence


A William Cantilupe (one of many – possibly the William responsible for kicking off a family tradition of naming children ‘William’) appears in 1155, in a confirmation by Henry II of England of a gift of a tithe (10th) of a fee granted by him to the Cluniac Priory of Longueville, Calvados, making neighbouring La Manche the most likely point of origin. A village near Evreaux in Eure is another contender, but more because a later William married the widow of the Count of Evreaux. Given the earlier evidence, I lean towards La Manche.


[I cannot accurately identify this on a map, and note that these villages are not to be confused with modern-day Chanteloup in the Ille-de-Vilaine, Brittany.]


This William, whom I have arbitrarily decided to call Bill for the sake of the future Williams we will come across, most of whom are numbered, was married to a lady named Emma. Bill and Emma pop up in Essex, where Bill disappears after a while but Emma – much younger than him at the point of marriage, perhaps, and certainly longer lived – appears in Essex records until the early 1200s. Quite a few of the elite managed to live well into their seventies, eighties and even nineties in this period; the majority of the population, not being as well fed or protected, generally only lived to around forty.


Bill and Emma may well be the beginning of the Essex branch of the Cantilupe family, but they were not the only Cantilupes to come across the Channel. Nor were they the first. Bill had a brother/cousin Walter, who came over with his [Walter’s] brother Fulk a bit later on, and another few relatives, almost certainly some sort of close cousins, were already present in Somerset and Glamorgan.


DL 25-2371 complete context
Walter Cantilupe’s letter to Earl William de Roumare, c. 1198, Walter’s seal attached:         TNA DL 25/2731


How do we know they are the same Cantilupes? Well, because later the main (read: most successful) branch of the family inherited the Somerset lands, and the Glamorgan kinsmen deliberately used the same iconography on their seals to associate themselves with their main branch. Additionally, when one of the Essex Cantilupes was hanged for murder (although the crime was ‘treason’), it was William I Cantilupe, the king’s household steward, who lost lands as a direct consequence of his kinsman’s actions. These connections imply that all four branches of the family were indeed related.


So we know that they were in England from at least 1155. An Alexander Cantilupe and his son Ranulf appear even earlier, in 1146, where Alexander gives some land in Bruton to Bruton Priory. In this grant, Alexander says he has inherited this land from his father, which would us excitingly close to the Domesday Survey of 1086 – could the Cantilupes have appeared in England this early? And yet – there is no one named “Cantilupe” – or any variant of that name – in the Domesday Book.

…Or is there?

Next time: Domesday Cantilupes – coming soon.