Candid Cantilupes: Up Close and Personal

Cantilupe Family Tree 1

This is where we’ve got so far. The genealogical table is rough, and some bits of it are suggestions based on the scant evidence available. I haven’t included the “floating Cantilupes” of Domesday and the 1100s, namely the Somerset branch; Robert Cantilupe man of William Paynel, Gilbert Cantilupe the seneschal of Fitz Gerald, and a potential Roger based in Glamorgan, as I’m not sure of their relationship to one another. Imagine them, if you will, floating about the table in their own free little bubbles, unencumbered by solid lines and arcing around the anchored text boxes looking smug.


Note that the de Montforts which an unnamed daughter of Walter’s married into are not the earls of Leicester, but a different family of the same locative surname.

<Orgete> & <Barat>: Speculations on Bastardy


We do not know the name of Walter Cantilupe’s wife or mistresses, but he seems to have sired and acknowledged two illegitimate sons, Roger Orgete and Roger Barat (who also appears as Baratus de Cantilupe) described as William I’s brothers. Here we – or rather I, dragging this blog post with me – fall down a rabbit hole of the fun and games involved in medieval illegitimacy, and figuring out who Roger Orgete and Robert Barat were, where they sprang from, and how they also became numbered among King John’s household knights.


Firstly, I wondered if <Orgete> was a corruption of the modern rendering Hourguette, which is either a place on the Franco-Spanish border, or a surname which derived from a diminutive form of Horgue, meaning a place where metal – usually iron – is worked, and apparently Gascon in origin.1 Some speculation on phonemes and the difference in dialectics have led me to think it is not beyond the bounds of reason to suppose that ‘gu’ might be rendered ‘g’ when crossing from Gascon into Anglo-Norman and then Latinised.2


There are other suggestions: in Old English, Orgete means manifest or plainly visible. This is an odd adjective to adopt as a byname or nickname, and with a 1209 appearance it would seem that it was a bit late for a byname to behave in quite this way? So, perhaps not OE in origin… The next question: are there other examples?


It is more likely to be Old French rather than Old English. <Orget> appears as a surname in Picardy in 1265, and in Paris in 1292, according to Dr Sara Uckelman’s research (see the Twitter thread); it could be a Latin matronymic, in Roger’s case, which would be fairly exciting – we would be able to take a stab at the name of Walter’s mistress, which would be something. I have to thank Dr James Chetwood, Dr Kate Mond, Dr Sara Uckelman, The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources and Dr Robert Mitchelmore at this point for jumping down the Twitter rabbit-hole of names and throwing things at various books and databases with me over <Orgete> and, earlier, <Laddel>…


Roger Orgete came into John’s household via his half-brother William I, making his first appearance in 1209, and was described as Robert Barat’s brother in the Irish Campaign of 1210. If Roger was Robert Barat’s brother, where does Barat/Baratus come from?  What clues do we have as to his origin?


<Barat> is Old French in origin, so that would lend more weight to <Orgete> having an Anglo-Norman origin as well. Either way, both half-brothers seemed to have uneventful careers – Robert Barat went on the Scottish Campaign in 1209, the Irish Campaign in 1210 and was with William I in Wales in 1212. His son Eustace by the widow of Thomas de Ria – a good marriage which boosted Robert’s social standing and brought him lands and a good income – took the Cantilupe family name.3  William I Cantilupe took custody of Eustace, Robert’s son and heir.


What do we know of their father, Walter?

Sins of the Fathers


Walter was apparently a trusted and capable man, present in prince John’s comitial household where he witnessed several of John’s acta, with his brother Fulk and son William I. Walter had probably entered John’s household via his lord the earl of Lincoln, and despite his exalted circles his seal is very telling. Walter’s device is neither equestrian or armorial. The legend around the edge is in Roman capitals, typical of the style up to 1200, while the legend around the outside seems to say SIGILLVM WALTERI DE CHANTELVPO. It does not appear to qualify him as miles, which Brigitte Bedos-Rezak notes was quickly adopted by lesser castellan lords in addition to their usual sigillographic title, dominus.4

Walter’s seal TNA: DL 25/2731

The worn image in both cases of the extant seal appears to be that of a wolf biting the neck of a sheep, although an alternative interpretation, given that Walter fathered at least two illegitimate sons, is that it might represent two rutting creatures, the male biting the neck of the female. A wolf and sheep, however, is the most likely representation. One would hope.


This gives a fairly lurid picture of Walter Cantilupe, not only a reliable man and good soldier, but apparently also aggressive and unembarrassed by his passionate nature,  father of at least two illegitimate offspring and several legitimate children, all of whom made excellent marriages and widened the Cantilupe’s sphere of influence. An unlikely ancestor for Bishop Walter of Worcester to be named after, one might think, but the good bishop probably had a great many of his grandfather’s character traits, just channeled into a different, [celibate] career path…


There is also no record that I can find of illegitimate Cantilupes after Walter, and the visual representations changed abruptly and dramatically. Walter’s son, William I, used a fleur-de-lys on his seal, and this was transmitted with some personal tweaks through the Cantilupe generations thereafter. Sophistication and connection to the royal court was the name of the game, rather than big, brash and aggressive. The Cantilupes either cleaned up their act (one imagines that the personality of Bishop Walter had an impact on the rest of his kin) or at least were more discrete as the thirteenth century rolled on.


Next time: Desperate Housewives? – exploring the lives of Cantilupe women who appear c.1200, focusing on Emma and Mazilia…


1. André Pégorier, Les Noms de Terre en France Glossaire des Termes Dialectaux, 3rd edn,(Commission de Toponomie, 2006), p. 258
2. Many thanks to the linguistic digging of Dr Rob Mitchelmore, who stepped beyond his comfort zone in dogged pursuit of the phoneme ‘gw’. At five minutes past midnight, after about an hour of this, his sudden exclamation was: “I don’t know why I’m doing this now – and I don’t know why I’m doing this at all”… immediately after which he proceeded to fetch more books for the purpose and talked me through the linguistic shifts occurring in modern French, with examples. 
3. Robert Barat can also found in the Rot. Litt. Claus. as ‘Baretus de Cantilupe’, Rot. Litt. Claus. i., p. 94 ; see also, Pipe Roll Society [PRS] 3 John 1201, New Series [N.S.] vol. 14, (1936), pp. 81-2, 195, 294, 201; PRS 4 John 1202, N.S. 15 (1937), p. 5; PRS 17 John and Praestita 14-18, N.S. 37, Praestita Roll 1212, p. 90 as ‘Robert Barate’. He is also mentioned in Stephen Church, The Household Knights of King John, (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 23, 27, 150. Roger Orgete is discussed briefly p. 27.
4. Brigitte Bedos Rezak, ‘Medieval Seals’, The Study of Chivalry, p. 335