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The Viking Origins of the Viscounts Conway & Killultagh


The history of Derryaghy published in 1972 by the then incumbent, the Very Rev W N C Barr, contained a short note contributed by me on the Conways who in the 17th century held the manors of Killultagh and Derryvolgie in SE Antrim with the title of Viscount Conway and Killultagh. The Conways were both the landlords of the parish and the patrons of the living until Wentworth restored the patronage to the Archbishop of Armagh; an account of the parish would have been incomplete without some reference to the 17th century Conways. The brief knowledge I gained of this family when gathering material for my note in the parish history so attracted me that I developed what may well be called an obsession with their past; and for the better part of the last twenty years I have been assembling evidence which has emboldened me to construct a pedigree which I believe connects the Conways with Vikings who settled in what is now Normandy from the beginning of the tenth century. A simple tabular pedigree would give the bare bones of the line of descent, but readers of this journal would expect the evidence to be set out in some detail to enable them to evaluate the validity of my conclusions. This evidence now follows.

In the early tenth century Rollo, the exiled son of a Norse nobleman, persistently raided the valley of the Seine as far as Paris, but was persuaded by the Carolingian King, Charles the Simple, to settle with his followers round Rouen; in return for a grant of land there, Rollo was to turn gamekeeper and help Charles to ward off other Scandinavian raiders (1). Successive "Chiefs of the Northmen", as Rollo's descendants were called by the Franks, extended their hold westwards until they and their followers controlled the territory now known as Normandy. Lordships were established on the Carolingian model and the "chief in Rouen came to be called "comes", i.e. Count, the title "Duke" was a later development, perhaps in the time of William the Conqueror's father or grandfather (2).

The newly created, or rather self-created, lords were loath to acknowledge their comes in Rouen as their liege lord; there were frequent revolts, the most serious occurring when William was only twenty years old, having been Duke since he was only seven as a result of the death of his father returning from the Crusade. This revolt in 1047 was led by the strongest of the Scandinavian lords - or Norman lords as they may know be called - and prominent among them was the lord of Torigny, near Bayeux, namely Haimo nicknamed Dentatus or "aux dents". He was traditionally believed to be a descendant of Rollo, not implausibly in view of the extensive extramarital liaisons of the Scandinavian lords; more significantly he is thought to have been fairly closely related to Duke William. This might explain the generosity of William after the rebels were finally defeated by William with the aid of the French King, Henry I, at Val-es-Dunes, where Haimo was killed. Haimo was allowed an honourable burial and his lands were left in his family's possession (3).

Haimo had at least two sons, Haimo and Robert. Nothing precisely is recorded about Robert, but Hatton, followed William to England, where he was Dapifer, ie, Steward, not only to William but also to his sons, William Rufus and later Henry I. He died about 1100 (4) possessed of much land in Kent of which he was Sheriff for at least two periods (5). He left two recorded sons, Robert , commonly called Robert Fitzhaimo, and Haimo, who held the office of Dapifer after his father's death until his own death some time before 1129 (6).

It is necessary to assume that one of the Haimo's had an unrecorded son or daughter, since Robert de Crevecoeur, who endowed Leeds Priory in 1119 (7) and was granted, or perhaps built Leeds Castle in the same county, prayed in his charter of endowment or the soul of his uncle Haimo the Dapifer (8). If the unrecorded individual was a son he may have received a grant of the barony of Crevecoeur in Normandy and had a son Robert, known as de Crevecoeur, who came to England in the wake of one Haimo Dapifer or the other and received a grant of land in Kent in virtue of his relationship to whichever Haimo Dapifer he was the nephew; or if the individual was a woman it has been plausibly suggested that she married the Norman Lord of Crevecoeur and had Robert de Crevecoeur as one of her sons (9). Whichever version is accepted the descent of Robert from Haimo Dentatus is unquestioned.

When the second Haimo Dapifer died about 1129 Robert de Crevecoeur and his cousin by marriage, Robert Earl of Gloucester, bid for and apparently acquired some or all of the Dapifer's land in Kent (10). Robert de Crevecoeur's son Daniel and grandson Robert succeeded the first Robert in due course, but his great grandson Haimo, did not succeed his father Robert immediately on the latter 's death in 1216 because he had joined the barons revolt against King John, which ended in the signing of Magna Carta. The humiliated King restored the possessions he had withheld from
Haimo, who then prospered greatly, marrying the wealthy heiress Maud, daughter of William d'Avranches. His son, Haimo, died before him and he was succeeded in 1263 by his eldest grandson, Robert (11), who made the great mistake of taking part in Simon de Montfort' s rebelion against King Henry III. After the Battle of Evesham in 1265, which ended the rebellion, the King Dispossessed Robert of Leeds Castle and manor in favour of Sir Roger de Leyburne. However in 1266 a decree was enacted called the Dictum of Kenilworth which allowed dispossessed barons to redeem their confiscated possessions on certain conditions (12). Robert took advantage of the Dictum, but for some reason in 1268 exchanged Leeds with Sir Roger in return for the Kentish manors of Trostey and Fleet (13).

In his Baronage, Dugdale (14) states that Robert was restored permanently to Leeds manor and Castle and passed them on his death to a son William. The truth, as state documents show, was very different. The new King, Edward I, in the course of the next thirty years, moved Robert steadily away from his power base in Kent In 1278 he granted him Welsh lands in return for Robert's Kentish lands, namely Maelor Saesneg on the North Anglo-Welsh border and the manor of Prestatyn on the North Wales coast (15). Next in 1283 the King took Maleor Saesneg from Robert in return for the manors of Saham and Ditton (a moiety) in Cambridgeshire (16); this may have been on account of complaints made by the people of Maelor about Robert's behaviour (17), but perhaps the King did not trust the one-time traitor to hold strategically placed land so soon after the final reduction of Wales in 1282. Robert was given little peace by the King, who in 1285 took Ditton from him in exchange for £40 a year from the farm of Hereford and £20 from a hundred outside the north gate of Oxford (18). Four years later in 1289, the King resumed possession of Saham, granting Robert possession of Beeston Castle in Cheshire with £100 a year for maintenance and f45 yearly from the royal mills and the bridge in Chester (19). Finally on the appointment of the King's eldest son, the Black Prince, as Earl of Chester, Robert was ousted again, receiving a grant of f20 a year from the farm of Derby and E65 from the farm of Northampton (20).

It is not recorded what happened to these grants, but when Robert died in 1316 (21), probably in Wales, there seems to be nothing left of his possessions except the manor of Prestatyn. His younger brother John was the heir but he must have died very shortly after his elder brother since the Inquisition post mortem held in Caernarvon records that John's eldest son Robert, aged 28, was the heir (22).

It is not clear when the new heir, Robert de Crevecoeur, died. The Recognizance Rolls of Chester note the death of a Robert de Crevecoeur of Prestatyn in 1381 (23); if this was the new heir he would have been 93 in that year - not impossible, but perhaps a little less likely than the possibility that an unrecorded de Crevecoeur intervened. It would however not affect the line of descent, since he would doubtless be of the same family.

The heir of the Robert who died in 1381 was his brother, Sir Hugh de Crevecoeur, and at this point the patience of readers who have waited for the appearance of the name Conway will be rewarded. Angharad, the daughter and heiress to Sir Hugh, married Sir Henry de Conewey, a professional soldier, who had served in many capacities under Edward HI, the Black Prince and Richard II (24). He acted from time to time as constable of Rhuddlan Castle, which adjoined the manor of Prestatyn; in 1397 he was made constable for life of the castle "for good service to the King's father and the King" (25).

Sir Henry died in 1407 after successfully defending the castle against the forces of Owain Glyndwr. He had a house in Rhuddlan and may have begun the house known as Bodrhyddan where his descendants still live. State and principality documents now begin to be supplemented with reliable (26) Welsh pedigrees of the family of Conwy, the Welsh form of Conewey which was soon in use. Passing Richard, Sir Henry's son, John his grandson and Jenkin his great grandson, we reach John Aer Hen ( John the old heir - as the pedigrees name him). He died in 1486, leaving a large family. By his first wife he had a son Hugh who left home at an early age for England. He served in political and civil capacities under Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII, holding among many posts, the treasurership of Ireland and later Calais. He married first the sister of the Earl of Devon and second the widow of Richard Border, lord of the manor of Arrow near Alcester in Warwickshire. John Aer Hen's second marriage was to Janet Stanley, a member of the famous Stanleys who became Earls of Derby. His eldest son John Aer Infanc (the young heir) inherited Bodrhyddan, while the second son, Edward, followed the example of his half-brother Hugh and went to England. Here he met and married (no doubt with Sir Hugh's introduction) Ann Burdett, the heiress of the very Richard Burdet whose widow Hugh had married. Unlike Sir Hugh, Edward took little part in public fife, but his descendants became increasingly prominent in the service of the Crown. His son John was created Knight Bannerset in the Scottish campaign of 1547 while his grandson, another John, also knighted in a Scottish campaign, became governor of Ostend from 1586 to 1590. Dying in 1603 he was succeeded in the manor of Arrow, which included Ragley, by his eldest son, Edward, who with his younger brother Fulk served for a considerable time in the campaigns against the Spaniards in the Netherlands. He and Fulk took part in the attack on Cadiz in 1586 where Edward was knighted. The latter then held the governorship of the Brill, a cautionary port in Holland (27), for some years before returning to England to look after the Arrow estate and to enter civil life, becoming one of the King's principal secretaries of state. When his brother, Sir Fulk, who had been knighted in the field during the Nine-Year war against Hugh O'Neill, died in 1624, Sir Edward succeeded to the vast estate in south-east Antrim granted to Sir Fulk in 1609. It is not necessary to tell members of the Lisburn Historical Society that Sir Edward was created Viscount Conway and Killultagh and was succeeded in the title and estates by his son, Edward and grandson, also Edward; the latter was created the Furl of Conway, but died childless, thus ending a branch of Conways extending back to the eleventh century Scandinavian settlement in Normandy and possibly to the tenth century (28).

It should be stressed that this was not the end of the Conwy family. A direct descendant of John Aer Infanc still lives in the person of the ninth Baron Langford who like his famous ancestor, Sir Henry, is life constable of Rhuddlan Castle. Moreover in Stranmillis a direct descendant of James Conwy, a younger brother of John Aer Infanc, is very much alive, namely Dr Joan Turner, the wife of the Rev Canon RE Turner, until recently incumbent of St George's Church, Belfast. Further afield are Dr Robin Conway, a descendant of Sir Hugh, a scientist at Jodrell Bank and living in Wilmslow; and further still is Dr Maurice Hotly in New Zealand, formerly of Fenit in Kerry and a scion of a Kerry branch of the Conwys, which settled there in the sixteenth century. But these are beyond the scope of this paper.


1. The agreement is generally described as the Treaty of St Clair-sur-Epte and dated to 911 AD but in Anglo-Norman Studies VIII Eleanor Searle (Frankish Rivalries and Norse Warriors) argues very convincingly that Frankish magnates took little heed of the so-called Treaty and that even by the time of Rollo's death in 930 his band's hold on their settlement at the mouth of the Seine was far from secure. Other Norse bands were rampaging in Northern France and it was not until Rollo's grandson Richard became chief that the territory became stabilised as a result of the Norse playing one Frankish magnate against another.
2. ibid.
3. The battle and its consequences are vividly described in Maistre Wace's Roman de Ron et des dues de Normandie written in the 12th century.
4. DC Douglas in Domesday Monachorum p55 relying on Regesta Regum Anglo Norman-norum.
5. In 1701 and 1086 (Placita Anglo-Normannica).
6. DC Douglas (see Note 4). This younger Haimo is also thought to have been Sheriff of Kent until 1116 (Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum p243 edit HWC Davis).
7. The only authority for this date is Flores Historiamm II p46, but no-one seems to have disputed it.
8. In a charter to Leeds Priory undated but included in an inspeximus of 1285 Robert de Crevecoeur states that he made a grant of Churches to the Priory-pro salute amime avunculi mei Hamonis dapiferi..(Cal. of Charter Rolls 13 Edward I).
9. See HM Colvin in Documents illustrative of Medieval Kentish Society p12.
10. Pipe Roll Henry I p64: Robert, an illegitimate son of King Henry I, married the daughter of Robert Fitzhaimo, Robert de Crevecoeur's cousin.
11. There were three grandsons, Robert, John and Thomas - more will be said of the first two.
12. For these conditions see Archaeologia Cantiana VII p336.
13. Cal. of Charter Rolls 52 Henry III
14. Baronage Part I p592
15. Cal. of Patent Rolls Edward I 1272 - 81 p283
16.  ibid. 1281-92 p60
17. Cal. of Ancient Petitions No 9953
18. Cal. of Patent Rolls Edward I 1272 - 81 p180
19. ibid p328
20. ibid 1301 - 7 p264
21. Writ of "diem clausit extremum" to the justice of North Wales 10 Edward II. (Calendar of Inquisitions post mortem Edward II.)
22. ibid.
23. Appendix to the 36th report of the Deputy Keeper of Rolls p13.
24. Medieval Cheshire H3 Hewitt.
25. ibid and Cal. of Patent Rolls 1396 - 7 p21.
26. There are several pedigrees of the Conwy family, some more copious than others, but all agreeing in the bare essentials e.g. mss Peniarth 287, Wynstay 143, Harleian 1971 and the Roundlett at Bodrhyddan, which goes from Sir Henry de Conewey to the Viscounts Conway and Killultagh. The reliability of the Welsh pedigrees is guaranteed because when a landowner died the relatives assembled to hear the family bard recite the geneaology. Any departure from the tradition would be seized upon by those interested in the inheritance. Note that the trisyllabic Conewey is an anglicization of the trisyllabic Welsh Conwy, which in England was often pronounced Conoway, even when the anglicization form Conway had in England been substituted for Conwy, possibly by Edward Conwy.
27. Several towns in Holland were held by the English to ensure that the Dutch paid the wages of the English troops sent to assist them against the Spaniards.
28. Although I have found no documentary proof of a connection with Rollo, I have seen two references to a belief that there was a connection. The first is in Leland's itinerary Book 4 p138, viz, King William gave the praeferment of the counte of Gloucester onto his wife Matilde. After it came to Roberte Fitz Haymo of the blode of Duke Rollo nephew onto King William Conqueror. The other reference occurs in a history of the families who have lived in the chateau of Crevecoeur. It exists in typescript in the chateau and is believed to have been the work of a etudes anglaises sur la famille de Crevecoeur les font descendre de Rollon, le chef scandinave qui signa en 911 le traite de Saint-Calair-sur-Epte. It gives a reference to Miscellanea Genealogica and Heraldica VI-5ene serie. Here there is the bald statement that Haimo Dentatus, lord of Torigny and Creully was a grandson of Rollo, Robert Fitzhaimo was a grandson of Haimo Dentatus and a cousin of Robert de Crevecoeur; the tradition may be true.