Gamel de Penintone, Muncaster England
During the 800s, Norwegian Norse controlled much of the land around the perimeter of the northern Irish Sea in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man,. They established settlements in the region at that time. After 900 the northern most territory of England,known as Northumbria, became dotted with Norse settlements along the western coast. Among them was probably the village of Pennington, populated not by Vikings, it is said, but by Norse farmers who had lived several generations on the Isle of Man or in Ireland.
By the time of the 1066 Norman Conquest territorial names and boundaries had changed, and the territory eventually owned by Gamel de Penigton straddled the territories of Cumberland to the north and Lancashire to the south. The census takers of the Domesday Book of 1086, the first census and land accounting of England, initiated by William the Conqueror, considered much of the territory to be uninteresting and largely uninhabited. For that reason, the census in the northwest is spotty and incomplete. Some of the commissioners did not visit their regions, merely listing the names of towns and villages, and this was true of the Pennington village.
Gamelde Penigton (Gamellus in Latin) was born about 1090, most likely in the Cravenarea of Yorkshire, some fifty miles to the east of the village of Pennington, and undoubtedly was not born with the Pennington surname. Recent research by Sidney M. Graveston shows that Gamel was a descendant of the de Percy family, probably one of several children of Alan de Percy born not of his wife. Gamel’s mother may have been a le Meschin. Both the de Percy and le Meschin families were prominent landowners in the area.
The name Gamel is Old Norse, and appears to have been a common name. In the Domesday Book there are four landholding men with the name Gamel (or Gamal) recorded, including a father and son with considerable holdings. All of them held property in middle England, mostly to the west.
Gamel married a daughter of Ulf, another prominent landowner, and probably came into property either as a result of this marriage or as an inheritance from his mother. We do not know his wife’s given name. If Ulf was Norse, as the name suggests, his daughter would be known as “Ulfsdottir”, and neither Ulf nor his daughter would have had a family name. Graveston says that Gamel didn’t arrive at Pennington village until after his marriage, which probably took place about 1110. By this time he owned property in the area, either from Ulf or the le Meschin family, and was using the de Percy coat of arms, which we would recognize as being nearly identical to the Pennington arms. The Pennington village had probably been in existence for several hundred years by then, and there is therefore little likelihood that Gamel and other Pennington villagers had relatives in common.
At the time of the Conquest few people in England had more than one name, as was true in most of Europe. During the later 1000s and 1100s lords, that is, the land-owning gentry, took surnames for their families, often based on the names of the places they lived. In time some commoners did the same, while others took their names from their trade. Gamel probably took the Pennington surname shortly after his arrival there. The article “de” means “of”, so Gamel de Penigton means Gamel of Penigton, as the name Leonardo da Vinci indicates Leonardo’s Vinci village origins.
The Pennington village was less than twenty miles from the Cumberland location where Mulcaster (later Muncaster), the Pennington castle, would be built. There are various explanations of the name, and perhaps we shall never know which is correct.“Pennig” is Old English for penny, the new coin initiated by the Saxons.“Pennig” also means “little hill”, and “pennaig” means prince. The Saxon term “ton” means town, and “tun” means settlement, or tax. Pennington (spelled “Penneigtun” in the Domesday Book and “Penigton” in Gamel’s name) seems, to this writer, most likely to mean a penny-tax village, whose citizens had to pay a penny settlement, or tax. Some reports suggest that there was more than one village so called, and there are a number of other villages listed in the Domesday Book that end in “-tun”.
Gameland his wife had three sons, Benedict, Ranulph, and Meldred. Benedict, beingthe first-born male, was heir to the manor. Ranulph and Meldred were cadets,younger sons. Cadets did not ordinarily become lords unless the oldest brother did not become lord, or he died.
Knighthood is closely associated with the system of fees, the feudal system. Although the feudal system was formally instituted only after 1066, most of the elements of the lord-vassal system had been in place for a long time. Gamel, propertied as he was, and using a coat of arms, would have been known as a Gentleman, a Knight, and addressed as “Sir”. The Pennington arms are first officially recorded as being worn by Sir William de Peneton, seven generations after Gamel, in the early 1300s, but as Graveston reports, Gamel was using the virtually identical de Percy coat of arms by the time he moved to Pennington.
During the 1100s, Gamel either owned or obtained property near the ancient Roman camp at Eskmeal. Eskmeal, or Eskemeold, means a dry hill or elevated place close tothe Esk river (esk means water), near present-day Ravenglass. Thus the originalname of the property, Moelcastre, Mulcastre, or Mulcaster, meaning hill-castle(moel/mule/meal = hill, derived from Celtic; castre/caster = fortification, usually Roman, Old English). The Pennington castle was built on the remains of theRoman fortification there.
Gameland his wife apparently died before 1150, Graveston reports, as his name disappears from records about that time, and Benedict’s name appears attesting charters by 1150. Benedict’s wife was Agnes; their sons were Alan and Alexander. Some sources say David was another son.
The legend of the founding of the Mulcaster family name says that Benedict’s son David became known as David de Mulcaster, thus establishing the surname Mulcaster when he gave his children that name.
There was a David de Mulcaster, and he did own significant nearby property in the early 1200s. The Mulcaster family, like the Mulcaster/Muncaster Penningtons, were knights. Their arms are quitedifferent from those of the Penningtons. It would appear that the Mulcaster feewas substantial and old by the 1200s, and therefore unlikely to be attached to the Pennington castle. According to the Cumberland-Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, “In 1242 Furness Abbey [part of which became Pennington property] added another 14,000 acres to its mountain territory with the acquisition of upper Eskdale. This estate was the result of exchange with David de Mulcaster who received one of the abbey's properties. Monk Foss (1185)situated at the foot of the steep western slope of Black Combe”. Whatever the origin of the Mulcaster name and the connection between the two families, the Mulcaster family did have holdings in the region, and there was commerce and friction between them and the Penningtons over a long period. Several of thelords Pennington and Mulcaster served as sheriff at various times.
Benedict’s son Alan became lord of Mulcaster in 1208. Alan’s wife’s name is not known. Various sources list sons Thomas and Alexander, as well as a Gamel, and say that Thomas had a son Alan, who became lord. Presumably this was in the mid-to-late 1200s,because the grandson Alan’s death is reported as after 1292. Frequent male given names in the line for the next several centuries were Alan, Thomas, William, and John, which are common Norman names. At least two of each name during these centuries are found listed as “Sir”, suggesting that they were lords of the manor, although later there were other Pennington’s who were knighted, and called “Sir”.
In1278, Sir Alan de Pennington, presumably the second Alan, entered a legal pleaalleging an agreement with Sir Robert de Mulcaster. Robert would deliver the manor at Giffen along with the charter from Alan’s ancestor Benedict (de Pennington) by which he became enfeoffed of the same property (that is, obtained a feudal manor as a fief). Alan would enfeoff one of Robert’s sons tenmarks of land (costing about 65 pounds) in Giffen, and would grant all his lands in Copeland to Robert for life. Robert would agree that Alan’s son William would marry Robert’s heir Alice, daughter of Benedict (Mulcaster).Presumably she was Sir Robert’s granddaughter.
Thefact that the Giffen charter and manor would be in Mulcaster hands after beingthe property of the Pennington’s, in addition to the Mulcaster name itself and its storied origin, suggests a close, if antagonistic, relationship between the two families. We do know that there was conflict between Sir Alan and Sir Robert. In other court documents of the time Sir Alan is said to have hated Sir Robert because of contentions between them, and appears to have created difficulties for Robert and his heirs on occasion. The Pennington castle’s name at some point became corrupted to Muncaster, possibly to purge the site of the Mulcaster name.
The Pennington name spread throughout England as the cadets moved away to make their own mark, and as Pennington villagers sought their fortunes elsewhere, a few becoming knights in the process. In 1484 the Pennington fee was “settled in tail male”, meaning the manor could only be inherited by male heirs, although this had always been the practice. In 1676 the lord of Muncaster was made a Baronet, and in 1783 a Baron, titles that carried over to the succeeding lord of the manor. These titles, however, were in the Irish peerage, and did not grant a seat in the House of Lords.
Before the death of Sir Joslyn Francis Pennington in 1917 a worldwide search for a male Pennington who could prove descent was made. Some stories suggest that one Robert Heard, a Muncaster gardener who moved to Canada, was the out-of-wedlock son of the last Baron Muncaster. There is some evidence that he was solicited as the last remaining male heir, but burned the papers that might have proved it, as he did not want to assume the position. Similar stories are told of certain English Penningtons who might be descendants of the Muncaster Penningtons. The Pennington line from Gamel remained unbroken until the 1917 death of the last Baron Muncaster, when the Barony became extinct.
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