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The Place

Thurrock Museum has many artefacts which show South Essex was settled in prehistoric and Roman times, but the East Saxons gave the area its first name on record. Thurrock is a fairly modern representation (older forms include Turoc, Turruc and Thurrucca) of a Saxon word, which Reaney (1) says meant the bottom part of a ship and which the leaders of several groups of Saxons must have decided adequately identified where they had settled. Hart (2) says the earliest known reference to Thurrock is in a charter from Harthacanute's time (1040 - 2), in which a priest, Wulfstan 'the Wild', gives 'the land of my inheritance, called Thurrock' to Canterbury Cathedral. The diligent Norman scribes who compiled William the Conqueror's great survey apparently shared the East Saxons' faith in single place names, since Domesday Book (3) lists seven Thurrocks, five of them in the hundred of Chafford. Of these five, Round (4) identified two that were held 'in demesne' by the count of Eu and by William Peverel as the manors which were known later as West Thurrock and Grays Thurrock respectively. This corrects an earlier misidentification made by Morant (5), who assumed that the count of Eu held Grays. Powell (6) says that another of the Thurrocks, 160 acres held by Hugh from the bishop of Bayeux (Odo, half-brother of the Conqueror), was the future Mitchells in West Thurrock. The two remaining Thurrocks, 340 acres held by Ansketel from Odo and a further 60 acres held by Hugh from Odo, have not yet been satisfactorily identified.

William Peverel's manor had an area of 402 acres, pasture for 100 sheep and a fishery. In addition, five freemen belonging to the manor held 180 acres. In 1066 its value was 6, but by 1086 this had increased to 12 and an ounce of gold. In the same period, the male population increased from 24 to 28. These increases are all the more remarkable when account is taken of the fact that in 1066 there had been nine freemen holding 360 acres. Most of the missing land seems to have been taken by Gilbert, another man of the bishop of Bayeux, but twenty acres were taken by Ansketel, a man of the bishop of London (Maurice at the time of the survey). Ownership of the manor seems to have changed frequently during the twelfth century, and its acquisition by Henry brought a stability which few could have anticipated at the time. It is unfortunate that much less is known about the manor than about its owners during the next few hundred years, introducing an unavoidable imbalance into any attempt to write about both place and people.

The Name

In the days before surnames were in use, men of substance were commonly differentiated from others of the same name by appending that of their most important property to their Christian names. De Grai points to the family originally being from Graye-sur-mer in Calvados and in Domesday Book (7) an Ansketel de Grai is shown as holding land in Oxfordshire from Earl William, which suggests he was probably the first of his name to own part of England. Ansketel, whose 2900 Oxfordshire acres included Rotherfield (Greys), seems to have been typical of the knights Stenton (8) called 'Honorial barons', having widespread holdings which made them as important as many tenants-in-chief. Somebody called Ansketel also held land in Oxfordshire both from Edward of Salisbury and from the bishop of Bayeux, but the name was not uncommon and there is nothing in writing to tell us just how many different people were identified simply as Ansketel in Domesday. By the same token, there is no real hope of ever finding out whether or not Henry de Grai was a descendant of Ansketel de Grai, despite the circumstantial evidence suggesting this.

Although Richard's charter and a charter of John's, issued in 1199, both use the form de Grai, in later documents the family name is always written as de Grey, or Grey, once the particle was dropped, even when the reference is to Henry himself. Many eminent Grays appear in England's long history, but none can lay legitimate claim to Henry as an ancestor. Conversely, with the usual inconsistency of the English in matters of language, Grey is found in all early references to the place (called Turrokgreys in 1248) and Grayes appears for the first time in a deed of 1399.

The Man

The charter describes Henry as a knight, suggesting he was not a baron, one who held land directly from the king in return for the promise of military service, but a military vassal (under-tenant) who, in his turn, had to perform 'knight service' for his lord, the tenant-in-chief, but this may be misleading. In a system where even a king could owe at least nominal service for some of his lands, Henry's vassalage did not necessarily make him unimportant. He seems to have been highly esteemed both by Richard I and by John, who paid off a debt of Henry's in 1203. Henry's origins may be lost to us, but his marriage to an heiress, Iseude de Bardolf, required the king's consent, which would have been given only if the bridegroom to be met with royal approval. Another indication of Henry's importance is the marriage of his eldest son to Lucy, the only child of William de Humez, sometime constable of Normandy and hence one of the greatest men in the duchy. William would never have permitted his daughter to marry anyone he regarded as inadequate in terms of wealth and status, not least because her husband would eventually be lord of the Humez lands.

Henry's high status has been adequately established, but the signatures of the two charters confirm it and give an insight into who mattered in late twelfth-century England. By June 1195 Richard was long gone, after making a brief visit to his kingdom in the previous year, to prove the futility of John's claim to the throne, and the charter confirming that Henry de Grey held the manor of Thurrock was signed by Eustace, dean of Salisbury and vice-chancellor of England. Witnesses to the signing included William Fitz-Radolf, William de Stagno and Gilbert Males Manis. Within four years, Richard was dead (died 6th April 1199) and his brother was king (crowned on 27th May). John was literate, but it was his chancellor, Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, who signed (on 26th July) a new charter confirming Henry's ownership of his manor. The witnesses to this included William Fitz-Radolf (again), William Count Arundel, and Robert Fitz-Walter. Poole (9) says Magna Carta (1215) is all about the rights of Englishmen, not of Normans, but these names suggest that many influential Englishmen of the time were of Norman origin. This is certainly true of Henry himself, whose own high standing with the king could account for the speed with which the issuing of the new charter followed the coronation.

Henry de Grey of Thurrock's main holdings seem to have been in Derbyshire, as might be expected of a vassal of Lord Ferrers, earl of Derby, but his land in Essex is always used to identify him. In later documents he is referred to as baron by tenure of Codnor, and this means he did receive lands directly of the king at some time. Iseude brought him part of the estate left by Robert Bardolf, who was parson of thirty churches and owner of lands in Kent and Lincolnshire, thus establishing a precedent for the many fortunate marriages which increased the family's wealth and power. Dugdale (10) states that Henry and Iseude were the parents of Walter (archbishop of York, 1115 - 55) and Robert (later given the manor of Rotherfield by Walter). Burke (11) concurs, but Hunt (12) gives two possible sets of parents for Walter and Robert, without really committing himself as to which he thinks is the more likely. Since the mother of Walter and Robert is known to have been Hawise, not Iseude, The Complete Peerage (13) argues cogently against attempts to show that Henry was the 'father of all Greys'.

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