British Isle Genealogy
 England, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man
   Wales, Channel Island, Isle of Wight

The Proud House of Percy

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Of all the names in the roll of the English peerage, there is none perhaps that holds a prouder position than that of Percy. For eight hundred years the race has been part of our English history; indeed, the fame of the noble family of Percy belongs not only to the annals of England, but also to the history of Europe. Descended from one of the Norman chieftains who I 'came over' with William the Conqueror in 1066, the Percies derived their name from their principal place of residence in France. In Lower Normandy are three towns or villages of the name of Percy, the chief of which is situated near Villedieu; and it was from that little village that the founder of the line. William 'with the whiskers,' sallied forth to fellow the banner of Dupe William the Norman. Since that time there has scarcely ever been a Percy absent from the chronicles or the battlefields of England. During the first, six hundred years of their history, so long as the original male branch flourished, they had a large share of all the dignities, glories, hardships, and troubles of the kingdom-fighting and marrying amongst the highest in the land, and winning great renown and much property by many troubles ways.
     An account of the principal chieftains who accompanied the Conqueror is preserved in the Harlequin Collection. The list begins with the name of ‘Dominos Percye, Magnus Constabularies;' but whether he then enjoyed so high a title or not, it is certain that he and his posterity were from that time barons of this realm. When Algernon, tenth earl of Northumberland, was in his father's lifetime called up by writ to the house of Peers, in 1628, and was required to set forth his claim to presidency, he produced decisive proof to show that he derived his barony from the reign of William I. And when Charles II empowered Henry Earl of Ogle (the son and heir of Henry Cavendish, second Duke of Newcastle) to assume the name and arms of Percy on his marriage with Elizabeth Lady Percy, only daughter and heiress of Joceline, eleventh Earl of Northumberland, by his license, dated 6th of June, 1679, he acknowledges, under the royal signet and manual, that most ancient and right noble family of Percie, 'to have been I Barons of this realm for above six hundred years last past.'
     The first William, Lord de Percy, was distinguished among his contemporaries by the addition of Als gernons-which in English signifies 'with the whiskers,' as above mentioned, whence his posterity have constantly from generation to generation assumed the name of Algernon.
     It would be impossible, within the limits at any disposal, to recapitulate all the noble deeds and valorous achievements performed by the successive heads of the 'proud' house of Percy, or even to set forth at length the gradual growth of the family tree. From the first it vas a tree of vigorous habit, which drove is soot very deep into English soil, and flourished exceedingly. It is enough to state that Dugdale and the heralds generally delight to tell us that the family shield includes nine hundred armorial bearings, among which are several of the blood royal of England, besides the sovereign houses of France, Castile, and Scotland.  The aspiring blood of Lancaster' ran in their veins, and Plantagenet and Valois swelled the stream.
   The heirs male having failed after the third baron, a new stock seems to have been imported by an alliance with Josceline of Brabant, in the twelfth century. Henry de Percy, the third Lord Percy, of Alnwick, fought at the famous battle of Cressy. The first. Earl of Northumberland by actual creation was his son, who was advanced to that dignity by Richard II at his coronation. This is the restless, ambitious nobleman so familiar to the Shakesperian reader as the father of Harry Hotspur. 'turning against King Richard, it was the Earl of Northumberland who helped Bolingbroke to the throne, and afterwards rebelled against him, dying in battle against the King at Bramham Moor. His more famous son, the hero of Otterbourne and of Holmidon, by whose light fell

'Did all the chivalry of England move
 To do brave acts . . . . . . The glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves,’

at Shrewsbury, as every reader of Shakespeare knows.
     The original Percies were all men of mark, and produced au extraordinary succession of hardy and robust characters, with a congenial indisposition to peaceful living. Very few of them died in their beds. They fought in the Crusades, in the French Wars, in the Wars of the Roses; figuring on all occasions as valiant soldiers, if of somewhat doubtful discretion. Several times they upset the Government, and bearded the reigning king, as one may see from Shakespeare, in whose historical plays Northumberland is a standing figure in the drama for the chief rebel of the period. The founder of the house died himself in the Holy Land in sight of Jerusalem, having adopted the cross in his old age. One of his sons signed Magna Charts, and guarded the realm against King John. Down to 7670, when the direct male line of the Percies is considered to have terminated, they boasted of no less than nine barons by feudal tenure, four by royal summons, and eleven earls by creation in their genealogical tree.
     The house of Percy, however, experienced a great reverse of fortune is the person of Henry, the ninth Earl of Northumberland. As readers of English history know, he was one of the lords assembled in council, who signed, at the palace of Whitehall, in March, 1603, the letter to Lord Eure and other commissioners for the treaty of Bream,, signifying to thorn 'That the queen' [Elizabeth] 'departed this life on the 24th, and that King James of Scotland was become King of England, and received with universal acclamations, and consent of all persons, of whatsoever degree and quality.' On the arrival of King James at Broxbourne, in Hertfordshire, the Earl of Northumberland was one of the great officers of state who met His Majesty, and he was present in council at the house of Sir Henry Gook when the king delivered the. Great Seal to Sir Thomas Egerton. His lordship attended on the king from thence to the Tower of London.
     Shortly afterwards the earl was named in a commission, with others of the council, to ' put the laws in execution against all Jesuits, seminary priests, or other priests, made or ordained according to the order or rite of the Romish Church since the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth' ; and in the same year (1604) he was one of the witnesses to the creation of the title of Duke of York in favor of the king's second son, Charles, Duke of Albany. About the same time he was made captain of the band of Gentlemen Pensioners. In May, 1605, the earl was present at the christening of the Princess Mary at the Court in Greenwich, his lordship bearing the basin in which the royal infant was christened, while the Lady Arabella Percy and the Countess of Northumberland were godmothers.
     'In the midst of these honors and distinctions which were shown to the Earl of Northumberland and his family,' writes Collins in his 'Peerage of England,' 'when he seemed to be in a state of prosperity beyond what any of his progenitors had experienced for many generations, he suddenly experienced a fatal reverse, and was plunged in difficulties and troubles, which clouded the remaining part of his life. This was by the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot on the very evening before the 5th of November, 1605, when it was to have taken place. As one of the principal conspirators was Thomas Percy, a relation of the earl, arid one of his principal officers, the earl became obnoxious to the Government, and suffered extremely, both in his person and fortune.' In the end the earl was apprehended, and, having been brought before the Star Chamber, was committed to the Tower during the king's pleasure, and very heavily fined.
          Wilson in his ' Life of James L,' says that 'the Lady Lucy Percy, the earl's youngest daughter, of incomparable beauty (solemnised in the poems of the most exquisite wits of her time), married the Lord Haye (after Earl of Carlisle) against her father's will (who aimed at a higher extraction) during his imprisonment, which the old earl's stubborn spirit not brooking, would never give her anything; and Haye, whose affection was above money (setting only a valuation upon his much-admired bride), strove to make himself meritorious, and prevailed so with the king for his father-in-law that he got his release. But the old earl would hardly be drawn to take a release from his hand; so that when he had liberty he restrained himself, and with importunity was wrought upon, by (such as knew the distemper of his body might best qualify those of his mind) persuading him, for some indisposition, to make a journey to Bath, which was one special motive to accept of his son-in-law's respects.
     The stout old earl, when he was got loose, hearing that the great favorite Buckingham was drawn about with a coach and six horses (wondered at then as a novelty, and imputed to him as a mastering pride), thought if Buckingham had six, he might very well have eight in his coach, with which he rode through the City of London to Bath, to the vulgar talk and admiration; and, recovering his health there, lie lived long after at Petworth
     On his return from Bath, the stout old earl retired to his seat in Sussex, where he seems to have spent the remainder of his days, being visited by most of the families of distinction, and rarely coming to town. Having reached the age of three-score years and ten, ‘he was gathered to his fathers, to the grief of all good men,' and his remains were interred in the family vault at Petworth.
     He was succeeded in the Earldom of Northumberland by his elder surviving son, Algernon ; his younger son, Henry Percy, being subsequently created Lord Percy of Alnwick. Algernon Percy, the tenth Earl of Northumberland, played an important part in the affairs of state during the troubled times of Charles I and the Commonwealth. His lordship was twice married; firstly, to Lady Anne Cecil, second daughter of William, second Earl of Salisbury, and, secondly, to the Lady Elizabeth Howard, second daughter of Theophilus, second Earl of Suffolk. It was in consequence of this second marriage that Earl Algernon become possessed of Northumberland House in the Strand. The house had originally been built by Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, and called by him Northampton House; but, having no issue, he gave it to his nephew, Thomas, Earl of ;Suffolk, grandfather of Lady Elizabeth Howard, who conveyed it in marriage to the Earl of Northumberland, as above stated. The old mansion, after having stood for nearly three hundred years, was leveled with the ground in the autumn of 1874, in order to form a new thoroughfare from Charing Cross to the Thames Embankment, and the lion which crowned its central gateway was removed to Sion House, at Isleworth, the duke's other seat.
     It was to this Earl Algernon that the safe keeping of the royal children was entrusted by the Parliament during the Civil War. In the spring of 1660, after General Monk had taken up his quarters at Whitehall, he was invited to Northumberland House, 'with the Earl of Manchester and other lords, and likewise with Holles, Sir William Waller, Lewis, and other eminent persons, who had trust and confidence in each other, and who were looked upon as the heads and governors of the moderate Presbyterian party.' And here (says Clarendon), 'in secret conference with them, some of those measures were concerted which led to the speedy restoration of the monarchy.' The Earl of Northumberland continued to be regarded with a very high respect by the whole English nation.
     The 'Household Book' of the noble family of the Percies contains some curious entries relating to the menu at Northumberland House about the middle of the seventeenth century. Here is one entry recording the fare served up at ' my Lord and Ladie's table': 'ij pecys of salt fische, vj pccys of salt fische, vj becormed herryng, iiij white herryng, or a dish of sproots (sprats):
     Earl Algernon died in 1668, and his son and successor, Josceline, was the last of the old male line. This Josceline, while he was Lord Percy, had been designed by his father to marry the Lady Audrey, eldest daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, as appears by a letter from the Earl of Northumberland, his father, to the Earl of Leicester, dated April 13, 1660. However, in the following November, the earl again writes: 'The death of my Lady Audrey did as nearly touch me as most accidents that could have happened; not for the conveniency of her fortune, nor the hopes of her bringing an heir to my family soon as it had been fit for my son and her to have come together; but because I judged her to be of a nature, temper, and humor likely to have made an excellent wife, which would have brought me much comfort in the latter part of my life ; but since our uncertain condition exposes us daily to these troubles, I shall endeavor with all patience to submit to them.' The death of the Lady Audrey, however, did not have the effect of putting a stop to the union of the two great houses of Northumberland and Southampton, for about two years afterwards Lord Percy married the Lady Elizabeth, sister of Lady Audrey.
    Soon after his father's death, Earl Josceline and his young wife started on a tour on the Continent for the benefit of their health. The countess remained in Paris in charge of her physician, and the earl proceeded on to Italy. Having arrived at Turin, his lordship was seized with a fever, which ended fatally on the 21st of May, 1670, 'in the midst of the brightest hopes, which this promising young nobleman bad excited in the breasts of all  good men, that he would prove a shining ornament of his noble house, and an honor and 'support to his country.'
     In the person of this earl, as above stated, the principal male line of Percy became extinct. There were, however, living at the time persons who believed themselves to be of the blood, and possibly some of them were so; but only one of them, .James Percy, a trunk-maker in Dublin, whose descent was very dubious, prosecuted any claim to the honors of the family, and his claim was disallowed. This 'claimant' first of all asserted that he was descended from Sir Richard Percy, brother of the ninth Earl of Northumberland; but when it was proved that be (Percy) died a bachelor, then he fixed upon Sir Ingrain Percy, brother of the sixth earl, for his ancestor; but it appeared from Sir Ingram's will that he had left only an illegitimate daughter. Notwithstanding that the trunk-maker's petition was dismissed by the House of Lords, be still persevered in his pretensions for, nearly twenty years, till at length the Lords sentenced him to wear a paper in Westminster Hall declaring him 'a false and impudent pretender to the earldom of  Northumberland.'  Josceline, the eleventh and last Earl of Northumberland of that line, left an only surviving daughter, the Lady Elizabeth Percy, who succeeded to the baronial honors of her ancestors, and was in her own right Baroness Percy, Lucy, Poynings, Fitz-Payne, Bryan, and Latimer. Being so great an heiress, it is not surprising that she should soon have fallen into the meshes of matrimony. It is recorded of her that she was thrice married and twice a widow before she arrived at the age of sixteen! Her first husband, to whom she was married when only fourteen years of age, was Henry Cavendish, Earl of Ogle (son and heir of Henry, Duke of Newcastle), who assumed the name of Percy. She was secondly married to Thomas Thynue, Esq., of Longleat, Wiltshire, who was assassinated in Pall Mall in February, 1681-2. According to Sir Bernard Burke, this marriage appears to have been only 'contracted,' and never completed. However, in May, 1652, the proud heiress again entered into the holy bonds of matrimony with Charles Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who undertook to relinquish his hereditary name, and to call himself and his posterity by the name of Percy. Such was the determination to keep up the 'proud' and honored name of Percy. Some time after, however, the duke was released from his obligation, and retained his name of Seymour. The Duke of Somerset had a son and heir, Algernon, who in 1749 was created Earl of Northumberland,* with remainder to his son-in-law, Sir Hugh Smithson, who had married his only daughter and heiress, Lady Elizabeth Seymour.
     Sir Hugh Smithson became Earl of Northumberland on the death of his father-in-law, when he took the name of Percy. In 1766 lie was created Duke of Northumberland. From him descends the present representative of the family of Percy. His grace early distinguished himself by his love for the fine arts, and gave constant encouragement and employment to artists with his noble fortune in general; for besides the vast improvements which he made in his paternal seat at Stanwick in Yorkshire, he restored the three palaces which had been long associated with the name of Percy-namely, Sion House, Alnwick Castle, and Northumberland House.
     'The noble family of Northumberland,' observes a writer in the Builder, 'have always been famed for their hospitality and humanity. The name of Smithson has obtained fame and an adjectival form in the United States, where the munificence of an Englishman (who was an illegitimate son of one of the Dukes of Northumberland) has given that country the opportunity of raising a noble institution for the advancement and popularisation of science:
     Many amusing anecdotes and stories respecting the first Duke and Duchess of Northumberland of the present creation are to be met with in the gossiping pages of Horace Walpole, who, by the way, thought of kissing the duke's hand when he came to see him at Strawberry Hill. In the Wilkes riots of 1678, the mob forced the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland to illuminate, to appear at the windows at Charing Cross, and to give them beer. The duchess was a great politician, and, according to Horace Walpole, ‘sat on the hustings' at Westminster election; and in 1771 she espoused one side in the rival opera strife. A curious story is told with respect to her grace by Horace Walpole. In one of his amusing letters to Sir Horace Mann, dated May 7, 1775, he writes: ' One of our number is dying, the Duchess of Northumberland. Her turtle will not be very impatient to get a new mate, as his patent does not enable him to beget Percies-a Master or Miss Smithson would sound like natural children.' He adds in a foot-note that it had been arranged that George Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan, the husband of Lady Mary Montagu, one of the two co-heiresses of John Duke of Montagu, and Sir Hugh Smithson, Earl of Northumberland, husband of Lady Elizabeth Seymour, sole heiress of Algernon seventh Duke of Somerset, should be created dukes at the same time; but, as it was on account of the pretensions of their respective spouses, the king (George III.) would not entail the intended dukedoms on their children by other possible future wives. The Earl of Cardigan would not accept the ducal coronet on any such condition; the Earl of Northumberland did so, and was made a duke accordingly. Soon afterwards Lord Cardigan got a dukedom-that of Montagu-without the limitation.

*  It was at Northumberland House, about this time, that Oliver Goldsmith, when waiting upon Lord Northumberland, mistook the earl's servant for the earl, and only discovered the error after the delivery of a neatly-ordered address, after which the poor author precipitately fled.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

Search British Isles

British Isles Genealogy Records

Channel Islands Genealogy
England Genealogy
Ireland Genealogy
Isle of Man Genealogy
Scotland Genealogy
Wales Genealogy

Other Genealogy Records

Free Genealogy
British Isles Books
Genealogy Library
Canadian Genealogy
Genealogy Gateway
Family Tree Guide

Cyndi's List

Sites I Visit

Garden Herbs
Trade Recipes

Sip of Wine
The Little Tea Book

British Isles Genealogy


Add/Correct a Link


Comments/Submit Data


Copyright 2004-, the web pages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission from BIGenealogy. Images may not be linked to in any manner or method. Anyone may use the information provided here freely for personal use only. If you plan on publishing your personal information to the web please give proper credit to our site for providing this information. Thanks!!!