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Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles

Medieval Mosaic







This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007

Basset :

"from its ancestor Bathet or Baset, Duke of the Normans of the Loire, 895, 905 (Bouquet, vii. 360; viii. 317). He acquired Ouilly Basset, and Normanville in 912, and had issue Norman, father of Osmond, Viscount of Vernon, whose elder son, Hugh Basset, was Baron of Chateau Basset, which barony passed by his widow to the house of Montmorency, circa 990. His brother, Fulco de Alneto, was the father of Osmond Basset, who accompanied the Conqueror."—The Norman People. The names given on the Dives Roll, are, however, "Raoul et Guillaume Basset:" and the former, afterwards the celebrated Justiciary, was the reputed son of Thurstin, a Norman who held five hides of land at Drayton in Staffordshire, 1086. (Domesday.) Ordericus says of him, that Henry I., at the very beginning of his reign, "De ignobili stirpe illustravit ac de pulvere (ut ita dicam), extulit; dataque multiplici facilitate super consules et illustres oppidanos exaltavit." "He had the high office of Justice of England under Henry I., with a power so great, that he sat in what court he pleased, and wherever else he thought fit, for the administration of justice. And to his wisdom, it is asserted, we owe the first design and institution of the law of frank-pledge, besides other excellent laws. From this it seems evident, that he shared largely in his sovereign's favour, and that he had great abilities, which, with so wise a prince, were the likeliest means to procure it.

"Yet it may probably admit of some doubt, whether Ordericus be not a little mistaken, when he represents him of an ignoble race; the more especially so, when it is related of Richard his son, that abounding in wealth, he built a strong castle upon his inheritance in Normandy; which makes it the more likely, that Ralph, his father, was descended from some ancient house in that country; for if he were raised from a low estate to the high rank he enjoyed, it does not appear very feasible that he should have any inheritance worth erecting a castle upon."—Banks.

This great Justiciary, who, like most of his contemporaries, was very liberal to the Church, called for a monk's habit when lying on his death bed at Northampton in 1120; and on being asked of what Order, replied that he had always held the monks of Abingdon in special veneration, and desired that his body might be buried in their Abbey. He left five sons; Richard; Thurstin, of Colston-Basset, Notts, by some called the eldest; Thomas, ancestor of the Bassets of Haddington; Nicholas, who in 1147 founded Bruern Abbey in Oxfordshire; and Gilbert. Richard succeeded his father as Justiciary, and continued in office through the whole of Stephen's reign His wife Maud was the sole heiress of Geoffrey Ridel, by Geva, daughter of Hugh Lupus, and brought him so great an estate, that her eldest son Richard, and Richard's son Geoffrey, both of them bore her name in lieu of their own. She had two other sons, Ralph, of Drayton-Basset in Staffordshire, ancestor of the Lords Basset of Drayton; and William, of Sapcote in Leicestershire, ancestor of the Lords Basset of Sapcote.

Geoffrey's heir was a son named Richard; but he had another son of his own name, who was the first-born, and obtained the principality of Blaye in France—the celebrated Geoffroi Le Troubadour, styled the Pilgrim of Love, whose story reads like a fairy tale. "Il alla chercher la mort," says St. Palaye, quoting Petrarch, "a force de voiles et de rames." It appears that he entertained many pilgrims and knights returning from the East in his castle of Blaye, and all alike sang the praises of the fair Melisande, Countess of Tripoli. She was, they averred, a pearl among women, Queen of Beauty and mistress of all hearts, peerless in grace as in wit; and the poet listened to their descriptions till his imagination was fired, and he conceived a romantic passion for this unknown princess. As the snow-laden fir-tree of Heine's idyll pined in the bleak North for the Eastern palm, brooding in its burning wilderness of sand, so the Norman knight languished for his remote Southern ideal. Her name was ever on his lips, and he celebrated it in verse and song, proclaiming her far and wide as the lady of his dreams, till at length he resolved to undertake a pilgrimage to her shrine. He embarked at Cette, and sailed for Tripoli: but while on board ship was seized with a mortal malady, and landed at his destination a dying man. The fair Melisande, on her part, had dreamt of a lover who was to seek her from beyond sea, till she daily expected and watched for his coming; and when Geoffrey was brought on shore, she recognized him at a glance as her promised knight. He, too, knew her at once, though their eyes then met for the first and last time, and pouring out his whole soul in a rapture of love and grief, died, as he had prayed to die, at her feet.

The Countess was deeply moved. She caused him to be laid "in a rich and honourable tomb of porphyry inscribed with some verses in the Arabic tongue," and mourned him to her dying day. Nostradamus says that she was never seen to smile again; others again assert that she took the veil, and buried her sorrows in the cloister.[39]

It is, however, with his brother Richard, who resumed his paternal name of Basset, and was seated at Welden in Northamptonshire, that we have here to do. Fifth in descent from him was another Richard, who was summoned to parliament in 1299, and served two campaigns in the wars of Scotland,[40] first in the retinue of Adomar de Valence in 1305, and again in 1314, when he fell at the battle of Stirling. Little or nothing is recorded of the four Barons Basset that succeeded him; the last died s. p. in 1408.

We now turn to the junior branches. "Touching the Bassets of Drayton," says Dugdale "(who, for so long as they continued, had successively the Christian name of Ralph), there is nothing very memorable until King Henry the Third's time, that Ralph Basset had summons to attend the King at Chester;, to oppose the incursions of the Welch." He was one of the chief supporters of Simon de Montfort in the baronial war, was summoned to his parliament in 1264, and died fighting by his side at Evesham. It is said that Montfort, when he saw the great army, led by Prince Edward, that was drawn up against him, "concluded that he should miscarry in that battle, and therefore advised this Ralph Basset, and Hugh de Spenser, to get away, and reserve themselves for better times, but they answered, 'If he perished they should not desire to live.'"

His three successors were all noted soldiers. The next heir recovered his lands through his mother, Margaret de Someri, who, on account of the "laudable services" of her father, had been allowed to retain them for life, but gave them up to him on taking the veil. This second Lord Basset served in France under the Earl of Lancaster, and was also with him in the Scottish war, but never attained the military renown of his son and great grandson. The former went six times to Scotland on the King's service in the reigns of the three Edwards; was Constable of Stafford in 1317; Constable of Northampton in 1320; sent with John de Someri, on the forfeiture of the Earl of Lancaster in 1321, to seize Kenilworth Castle, receiving as his guerdon one of the Earl's Northamptonshire manors; and in the same year was appointed Seneschal of Aquitaine. He was an uncompromising ruler. When the inhabitants of a French town within his province exasperated him by their lawlessness and insolence, he forthwith "raised a power, pulled down all the Houses, and slew those who refused to submit." The King of France vainly called him to account, and demanded his surrender. Edward II. declared "that he would not endure that, for so just an act, so brave a Souldier should have any molestation." On his return home he was appointed Constable of Dover and Warden of the Cinque Ports; then Governor of the Channel Islands; and in 1334 was Justice of North Wales. He died in 1343, having survived his son; and was succeeded by a grandson whose services were even more conspicuous than his own. No soldier even of Edward III.'s soldier court was more indefatigable in the field than the last Lord Basset. For twenty-two years—from 29 Ed. III. to I Ric. II.—he was almost continuously engaged in the French wars (chiefly in the retinue of the Black Prince), with the one short interval of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1360. When returning home in 1378, he "underwent great peril at Sea by Tempest"; yet the next year he once more crossed the Channel with Thomas of Woodstock, on an expedition to succour the Duke of Brittany (whose sister he had married); and in 1380 "he was again in France, and in the retinue of that Earl. Wherein he served with 200 men at Armes and 200 Archers, himself with nine Knights being part of the number; where he rode with his Banner displaid." Lastly, in 1385, he went with John of Gaunt and "a great power" into Spain. The year after this, when the growing discontent of the Duke of Gloucester and other great nobles at the favour shown to the Duke of Ireland was threatening to become dangerous, the King sent for the Lord Mayor "to try whether the citizens would stick to him against his uncle and those of that party." The Lord Mayor gave him no encouragement; and "this Lord Basset, standing by, then told the King that his life and estate had been ever ready at his service, and if he should be now drawn into the field, they should be so still;" but added, "that he would not adventure a broken head for the Duke of Ireland."

He died in 1390, the last of his house; for his wife, Joan of Brittany, had proved childless. His only sister Isabel, who was married to Sir Thomas Shirley, was illegitimate; and his cousin Thomas, Earl of Stafford, was found to be his next heir. But another cousin, Alice, the wife of Sir William Chaworth, then came to the front, and Colston-Basset was hotly contested between them.

William, the youngest of the three grandsons of Henry I.'s Justiciary, and the ancestor of the Bassets of Sapcote, served as Sheriff of Warwick and Leicestershire for eight consecutive years in the reign of Henry II., and was afterwards one of the Justices Itinerant of Yorkshire. His son Simon married an Avenal, one of the co-heiresses of Haddon; and his grandson Ralph, who with his kinsman and namesake, fell at Evesham with Simon de Montfort, was summoned to the Baron's parliament in 1264. This summons was never repeated to the next heir, Simon; but Simon's son Ralph was a baron by writ in 1370. This Ralph had previously received a writ of military summons, and had spent the best part of his life in the wars of France and Gascony. His services extended over a period of thirty-three years of Edward III.'s reign, but in 1382 he fell under the King's displeasure for having, at the defeat near Douches, left the field before his commander, the Duke of Lancaster. He was "much reproved" and never employed again. Three years before, he had been pronounced heir to Robert Colville (through his grandmother Elizabeth Colville), and thus acquired Castle Bytham, Beningfield in Northamptonshire, &c. He died in 1778, and his barony fell into abeyance between his two daughters, Alice, the wife of Sir Laurence Dutton, and Elizabeth, Lady Guy of Codnor, who were his sole heirs.

The family of this name still existing in Cornwall cannot be traced back to any of the five sons of the first Justiciary; and Prince conjectures them to be derived from a brother of his named Osmund. They do not bear the arms of the Bassets of Welden and Drayton; but their coat, Or three bars wavy Gules, though differing in tinctures, bears a close resemblance to that of the Bassets of Sapcote, Argent, two bars undee Sable. Their immediate ancestor was William Basset, through whose marriage with Cecily, the only child of Alan de Dunstanville (see Dunstanville), their ancient manor of Tehidy first came into the family. In the time of Henry VIII. Sir John Basset married the heiress of Beaumont, who brought him Umberleigh and Heanton Court, "a sweet and pleasant seat," says Prince, "furnished with all variety of entertainment which the earth and sea and air can afford"; but now dismantled and disparked. Second in descent from him was another John, whose wife, Frances Plantagenet, was the daughter and co-heir of Arthur, Viscount Lisle, a natural son of Edward IV. and Lady Elizabeth Lucy; and whose grandson Sir Robert, on the strength of this left-handed alliance with the House of York, actually laid claim to the Crown of England. This was in the beginning of the reign of James I. He had to fly to France to save his head, and was only permitted to return home on payment of a heavy fine, that mulcted him of thirty of his manors. His last male descendant died in 1802, and with him ended the elder line, seated at Heanton Court; but a younger branch remains, traced from George Basset, to whom his nephew Sir Arthur granted Tehidy in 1558, "with the castelet or pile of Bassets on Carnbray Hill." Of him came Sir Francis,[41] created a baronet in 1779, Lord de Dunstanville in 1796, and in the following year, by special favour, Lord Basset, With remainder to his only child, Elizabeth. She succeeded to the title, but died unmarried in 1855; and his great nephew, John Basset, then inherited the estates, and became the head of the family.

Besides those already mentioned, many manors in different counties are still called by this name. I find Houghton-Basset and Langwith-Basset in Derbyshire (they had two parks at Langwith in 1330); Winterborne-Basset and Berwick-Basset, Wilts; Thorp-Basset, Yorkshire; Charney-Basset and Letcombe-Basset in Berkshire; Burton-Basset, Warwickshire; Dunton-Basset, Leicestershire; Stoke-Basset, Oxon, &c.


  1. "Quoique ce recit ait les apparences d'une fable, nous le croyons fonde sur des faits."—In. de St. Palaye. These stranger-lovers, and the similar story of Andre1 de France, used to be quoted in refutation of Giraud de Borneil's more popular theory as to the Origin of Love—a favourite theme of the Troubadours. He maintained,

    "Tam cum los oills el cor ama parvenza,
    Car li oill son del cor drogoman,
    E ill oill van vezer
    Lo cal cor plaz retener."

    "Thus even thro' the eyes doth Love enter the heart,
    For of the heart the eyes are the harbingers;
    And the eyes wander forth in their search to discover
    What it shall please the heart to make its own."
  2. Two knights of this name are mentioned at the siege of Carlaverock:—
    "E li ij. frere Basset ausi,
    Dont li ains-nez portoit ensi,
    De ermine au chief rouge endente
    De trois molettes de or ente;
    Li autres de cokilles trois."

    These were Sir Edward and Sir John Basset, from Gloucestershire, and, as is evident from their coats of arms, of a different family; but nothing certain is known of them.
  3. An earlier Sir Francis had procured the first Charter of Corporation to St. Ives, and with it presented a silver cup, thus inscribed:—

    "If any discord 'twixt my friends arise
    Within the borough of beloved St. Ives,
    It is desired this my cup of love
    To every one a peace-maker may prove;
    Then am I blest to have given a legacie
    So like my harte unto posteritie."—Francis Basset: 1640.