William de Percy

The name of Percy, strange to say, does not occur in the Roll of Battle Abbey; for I cannot agree with my old friend Sir Bernard Burke in his discovery of it in Percelay, a form in which I have never found it in any authority.

Strange, because in view of the numerous interpolations it contains, one can scarcely imagine the omission of a name so distinguished in Anglo-Norman history. But for those manifest additions the fact of the absence of the name of Percy would go far to establish the genuineness of the Rolls, as no member of that family appears to have fought at Senlac, and William de Percy must be placed in the list of those noble Normans who “came over with the Conqueror” on his return to England in 1067, amongst whom I have already mentioned Roger de Montgoineri and Hugh d’Avranches. William de Percy was the sworn brother-in-arms of the latter, and accompanied
him to England, *[Mon. Ang., vol. i, p. 72.] and who on being made Earl of
Chester transferred to him the lordship of Whitby, with the extensive domains attached to it in the East Riding of Yorkshire. By what service he obtained the vast possessions held by him at the time of the general survey we have no information, an old manuscript, quoted by Dugdale, simply saying that, “being much beloved by the King,” he enjoyed them through his bounty, and it is not till we arrive at the reign of Stephen that we hear of any remarkable actions attributed to his descendants, when his great-great-grandson, William de Percy, distinguished himself by his valour in the famous battle of the Standard.

The name of this ancient and noble family was derived from their great fief of Perci, near Villedieu, in Normandy, and according to tradition they were the descendants of one Mainfred, a Dane, who had preceded Rollo into Neustria. Geoffrey, the son of Mainfred, followed him in the service of Rollo, and was succeeded in rotation by William, Geoffrey, William, and Geoffrey, all born in Normandy, the latter Geoffrey being the father of William de Percy, the subject of this notice, and of Serlo, his brother, the first abbot of Whitby, a monastery founded by William on the site of one called Skinshale, which had been destroyed by Inguar and Hubba.

Upon this abbey William bestowed the towns of Seaxby and Everley; but resumed and regranted them to Ralph de Everley, his esquire, who had been in his service many years. Abbot Serlo, his brother, feeling injured by this proceeding, made his complaint to William Rufus, with whom he had been on terms of intimacy during the reign of his father, and the King ordered restitution to be made. Serlo, however, was not satisfied with the restoration of the towns, and having no confidence in his brother, determined to quit Whitby and establish himself where he should holdunder the King only, and be out of his brother’s power. He therefore begged of Rufus six carucates of land in Hakenas and Northfield, and translated thither part of the community of Whitby.

William de Percy married a lady named Emma de Port, “in discharging of his
conscience,” says our ancient writer, she being “very heire” to the estates
given to him by William the Conqueror, and in 1096, having joined the first
Crusade in company with Robert Court-heuse, died at Montjoye, near Jerusalem, the celebrated eminence so named by the Christian Pilgrims, because from there they first caught sight of the sacred city. His body was brought back to England, and buried in the chapter house at Whitby.

This Anglo-Norman race of the Percys became extinct in the male line at the
close of the 12th century by the deaths, without issue, of the four sons of his
grandson William, when this great inheritance was divided between their two
sisters and co-heirs, Maud, wife of William de Mauduit, Earl of Warwick, who
died without issue, and Agnes, on whom the whole possessions of the Percys in England devolved, and passed with her hand to Joceleyn de Louvaine, brother of Adeliza, Queen of Henry I, who assumed the name of Percy, retaining the arms of his own family. From the issue of this marriage descended those great Earls of Northumberland and Worcester, whose deeds and fortunes are interwoven with the most important portions of our history from the reign of Henry III to that of Charles II.