Notes on the Early History of the Clifton Family

By A C Wood

Late 14th century tombs of Sir Gervase Clifton and Dame Alice Nevill in Clifton church (source: Thoroton's History of Nottinghamshire, 1677)

(NOTE,—The references made in the following notes to Holles MS. are to the MS. Parentela Hollesiorum written by the antiquary Gervase Holles during his exile in Holland after the Civil War, and now preserved at Longleat. As Holles grandmother, Frances Frescheville of Staveley, was descended through her mother, Elisabeth1 from the Cliftons he incorporated in his history some account of that family and its long descent. The Marquess of Bath has kindly permitted me to transcribe the entire MS., and from it and from the other sources referred to below I have been able to add a little to the information left by Thoroton, our chief authority on the subject).

IT is well known from Thoroton's account of the Clifton family that they claimed descent from one Aluaredus de Clifton, a knight who was supposed to hold the Manor of Wilford of William Peverel, and whose son (Robert de Clifton), grandson (Gervase de Clifton) and great-grandson (another Gervase de Clifton) were alleged to have succeeded him in his lordship. This claim was based upon an ancient manuscript which Thoroton mentions but does not quote; but as Gervase Holles had transcribed it from the collections of the antiquary St. Loi Kniveton, I am able to print it in full. It ran as follows :—

Memorand quod quidam Aluaredus Clifton miles dnus manerii Wilford cum ptinent in dnico suo ut de feodo fuit gardianus castella nottingh tempore Willi Peverill. Post cujus mortem quidam Robtus Clifton miles filius et heres pdci Aluaredi dnus manerii pdci fuit gardianus castelli pdci. Et post ejus mortem quidam Gervasius Clifton miles filius et heres pdci Robti fuit dnus manerii pdci et gardiauzns castelli nottingh. Et post obitum suum quidam alius Gervasius Clifton miles filius et her pdci Gervasii et dnus maner pdci fuit custos castelli pdci totis diebus vitae suae. Idem Gervasius fecit unum wardum castelli pdci vocatum le utter ward, fecitq molendina ejusdm castelli. Idem pdcus Gervasius fecit unam trencheam ab aqua Trenta usq molendinum pdictu per propriam suam terrain dominicalam usq quoddam pratum vocatu kyngcs meddow. Idem dcus Gervasius fecit unum gurgustum in sua aqua de Trent pdca ad dcam aquam ponendum molendinis pdcis per medium trencheae pdictae.

Some of the information contained in this document is almost certainly erroneous. No mention of any Nottinghamshire tenant named Clifton appears in Domesday Book or in the other surviving records of the century which followed the Conquest; and the succession of four men in lineal descent who were all knights is in itself a suspicious factor, for it was a very rare title at that time. The Peverels held the manors of Clifton and Wilford of the King in chief and there is no evidence that they ever enfeoffed anyone of them. Moreover, we know that when the Honor of Peverel escheated to the crown early in Henry II.'s reign, that king granted the manors of Clifton and Wilford to Gerbode de Escalt.2 On the other hand, the precise account of the work done for Nottingham Castle by the last-mentioned Gervase Clifton in the document quoted above has the ring of truth about it, and it is probable that here we are in touch with a real historical character.

We know from the records of the time that there was a Gervase de Clifton (the first of his name to appear with any certainty) existing towards the end of Henry II.'s reign, and it seems reasonable to equate him with the last of the Gervase's referred to in the old manuscript. Indeed, as this Gervase was a man of some social importance it is possible that the family did begin in the Conqueror's time as stated in the story of Aluaredus and his descendants. All that we can deny is that these early members, if they existed, were lords of the manors of Clifton and Wilford and constables of the castle.

Gervase de Clifton, who lived in the reigns of Henry II, Richard I and John, was clearly a man of substance. We find him witnessing various charters;3 his name appears in the pipe rolls through King John's reign; he seems to have held lands in Derbyshire;4 and he was of sufficient standing to marry his daughter Cecilia into the powerful house of de Cressi.5 When he died we do not know, but as his children were of marriageable age early in John's reign it is improbable that he lived long into Henry III's reign. His son, also called Gervase, is a much more shadowy figure of whom the only record is that he was imprisoned in 1220 by the Sheriff of Nottingham for suspected robbery done in London;6 but the family must have continued to prosper, for his grandson, yet another Gervase, was a more important personage than any of his forbears. Sometime before 1280 he had secured from Sir Gerard de Rodes (into whose family the lands had passed in Richard I's time) the grant of the manors of Clifton and Wilford in return for the payment of £30 per annum,7 and a few years later he obtained the manor of Broughton from John, the son of Alfred de Suliny. The former were not held of the king in chief. Homage for them was due to the holder of the manor of Langar which John de Rodes, son of Gerard, transferred to Robert Tibetot in 1285. Thus the Cliftons held of the Tibetot family until Robert's great-grandson, another Robert Tibetot, died in 1372 leaving three daughters and co-heiresses.8 The eldest of these, Margaret, married Sir Roger Lescrope or Scrope, son of Richard Scrope the Treasurer at the close of Edward III's reign, and carried the manor of Langar with her unto her husband's family9 who held it until the death of the eleventh Lord Scrope, first Earl of Sunderland, without legitimate issue in 1630. Broughton was held of Thomas Duke of Lancaster until his execution in 1322. Then his estates escheated to the Crown, and the tenants, including the Cliftons, became tenants in chief. Even more decisive proof of the powerful position of Gervase Clifton than the acquisition of these manors was the fact that he was Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire four times and of Yorkshire three times under King Edward I;10 and that he sat for the county of Nottingham in the Parliament of 1295.11 In 1297, 1298 and again in 1301 he was summoned by the king to serve against the Scots,12 He died in 1323 having outlived his son Gervase,13 and he was succeeded by his grandson Robert who was then aged 26.14

St Mary's church, Clifton (photo: A Nicholson, 2004).St Mary's church, Clifton (photo: A Nicholson, 2004).

Robert only lived for four more years, and in 1327 his place was taken by his son Gervase, aged 14, and already married to Margaret Pierpoint.15 This Gervase was a knight at least as early as 1345,16 in which year he was Sheriff and Escheator for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.17 He also represented the former county in the Parliament of 1347-8. In 1367 he was one of the commissioners of Array for Nottinghamshire,18 and ten years later he received from the king exemption for life from being obliged to serve on any assizes or as Sheriff, Escheator, Coroner, etc.19 He lived to be an old man and died in 1391 (when he would be 78 years old).20 He was twice married. By his first wife, Margaret Pierpoint, he had a son Robert who was knighted and lived at least as late as 1373, although he died before his father.21 His second wife was called Isabella. Who she was Thoroton does not explain, but Holles states that she was the daughter of one Harbord alias Finch, the widow of William Scot of Brabourne in Kent. If this was the Sir William Scot who, according to Weever,22 died in 1350 the story is quite possible in point of time, and it may help—as Holles suggests—to explain the link which undoubtedly existed between the Nottingham­shire Cliftons and the Sir Gervase Clifton of Brabourne23 who was such a prominent figure in the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV. The latter was many times High Sheriff of Kent besides holding various other com­missions in the county; he was Lieutenant of Dover Castle; Treasurer of Calais; probably Comptroller of Henry VI's household for a time; played an important part in the French war, holding Pontoise, near Paris against the King of France and inflicting 3,000 casualties upon him before the town could be taken ; and was finally beheaded after the Battle of Tewkesbury 1471, in which he was taken prisoner fighting for the Lancastrian cause. He was clearly allied to the Cliftons of Nottinghamshire,24 but we know that he was not the head of the main branch of the family and the relationship has never been solved. If Holles's statement about the second wife of Sir Gervase Clifton (1313-91) is accurate it seems possible that he was a cadet sprung from this union. But, if Weever's date is correct, there is a stumbling block in the way of accepting this theory, for Thoroton quotes a license given to Sir Gervase to establish a chantry in Clifton Church in 22 Edward III which alludes to his wife Isabella. As Edward Ill's regnal years were dated from January 25th, 1327, this means that Sir Gervase was already married to his second wife by January, 1348—January, 1349, nearly two years before the death of her (presumed) first husband Sir William Scot. Thoroton states that it was the Sir Gervase Clifton of Brabourne whom Isabella married, which, if Weever can be trusted, is clearly a mistake, for it was impossible for a man to be of age to marry a woman widowed in 1350 and still survive to fight at Tewkesbury 121 years later. I have been unable to find any evidence which might throw further light upon this little problem. We know that many of Weever's transcriptions of epitaphs and dates were inaccurate but that hardly helps, for his error, if there was one, might tell in favour either of Holles or of Thoroton.

(1) She was the daughter of Sir Gervase Clifton, 1515-88.
(2) Farrer, Honors and Knights Fees, I, p. 235.
(3) e.g., Hist. MSS. Comm. Hastings, I, p. 124; Middleton, p. 28. Only approximate dates are given to these charters. The first year in which I have found certain mention of him was 33 Henry II when he was fined for a trespass on the royal forests (Holles MS.).
(4) See Hist. MSS. Comm. Various Collections, II, p. 290 ; a grant from Cecilia de Cressi to all the men of Sterndale, Derbyshire, of all customs and liberties which they had in the time of her father Gervase de Clifton.
(5) Thoroton, pp. 52-4;  Holles MS.
(6) Patent Rolls, 1216-25, p. 270.
(7) The grant was confirmed in 1280. Charter Rolls, II, p. 238.
(8) Close Rolls, 1369-74, p. 396.
(9) Ibid., 1385-9, p. 27 ;  Patent Rolls, 1388-92, p. 333.
(10) Holles MS. Sheriff of Notts. & Derby in 7, 9, 10, 11 Edward I ; Yorkshire in 15, 18, 19 Edward I.
(11)  Deering 209A ; Parliaments of England.
(12) Harleian Society. Knights of Edward I (A-E) Sir Gervase de Clifton.
(13) This Gervase sat in the parliament of 1314-15. He was alive as late as 1318 when he was granted a pontage duty for the repair of Kegworth Bridge ; Patent Rolls, 1317-21, p. 150.
(14) Calendar of Inquisitions, VI, p. 282. (15)  Calendar of Inquisitions, VII, p. 11.
(16) Holles MS. In a fine levied 18 Edward III he is spoken of as Gervase de Clifton Chevaler.
(17)  Fine Rolls, 1337-47, pp. 396, 398, 446, 461. (18)  Patent Rolls, 1364-7, p. 431. (19)  Ibid., 1374-7, p. 484.
(20) Close Rolls, 1389-92, p. 224 " Gervase de Clifton Knt, a Verderer in Shinvood Forest dead."
(21) He witnessed a quitclaim along with his father in 1373. Close Rolls, 1369-74, p. 367. Gervase Holles surmised that the nameless tomb in Clifton Church showing the arms of Clifton and Neville of Rolleston empaled belonged to this Robert de Clifton and his wife Isabella, daughter of Jollanus de Neville of Rolleston. "For," he concluded, "it was not the match of any of his posterity, neither was it his father's, nor could it be any of his other ancestors because the quartering and impaling of coats first began in the time of Edward III, and with that time (or a little after) the antiquity of the monument will well correspond."
(22)  Weever, Funeral Monuments, p. 67.
(23) He is spoken of as Gervase Clifton, Esq., down to July 1453, and called a knight in October 1454, so that he must have been knighted between the two dates. Patent Rolls, 1452-61, pp. 103,197.
(24) In a general pardon granted to him January, 1469 he is spoken of as "Gervase Clifton late of Brabourne, Kent, Knight, alias late of Clifton, county Nottingham, alias late of London," etc. Patent Rolls, 1467-77, p. 180..