Alessandro Geraldini


Medieval Bendings - The Origins of the FitzGeralds - Part 1

In the land of Hetruria there flourished once a mighty vine thither translated from the desolate plains of Troy. Florence claimed this beauteous plant her own; and well might she glory in it, for "its branches stretched forth unto the sea, and its boughs unto the river." From the banks of the Arno and the shores of the blue Tyrrhene Sea the branches of that great tree extended themselves to the far land of Erin. That great tree was the noble race of the

Geraldines, who, under the shadow of Tuscan banners, penetrated regions whither Roman legions never dared to venture..... 

The history of this Florentine family has been my special tudy; for it is intimately associated with that of my religion and country; and fondly does she cherish the memory of the Geraldines. So wrote Faher Dominic o'Daly to their eminences Antony and Frances Barberini, cardinals of theHoly Roman Church. To them he dedicated his history of the Geraldines, Earls of Desmond, written about the year 1655.(1)

With rapid hand the learned Dominican sketched in a few sentences the early history of the house;- Ten years' seige had destroyed the glorious city of Ilium, and cut off all its leaders, with single exception of Aenas, who, being compelled to fly, assembled about him a trusty band of youths, who had outlived their country's overthrow, foremost of whom in dignity and bravery was the founder of our Geraldines(2)....Aenas soon afterwards divided the land of Italy amongst his followers, assigning to each his portion; and in the distribution he bestowed on the great ancestor of our Geraldines that Region of Hetruria where Florence ow stands.

When did the Geraldines come to England? When did they settle in Ireland? Father o'Daly was perfectly clear in his answers to both questions; they came to England with William the Conqueror; and they went to Ireland under Henry II. He had moreover a dim conception of the true facts of the case.
He said that William gave them 'the castle and lordship of Windsor, of which they held possession till the days of Walter son of Ether (sic). This William had three children; from the first of these, William, sprung the Earls of Windsor; from the second, Robert, the Earls of Essex; but the third, Gerald of Windsor,' was the ancestor of the Geraldines. Walter FitzOther (not Ether) was, as we shall see, a real man, but the connection of the family with Windsor began instead of ending with this Walter.

Let us now turn to what may be termed the authorized version of the origin, that which was given in The Earls of Kildare(3); and steadily repeated in Burke's Peerage. Lord Kildare gave it thus:- 

'The FitzGeralds or Geraldines, are descended from 'Dominus Otho', or Other, who in 1057 (16 Edward the Confessor), was an honorary baron of England.(4) He is said to have been one of the family of Gherardini of Florence, and to have passed into Normandy, and thence into England.(5) He was so powerful at this period that it is probable that he was one of the foreigners who came to England with King Edward, and whom he favoured so much as to excite the jealousy of the native nobles. It is also remarkable that Otho's son Walter was treated as a fellow-countryman by the Normans after the Conquest. The Latin form of the name of his descendants, 'Geraldini', being the same as that of the Gherardini, also indicates that he was of that family' 

I cannot undertake to say at what period or how the story of Other coming to England under Edward the Confessor arose; nor can I explain how 'Otho' replaced the well authenticated 'Other', probably to give the name a more Italian appearance. But as to the Latin form 'Geraldini', I can state that the name given by Geraldus Cambrensis to his own family was, on the contrary 'Giraldidae' 

Lord Kildare referred, we have seen, to the Gherardini MS.' without giving their contents; but to Mr Meehan we are indebted for the printing in an appendix to Father o'Daly's work the content of these papers, 'to which,' as he observes, 'the general reader would find it difficult to get access.' It must be remembered that, according to the versions given above, the 'Geraldines' came to England at, if not before, the Conquest. In the 'Gherardini MS.'
we have a very different story. 

Three brothers of that family, Thomas, Gerald and Maurice Gherardini, 'having left Florence on account of the civil dissensions there, accompanied the King of England to the Conquest of Ireland.' This, it will seen, is discrepant from the version now adopted by the family itself. 

Moreover the 'Gherardini' story originated in Ireland, not in Florence. The story given above is traced to an Irish priest 'called Maurice, who was of the family of the Gherardini settled in that is island,' and who, passing through Florence in1413, claimed the local Gherardini as his kinsmen.(6) Those Florentine magnates appear to have been aware of the connection; indeed even so late as 1440 the Republic's secretary, writing to James Earl of Desmond, used the expression 'if it be true' (si vera assertio). But the fame of the great Hibernian house reached and flattered the Gherardini, and in answer to a letter of 'fraternal love,' Gerald, chief in Ireland of the family of the Gherardini; Earl of Kildare; Viceroy of the most serene King of England,' wrote in 1506 'to all the family of the Gherardini, noble in fame and virtue, dwelling in Florence, our beloved brethren in Florence.' The earl informed them that his 'ancestore, after
passing from France to England, and having remained there some time, arrived in this island of Ireland in 1140'(7) He was anxious to know the deeds of their common ancestors, 'the origin of our house, and the names of your forefathers,' and he offered them 'hawks, falcons, horses, or dogs for the chase.'(8) 

And now from Irish earls panting for Trojan ancestry we will turn to the sober history of a house both ancient and illustrious, a house which not only traces its descent from a Domesday tenant-in-chief, but can make the probably unique boast that, from that day to this, descendants of his have been always numbered among the barons of the realm.

In The Earls of Kildare we read that 'In 1078 Walter FitzOtho is mentioned in Domesday Book as being in possession of his father's estates.' 

To this statement, which is obstinately repeated in the pages of Burke's Peerage, I reply, as in Peerage Studies (p. 69), that the date of Domesday Book was 1086, not 1078; that Walter was the son of Other, not of Otho; and that Domesday does not state that his lands have been held by his father, but, on the contrary, proves them to have belonged to forfeited Englishmen.


In Domesday Walter FitzOther appears as a tenant-in-chief in a compact block of counties, Berks., Bucks., Middlesex, Surrey and Hants. He also held Winchfield in Hampshire under Chertsey Abbey. At first sight there is not much to connect him with Windsor or its forest, but investigation reveals the facts that at Windsor itself he held on the royal manor 1 3/4 hides and some woodland; that at Kintbury, another Berkshire manor, he held half a hide 'which King Edward had given to his predecessor' out of the royal demesne for the custody of the forest; that of the great royal manor of Woking in Surrey Walter held three-quarters of a hide, which King Edward had similarly given 'out of the manor to a certain forester,' and that in or near Kingston-on-Thames he had given land to a man whom he had 'entrusted the keeping of the king's brood mares'. 

These hints prepare us for the evidence to which we are about to come to that he held ' a wood called Bagshot' at the time of the Survey (though Domesday does not say so), and that he and his heirs had the keeping of the great forest of Windsor. He was also, we shall find, castellan of Windsor, while in his private capacity as a tenant-in-chief he held a barony reckoned at fifteen or twenty knights' fees and owing fifteen knights as castle guard to Windsor. 

Our next glimpse of him, after Domesday, is afforded by the Abingdon Cartulary, which records in a most interesting entry that Walter FitzOther, castellan of Windsor, restored to Abbot Faricius the woods of 'Virdele' and Bagshot, which he had held by consent of the abbot's predecessors, Aethelem and Rainald. It adds that he made this restoration in the first place at Windsor Castle, and that he afterwards sent his wife Beatrice with his son William to Abingdon that they might confirm what he himself had done 'at home'. 

From this entry we learn that Walter was living after 1100, for Abbot Faritius ruled the house 1100-16. We also learn that his wife's name was Beatrice,(9) and that his home was at Windsor Castle. Lastly we may see, I think, an allusion to the loss, for the time, of these woods in the Domesday entry of the abbey's manor of Winkfield ('Wenesfelle'), which mentions that '4 hides are in the king's forest' (fo. 59). In other words, Walter, I suspect,
had added them to Windsor Forest as its custodian; and if he did this, as alleged, in the time of Abbot Aethelem (who died in 1084), they would be included in the king's forest at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086). Walter was succeeded by his son William, of whom we have already heard as accompanying his mother to Abingdon. 

A very interesting writ shows him in charge of Windsor Forest at a date not later than 1116.(10) This writ notifies to William FitzWalter, Croc the huntsman, Richard the serjeant, and all the officers of the forest of Windsor, that the king has granted to Abingdon Abbey the tithe of all venison(11)...The invaluable Pipe Roll of 1130 shows us William FitzWalter in charge of Windsor Forest in that and the preceding year....We again meet with William FitzWalter in that charter of the Empress Maud to Geoffrey de Mandeville which I assign to 1142,(12) She grants therein to Geoffrey that William may have his hereditary constableship of Windsor Castle and lands. 

William was succeeded by a son of the same name, to whom King Henry II., by a charter granted at Windsor 1154-64 confirmed the lands of his father. This charter, which proves the pedigree, is known to me only from Harleian Roll, P. 8, a pedigree of the Windsor family and of their Irish kinsmen, the FitzGeralds, which although compiled at a bad time (1582) is of quite exceptional value. The charter of which I speak confirms to William of Windsor all the land of his father, William Fitz Walter, and of his grandfather, Walter FitzOther. This William is constantly mentioned in the Pipe Rolls of Henry II. as among those who supervised building operations at Windsor Castle. 

I believe that I have discovered his wife, of whom the name has not been known, in that Christina de Wiham who was tenant-in-chief by knight service on the Montfichet fief in 1166.(13) The argument is this. The domesday lord of the fief, Robert Gernon, had and under-tenant, Ilger, who held of him two manors in Essex, Wormingford and Maplestead. Walter de Windsor is subsequently found giving, in conjunction with his mother Christiana, the
church of Wormingford to Wix Priory(14) and bestowing on St. Paul's three of his feifs at (evidently) Maplestead (15). Foreover, in 1187 he is found holding a fee and a half of Richard de Montfichet (16) The descent of these manors would thus be accounted for, Walter being the eldest son of William de Windsor by, as I suggest, Christina de Wiham. 

Walter and his youngest brother William divided the Windsor barony into two moieties in 1198 (17). Walter was the ancestor, through a daughter, of the Hodengs; from William, in whose share Stanwell was included, descended Andrew Windsor, created Lord Windsor of Stanwell by Henry VIII., from whom descends in the female line the present Lord Windsor.

In a writ in the Abingdon Cartulary, Henry I. addresses Walter son of Walter de Windsor and informs him that he has granted to Farice Abbot of Abingdon (1100-16) the land and house at Windsor which had been held by Albert (18). It is the name of Albert that is found the interest of this writ.
For one cannot doubt that this was the 'Albert the clerk' who is mentioned in Domesday, in conjunction with Walter FitzOther, as holding land at Windsor under the Crown (fo. 56b) and the 'Albert' who is entered as holding in chief land at Dedworth (fo. 63) adjacent to Clewer and Windsor.