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The Battle Abbey Roll

Back to A Norman origin of the Bowles or A Norman Origin for the Bolles of Swineshead?

The presence of a similar family name in the roll is accepted by many as absolute proof of a Norman origin for their family name.  However, while the roll is thought to have been commissioned by William the Conqueror immediately after his conquest of England in 1066 and so should be reliable, in fact it is not.  To start with the original roll no longer exists having disappeared at an unknown time but possibly in the loss of a Great House in the Great Fire of 1793.  However, three copies of the roll had been made prior to its loss, however not before a long period of time in which there were several documented cases of influential families having had their family name added to the roll in exchange for donations of income to the monks of Battle Abbey.  "Such hath been the subtilty of some Monks of old, that, finding it acceptable unto most, to be reputed descendants to those who were Companions with Duke William in that memorable Expedition whereby he became Conqueror of this Realm, as that, to gratify them (but not without their own advantage) they inserted their Names into this antient Catalogue."—Dugdale.  As the three copies were made at a later date any ability to now distinguish which names had been added has been lost.  Another problem is that the clerks who made the three copies, thought to date from between 1419 and 1577,  had widely varying opinions how to interpret the script of a particularly difficult Norman hand of a couple of hundred years earlier.  Thus the family names were often recorded differently in the copies as Edmund into Edward, Baldwin into Bernard, Godwin into Godard, Elys into Edwine etc.

One list which should be more reliable was complied in 1866 by Leopold Delisle in Normandy using source materials there although unfortunately without stating the sources.  The list of those names available online in M. de Magny's 'Nobiliaire de Normandie,' includes some fifty names not found on Delisle's list based on his confidence that they should be.

The two most reliable lists, that of Holinshed's Chronicle (1577) and Leland's Collectanea (1400's) are thoroughly explored and compared in ‘The Battle Abbey Roll with some Account of the Norman Lineages, in three volumes’ by The Duchess of Cleveland  published in London in 1889 which can be found online here

In her book we find that Holinshed lists a Boels in the list while Leland's transcribers found a Bools.  Just a small difference so we can assume that a name from which the Boles/Bowles name could have derived is to be found in the later copies of the Battle Abbey Roll although there is still no way to know if it occurred in the original.

The Duchesse of Cleveland then goes on to connect the names in the list to her contemporary English nobility although without requiring a documented genealogy to go by.  She states that the Boels name in the roll was "from Bodies, or Buille, now La Buille, near Rouen", then she goes on to state some very interesting Boels references from the 12th and 13th centuries in Lincoln, Devon, Salop and goes on to claim the Boels as the origin of the Bolles of Swineshead giving several references for them which can easily be proven to be incorrect.  See The Norman Origins of the Bolles of Swineshead

In the Busshell family section she identifies their name with a companion of William the Conqueror's, Roger de Busli, although he does not appear in either Holinshed or Leland's lists, through a son or brother and successor of Roger de Busli's named Warine Bussel.  We know more about Roger de Busli (Bully) to state that he was indeed a companion of Williams who was awarded large landholdings in Yorkshire but they were lost due to his heir being an only daughter (a son predeceased him) who was made a ward of Robert de Belesme who then offended the king who seized the land back and awarded it to the Count of Eu's family based on the marriage of Roger's daughter Beatrix de Busli to a son of their house.  Thus the Roger de Busli line ended without producing any Boels descendants but his brother, Ernold de Builly (Bully), whose son Jordan de Busli was the heir of Roger's son Roger II, who had predeceased his father, but nevertheless left substantial holdings to a member of Ernold's line.  The connection to the Busshell line occurred later when a William de Bussey of Leicestershire became incorrectly equated with a William de Busli of Bedfordshire by Bannerman in his otherwise well researched History of the Busli Family.

This is fully explored in my pages on The Bowles of Yorkshire


This site was last updated 10/19/18