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8. The Harris family in medieval times


A number of the Harris families in the southern counties of Cornwall and Devon in England were descendants of an anglo norman family who arrived in England at the time of the Norman invasion in 1066. It is recorded that Hugh de Hericey or Heriz, who settled at Nottingham, was one such person.


Some research papers indicate that Hugh was a descendant  of Ancelin or Lancelin de Beaumont who went to England and held a Barony in Nottingham about 1086 A.D.  Ancelin was the son of Herise (circa 996-1031), son of  Landric de Beaugency of Orleands France


Accoridng to an oblique record, by the  1100s Herise, also known as Heriz, was in the north of Devon at Lapford and  from official UK archives it is known that  Henricus (or Henry) de Herys, mentioned by Carew to have held a knight's fee in the reign of Richard the First. (1189-1199) in Lezant area


It is well documented in pipe rolls that Robert de Heriez was engaged in politics in Cornwall in 1200 and 1201, around Launceston and that  Robert and william Heriz were  at Kea  in South Devon and engaged in land issues at  Efford in Stratton by Launcells, North west of Cornwall,  in 1200. A separate article (titled Heriz in Kea) on this appears at the bottom of this paper.


Henry Heriz   was also there at Launcells area and at Launceston in 1238


In 1257 Henry de Herice of Devon, along with John Tyrell were granted protection by the courts for accompanying the Kings son, Edward for going with him into battle in Wales to quell the uprising of the Welsh Lords.


Between 1250 and 1294  there was a John and Richard Herice, and Hugh son of Richard at Loswithiel,  and that there was a Roger Heriz in Hode (believed to be in Rattery near Buckfast, and according to the Visitations for Cornwall, a William de Herisi and his son Richard were in the Lizard Peninsula area in the mid 13th century


in the 1300s we find Thomas Harry holding lands and tenements in Tremaly and Tremalyle Down in adjacent Lanivet


By 1326 the family were in central devon and Roger Heriz was named in the calendar of inquisitions relating to land he held at Rattery.


In 1328 there was only one family by the name of Herry in Devon – located at St Budeaux near Plymouth


In 1371 John Harry, along with many other local residents in the Lostwithiel area was taken to court for the theft of over 200 barrels of wine and other goods at Penryn, with assault on the men of the owners


In 1375 John Harry was at Launceston


In 1386, William Herry, Richard Kendall, Lucy his wife and their son John were involved in land battles in the Cornworthy area of Devon (Patent rolls 1386 Feb 2) A complaint was laid by a John Ellemde that Richard Kendal and Lucy his wife, John son of Richard de Kendal, William Harry of Miston with others broke his close and dykes at Cornworthy, assaulted him at Inwarlegh, Devon, took away a horse and 292 sheep, value40£ which they found at Cornworthy, felled trees there to the value of 100s.and depastured corn and grass at both places to the value of 10/. For 20s, paid in the hanaper. At that time Richard was sheriff of Cornwall and residing at Treworgey, in Duloe adjacent to the Lanrest property, at St Keyne, that the Harris family was to hold for many years


In the early 1400s Nicholas Harry commissioned as clerk for the port of Fowey and Plymouth, Warin Harry being the Reeve for the Manor of Cardinan and according to the visitations records, Elizabeth Hayre, daughter of Richard, marrying Thomas Mohum at Bodonnick


In 1417 Thomas Colyns was the mayor of Bodwenek and it was he who granted the property to John Harris de Bodwenek on a lease for fourty years. The Harris family held that land until 1534 when it was quit by John Harris and Marian Chamberlain


By the early 1400s the Harris family were well established in Devon at Radford and Lifton and in Lanrest in Cornwall..





The Heriz family in Kea, Cornwall in 1200


The De Heriz family was in the south of Cornwall , near Truro by  the end of the 12th century.(1)


Richard Carew in his survey of Cornwall in the 1600s stated that in relation to the area near Truro including Trevilla, St Michael Carhayes (or Caerhays)  that  Hurris, or Herys, was formerly the seat of a knightly family, of which Henricus de Herys held a knight's fee in the reign of Richard the First.


There is a historical document (2)  that relates to these times and to the Heriz family. It tells  how Richard of Launcells' house in northern Cornwall suffered a violent assault in the spring of 1199  and in that it documents it tells how a whole group of gentry from a wide area of the south-western counties broke in and violently took various items of value, going so far as to pull rings off their owners' fingers. Robbery was not their main purpose. Once they were in control of the scene, they compelled Richard to make them a solemn promise that he would surrender to their lord, one Henry f. William, at his house on a given day.


To follow on from this, and quoting from the document referred to:


 By the Easter term of that year, Richard had a whole series of appeals under way in the royal courts and had already obtained the outlawry of a number of his enemies. (These outlawries suggest that some of the appellees assessed their chance of going to the gallows to be high enough that they feared to appear to answer the charges.)  The appeal pleadings make it abundantly clear that behind the incident lay an old enmity involving a substantial portion of the community of the rich and influential in the area across several county lines.


The incident took place during the interregnum after Richard I's death (April 6) but before John's coronation (May 27) is almost certainly significant.  One case entry described it as occurring "straight after king Richard's death" (PR 1203, 78; CRR ii. 313), as if that was what had prompted action. The first appeals plead breaches not of the king's peace but of the Duke of Normandy, which was where the Lord John still was at the time. Several of the appellees failed to appear at the first recorded hearings, which is normal enough. But several had already been outlawed and their land taken into the king's hand by the Easter term (Easter Sunday being April 18), patently the result of some unusually swift action. Concerns were voiced at later stages of the case that it should be determined by normal procedures, "according to the law and custom of the king's court" (Rot. de ob. et fin., 103; Pipe Roll 1201, 222). This may suggest that the Fitzwilliam party were afraid that they might fall foul of royal anger leading to some extraordinary royal order and indeed the king patently took a personal interest in the dispute, as will emerge. One issue seems to have been control of the royal castle at Launceston (15 or so miles S of Launcells), which Henry f. William was later said to have wished to take over "to the lord king's shame (huntagium)".


It seems possible that the overall context was the effect of the change of kings on the local political situation in north Cornwall and the western portion of Devon. Most of  the main protagonists can be shown to have been deep into local politics and administration, the kind of people who inevitably knew each other well from meetings of the shire court and eyre.  Their loyalties to their betters, the king and other national players, and their local attachments each fed into the other. 


 Henry f. William had close links to John before his accession, from holding some lands as tenant of Count John's  honor of Mortain (Fees, i. 394, 436). At the 1201 Launceston eyre he was able to plead the king's service to excuse himself from 4 apparently separate assizes of novel disseizin [PKJ ii. 146; cf. ibid., ii. 443, 464 (= 505), 477, 521]. One of these plaintiffs, Robert de Heriz, offered 80 m. for seizin of land allegedly taken "by reason of the king's service" apparently also in 1199.  Henry countered with an offer of £100 to have the king's grace in order to defend that appeal  against him if anyone wished to plead to it and also to recover the obviously substantial lands of which he had been disseized "by reason of that appeal" apart from those given to Robert de Heriz [Pipe Roll 1199, 182, 186; 1200, 220-1; and cf. *** for Henry's further effort at the lands after Robert's death].


 Richard of Launcells too was certainly a man of some importance, thought to be capable of frustrating hostile lawsuits. In 1201 a hundred jury was amerced for making "a stupid presentment", suggestively of a homicide that had already been before the justices three times on the widow's appeal. (PKJ ii. 370). Dr. Henry Summerson  has suggested to me that he may also have been a Ricardian loyalist sheriff after the fall of John in 1194. If true, that points to a possible explanation: that Richard's death and John's accession appeared to Henry and his followers to open the way for a settling of old political scores that had had previously to be repressed.  We should try to imagine the atmosphere at Launceston castle on that day when Thomas of Dunham and many others went to swear their fealties to the new king, with rumors about John's accession and the fate of Arthur of Brittany swirling around them.. Henry's party may have overestimated its clout with the new regime, or been brought up short by the shire's willingness to follow rules which put their men's life and limb at risk by outlawry. They would then place their hopes on the king to make them an acceptable settlement in something of the way that he eventually did.


Without some such hypothesis, it is hard indeed to trace the complex course of the half dozen associated appeals brought by Richard and his friends, despite (sometime because of) the more than thirty entries on the printed rolls relating to the dispute. Clearly there is much even about the litigation which we cannot know. In the Michaelmas Term of 1200, two of the appeals (neither of them involving Richard in person) reached the point (wager) where the parties had committed themselves to duel. The justices held three of the others null, so that the appellees went free and Richard was in mercy. Despite this, Richard and some of his adversaries were given a day to hear judgement coram rege a few weeks later. The king then ordered the justices to send the two live cases coram rege "because he wishes to see them" (RCR ii. 244; CRR i. 238, 267


What ensued was a complex and expensive settlement that must have been negotiated with the king's knowledge and whose promotion was surely the reason why he "wished to see" the cases before him. Again we have to presume that much happened behind the scenes or at least beyond the kn of the plea roll clerks. They record (CRR i. 386 an entry from a damaged and incomplete roll) that at the hearing coram rege in the Hilary Term of 1201, Richard came into court and withdrew from his suit against Henry f. William, quitclaiming his adversaries of it for ever on behalf of himself and his heirs. Henry was to pay to him the 20 m. which the king had expected as an amercement. This was done "coram rege and by the consent of the Lord King". Hearings nevertheless continue into Easter Term, probably in part to clear up the details of the whole dispute including the subsidiary appeals.


Most of the appellees paid handsomely for their settlement. (Remember that they would have been liable to death or mutilation in the event of a successful appeal.) Henry f. William had himself to proffer £100 for the concord and to regain the king's grace and love on condition that he stood to right against (ie satisfied the claims of) anyone who appeared against him on the matter.  Richard of Launcells was to receive 100 m. from Hugh of Staddon and Richard of Dunham plus 40 m. (damages?) for his chattels. Three county locals (one of them sheriff at about this time) guaranteed with the pair that "no evil will happen through them or by their counsel or will to the said Richard de Lancell' or his men who had gaged that duel on his behalf".  Overall the king received at least 145 m. (nearly £100) in amercements. Richard too was supposed to receive substantial sums within the year, but predictably had trouble in collecting his money. That may have suited the king, since it both sustained the stand-off between the two and parties and brought Richard back to him offering money for collection assistance. “


In researching details of the above article I have contacted the author and  referred to a number of historical documents that confirm that the Heriz family  was in Cornwall at that time, for example, to quote a few of the numerous references:


  • 1198 Pipe Roll Society N.S. Vol. 9.  Michaelmas 10 Richard  p. 173.

CORNEWALLIA  de firma Cornub'.   Et Roberto de Heriz lx s. in Landegai.


  • 1201 Pipe Roll Society N.S. Vol. 14.  Michaelmas 3 John  p. 187.

CORNEWALL'  de firma Cornub'.   Et Roberto de Heriz lx s. in Landegai.

       Et Roberto de Heriz xij li. in Ebbeford


  • 1204 Pipe Roll Society N.S. Vol. 18.  Michaelmas 6 John  p. 37.

CORNEWALL'  de firma Cornub'.   Et Henrico de Heriz vij li. de Ebbeford.


And to follow on from the article on  Richard of Launcells referered to above there are the following entries in the Assise Roll at Launceston in 1201 (3) :


“The assize of novel disseisin betweeen Robert de Heriz, complainant, and Henry son of William stands over because Robert has had seisen by fine which he has had made with the King.”


“Novel disseisen whether Henry Heriz, Richard Le Wauz, Jordan de Cliua and Peter de Uppaton unjustly and without judgement have disseized Joscelin son of William de Hobbefort of his free tenement in Hobbefore within the assize. The Jurors say that they have disseized him. Judgement, Henry Heriz and his men are in mercy and let Joscelin have seisin. Damages 8 shillings.”


It is clear therefore that Robert and Henry (Henrico/Henricus) Heriz were alive at the end of the 12th century, and that Robert died shortly thereafter. The areas in which the family held lands, if not seated, can be determined by the Carew  and pipe roll references:


  • Landegai is the early name for St Kea (which adjoins St Michael Carhayes)


  • Ebbeford is the early name for Efford, in Launcells


The Harris family had an association with both of these areas  from at least the 1400s. The Harris family that  is recorded (6)at Pilton and Bittadon in the late 1400s, and settled at Stone and Lifton, in the north of Devon intermarried with the Reswyk, Trevilla and Penkervill families who like the Harris family received Bodrugan family  lands in the 1400s in the south of Cornwall around St Kea, including  the hamlets of St Michael Penkervill and Trevilla, and moved from that area to the lands at St Michael Penkervill and surrounds adjoining Launcells and Stratton in the north of Cornwall/Devon.


Getting back to Robert de Heriz, he  held lands that had been granted to the Heriz family by virtue of service to King Richard the 1st  who reigned in the period 1189-1199 and this service may have been the participation in  the crusades. In the listing (4)  of English Crusaders of Richard the 1st, of  nobles and knights of greatest note, are included William de  Henry, and , Henry de Herice.  I wonder whether this Henry is the ancestor  of a same named person who  In 1257  was granted protection by the courts for accompanying the Kings son, Edward for going with him into battle in Wales to quell the uprising of the Welsh Lords.

The death of Robert De Heriz referred to in the Richard of Launcells document above  occurred sometime shortly after 1200 and it is possible that his death is also referred to in pipe rolls of 1238 (5), a transcription of the entry which reads:

“Robert Heriz fell from his horse into the river Carey and drowned. Misadventrure. Value of the horse 5s., the sheriff etc. Rannulf de Albermarle, one of the coroners, is in mercy because he was present at the valuation of the horse when t was valueat 2s., and it is now established that it was well worth 5s.”


The river Carey referred to here runs through Lifton in Devon, adjoining the Cornwall border and irrespective as to whether this Robert Heriz is the one referred to in the article relating to the attack on Richard of Launcells it does place the Heriz family in Lifton in 1238. Lifton is one of the seats of the Harris family from the mid to late 1300s.




 (1) On line copy and  The Parochial History of Cornwall: Founded on Manuscript Histories by DAVIES. GILBERT, Thomas Tonkin, William Hals - 1838


(2) Paul Hyams, Cornell University LAUNCELLS v. FITZWILLIAM (mainly 1199-1201)

RCR i. 373; PKJ  i. 3074, 3263, 3291; RCR ii. 244; CRR i. 238, 255-6, 267, 278-9; Rot. de Ob., 78, 103, 106-7; PKJ i. 3372; CRR i. 384, 386, 397, 437-8, 440; PKJ ii. 124 (Devon/Cornwall 1199-1201). Also PR 1200, 223-4; 1201, 190, 192, 222; 1202, 170, 251; 1203, 75, 78; CRR ii. 313; Rot. de Ob., 235, 259-60 (1204-5). Comment: Flower 1941, 314-6.


(3) Pleas before the King and his Justices Vol II. Selden Society Vol  68, page 107 and  173


(4) The Crusaders: Or, Scenes, Events, and Characters, from the Times of the ... By Thomas Keightley Published 1834 J. W. Parker  Original from the University of Michigan v.2


(5) Crown pleas of the Devon Eyre of 1238. Devon and Cornwall record society, new series, Volumne 28, page 101.


(6) UK on line archives