Skipwith pedigree: notes on sources

The accompanying chart and narrative pedigrees of the Skipwith families of of St Albans and Parkbury have been compiled from various sources, of which the most important are mentioned below.


A pedigree of seven generations was recorded at the Heralds' Visitation of Hertfordshire in 1572 (College of Arms MS G.17). (A version omitting the first generation and most of the heraldry was printed, from a copy in the Harleian manuscripts, in Harleian Society volume 22.) As discussed below, much of this pedigree seems to have been compiled on the evidence of monumental brasses in St Peter's Church, St Albans - apparently without too much scrutiny by the family - and the result is inaccurate in at least two important respects:

Nevertheless, I have assumed that the Visitation pedigree is accurate for the mid to late 16th century. Another pedigree, in Harleian MS 1412, fo.102b - apparently prepared in connection with a law suit in the 1630s - gives further details of the descendants of younger sons and the marriages of daughters. I have assumed these details are essentially accurate.

Origins of the family

The most prominent Skipwiths in England were - and still are - the descendants of the medieval lords of Skipwith, in Yorkshire; they later lived in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. The Skipwiths of St Albans presumably believed they shared the same descent, as in 1507 they were granted arms very similar to those of the Yorkshire Skipwiths. One of the later amplifications of the Visitation pedigree (in Harleian MS 1546, ff.81b-83) sets out explicitly the alleged connection, which begins - in the approved fashion of manufactured pedigrees - with a younger son of the established family. It duly includes a Richard Skipwith in 1400 as the grandfather of the first John Skipwith, so - if we accept that the heralds blundered - it is impossible as it stands. But some of the people mentioned are real, and it may contain some grains of truth.

The part of the alleged pedigree least likely to be untrue is the identification of John Skipwith's father as Thomas Skipwith of Selby, Yorkshire. To some extent this is confirmed, or at least made plausible, by other evidence:

One further point is a possible identification for an impaled coat of arms on the visitation pedigree, which are probably those of the first wife of John Skipwith of St Albans. Of three possibilities in Papworth's Ordinary, one is the family of Freston of Altofts, in Yorkshire, who bore Argent a fess dancetty between three mullets vert (although other sources give different arms). As Altofts is only about 15 miles from Selby, this identification would be consistent with the 'Selby' pedigree.

Interpreting the visitation pedigree

Many of the family were commemorated by monumental brasses in St Peter's church in St Albans, details of which have been preserved by several antiquaries and historians. Sadly, none of the brasses now survives - the last mention of a Skipwith monument is in an account of the church written in April 1799: 'A long stone which seems to have been pompously ornamented with brass, of which all that remains is a Shield of the Arms of Skipwith ... This is the only vestige of the Family of Skipwith remaining' (annotation in an edition of Chauncy's History of Hertfordshire: British Library, Additional MS 9063). Possibly the remaining brass shield is the one now in the British Museum (noted in Mill Stephenson's A list of monumental brasses...).

A close examination of the visitation pedigree suggests that its compilers relied heavily on the Skipwith monuments for information about the first few generations shown. As well as the main shield, which shows the quarterings brought into the family by Joan Rowlett, the pedigree includes sketches of a number of smaller shields, nearly all containing impaled arms, representing the marriages of members of the family. It seems likely that these arms were taken from the monuments, and that in some cases the heralds used them to guess the identity of the Skipwith wives. The evidence is discussed, generation by generation, below.




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