The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Five


After this long digression on the crime and the fate of Reginald FitzUrse, I must now discuss the relationship, if any, between him and the de Berhams.After his disgrace, he is said to have divided his manor of Willerton between his brother, and the Knights of the Order of St. John ; while his manors in Kent , at Barham and Teston passed to another member or members of the family, the de Barhams, his kinsmen. Both of our Kentish historians Phillipot and Hasted refer to this latter transaction. I'll quote here their words. In his account of the parish of Barham, Phillipot writes:

"The old family of FitzUrse were formerly lords of this manor, and resolved into the name of de Berham after such time as one of them called Randall FitzUrse, being a ring leader of three other cavaliers of the King's Court, impiously assassinated Archbishop Becket, the fact being so barbarous in the estimate of those times that, flying to Ireland he abandoned the name of FitzUrse, and took that of McMahon. Certainly as he was the actor, and therefore more stained than the rest; so was he much more culpable because he held this manor at Barham, in the See of Canterbury, for his services as half the Knights fee, yet did not his name, de Berham, vanish from this place, but still was enforced and multiplied into many descendants, from whence issued gentlemen of prime and eminent note in this track, until lately that fate which shuffles both families and Kingdoms into disorder and oblivion hath torn this manor now from this name."

Concerning Teston, which he spells Terston, the same author says,

"Barham Court in this parish represents to our remembrance that it was once the mansion of ancient remembrance of the noble and illustrious family of Barham. This name was in times of very reverent inscription written "FitzUrse". Randall FitzUrse was one of the four who were concerned in the assassination of that turbulent and ambitious prelate, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury . The manner of taking him carried with it so deformed an aspect in those times which were wholly consecrated and offered up to superstitious adoration of his memory, and protracted so black a character on those who were interested in his extra-judicial ruin, that Randall FitzUrse fled into Ireland, and there altered his name to McMahon, which in Irish imports as much as ‘The Son of the Bear’. Upon his recess, Robert de Berham his kinsman entered on his estates here in Teston."

Hasted's 'Survey of Kent' tells a similar story in more prosaic language. Of Barham it says:

"The manor and seat of Barham Court, situated near the Church, in Henry II's time was held to the Archbishop by Knight's service by Sir Randall FitzUrse, who was one of the four Knights belonging to the King's Household who murdered the Archbishop in 1170, after perpetrating which, Sir Randall fled to Ireland and changed his name to McMahon. One of his relations took possession of this estate and assumed the name of Barham from it."

Hastead's statement concerning Teston is as follows:

"Teston House, formerly known by the name of Berham Court, was once the mansion or residence of the family of Berham, usually called Barham, whose original name was FitzUrse.Randall FitzUrse was one of those four Knights belonging to Henry II's household, said by historians to have been of eminent for their birth, who undertook to murder Archbishop Thomas Becket.After this Randall FitzUrse fled into Ireland. Upon his flight Robert de Berham, his kinsman entered on his estate in this parish."

I assume that the relative who succeeded to Barham Court in Barham is the same person as Robert de Berham the kinsman who succeeded to Barham Court in Teston. Apparently Phillipot in some other document is more explicit as to the nature of the kinship. In an article entitled 'Ironworks on the County of Sussex' published in vol II 1849 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections, the Sussex antiquarian, Mark Anthony Lower says of the forbear of the Barham's of Wadhurst that he was a descendent according to the Kentish genealogician Phillipot from Robert de Berham, son of Richard FitzUrse, and brother of the murderer of Thomas Becket. It is vain to speculate the amount of truth that may underlay these old stories, but I think there can be little doubt that a connection of some sort with FitzUrse was a tradition of the de Berhams of the Middle Ages, and not as Mr FitzGerald-Uniacke suggests merely a typically Elizabethan flourish. There is some support by the fact that the coat of arms borne by widely separated branches of the Barham family always included the three bears, as if looking back to FitzUrse, the ‘Son of a Bear’.

It was about the middle of the twelfth century that the noble and knightly families were choosing their distinctive coat of arms, and this is approximately the period which according to tradition de Berham was displacing FitzUrse. The wearing of a distinctive device on the shield and surcoat had a practical purpose in proclaiming the identity of the Knight when clad in armour on the battlefield or in the lists at a tournament. The devices were simple at first, but they became more complicated when armorial bearings came to be used to declare descent or intermarriage. In time the learned science of heraldry was developed with rigid rules of procedure and a jargon of technical terms.I have mentioned in a picture of the murder of Thomas Becket displayed in Canterbury Cathedral that Reginald FitzUrse displays the figures of bears on his surcoat with obvious reference to his name. That the de Berhams had bears emblazoned on their coat of arms seems to indicate that they claimed some sort of affiliation with the FitzUrse family, but as I have said in section 2 of these notes, the first syllable of the name of Barham itself goes back to old English personal name meaning bear. So, it is just possible that the descendents of Wulnoth de Bereham may have taken their token animal from the name of their parent village, that is if they were English enough to understand its significance. I must leave my readers to choose which explanation pleases them best.

In heraldic language the arms of the de Berhams are thus described: "Argent, three bears passant, sable; muzzled or." In plain English this means: On a shield with a silver or white background, three black bears in a walking posture, wearing golden muzzles. In some accounts the colour of the muzzles is "gules", that is red.

I shall relate in due course the Wadhurst Barhams and their descendents, including the late Sir George Barham, that have some devices, technically known as differences added to the simple arms of the de Berhams, but always they display three black muzzled bears. The arms of the de Berhams and the Barhams are shown in a rough sketch prefixed to these notes.

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