Tom’s 1913 ‘The Anstey Family’ Article

T. J. Anstey (Tom) wrote an article entitled ‘The Anstey Family’, which was published in the ‘South Gloucestershire Chronicle’ on either 3 or 4 January 1913. We hereby reproduce Tom’s exquisitely researched article in full ‘as is’, with Gary’s comments relegated to the footnotes.

Domesday Book records the fact that in 1085 there were in the Southern and Central parts of England some nine or ten places which bore the name of Anstey, but the name then had already been in existence for over 200 years, the earliest mention being somewhere about the date AD861 in connection with the fortified camp in Surrey now known as Ansteybury Camp, near Dorking. The villages or hamlets so named were to be found placed high up on a hill, in such a position as to command the roadway from its most advantageous point. This geographical situation explains the meaning of the name, which is a corruption of two Anglo-Saxon words meaning ‘High-Way’. In course of time these villages would give their name to certain of their inhabitants and it is therefore impossible to assume any common origin for those who today bear this old Saxon name.[1]

Soon after the Conquest there appears the first mention of a distinctive Anstey family. They lived at the Castle of Anstey in Hertfordshire and held very extensive lands in that county and in the adjoining counties of Essex and Cambridgeshire. Domesday Book says that the Earl (Eustace of Bologne) himself held Anstey, and from this some authorities have assumed that he or his first succesors soon became known under the surname Anstey.[2] Earl Eustace was one of William’s most powerful supporters, and had married a sister of the Confessor. It is not likely that within a few years such an important family would have vanished from their lands, and we find about 1160 that Richard de Anstey held this castle and its broad demesnes; and after this date entries in the Public Records of the time are frequent. Indeed one of the most treasured manuscripts now in the keeping of the nation consists of the account of Richard de Anstey’s lawsuit with the Sackville Family which is probably in his own handwriting, and is highly valued for its thorough and exhaustive account of Judicial Procedure in the time of Henry II. This Richard de Anstey married Agnes, daughter of Sir William de Sackville, whose brother, Sir Robert, was the ancestor of the Sackville Family, Earls of Dorset. [3]

Hubert de Anstey succeeded his father Richard, and he in turn was succeeded by his son Nicholas who lived somewhere about 1200, still at the Castle of Anstey, from whence he went forth with the other Barons against King John in the fight for Magna Charta. Nicholas left no son, and his lands passed to his daughter Dionysia de Anstey, who married William de Montchensy, Lord of Swainscamp, in Kent, whose sister Joan de Montchensy was the wife of William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, half brother of King Henry III. [4]

With Dionysia de Anstey’s marriage to Montchensy, the name of Anstey ceases to have baronial rank, and henceforward the entries in the national records are not as frequent as before. But though the name had been merged into that of Montchensy, we find that Dionysia’s son William was amongst the foremost warriors of his age. He was one of the leaders of the Barons in the disastrous fight at Lewes in 1264, when they were defeated by Henry III and his son Prince Edward. William de Montchensy was himself captured and lodged in Lewes Castle as a prisoner; his estates were forfeited, though subsequently restored, and he was sent into exile. In 1284 he reappears, taking an active lead in the wars of Edward I against the Welsh, and at the Siege of Drossellan Castle he was killed whilst leading his men through a breach in the castle walls. His death appears to have made a profound impression on the contemporary chroniclers, who mention or enlarge on it with some emphasis.

The line of Montchensys continued to hold its position in the Eastern Counties for a further 200 years until it in turn merged with that of the Waldegraves about the year 1450, by the marriage of the daughter of the last Montchensy to Sir Richard Waldegrave, Lord of Bures and Silvesters. As a family name today, the surname of Montchensy has apparently ceased to exist, as I have not so far been able to trace it or any corruption of it. [5]

But meanwhile the junior branches of the Anstey family had remained in and around their ancestral home, and were leaving many traces of their existence on local history. One branch settled in London, and seems to have concerned itself with the growing commerce of the city, for several transactions are recorded in the City of London Year Books of the 13th and 14th centuries. In Huntingdonshire the family had acquired lands and position, and in the return of Members of the House of Commons the name appears in connection with that county and the adjoining county of Cambridge. [6]

With such references as these in connection with Church and State in the succeeding centuries, we come down to the end of the eighteenth century, when the name of Christopher Anstey occurs as the author of the ‘New Bath Guide’. He was a country squire who left his home in Trumpington, near Cambridge, and went to Bath with his family in search of health. He entered very enthusiastically into all that took place during that city’s great revival of prosperity, and his work (a satire on the social life of the place), when published, took the whole of literary England by storm, and made its author the most talked of man of his time.

His son, John Anstey, subsequently wrote a satire on the legal profession entitled ‘The Pleader’s Guide’. It was carried out in the style set by the father, but while it had great vogue, neither the subject matter nor the time ensured it the success which the Bath Guide had attained.

It is interesting to note that a descendant of Christopher Anstey – the Rev. Henry Anstey – is at present residing at Clifton, having during his career been a Master at King Edward School Birmingham; tutor at St Michael Hall, Oxford; Vicar of Wendron, Cornwall; and Rector of Slapton, Bucks. He was the author of ‘Munimenta Academia’ or documents illustrative of Academical Life and Studies at Oxford 1868; Epistole Acadamicae 1898. [7]

The migration of Christopher Anstey across England to Bath brings us into touch with the Anstey families which had long been settled in the Western Counties.

Here again in the counties of Gloucestershire, Somersetshire and Devonshire, the family name was strongly established. This may have been due to the fact that a family had taken its name from the villages of East or West Anstey near Dulverton,[8] but it is certain that in the country between Exeter on the South and Dulverton on the North and reaching across to Bristol and Bath, for hundreds of years back the name is to be met with in numerous places. Of these West Country Ansteys there are today many distinct families, some of whose members are well-known in agriculture or engaged in commerce while others belong to the learned professions; the name appearing in the Clergy, Army, Navy and Law Lists. In Bristol, until his death some years since, the Rev. A. C. C. Anstey was Honorary Canon of the Cathedral, having been successively Vicar of St John’s Bedminster and St John’s Clifton, and later Missioner and first Vicar of the new and populous parish of St Akihelm, Bedminster, where he was followed by his son, the Rev. Arthur Henry Anstey, afterwards Principal of St Boniface Missionary College, Warminster and now Prinicipal of Codrington College, Barbados and examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Barbados.[9] Another representative of the family name is Mr Henry Anstey, a prominent Bristol Citizen, Councillor and Justice of the Peace,[10] whose family has been associated with the city and the neighbourhood for close on 150 years.

With regard to the different families of Anstey, I have only recently met cases in which, by comparison of the respective pedigrees, the connection at an earlier date became apparent and, given the necessary information, I have no doubt that many families, supposedly distinct, which are now scattered about the country, could be linked together into one comprehensive pedigree.[11]

In all our Colonies and in the United States of America branches of the Anstey family are to be found located, and here again in many cases it has not been difficult to link up these outlying representatives of the name with the parent branch at home, when the necessary information to go upon has been supplied.

In a short survey such as this of a family whose history dates back to such an early period, it is impossible to do more than give a mere outline of their story, and conjectures and details must be left completely to one side. The account is necessarily disjointed, and much more remains to be done before anything like a connected history can be constructed. I shall therefore be very glad of any information bearing on this subject, and if readers of this paper will kindly communicate with me at 3, Broad Street Place E.C. I shall esteem it a favour.[12]


[1] See Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry pages 27-9, 67-8 and 134.

[2] We now know this is not the case, see Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry Chapter One.

[3] See Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry Chapter Two.

[4] See Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry Chapter Three.

[5] See Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry pages 105-112. Tom was extremely interested in the ‘Montchensy’ connection to the medieval Ansteys, writing copious notes of his findings on his A5 cards (see also the front cover of our first book, which displays Tom’s A5 pedigree of Richard de Anstey, together with those of Sackville and Montchensy).

[6] See Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry Chapter Five onwards. Also see ANSTEY: The Cambridgeshire Branch of the 1400s and Early 1500s Chapter Four.

[7] ANSTEY: The Cambridgeshire Branch of the 1400s and Early 1500s Appendix Nine.

[8] We have now proved that the South West Peninsula Ansteys of Devon and Somerset (and hence the South Gloucestershire Ansteys) are a sub-branch of the Cambridgeshire Ansteys (see ANSTEY: The Cambridgeshire Branch of the 1400s and Early 1500s Appendix Four), and that almost all ‘Anstey’, Ansty’, ‘Anstee’ and ‘Anstie’ (with the exception of ‘Ansteys evolved from other surnames‘) obtained their surname from Hubert the 12th century Anstey patriarch (see Anstey: Our True Surname Origin and Shared Medieval Ancestry Chapter One).

[9] See ANSTEY: The Devon and Somerset Branch pages 280 and 287.

[10] See ANSTEY: The Stoke Gifford Branch page 229.

[11] We have discussed Tom’s assertion on pages 2 and 13 of ANSTEY: The Stoke Gifford Branch; see also footnote 30 of that book.

[12] See page 21 of ANSTEY: The Stoke Gifford Branch.

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