A graphic of a blue unicorn.The Family of Kemmis

Edition 3.3 - 5 June 2020
Table of Contents


It has usually been accepted that the cognomen of the House of Cameys, or Camoys as it later became known on the introduction of French in the Court of Edward II, was derived originally from some ancient possession of the Family in England; but examination shows that the lands first held by the House in England never bore the name "Cameys" or "Camoys" and that, as will be seen, any lands which at any time were so denominated originally were otherwise called and received their later name from some member of the Family who held them, and almost invariably because they resided thereon. In short, the Ancestor of the House had his cognomen of "Cameys" prior to becoming possessed of English lands which at any time were so denominated originally were otherwise called and received their later name from some member of the Family who held them, and almost invariably because they resided thereon. In short, the Ancestor of the House had his cognomen of "Cameys" prior to becoming possessed of English lands, and must therefore have taken it from possessions in Normandy or elsewhere.

It does not appear that the Family after the Conquest had other than a slight connection with Normandy, nor was there any place in that country from which the cognomen could reasonably be supposed to be taken. But turning to Wales, it is found that the greater lords, of whom the Family held some of their earlier possessions in England, were active leaders in the subjugation of the southern part of that country: that the early members of the House had much to do with South Wales: and that there a Branch as it undoubtedly appears, possessed an Estate on the river Usk in the County of Monmouth, known in the Welsh language as "Cemeis", where they had the right of house-bote and hey-bote in Wentwood forest "per conquestum".

In the Domesday Survey of 1086 there is no mention of any Cameys holding lands in England. Turning to Wales we find that in Monmouth, which though nominally conquered in 1069-1070 was in reality then and for many years afterwards as much possessed by the Welsh as the Normans, the whole of Caerleon in which Cemeis lay, with the exception of a small portion held by William de Schoies, was in the King's hands. Thus it is evident that at that date the surname Cameys had not come into existence. It is therefore most probable that the founder of the House of Cameys, otherwise Cameis or Camoys, came to England in the invading army of the Conqueror from Normandy and fought at Hastings, but did not immediately share in the plunder of the Saxon lands, that he went with Robert Fitz Hamon to Wales, and assisted in the conquest of Glamorgan in 1091 and there received as his reward the Manor of Cemeis from which he took his cognomen, and that subsequently he received a further grat of lands in Norfolk from the King.

The first known mention of the surname Cameis, as will be seen hereafter, occurs shortly before 1109; for, although the name appears in the various copies of the Roll of Battle Abbey, there is no reason to suppose that it was in existence in 1066 or was inserted in the Roll immediately after the battle of Hastings. The contrary would evidently seem to be the case, since in John Foxe's copy of the Battel Roll, taken as he states "out of the Annals of Normandy, in French, whereof one very ancient written book in parchment remaineth in the custody of the writer hereof", the Cameys does not appear, but in an addition to his Roll which he heads "Out of the ancient Chronicles of England, touching the names of other Normans which seemed to remain alive after the Battell and to be advanced to the signories of this land" he gives among others the name "I de Cameyes".

The Celtic word "Cemeis" is probably derived from "Cam-eas", signifying "crooked torrent", doubtless referring to the winding stream of the Usk which encircles three sides of the lands of Kemeys. The Norman French word "Camoys" had a similar meaning, i.e. "curved"; thus Chaucer uses it in his quaint description of the daughter of the miller of Trumpington when he writes-

         "This wenche thickke and well i-growen was
          With Camoys nose and eyghen gray as glas."

and as late as 1652 in the "Glossarium in Historiâ Anglicâ Scriptores decem" a "camoyse nose" is mentioned as denoting in everyday language "nasus recurvus".

The surname Kemeys (see Appendix) may be found spelled in many different ways, but always to give the original Celtic pronunciation Cem-is or its frenchified form Cem-oise: since the "a" in Camoys was written-as was frequently the case in early days, - for "e", as the following extracts from the Patent Rolls will shew. - 1382 Oct. 18 The King presents Robert Brokkelleye, Chaplin, to the Church of Kemeys, Diocese of Llandaff, in his gift because Edmund, son and heir of Edmund de Mortuo Mare late Earl of March, is in his wardship.

- 1389 May 4. Ratification of the Estate of Gervase ap Jevan as parson of Cammays, Diocese of Llandaff.

It will be observed that the armorial bearings of the senior line of the Family differ from those of the Welsh branch. At the time of the latter branch taking up its residence in Wales, armorial bearing were by no means universal, nor did they become hereditary until a later date. It is generally assumed that the junior branch of the Family adopted the arms they bore in consequence of the marriage of Stephen de Cameis (VII) with a Welsh heiress of the family of Gwent.

The Manor of Kemeys Inferior, Co. Monmouth, is situate upon the eastern bank of the river Usk between the towns of Caerleon and Usk, distant from the former about three and a half mile and from the latter six miles.

Anciently the Manor was included within the limits of the forest of Wentwood, which extended from near Caerleon to the Wye and formed part of the mesne of the native Welsh princes of Kings of Gwent, who ruled over the tract of country bounded upon the South by the Bristol Channel, upon the East by the Wye, upon the North by the Morrow and a ridge of lofty hills, and upon the west by the river Rumney.

In the 'Liver Llandivensis' or ancient register of the Cathedral Church of Llandaff the following mention of Kemeys occurs, "Rhodri gave for his soul, with the approbation and consent of King Morgan, the estate of Cemeis at the mouth of the Humir brook, of his own inheritance, with two uncias of land, to God and to St. Dubricius, St. Teilo and St. Oudoceus and in the hand of Bishop Berthgwyn (Successive bishops of Llandaff from about A.D. 470 to A.D. 600)), with all its liberty for ever, without any payment to mortal man besides to the church of Llandaff and its pastors. Of the clergy the witnesses are: Berthgwyn Bishop, Sulien abbot of Cadoc, Sadwrn abbot of Docunni, Gwrhafal abbot of Illfyd: of the laity King Morgan, Clydri, etc. After a long time Oulen freed that land from the power of the laity and gave it to God, St. Dubricius, St. Teilo and St. Oudocius free from all laical claim and to Bishop Grecielis, for his soul. And after an interval of time Ffaw again discharged that estate from laical possession and gave it in the hand of Cerenhir, bishop of Llandaff, with the aforesaid two uncias of land, about 216 acres between wood, field, and water. Whosoever will keep it may he be pleased, and whosoever will violate it, accursed. Amen. Its boundary is: the influx of Humir into the river Usk, following it to its source, along the Usk to the influx of Nant Bichan, following it upwards to the breast of the hill towards the source of the brook Humir, that is Nant Merthyr, where it began.

Again mention is made of King Ffernwael (King of Glawyssif, or Glamorgan, and died in the year 763, he was the son of King Ithael, son of King Morgan.) "holding his court in the middle of Cemeis and at the mouth of the Humir, "and of a grant of land in Dimuer to the See of Llandaff by the same King "on account of all the evil which his sons had done in Cemeis."

In the year 1069-70 Monmouth was conquered by the Normans ( in Domesday Book under Gloucestershire, in the return of Carleion, it is mentioned that the King held 71 carucates there (Vol. 1, page 162): and under Herefordshire it is stated that Wm. De Schoies held 8 carucates there, 3 in Castellaria de Carleion, etc: in his demesne was one carucate, and 73 Welshment under Welsh laws held 3 carucates, etc. etc. (Vol. 1, page 185b)): ten years after King William led an army into Wales and with power reducing it received homage from the Welsh princes: but not until the time of the Marshals, Earls of Pembroke, in the 13th century, could South Wales be said to be permanently reduce and the Norma invaders to be secure in the possessions which they had there acquired. Up to that date from the time of the Conqueror the Country was the scene of almost unceasing warfare, resulting a one time in the Normans, and another in the Welsh having the upper hand.

Robert Fitz-Hamon, Lord of Astrememville in Normandy, on whom William Rufus had conferred the Honor of Gloucester, in the forth year of that King's reign, A.D. 1091, "with twelve knights and what force he could make" obtained possession of the territory of Jestyn, Lord of Glamorgan. Fitz-Hamon died 7 Hen. I, A.D. 1107, leaving four daughters, the eldest of whom the King gave in marriage to his own illegitimate son John, creating him Earl of Gloucester: John's son William succeeded to the earldom and had great contests with Ivor Bach, a Welshman "little of stature but exceeding valiant": William left an only surviving child myce, who married into the De Clare family.

Richard Fitz-Gilbert, son of Grislebert, Earl of Brion in Normandy, called "de Tongruge" from his seat at Tonbridge, Kent, and also "de Clare" from his possession of Clare, in Suffolk, came with the Conqueror into England, and having obtained possession of Cardiganshire was slain A.D. 1135 when marching towards Abergavenny, by Jorwerth, brother of Margan of Caerleon: he left five sons, of whom Walter, the third, having license from the King as his father had before him to enjoy what he could conquer in Wales, reduced and possessed all Netherwent. Gilbert, also call "de Tonbruge" eldest son of Fitz-Gilbert left four sons, Richard, Gilbert, Walter and Baldwin: of these the eldest Richard A.D. 1124, possessed the Castle of St.Clare, was created Earl of Hertford, and entering into Wales by the power of the sword acquired there much territory. The eldest son of Richard, named Gilbert, died s.p. in 1157 having subdued Caermarthenshire, already temporarily reduced as will presently be shown by his uncle Gilbert: Richard's other son Roger dying in 1173 was succeeded by a son Richard, who married as before stated Amyce, heiress of the Earl of Gloucester, and their son Gilbert became the first Earl of Gloucester and Hertford. This Gilbert married Isabel, third daughter of William Marshal, and was in the expedition to wales 7 Hen. III,A.D. 1223: his eldest son Richard joining with others of the lords Marchers had many battles with the Welsh. Richard died A.D. 1262 and was succeeded by his son Gilbert, commonly call "the Red".

Gilbert, second son of Gilbert de Tongruge before mentioned made suit to King Henry I. to bestow upon him some lands in Wales, whereupon the King offering him those of Cadogan ap Blethyn if he could win them, he conquered Caermarthenshire. Afterwards, upon the instigation of some who thirsted for the Welshman's lands, Henry raised an army and dividing it into three bodies, committed the principal to Gilbert to lead against south Wales: the Welsh submitted and Gilbert possessed all Netherwent, which his uncle Walter had previously held, with the whole dominions of Struguil and other lands in Wales, whereupon the King in 1138 made him Earl of Pembroke: he was succeeded by his son Richard, surnamed Strongbow, who bore the title of Earl of Struguil as well as that of Earl of Pembroke, by reason that his chief residence was in the lordship.

Richard died in the year 1176 leaving a daughter and heiress married to William Marshall, who in his wife's right became Earl of Struguil and Pembroke. In 1217 Wm. Marshall retook Caerleon which, and object of considerable importance, had already frequently changed hands in the struggle between the Normans and the Welsh: he paid #65. 10s. scutage for 65; knights' fees in the Honor of Struguil.

Wm Marshall left five sons who, each in succession, became Earl of Pembroke and died without issue: William the eldest obtained from Henry III in 1228 a grant of Struguil, and Gilbert the third son had a charter of confirmation of the same lordship.

On the death of Anselm the youngest son his estates were divided between his two sisters. Maud, the elder, was married to Hught Bigot, Earl of Norfolk, who thus obtained Struguil and was created Earl Marshal; while Usk and Caerleon passed to Isabel the younger, who as already said, was married to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford.

A.D. 1270, Earl Roger son of Hugh Bigot being Lord of Struguil, on Saturday next after the feast of St. Michael an open court was held at "Struggle" (Struguil) before Sir Wm. de Walsie (Walston) the Steward, and there was presented who ought to have house-bote and heye-bote in Wentwood: among the presentments then made was the following, "Tenentes fodi de Kemes debent habere housbote et heybote ad momum suam apud Kemes per conquestum": the tenants at that time were the brothers Walter and Meyric de Kemmeys, who held the Manor jointly as the fee of one Knight's service, the value of which was £100.

On the death of Roger Bigot the younger, in virtue of a surrender which he had made in his lifetime to the King, Edward II granted to his own brother Thomas Plantagenet, called "de Brotherton", the earldom of Noefolk and all the estates of the Bigots; in this family they remained until the 15th. century, when John Duke of Norfolk died seised of the Castle and Manor of Struguil: his son John appears to have sold these possessions to William first Earl of Pembroke, of the second branch of the Herbert family, whose son William in 1479, resigning at the instance of King Henry the title of Earl of Pembroke was created in lieu Earl of Huntingdon; his daughter and heiress married Charles, illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort Earl of Somerset, who in sight of his wife obtained the title of Lord Herbert of Ragland, Chepstow and Gower: subsequently he was raised to the Earldom of Worcester: his descendant, the 5th Earl, was advanced by Charles I to the dignity of Marquis and Charles II conferred the title of Duke of Deaufort upon the second Marquis.

As already said, upon the death of the last of the Marshals Usk and Caerleon when to Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester: his grandson Gilbert the Red died 25 December 1295, and among the possessions in Wales of which he was found by inquisition to have died seized were "Karlion maner et burgus. Usk maner extent cum burgo infra Bosc de Brees. Kemmeys unum feod' et Kemeys advoc' eccliae". Gilbert the Red was succeeded by a son, Gilbert, the Earl of his line, whose third sister Elizabeth conveyed the castles of Usk and Caerleon together with other possessions, to her husband John de Burgh son of the Earl of Ulster; their son William left an only daughter Elizabeth, who was espoused by Lionel Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III.

In 1369, Edmund Mortimer Earl of March, who had married Philippa, only daughter of the Duke of Clarence, had livery of all the Duke's castles and estates; he died at Cork and was succeeded by his eldest son Roger, born at Usk in 1374. Following the King into Ireland Roger was there slain in 1399: in the inquisition taken upon his death he is described as "Rogerus de Moruo Mari, comes Marchiae" and among his possessions under "Feoda pertin' ad honorem de Gloucester' in dominiis de Usk et Karleon" are "Kemmeys advoc'eccliae" and "Kemmeys unum feofum per M. de Kemmeys et Walter de Kemmeys," that is, Morgan and Walter the sons of John Kemmeys.

Edmund Mortimer succeeded his father as Earl of March: in his inquisition taken in 1425 mention is made of "Karlion feod' cum burg' extent' cum membra Kemeys i feod' per Willm de Kemmeys" and "Kemmeys ecclia": the latter is again recounted in the inquisition of Edmund's widow Anna in 1431, thus, "Kemmis advoc' eccliae". Edmund Mortimer dying without issue his estates went ultimately to his sister, the wife of Richard Earl of Cambridge, to their son Richard Duke of York, and then in succession to his sons Edward IV and Richard III; on the death of the latter his property came into possession of Henry VII, in virtue of his marriage with the daughter of Edward IV.

The lordship of Usk afterwards belonged to William first Earl of Pembroke, of the second branch of the Herbert family, who as has already been shown, became Lord of Struguil. The lordship of Caerleon came into the possession of the Morgan family seated at Llantarnam, by one of the co-heirs of which it passed to John Howe Esq. father of the first Lord Chedworth: subsequently it was sold to a Mr. Burgh.

Wentwood forest at one time, Mr. Octavius Morgan says, extended over 7,000 acres and was famous for the growth of oak, beech, holly, and yew. The "Foresters' oaks," so named because from time immemorial beneath them were holden the courts of the forest, still remain; a MS. book dated 1668 gives full directions for the method of holding these courts, and account of the customs of the forest, etc.; by this it appears that the suitors were the proprietors of estates, who claimed by prescription from the Conquest or by grants from the lord, house-bote, hey-bote, plough-bote, and fire-bote together with herbage and pannage in the forest, and from these suitors the juries were selected.

Besides the suitors there were other tenants in the forest, "new commoners", who had grants in writing from the lord's officers of the liberty of cropping only and to fetch and to carry away with horses only, not oxen, paying an annual rent of 1s. and a dinner yearly to the Foresters, "kill wood men", who had liberty to have the smaller sort of firewood next the browse, bringing to the woods only hackerbills and paying 2d. or 4d. for four seams of greenwood.

Rogers in his "Memoirs of Monmouthshire" 1708, relates that in the time of Charles I the lords and tenants of Wentwood forest were severely used by Henry Earl of Worcester for assering their rights and privileges, until the sudden death of "those worthy and active gentlemen and tenants of Wentwood Sir Edward Morgan, Thomas Lewis, and Wm Kemys Esquiers (their heirs being left minors) occasioned the discontinuance of matters at the time: also that the Earl notwithstanding the rights of the tenants as to hey-bote, etc and the opposition of Sir Nicholas Kemys and others, obtained a grant to enclose a third part of the chase.

During the greater part of the reign of Charles II matters remained quiet in Wentwood, the lord not invading the tenant's rights but yearly keeping a court; nor the tenants questioning the Earl's enclosure: but "in the month of April 1678, Henry, Lord Marquis, did by his agents with a high hand enter into the said chase with about 100 workmen to cut down the wood and timber there and employed several others to enclose the said chase with walls and ditches. Whereupon the lords of the several adjacent manors and other free tenants as Sir Edward Morgan of Llantarnam, Wm. Morgan of Tredegar, Thos. Lewis, Wm. Kemys, Geo. Kemeys Esquiers, Wm. Morgan of Tredegar, Thos. Lewis, Wm. Kemys, Geo. Kemeys Esquiers, Wm. Blethin, Ed. Kemys, Jno. Jones and Nathan Rogers, gentlemen, and several others met to consider what was to be done .... where the appointed Geo. Kemys, Ed, Kemys, Wm. Blethin and Nathan Rogers to forbid the said workmen to cut or fell any more wood in the chase or to proceed with the enclosure, who thereupon did desist for some little time, but came on again in greater numbers and force...., the lord marquis to more effectually carry on his design, the principal gentlemen of the hundred of Caldicot where in the said chase lay, were all put out of the commission of the peace, as Thos. Lewis, Chas. Van Esquiers and three of the Kemyses.... and called a Privy Sessions under the Forester' Oak, when appeared his mercenary justices, viz, Mr. Wm. Milburne, Mr. Thos. Herbert, his dupty governor of Chepstow, with the county Jailer, several bailiffs, catchpoles and other dissolute fellows from Monmouth."

Ultimately the Marquis obtained a warrant for the apprehension of Ed. Kemeys, Nathan Rogers, Thos Blethin, Jno. Kemeys and Nathaniel Field, gentlemen, and Philip Edwards and Meretith Howel, yeomen. The last three were sent prisoners to London, where on their petitioning the House of Peers and Paying £40 each as fees, they were discharged: Mr. Kemeys and Rogers also went to London, but absconded during the Session of Parliament.

Archdeacon Wm. Coxe in his "History of Monmouthshire", 1801, mentions "The common carriage road" from Caerleon to Usk upon the western side of the river, and then relates his ride along a "more circuiteous and rugged route" between those towns upon the left bank of the stream and gives some description of Kemeys, through which the road passes. He says "crossing the bridge of Caerleon we went through the village or 'ultra pontem' to the turnpike-gate leading to Newport, turned at right angles into the Usk road and at a little distance passed a hollow way called the old Chepstow hill road,.... we continued along a terrace above the rich marshy plain watered by the usk and at the foot of Kemeys cliff (The western extremity of the elevated ridge which stretches from the Treley hills through mid Monmouthshire),.... the road passes through the small village of Kemeys between the church, which is a low rude building in the midst of a field, and the mansion house situated at the bottom of the hanging woods and under the summer house called the "Folly".

The mansion house in an ancient seat, which belonged to a branch of the Kemeys Family .... a fine Gothic portal leads into the courtyard and over a doorway of the house is a small figure of a man carved in stone, holding in his right hand an hour glass and in his left a scroll with the Kemeys arms, a chevron charged with three pheons, and G. K. the initials of George Kemeys, anno 1693: underneath is a Welsh motto, alluding to the hour glass "onys chwyth awel fe derfyn amiser" -'time passes like the breathing gale'".

On another occasion, riding from Troggy Castle along the ridge towards Kemeys cliff, Coxe visited the "Folly" and thus speaks of it and the scenery around, "the road is a narrow level way leading through groves of coppce interspersed with oak, beech, and other timber trees: the height commands, at one time , the same view which I admired so much from the top of Pencamaer (A high point of the ridge near Troggy Castle) and at another the southern part of Monmouthshire with the Bristol Channel, bordered by the hills of Somersetshire and Gloucestershire, till they are lost in the expanse of the ocean. The eye is however never satiated with a profusion of objects, as the prospects on each side present themselves alternately through occasional glades of the forest. About two mile from Pencamaer I came to a field in the midst of which on an eminence is a building denominated "Kemeys Folly", which comprehends a full prospect of the rich and extensive regions on each side of the ridge. The delightful objects which had presented themselves in succession are here combined into one grand and sublime view, which is scarcely equalled in any other part of Monmouthshire. The summer house was erected by George Kemeys: boasting one day to his uncle that he constructed a building from which eleven counties could be seen, his uncle replied, "I am sorry, nephew, that eleven counties can see thy folly".

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Armorial Bearings

John L. & Irene Kemmis
E-mail to: john.kemmis@kemmisfamily.info