Geoffrey Dormer, of Thame

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Geoffrey Dormer

Also Known As: "Jeffrey"
Birthplace: Probably West Wycomb, Buckinghamshire, England
Death: March 09, 1503 (94-95)
Thame, Oxfordshire, England
Place of Burial: Thame, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir Geoffrey Dormer, Kt. and Judith Dormer
Husband of Margery Dormer and Alice Dormer
Father of William Dormer, of Thame and West Wycombe; Geoffrey Dormer; Sir Michael Dormer, Lord Mayor of London; Edward Dormer; Alice Croker and 4 others

Occupation: Merchant of the Staple of Calais, Sir/Merchant O/T Staple Of Calais
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Geoffrey Dormer, of Thame

Geoffrey Dormer

Advisory on the ancestry of Geoffrey Dormer, from The Family of Dormer in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire by Michael Maclagan

The family of Dormer was at one time of considerable importance in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and has left behind a notable legacy of monuments in the churches of the counties. It is the purpose of this article to discuss their early history, which has, I think, been distorted by tradition, and to throw some light on the more interesting members of the family. Most of the inspiration was collected by the war, but it has been revised and checked where possible.

The first Dormer of whom a monument has survived is Geoffrey Dormer, merchant of the Staple of Calais, who died in 1502/3, and whose brass is in the Thame church. The brass shows him between his two wives; at the feet of the first are five sons and eight daughters, and of the second seven sons and five daughters. His merchant's mark and a coat of arms with three fleurs-d-lys survive; one with the arms of the Staple of Calais disappeared recently. An inscription gives the name of his wives as Margery and Alice, and the date of his death as 9 March 1502 (apparently by English dating). This Geoffrey Dormer was the founder of the family, and from him descend all the branches which once flourished in this neighborhood and are now extinct, and also the eldest line of the family, now seated in Warwickshire and represented by the present Lord Dormer.

Dr. Lee, in his History of the Prebendal Church of Thame, gives an elaborate pedigree of the Dormer family (pp. 503-20). This, though set out in a confusing manner, is substantially correct for the later generations, though I shall later in the article give some corrections. I wish first, however, to discuss this accepted statements on the rise to wealth and influence of this family. For example, in his account of the village of Hughenden in his History of Buckinghamshire, III, 585, Lipscombe writes:

"It having continued to be vested in the Earls of Arundell until the reign of Henry VI, Ursula daughter and heir of Bartholomew Collingridge, heir-general of Arundel, as descended from the FitzAlans, carried this manor as part of her inheritance in marriage to Geoffrey Dormer of West Wycombe."

The fact that in truth the manor of Hughenden belonged to the Priory of Kenilworth and was granted by the Crown to Sir Robert Dormer (grandson of Geoffrey) in 1539 is less startling than the brilliant alliances which are here advanced for our merchant of the Staple of Calais. Some pages later, in his account of West Wycombe (ibid. III, 653), Lipscombe lets himself go with fervour which may be romantic, but is certainly not historical:

"This very ancient family derive their descent from Thomas Dormer; who in 1042 attended King Edward the Confessor on his return from France. William Dormer, his son, afterwards came over with the Conqueror and from whom descended Sir William Dormer, knight, who was in the service of King Edward III in his wars against France. The family was settled here under the Bishops of Winchester at a very early period; Geoffrey Dormer in the reign of Henry VI having had 26 children, chiefly sons who entered into Holy Orders; and the same Geoffrey had by Eleanor daughter and heiress of Thomas Dorre, alias Chobbes, inter al, one son of his own name Geoffrey who married Judith, daughter of Robert Baldington, Lord of Thame. Another Geoffrey Dormer, the issue of that marriage, succeeded to the inheritance of West Wycombe (as well as that of Thame) and greatly increased his estate by marrying Ursula, daughter and heir of Bartholomew Collingridge, the heir-general of Arundell; ... and left issue five sons all possessing considerable estates in the country."

I do not propose to deal with the earlier part of this piece of fiction. Those convenient ancestors with a connection both with Duke William the Bastard and Edward the Confessor are a commonplace of suppositious pedigrees; and I can find no trace of a Sir William Dormer among the knights of Edward III. It is, however, of more interest to examine this emphasis upon a connection by blood with the FitzAlans, Earls of Arundel, especially since that family continued in the male line from the marriage of John FitzAlan (died 1240), Lord of Clun and Oswestry, with Isabel de Albini, heiress of Arundel castle, down to the death without male issue in 1580 of Henry FitzAlan, last Earl of Arundel of that family. His daughter, of course, married Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and their descendants own Arundel castle today.

Aldred (in his History of Turville, pp. 24-33) gives a slightly different connection with the FitzAlans, but quotes no authority for his views. He says:

"Sir Michael Dormer, who inherited the manor of Turville... was son of Geoffrey Dormer, a wool stapler of Calais, Lord of Baldington's manor in Thame, who resided at West Wycombe having considerably increased his Landed Estates on marriage with Ursula, daughter and heir of Bartholomew Collingridge, by Alice his wife, daughter and heir of Ralph Arundel, grandson of William Arundel, son of John, Baron Maltravers."

But Sir William Arundel, son of John Arundel (who though husband of the heiress of Maltravers was actually summoned to Parliament as Lord Arundel) died without children. He was Constable of Rochester Castle and was created a Knight of the Garter (K.G.) by Richard II. His death without issue is noted in the Calendar of Patent Rollls 1399-1401 (p. 547). Moreover, as far as I can ascertain, none of his estates (mostly in Surrey) ever passed to the Dormers.

A slightly more sinister note is sounded by certain 17th century pedigrees drawn up by the College of Arms and in the possession of the present Lord Dormer. These show as one of the quarterings of Dormer, an argent shield with the arms of FitzAlan quartering Warrenne charged upon two flanches. This shield appears at an earlier date in a manuscript compiled by Glover, Somerset Herald (c.f., Woodward, Heraldry, British and Foreign, II, 179) and is assigned to a certain Radulphus de Arundel. A manuscript in the Cottonian collection (Tiberius, E., viii) declares:

"The base sonne of a noble woman, if he doe geve armes must geve upon the same a surcote... but unless you doe well marke such coate (you) may take it for a coate flanched."

J. A. Montague suggests (Guide to the study of Heraldry, p. 44) that this coat may be that of a son of Cardinal Beaufort by Lady Alice FitzAlan, daughter of Richard, Earl of Arundel (beheaded 1397). He admits, however, that only a daughter is know of this connexion; she was named Jane and she married Sir Edward Stradling of St. Donat's Castle.

There seems, however, little evidence to support this sinister suggestion and even an illegitimate link with the FitzAlans of Arundel would hardly justify this talk of "heirs-general" by the later genealogists of the Dormers. I wish to suggest, as a more probable solution, that in fact the early Dormers were connected not with the Earls of Arundel, but with the great Cornish family of Arundell at Lanherne. This confusion would be made easier by the fact tthat the FitzAlan family were at this date, and earlier, suing the placename Arundel as a surname. An example is provided by Sir Edmund d'Arundel (knighted 1352), the illegitimate son of Richard, Earl of Arundel, by his marriage (subsequently annulled) to Isabel Despencer. I must, however, confess that I have not been able to trace the correct nature of the connexion between the Dormers and the Arundells of Lanherne. If it were not for a monumental inscription, now unfortunately destroyed, of which I shall speak later, I would be inclined to dismiss the whole idea of a genealogical link as a concoction of the pedigree-makers, though I am inclined to think that even their extravagant claims must originally have been based on a tenuous element of truth. It is with deep regret that I record that I was unable to discuss the problem, as I had sought to do, with Lord Arundell of Wardour, who died shortly after his return from a German prison camp. He was, I believe, well-versed in the history of the family of which he was the last.

The key to the problem may be found in the devolution of the Manor of Kingsey (which included land in Kingsey and Towersey villages) in Buckinghamshire from the Bacon family in the 14th century to the Dormers in the 15th. Lipscombe makes a general statement that part of the estate passed "to the Arundells, Collingridges, and Dormers, by their heir-general of Arundell" - it is not clear if he appreciates that these were in fact Cornish Arundells - and then adds that it was in the possession of "Geoffrey Dormer of West Wycombe, who married Ursula, daughter and heiress of Bartholomew Collingridge, esq., of Towersey, by Alice his wife who is designated as the heir-general of Arundell."

In fact, the descent of the estate can be traced with tolerable accuracy for the first part of the 15th century. Edmund Bacon held this manor and died in 1336. His daughter Margaret had as her second husband John Burghersh who died in 1349. At the final partition of the Bacon estates in 1362 (Cal. Close Rolls 1360-64, p. 337) Kingsey was awarded to their son, John Berghersh, a minor. This John Burghesh died about 1392, leaving a widow and two daughters. His widow, Ismania Burghersh, died in 1420, and by a previous arrangement between the two daughters Maud (wife of Thomas Chaucer) and Margaret (wife of John Arundell), the manor passed to the Arundells. This John Arundell died in 1423, leaving a son, Sir John Arundell. In 1472, Sir John Arundell conveyed the estate to John Henton and other feoffees for the use of Geoffrey Dormer of Thame. In the next year, he died and his son-in-law, Sir James Tyrrell, dispossess Geoffrey Dormer for a short time (Inq. post morten, 14 Ed IV 37). Dormer, however, recovered his property and in 1502 - the same year which saw Tyrrell's execution for his share in the murder of the Princes in the Tower - Geoffrey and Alice Dormer quitclaimed the land for themselves and the heirs of Alice to their son Peter and Agnes, his wife. In March 1502/3, Geoffrey Dormer died and, as we have seen, was buried at Thame. His son Peter survived until 1555 and is buried at Newbottle, Northamptonshire, not far from Banbury where he is commemorated by a brass which is still intact.

A document in the Arrundell records, reproduced in J.J. Howard, Genealogical Collections illustrating... the Roman Catholic familes of England, shows that on 23 August 9 Ed IV (1469) Sir John Arundell, knight, granted Kingsley to Sir James Tyrrell who was about to marry his daughter Anne Arundell. This explains why Sir James Tyrrell should have sought to seize the property on Sir John's death in 1473, but it does not account for the intervening conveyance of the estate to Geoffrey Dormer. It is perhaps also of significance that Geoffrey Dormer in quitclaiming the land to his youngest son, does so for himself and the heirs of Alice his wife, thus perhaps suggesting that it was through Alice that Geoffrey had acquired his title to the lands.

The most relevant names in the erroneous pedigree solution put forth by Dr. Lee in his History of Thame (p. 284) is detailed in the original text.

Two other links, which may well only be coincidences, attest to the connection of the Dormers with the Arrundells. A large number of Oxfordshire properties which belonged to Lord Dynham, one of whose sisters and coheiresses married Sir John Arundell, KB (died 1485), came by pruchase in the hands of the Dormer family; they include Eythorpe, Kimble, Steeple Barton, and Rousham. It would perhaps have been natural for the Arundells to dispose of their share to the Dormers, who had already acquired their Buckinghamshire inheritance of Kingsey. Secondly, the will of Cecily, Marchioness of Dorset, mother-in-law of Sir John Arundell, KB (died 1545) mentions by name the sons of Sir Michael Dormer, Lord Mayor of London.

More tantalizing still is a vanished inscription which was once in Towersey church. It is transcribed by Lipscombe and requests prayers "for the sowles of Willm... and Christian... Arundell and Julyan... Bartholomew Collingridge and Alys his wife and Willm their son that her' lyeth on whose soulys o'r Lord Ihs have mercy". Dr. Lee (op.cit., p. 255) adds several words to the inscription, presumably guesswork, and also states that 40 years ago (i.e., about 1840), the arms of Collingridge and Arundell remained in the church. No trace of these monuments exists today.

It may fairly be presumed that William Collingridge, son of Bartholomew and Alys, perished young or without issue, and that his sister Alice, wife of Geoffrey Dormer, became heiress of her parents. It also seems a fair assumption that had this monument survived intact, it must have given me the answer to the relationship between the Dormers and the Arundells.

In the original, Dr. Lee provides a pedigree (op.cit., p.284), but it agrees neither with recorded history nor with chronological possibiility.

The first blunder in this pedigree is that it ignores a generation of the Arundell family (cf. pedigree between pp. 98-99). John Arundell, the husband of Margaret Burghersh, died in 1423 vita patris, and he is made the father-in-law of Henry Marney, who was created a peer exactly 100 years later in 1523. On the other hand, Lord Marney is given a nephew by marriage - Geoffrey Dormer - who died in 1502 and cannot have been in his youth since he had begotten all 25 children by his two marriages. But more fatal still is the fact that Thomasine (Arundell) Lady Marney was not a coheiress at all; she was in fact the grand-daughter of John (not Sir John) Arundell and Margaret Burghersh and she had a brother Sir Thomas Arundell, KB, of Lanherne, whose male issue only became extinct in 1944. Nor does any Cornish record or visitation allow her a sister called Alice and married to Bartholomew Collingridge, and it is chronologically almost impossible that she could have had one.

The best possiblity which I can propound is that Bartholomew Collingridge married an otherwise unrecorded daughter of Sir John Arundell by his first marriage - that is a whole-sister of Anne Arundell, wife of James Tyrrell, who dispossessed the Dormers from Kingsey in 1473. Even this is chronologically a tight fit, and the fact that Sir John Arundell had only daughters by his first marriage is scant reason for calling them heiress or heirs-general, though it would have seemed less so to the 15th century.


The family of Dormer had originally come from West Wycombe, where a few early traces can be found of them. In 27 Henry VI (1450), John Blakpoll had a demesne which abutted "on the tenement late of Stephen Dormere on the north" and was required to maintain a latrine there; among the witnesses is William Dormere. A later deed, which presumably describes the same tenement and gives a lease of it to Robert Asshebrooke on condition that he maintains the latrine "to the easement of the community", now specifies that it was next to the tenement "late of William Dormere"; this was in 5 Henry VII (Historical MS, Commission, V, 563-565). As late as 1536, William Dormer, Knight, and Robert, his son, are among the recipients of rent from a property called The Antelope in Wycombe (ibid).

But the rise of the Dormer family had begun with another good marriage. The father of Geoffrey Dormer (d. 1503), another Geoffrey, had married Judith, daughter and heiress of Robert Baldington, who is sometimes described as Lord of Thame, but in fact owned a manor in Thame which bore the name Baldington's Court. Lee (op.cit, p. 503) wrongly assigns Baldington the arms of three fleurs-de-lys which still survive on the brass of Geoffrey Dormer at Thame (1503): these are, however, in my view, the arms of Collingridge (or three fleurs-de-lys azure) as they are quoted in Glover's Armorial. They also occur, impaled with Dormer, on the brass of Peter Dormer at Newbottle; it is manifestly more likely that he would display the heraldic insignia of his father and mother than of his grandparents. Furthermore, the arms of Baldington may be seen on other Oxfordshire monunments, e.g., the brass of William Brome in Holton Church where they are "argent on a chevron sable, between three ogresses, three quatrefoils of the first".

Now let us mount one step higher. The Geoffrey Dormer who married Judith Baldington is generally recorded as the son of another Geoffrey Dormer and of Eleanor, daughter and heir of Thomas Dorre, who is also called Thomas Chubbe or Chobbes. In token of this match, the Dormers, on their 16th century monuments, almost invariably quarter a complex coat-of-arms which is assigned to Dorre alias Chobbe. The match may well have taken place, but if so it must have been in the early years of the 15th century, and Thomas Dorre must have flourished in the reign of Richard II. I do not think it is likely that the heraldry of that age could have concocted the coat which he is supposed to have used, namely, "gules on a chevron between three chub fish naiant argent, three shovellers sable, on a chief dancetty three escallop shells gules". The earliest appearance of this blazon, whose complexity smells strongly of Tudor heraldry, is on the monumental brass at Wing in Buckinghamshire, of Sir Robert Dormer (died 1552). It was, I suspect, an invention of that time to lend quarterings to the then rising family of Dormer. Their own more attractive shield - "azure ten billets, or 4,3,2,1, and on a chief of the second demi-lion rampant issuant sable", was granted in 1523 by Thomas Wriothesley, Garter, to "Geoffrey Dormer, eldest son of Geoffrey Dormer and Alice Collingridge". It is noteworthy that although the Collingridge coat and also this Chobbe coat are freely quartered on the Dormer monuments, there is no Arundel or Arundell coat included until pedigrees of the 17th century, an age when the heralds were notorious for their venality, inaccuracy, and powers of flattery.

It may be of interest to recapitulate some of the more imposing monuments to the family in this neighborhood. At Thame, as I have said, is the brass of Geoffrey Dormer, who died in 1503. At Newbottle, near Banbury, is the brass of his youngest son, Peter (1555). At Caddington in Bedfordshire is the brass of Edward Dormer (1518) and his two wives. At Wing in Buckinghamshire is the brass of Sir Robert Dormer (1552) which also displays the two alliances of his son, Sir William.

Also at Wing are imposing monuments, one on each side of the chancel, to the same Sir William Dormer and to his son Robert Dormer (created a baroneet and Baron Dormer of Wing in 1615). At Great Milton in Oxfordshire is the fine tomb erected to Ambrose Dormer (died 1556) by his son Sir Michael Dormer (High Sheriff 1609, died 1624). At Long Crendon, north of Thame, is the effigy of Sir John Dormer of Dorton (d. 1626) and his wife, Jane Giffard. Sadder relics are the gateway, pillars, and glorious avenue of trees near Stadhampton, which leads to the site of the mansion built by his grandson, William Dormer, but burnt to the ground before occupation on 9 October 1662. This is he who was known as Dormer the Splendid and, according to tradition, had the shoes of his horses and the binders of his carriage wheels made of silver. At Quainton in Buckinghamshire is a whole series of monuments to the descendants of Peter Dormer of Newbottle, mentioned above. The Dormers here were created baronetts of Lee Grange in 1661; but the line became extinct with the death of the second baronet, who was insane, by 1726. Among those commemorated at Quainton are Sir Fleetwood Dormer, Kt., of Arle Court in Gloucestershire, who at one moment emigrated to Virginia, and his nephew Sir Robert Dormer, a justice of the Court of Common Pleas.

In Rousham Church are the monuments of John Dormer (d. 1584) merchant and mercer of London, and of Justina, widow of his son, Gasper Dormer. John Dormer owned a manor house at Steeple Barton and these monuments were moved from Steeple Barton Church to Rousham in 1851. Fragments of glass with the initials of himself and his wife (Elizabeth Goddard), which presumably came from this manor house, are to be found in Rousham Church and also in the south window of the Fellows' Library at Trinity College, Oxford. Waterperry boasts an attractive mural tablet to Magdalen Dormer, wife of Sir John Curzon - "A MAGDALEN by name, a saint by grace Dyde much bewaylde and buried in this place". There is a Dormer shield in a window of Stonesfield Church, and another in Wytham Church, impaling "ermine a lion rampant sable", possibly an erroneous version of the arms of Elizabeth Scriven, wife of William Dormer of Long Crendon, which are usually "argent, guttee de sang, a lion rampant sable".

Dr. Lee's pedigree (op.cit. pp. 503-520) of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Dormers is substantially correct. I propose to comment on his pedigree at two points only and to give my other amendments and additions, which are mostly of a minor character, as an appendix in the original. A pedigree showing the main branches is given in the original (numerous names, especially of daughters and sons who died young are omitted from this pedigree, which does not pretend to be comprehensive).

Firstly (op.cit. p. 504) Dr. Lee assigns to Geoffrey Dormer of Thame a brother, William, who was MP for Wycombe in 1542. I can however, find no supporting evidence for this, and it seems in any event most improbable since, as we have seen, Goeffrey Dormer was by no means young at his death in 1503, and is unlikely to have had a brother who survived him by over 40 years. Moreover, Geoffrey's grandson, Sir Rober Dormer, sat for Wycombe in 1529, and possibly in 1536 and 1539, for which years the returns are lost. Sor Rpbert's son, William, sat for Buckinghamshire in 1552 and 1557, and I think it is more likely that it was this William (later Sir William Dormer, KB0 who sat for Wycombe in 1542 than a man who, if alive, would have been his great-great-uncle. This branch of family is the only one which now survives, in the descendants of Robert, first Baron Dormer, son of Sir William Dormer, KB. The grandson of the first baron was created Viscount Ascot and Earl of Carnarvon and perished at Newbury in 1643; as he lay dying, he was asked if he had any favor to request of Charles I, but replied, "I will not die with a suit in my mouth to any King, save the King of Heaven". His only son, Charles, second Earl of Carnarvon, left three daughters, of whom the eldest married Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield, and was grandmother of Philip Dormer Stanhope, the famous Lord Chesterfield. In this way, the Dormer estates at Wing passed to the Stanhope family; their great house at Ascot, near Wing, fell into disrepair while belonging to Sir William Stanhope, brother of the statesman and letter-writer.

Secondly, Lee fails (op.cit., p. 509) to give the career and issue of William Dormer, called "the Splendid". The family house at Ascot in the Parish of Great Milton (not to be confused with another Dormer mansion at an Ascot near Wing) had been besieged by Hampden in 1642. William Dormer, who was High Sheriff in 1666, rebuilt the house, which had no doubt been damaged. "There was a verie noble house built there..." writes Wood (Life and Times, ed. Clark, I - OHS, XIX, 1891 -, 458), "and the outside thereof being finished the joyner's shavings took fire by accident and so 'twas burnt downe... (William Dormer) went to Uxbridge Fair in September 1683, and in his return died at Great Wycomb, 25 of the said Month, having then and before taken too much of the creature."

This William Dormer married Elizabeth Waller, daughter of the poet and politician Edmund Waller. By her he had a son, John Dormer of Ascot, who married Katherine, one of the daughters and coheiresses of Sir Thomas Spencer, third baronet of Yarnton. John Dormer died in 1728, "about 40 years of age, was a sad swearing heathenish irreligious man, and hath (as I am assured) benn guilty of ther Murther besides that. He hath left a Lady, a pretty Woman, but had never any child by her." (Hearne, Collections, IX - OHS, LXV, 1914 -, 404). Hearne is referring to the occasion, which he describes fully elsewhere (op.cit., III - OHS, XXXII, 1896 -, 25-26), when John Dormer ran Sir Richard Kennedy through the body with his sword in Woodstock Park because Sir Richard took the Wall or upper side with his Lady. John Dormer fled to Yarnton without his hat, and being supplied by the butler, made his escape. At the subsequent trial, he was found guilty of manslaughter and was afterwards pardoned; this may have been partly due to the fact that his distant cousin, Sir Robert Dormer of Lee Grange, was one of his judges. Yarnton parish registers record the birth of a son, John, to John and Katherine Dormer, but presumably the child died young and Hearne had not heard of it.

In 1741, Lieutenant-General James Dormer of Rousham died without children. "Besides his being a soldier, he is withal a curious gentleman and well-skiled in books... He was taken prisoner in Spain and continued in custody a year or more. Upon his dismission he gave about 200 libs worth of books to the Library of a certain convent, he having been very civilly used" (Hearne, op.cit., VI - OHS XLIII, 1902 -, 241). At his death, the last branch of the Dormers in Oxfordshire died out. He bequeathed his estates to his maternal cousin, Sir Clement Cottrell. The Cottrell family assumed the name of Dormer, and still live at Rousham; but though they preserve the name of Dormer, they have, of course, no descent in blood from the family which once played so colorful a part in the life of Oxfordshire.


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Geoffrey Dormer, of Thame's Timeline

Probably West Wycomb, Buckinghamshire, England
West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England (United Kingdom)
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom
Probably Thame, Oxfordshire, England
Probably Thame, Oxfordshire, England
Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, England
March 9, 1503
Age 95
Thame, Oxfordshire, England
Probably Thame, Oxfordshire, England