Who was Humphrey Belt?


Would he have laid up such a future embarrassment for his family?

            The Birkbeck coat-of-arms couldn’t be more genuine and we needed answers as to when and how Joseph knew about it and why it was adopted by Humphrey’s descendents as a Belt coat-of-arms.

            Part of the answer came, I believe, when I was checking through the family tree Thomas Woodcock sent of the Birkbeck family.

            In 1619, Simon Birkbeck, who was a grandson of the first Baron Birkbeck, married Bridgett Belte.  Below is a piece from the National Biography. In it you’ll see although he was the grandson and son of what could be believed to be a landowning, wealthy, aristocratic family, he was in fact poverty stricken and a charity case at the theological school he attended. He was the second son and the sixth child of seven siblings. It gives a great insight into how bad the economy was in the north of England then and the implications for a young man like ‘our’ Humphrey. Almost certainly this is one of the reasons he emigrated.
            You’ll notice Simon later became the Vicar of Forcet(t) and Gilling which were in the gift of his kinsman, Humphrey Wharton. Humphrey Wharton named his land and manor house Gilling after his birthplace in Westmorland called Gillingwood. Forcet(t) and Gilling are on the Co. Durham, Yorkshire border; nearer to Newcastle than York.

Bridgett’s father was a (first name presently unknown) Belte of Escombe in County Durham. This place will not be found on modern maps, except those for the Town of Bishop Auckland, of which it is now a suburb. He was a Palatine of the County – equivalent to a magistrate now, but with considerably more power than they have today.

I have run through the parish registers I have here on disk mostly for Yorkshire, but a couple for Co. Durham and Westmorland, total about 70 or so and have found, in the right period up to 1635 that a handful of places are unique to one name, many others have two or three. The City of York has all four names or derivatives of Belt, Birkbeck, Wharton and Crag. Not one church has all four, most have three. The point is there is a lot of over-lapping.

We need to look for particularly any of these names at Hornby, Gillingwood in Westmorland and Forcet(t), Gilling and Escombe in Co. Durham.

Looking at the Whartons; in 1553, Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland of Skipton (Yorks) granted to Edward Birkbeck (the grandfather of Simon) the lands and manor at Hornby in Westmorland. Henry’s first wife was Lady Eleanor Brandon who was the daughter of Mary Tudor, former Queen Consort of France and the sister of Henry VIII. They had three children but only a daughter survived to adulthood and marriage.   Henry’s second wife was Anne Dacre and they had several children. One of these, Frances Clifford (d. 1592) married Philip Wharton, 3rd. Baron Wharton.

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