Earliest ancestors

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Sims of Yetherham [elder] (935-?) – GGF26

This individual is twenty-nine generations of my lineage back from me, thus my twenty-sixth great-grandfather. This is as far as I could get with my research. Sims was born at Yetherham in Roxburghshire, a Scottish border county. We have no name for his wife but they had at least one son also called Sims.

We may be in august company here, as the site fabpedigree.com suggests Sims as the possible GG23 of President George Washington, possible GG28 of Winston Churchill, possible GG28 of Princess Diana.  But do please see ‘Cautionary Tales…’ in the Foreword.

Sims of Yetherham [younger] (970-1050) – GGF25

In a cross-border dynastic marriage the younger Sims married Ada of Northumberland (975-1050) and they had a son called Bueth or Bewth – presumably Sims. Ada should not be confused with the later 12thcentury Ada de Warenne, a countess of Northumberland, also referred to as Ada of Northumberland. This later Ada married Henry of Scotland, son of King David I, and their son became King Malcolm IV of Scotland.

Bueth the Saxon or Bueth of Gilsland (1006-1066) – GGF24

John Denton, a 16thcentury historian of Cumberland, starts his Accompt of the territory of interest to us with this Beuth, a character who sounds somewhat larger than life. Some sources suggest Bueth was a Saxon, others a mixed-race Norwegian/Gaelic warrior. So, without any basis, my imagination of Bueth conjures up something like this:

Illustration of an Anglo-Saxon warrior

John Denton identified Beuth as the laird of this borderland territory at the time of the Norman Conquest. Bueth is a Gaelic term that means yellow-haired. Some sources suggest he was born in France, another that he arrived via Ireland, but many suggest his parents were Sims and Ada. Certainly he died in what became Gilsland, Cumberland (or Northumberland).

Site of Castlesteads – River Eden between Birdoswald and Stanwix Roman forts

Bueth had apparently re-tasked a Roman fortified-station along the Picts’ Wall. It was beside the River Eden and called Petriana (originally Uxelodunum). The Roman fort had changed its name to honour a cohort (the Ala Petriana) stationed there. Its men were given Roman citizenship for proven valour in battle and it is estimated that 1,000 men constituted its garrison. At one stage this was the largest Roman fort along the wall. It overlooked the point where a Roman road, the ‘Maiden Way’, crossed Hadrian’s Wall. It became Bueth’s main stronghold and he called it Castlesteads, also known as Camboglanna meaning bent valley or crooked bank. It no longer exists and is said to have been sited where the village of Stanwix sits today, reputedly beneath its St Michael’s Church. It is also said that the materials at Castlesteads were re-used in the late 13thcentury to build the nearby Naworth Castle (more later).

Aerial view of Bewcastle, the castle is at the top right
Source: visitcumbria.com

Bueth also built the castle at Bewcastle, believed to be named after him – Bueth-castle. Bueth took over another Roman outpost of Hadrian’s Wall here and used material from the wall to create this stronghold which overlooked Kirk Beck, protecting one route south into England.

Beuth’s Castle today
©Bob Denton 2016
English Heritage sign at the Bewcastle site
©Bob Denton 2016

Bueth-barn and/or Gilles (1035-1090)- GGF23

The records of the time are much confused. It appears Beuth had three sons, Bueth-barn, Thane Beuth Sym and another. Bueth-barn (literally meaning son of Bueth) may have been an alternative name for Gilles de Bueth or Lord Giles of Gilsand. Who he married is undiscovered but they had a son called Bueth de Gilsand, born 1070.

Some sources name Bueth-barn as Wescop, or Gwas-Escop, meaning ‘devotee of the bishop’. Wescop is suggested by the historian John Denton as the originator of the term Cumbrenses for dwellers in this area, which in turn inspired the name Cumberland. John suggests that Wescop was given Gilsland in Henry II’s time by Hubert be Vaux (the Vauxs later intermarried with the early Dentons) and that Wescop in turn gave the land to Bueth-barn and/or Gilles Bueth, thus implying that Wescop was not therefore Gilles. Still with me?

Nether Denton
St Cuthbert’s 12thC church, Upper Denton

But it was Beuth’s son Gilles (aka Giles or Gilbert) whose name was later used to describe this territory. It became Gillesland then Gilsland which contained the communities of Upper Denton and Nether Denton. Upper Denton still has a 12thcentury church built with stones from the Roman wall. Nether Denton’s church and vicarage lie within the remains of a Roman fort beside the River Irthing. Its Old Vicarage is described as once being a bastle or defended house.

Old map of Gilsland, it shows Denton Hall in the bottom right hand corner. Just above, along the Irthing river, can be seen Nether den[ton] and Ove[r denton]

As stated above the Denton in those names was not a family name or a person but instead the Old English topographical words (dene and tun). However, as life became more complicated in the 12thcentury the practice of adopting a place name as a surname became common, as in ‘of Denton’ or de Denton, the ‘of’ later being discarded.

The Macbeth connection?

Intriguingly, in Scotland Bueth-barn, son of Bueth, would have been expressed as Mac-bueth, and Macbeth was indeed a contemporary. Some amateur genealogists have therefore proposed they were one and the same.

 ‘A History of Northumberland’ by John Hodgson and others reproduces family trees that highlight Macbeth’s links. Kenneth IV, The Grim, was King of Scotland from 995 to 1003 when he was slain by his cousin Malcolm at Strathern. Malcolm II ruled Scotland from 1003 to 1033 and also became Prince of Cumberland before dying at Glamis (The Queen Mother’s pile). He was succeeded by his grandson Duncan until he was slain by Macbeth at Bothgownan near Elgin in 1039. Through birth Macbeth was Thane of Ross and through marriage Thane of Moray. His Thaneships of Glamis and Cawdor appear to be Shakespearean creative invention. But Macbeth did kill Duncan and became king from 1039 to 1056, his reign ending when he was killed by Macduff.

But this Hodgson chart shows Macbeth marrying Gruoch, a granddaughter of Kenneth IV and daughter of Boede or Bodhe, perhaps our Bueth?. The chart shows a son to Boede who is called Mac-Boede with the note that he was slain in 1033 by Malcolm II. So Macbeth despite the similarity appears to be a son-in-law to Boede and brother-in-law to Mac-Boede.

But if this Boede is our Beuth. then he was son to Kenneth IV the Grim and not Sims of Yetherham. This would allow us to clock back a lineage all the way to Alpin the Great, the King of Scotia who reigned for three years until 836 when he was beheaded by the Picts. But this is something of a stretch I fear, so let’s not.

From the material above I assess that Bueth and Wescop were separate individuals, and that Bueth-barn and Gilles might have been the same person, but Bueth-barn was not Macbeth. Besides, my inclination and prejudice is towards being descended from Saxons rather than Scots!

William the Conqueror awarded the feudal lordship Earl of Cumberland (or Carlisle) to his niece’s husband Ranulph de Meschines. Ranulph then divided his earldom into eleven baronies, one of which he persisted in calling Gilsland.

Gilsland was awarded to his relative Hubert de Vaux (aka Valibus or Vallebus) who had come to Britain from Rouen in Normandy during the Conquest.

Carlisle Castle

It is clear that the Normans drove off Bueth and his infant son (Bueth-barn and/or Gilles) across the border into Scotland. Later Gilles, supported by Scots, made a nuisance of himself marauding through Cumberland. However, his tenants in Gilsland supported his claim and by 1116 he and the Scots occupied much of Cumberland.

It took until 1157 for the Norman king Henry II to re-establish control of the region. He re-appointed Hubert de Vaux as Baron of Gilsland but Hubert was already quite old and was soon succeeded by his son Robert de Vaux. This passage of time lends support to the notion that Bueth-barn was son of Bueth and that Gilles was grandson to Bueth. Please note however that I have left the GGF count based on them as being the same person or brothers, and long-lived.

Robert de Vaux was harassed by Gilles until Robert lured him for talks at Castlesteads, by then a Vaux stronghold, where Gilles was killed. However, Robert de Vaux was ashamed of this murder and turned his attention to working in the London Inns of Court where he became a confidante of Henry II. Still contrite, he initiated the priory of Lanercost (founded 1165) dedicated to St Mary Magdalene – quite an unusual choice for that region. Part of the construction re-used stones from Hadrian’s Wall, several still bear Roman inscriptions.

Brick re-used at Lanercost with Roman inscription noting the VIth legion

Robert de Vaux awarded Lanercost to monks of the Augustinian Canons order and ceded them the control of other lands including Castlesteads, the location of his crime. The tower in which he committed the murder was reputedly pulled down and salt was poured over the site – as the Romans did at Carthage. However, this whole account is only found in the historian John Denton’s manuscript and certainly appears nowhere in the annals of Lanercost. In 1174 Robert de Vaux became notable for his defence of Carlisle against siege by William the Lion of Scotland.

The undercroft of Lanercost Priory
©Bob Denton 2016

Sigreda de Denton (Beuth/Vaux) – GGM22 – (?-?)

It appears more likely that hostilities between the Bueths and Vauxs was halted by the marriage of Bueth-barn’s daughter Sigreda (or Sirith) to Eustace de Vaux. Certainly the de Vauxs permitted the Bueths back onto the land as subtenants, even though they apparently remained troublesome.

So at least I was able to trace some actual robber baron Dentons in the form of these rather aggressive Cumberland ancestors who had appropriated the land and resources of old Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall prior to and after the Norman Conquest.  One of their descendants Robert son of Bueth was recorded as guilty of rebellion, though he was let off with a fine. However, when he died without issue Gilsland had to be distributed between his two sisters. Eda married Addock, the Lord of Bewcastle, and inherited Over Denton and Lanerton. Sigreda, married Eustace de Vaux and inherited Nether Denton.

Noticeboard/post box outside Upper Denton post office
©Bob Denton 2016
Upper Denton rail station and level crossing
©Bob Denton 2016

Upper, or Over, Denton today is easy to miss, but I applied the Tameside/Denton motto of Persevere to find it, enabling me to take these two shots that sum up quite how small the place is today.

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