Life of George Washington Vol. I, Washington Irving
Life of George Washington Vol. I
Washington Irving
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Washington Irving was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. Irving's mother named him after George Washington. Irving met his namesake at age 6, when George Washington was living in New York after his inauguration as President in 1789. The President blessed young Irving, an encounter that Irving had commemorated in a small watercolor painting which continues to hang in his home. Washington Irving completed a five-volume biography of George Washington just eight months before his death at age 76. Five volumes of the biography were published between 1855 and 1859.

Life of George Washington, Volume I

Washington Irving

Washington Irving's encounter with George Washington, painted in 1854 by George Bernard Butler Jr.

Chapter I.
Genealogy of the Washington Family

The Washington family is of an ancient English stock, the genealogy ofwhich has been traced up to the century immediately succeeding theConquest. At that time it was in possession of landed estates and manorialprivileges in the county of Durham, such as were enjoyed only by those, ortheir descendants, who had come over from Normandy with the Conqueror, orfought under his standard. When William the Conqueror laid waste the wholecountry north of the Humber, in punishment of the insurrection of theNorthumbrians, he apportioned the estates among his followers, and advancedNormans and other foreigners to the principal ecclesiastical dignities. Oneof the most wealthy and important sees was that of Durham. Hither had beentransported the bones of St. Cuthbert from their original shrine atLindisfarne, when it was ravaged by the Danes. That saint, says Camden, wasesteemed by princes and gentry a titular saint against the Scots. His shrine, therefore, had been held inpeculiar reverence by the Saxons, and the see of Durham endowed withextraordinary privileges.

William continued and increased those privileges. He needed a powerfuladherent on this frontier to keep the restless Northumbrians in order, andcheck Scottish invasion; and no doubt considered an enlightenedecclesiastic, appointed by the crown, a safer depositary of such power thanan hereditary noble.

Having placed a noble and learned native of Loraine in the diocese,therefore, he erected it into a palatinate, over which the bishop, as CountPalatine, had temporal, as well as spiritual jurisdiction. He built astrong castle for his protection, and to serve as a barrier against theNorthern foe. He made him lord high-admiral of the sea and waters adjoininghis palatinate, — lord warden of the marches, and conservator of the leaguebetween England and Scotland. Thenceforth, we are told, the prelates ofDurham owned no earthly superior within their diocese, but continued forcenturies to exercise every right attached to an independent sovereign.

The bishop, as Count Palatine, lived in almost royal state and splendor. Hehad his lay chancellor, chamberlains, secretaries, steward, treasurer,master of the horse, and a host of minor officers. Still he was underfeudal obligations. All landed property in those warlike times, impliedmilitary service. Bishops and abbots, equally with great barons who heldestates immediately of the crown, were obliged, when required, to furnishthe king with armed men in proportion to their domains; but they had theirfeudatories under them to aid them in this service.

The princely prelate of Durham had his barons and knights, who held estatesof him on feudal tenure, and were bound to serve him in peace and war. Theysat occasionally in his councils, gave martial splendor to his court, andwere obliged to have horse and weapon ready for service, for they lived ina belligerent neighborhood, disturbed occasionally by civil war, and oftenby Scottish foray. When the banner of St. Cuthbert, the royal standard ofthe province, was displayed, no armed feudatory of the bishop could refuseto take the field.

Some of these prelates, in token of the warlike duties of their diocese,engraved on their seals a knight on horseback armed at all points,brandishing in one hand a sword, and holding forth in the other the arms ofthe see.

Among the knights who held estates in the palatinate on these warlikeconditions, was WILLIAM DE HERTBURN, the progenitor of the Washingtons.His Norman name of William would seem to point out his national descent;and the family long continued to have Norman names of baptism. The surnameof De Hertburn was taken from a village on the palatinate which he held ofthe bishop in knight’s fee; probably the same now called Hartburn on thebanks of the Tees. It had become a custom among the Norman families of rankabout the time of the Conquest, to take surnames from their castles orestates; it was not until some time afterwards that surnames becamegenerally assumed by the people.

How or when the De Hertburns first acquired possession of their village isnot known. They may have been companions in arms with Robert de Brus (orBruce) a noble knight of Normandy, rewarded by William the Conqueror withgreat possessions in the North, and among others, with the lordships ofHert and Hertness in the county of Durham.

The first actual mention we find of the family is in the Bolden Book, arecord of all the lands appertaining to the diocese in 1183. In this it isstated that William de Hertburn had exchanged his village of Hertburn forthe manor and village of Wessyngton, likewise in the diocese; paying thebishop a quitrent of four pounds, and engaging to attend him with twogreyhounds in grand hunts, and to furnish a man at arms whenever militaryaid should be required of the palatinate.

The family changed its surname with its estate, and thenceforward assumedthat of DE WESSYNGTON. The condition ofmilitary service attached to its manor will be found to have been oftenexacted, nor was the service in the grand hunt an idle form. Hunting camenext to war in those days, as the occupation of the nobility and gentry.The clergy engaged in it equally with the laity. The hunting establishmentof the Bishop of Durham was on a princely scale. He had his forests, chasesand parks, with their train of foresters, rangers, and park keepers. Agrand hunt was a splendid pageant in which all his barons and knightsattended him with horse and hound. The stipulations with the Seignior ofWessyngton show how strictly the rights of the chase were defined. All thegame taken by him in going to the forest belonged to the bishop; all takenon returning belonged to himself.

Hugh de Pusaz (or De Pudsay) during whose episcopate we meet with thisfirst trace of the De Wessyngtons, was a nephew of king Stephen, and aprelate of great pretensions; fond of appearing with a train ofecclesiastics and an armed retinue. When Richard Coeur de Lion put everything at pawn and sale to raise funds for a crusade to the Holy Land, thebishop resolved to accompany him. More wealthy than his sovereign, he mademagnificent preparations. Besides ships to convey his troops and retinue,he had a sumptuous galley for himself, fitted up with a throne or episcopalchair of silver, and all the household, and even culinary, utensils, wereof the same costly material. In a word, had not the prelate been induced tostay at home, and aid the king with his treasures, by being made one of theregents of the kingdom, and Earl of Northumberland for life, the DeWessyngtons might have followed the banner of St. Cuthbert to the Holywars.

Nearly seventy years afterwards we find the family still retaining itsmanorial estate in the palatinate. The names of Bondo de Wessyngton andWilliam his son appear on charters of land, granted in 1257 to religioushouses. Soon after occurred the wars of the barons, in which the throne ofHenry III was shaken by the De Mountforts. The chivalry of the palatinaterallied under the royal standard. On the list of loyal knights who foughtfor their sovereign in the disastrous battle of Lewes (1264), in which theking was taken prisoner, we find the name of William Weshington, ofWeshington.

During the splendid pontificate of Anthony Beke (or Beak), the knights ofthe palatinate had continually to be in the saddle, or buckled in armor.The prelate was so impatient of rest that he never took more than onesleep, saying it was unbecoming a man to turn from one side to another inbed. He was perpetually, when within his diocese, either riding from onemanor to another, or hunting and hawking. Twice he assisted Edward I. withall his force in invading Scotland. In the progress northward with theking, the bishop led the van, marching a day in advance of the main body,with a mercenary force, paid by himself, of one thousand foot and fivehundred horse. Besides these he had his feudatories of the palatinate; sixbannerets and one hundred and sixty knights, not one of whom, says an oldpoem, but surpassed Arthur himself, though endowed with the charmed giftsof Merlin. We presume theDe Wessyngtons were among those preux chevaliers, as the banner of St.Cuthbert had been taken from its shrine on the occasion, and of course allthe armed force of the diocese was bound to follow. It was borne in frontof the army by a monk of Durham. There were many rich caparisons, says theold poem, many beautiful pennons, fluttering from lances, and much neighingof steeds. The hills and valleys were covered with sumpter horses andwaggons laden with tents and provisions. The Bishop of Durham in hiswarlike state appeared, we are told, more like a powerful prince, than apriest or prelate.

At the surrender of the crown of Scotland by John Baliol, which ended thisinvasion, the bishop negotiated on the part of England. As a trophy of theevent, the chair of Schone used on the inauguration of the Scottishmonarchs, and containing the stone on which Jacob dreamed, the palladium ofScotland, was transferred to England and deposited in Westminster Abbey.

In the reign of Edward III. we find the De Wessyngtons still mingling inchivalrous scenes. The name of Sir Stephen de Wessyngton appears on a listof knights (nobles chevaliers) who were to tilt at a tournament atDunstable in 1334. He bore for his device a golden rose on an azure field.

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