Lord Thurston Basset, of Drayton, Staffordshire - Does anyone know how Bassett's turned into Bennett's

Started by Anthony Wayne Bennett on Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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1/16/2019 at 7:59 AM

I followed the trail of Bennett's to Sir Ralph Bennett (birth before 1245 is listed as year) until we get to his father, Sir Thomas Bassett (between 1108 and 1162) then the line is Bassett from the first few generations (preceded by Richard, Ralph, and Thurston here). Seeing how the names are somewhat similar, take out "ass" from Bassett and add "enn" into the same spot and you get Bennett, I have to wonder if something as simple as a transcription error could've shifted the name/history of a family line. I don't think there were legal name changes in midieval times, no? Or do you think there could've been something more to it? I'm very new with this and would be immensely appreciative of any additional information anyone could be provide. Thank you!

1/16/2019 at 8:20 AM


That is not a medieval transcription error.

That is a different error.


1/16/2019 at 8:37 AM

The Bennett lines are pretty garbled. There are people with impossible names -- not just middle names, which weren't used, but names that weren't used at all at the time -- and connections that can't be true because of the chronology.

What is the earliest Bennett profile that you can trace to now?

1/16/2019 at 12:17 PM

I can trace with strong certainty to at least Thomas Bennett Sr of Wiveliscombe, Somerset, England in the 1500's. He's my 13th GGF. His brother, Edward Bennett, is notable for establishing the largest plantation in Virginia near Jamestown when he chartered the Sea Flower in 1622. He brought his nephew, Thomas's son Richard. He settled upward 600-800 Puritans, later including my 12th GGF Thomas Jr. though not much is known about him biographically speaking. Great uncle Richard, however, went on to become a Major Gen and an early Governor of Virginia... He's also the 4 GGF of Confederate leader Robert E Lee.

The line goes back a few more generations in Somerset, but I suspect the confusion/mistake/break/split between all of this occurs in the 1300's when Sir Lord Baron Richard Basset/Bennett moved into Chillingham Castle and married Lady Helen Bennett. Not much info about her parents. Most have Lord Richard going in as a Basset and leaving as Bennett with offspring carrying on the Bennett name according to multiple sources I've come across. Bennett's are largely attributed with Chillingham Castle on historical/informational sites about it, not just geni sites. That's why it's a bit more confounding.

1/16/2019 at 12:18 PM

And thank you for your time and reply Anne Brannen

1/16/2019 at 12:43 PM

Got it. You mean Thomas Bennett, of Wiveliscombe I think. Yes, on Geni we stop the line at his grandfather.

This line may or may not be connected to the Bennetts that I think you are thinking of -- no evidence so far.

As far as I can tell, Chillingham Castle is indeed connected to the Bennetts, but not until the 17th century.

1/16/2019 at 5:08 PM

Hope you won't mind if I hop in here....I descend thru both Lord Thurstan's son, Ralph Bassett, Justicar of England, and from his daughter, Maud.

There is a Curator Box note that states that Lord Thurstan is related to the de Banastees & not to the Staffordshire Bassets. However, Ralph was born in Drayton, Staffordshire & most of my line (16 generations) hail from Staffordshire. So, is Ralph incorrectly connected to Thurstan?

2/20/2019 at 7:33 AM

I am also related to Thomas Bennett Jr. I would appreciate help in his line going as far back as Bassett. Can any of you help? Much appreciated. Also Thomas jrs wife shows as Agnes or Anstie, is this her first name and middle?

6/12/2019 at 8:28 AM

Anthony Wayne Bennett had the most probable answer; transcription error.
Bassett originated in Normandy France and came to Britain during or a result of the Norman invasion. I was able to find an example of Norman and English script for that time period. The Norman ‘ss’ could have been interpreted by an Englishman as ‘nn’, especially considering the education level of those who could even read/write

6/12/2019 at 8:34 AM

Ronald Walter Melzer -- can you give us a link to the scripts you are talking about? I would love to see it! I know these scripts very well, and though certain letters were confusing even at the time, I've never seen s and n confused. I'd like to see that hand, very much.

It's true that most people could not read and write, but those who could were unlikely to confuse those letters or sounds, I would think.

It's a puzzle of great interest to me.

6/12/2019 at 8:36 AM

And weren't the documents in Latin? It was a shared language, and the one used for documentation, usually.

Anyway. Please share. I love this stuff.

6/13/2019 at 4:47 AM

Anne Brannen
Working on compiling information.
Even today handwriting varies between individuals. In the Middle Ages there were no copiers but there were people who couldn’t read who would copy documents. Don’t confuse the language of a document with the writing style. At that time, the Anglos used a writing style and alphabet that differed from the commonly one used in Europe. To add to the mix, the surname Bennett may have existed.

6/13/2019 at 7:08 AM

Naturally different scribes had different hands; that’s of course one of the ways we can tell how many scribes worked on a manuscript. And hands differed across Europe. Naturally. And sometimes scribes had to copy passages in languages they did not know, though scribes were trained, and never unlettered. And MOST certainly all sorts of mistakes got made in copying. Chaucer wrote a poem about how annoying that is.

But as I said up at the top of this thread, mistaking an s for an n will not have been the problem.

An example of a MS in Norman French, from the 2nd half of the 12th century:


On the second line down, the 4th word is “desquassee.” You can see the long “s” form, typically used in the middle of words. At the end of that line is the word “enfundree.” As you can see, the u and the n might easily, in a sloppier hand than this, be confused. But the n and the s are totally different.

An example of Anglo-Saxon, from the late 11th century:


Nine lines down, the fourth word is “cyning” so there is an n. The next word is “as” so there is an s. Not confusing.

A snippet from the Domesday Book, so, a Norman scribe writing in Latin:


This is highly abbreviated, as is the norm, but if we’re just looking for letter forms, 8 lines down, the 4th word in is spelled (not counting the abbreviation) (this makes me nuts, but I don’t want to complicate things) “Pasta” so there is the s — and then two words later you can see “pecun” and is there is the n.

Anyway, I haven’t heard of “s”es and “n”s being confused. Lots of other stuff, but not that.

6/13/2019 at 2:37 PM

Anne Brannen
A single Norman 's' is distinctive from an Anglo-Saxon 'n'. However, two Norman 's' side by side can resemble an Anglo-Saxon 'n'. Especially if they weren't wearing their reading glasses which were not highly available until the thirteenth century. Suffice it to say, neither of us, or anyone else for that matter, can find definitive proof one way or another.

If you look at the history of the surname "Bennett" you will find that it appears to have been a derivative of other names/phrases/words but essentially Norman. https://coadb.com/surnames/bennett-arms.html

So the question still is; Did a Bassett actually change their surname to Bennett (people still change their surnames today) or was it a clerical error? Or was there another reason?

The Norman invasion of Britain caused many things to change, the spoken and written language for one. From my research the language went from Anglo-Saxon to Anglo- Norman over a timespan of more than a century. Was this and/or other factors that influenced the decision to become a Bennett?

Anyway, here are a partial list from an afternoon's research. There are many books available in college libraries for further research in the study of Palaeography.


6/13/2019 at 2:53 PM

Very kind of you to supply links -- I'm sure that any users interested in the subject will find lots to peruse.

Since I've still got all my textbooks, and the works I used while I was reading medieval manuscripts back when it was part of my research gig, I'm fine, thanks.

The links you gave aren't showing what I myself am interested in, which is the form of the double Norman "s" which can be easily confused with an Anglo-Saxon "n."

The closest I saw was this, which gives some examples of "s" as it changed over time -- https://ia902903.us.archive.org/12/items/englishcourthand01john/eng... -- none are looking like "n"s though, so I'm still not seeing it.

6/13/2019 at 3:27 PM

There is another issue here, not just paleography.

Over the years I've seen dozens of claims that the pronunciation of a surname changed to match a misspelling. I haven't seen even one instance where the claim can be supported by evidence.

Our distant ancestors were fairly free with their spelling. You can often find dozens of different spellings, and some of those reflect different accents and pronunciations. What you don't find is someone saying, Oh no, the monks misspelled my name now I have to change it.

They just didn't have the same reverence for spelling that some moderns do ;)

6/13/2019 at 3:39 PM

Oh lollity lol lol lol.

Trust the paleographer to get totally distracted by the issue of the Norman double “s.”

Of course it’s irrelevant.

I tell people, as shorthand, that English spelling got invented in the 18th century, but of course that’s not quite true.

English writers always knew how to spell. They just spelled things differently depending on how the words sounded to them.

Which is how we know that Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the Midlands, near the Welsh border. And would be able to tell that Chaucer lived in London, even if we didn’t have the other records.

But no one in England, at an6 time, pronounced Basset and Bennet the same.

6/14/2019 at 5:37 AM

And this is why we need a Time Machine. 😊

6/14/2019 at 7:35 AM


6/17/2019 at 9:40 AM

Since I offered my 'two cents' a few days ago, Anne Brannen and I have had a few exchanges which has caused me to do some additional research outside of the family tree.

Realize that what I have found thus far is the result of a high level search but coincides with information from more than one source. Most of this you probably already know.

Bennett appears to originate in Britain in the 11th century as an English variation of the Anglo-Norman name of Benet or Bennet. The Norman invasion of Britain in the 11th century brought the name to Britain. All three variations appeared in Britain, Wales, and Scotland as a result. With the 12 century Norman invasion of Ireland the three variations appeared there as well.

Bassett and its variations, from a name perspective, appears to be from a different family line than Bennett et. al.

The Norman Benet has its roots in the Latin name Benedictus which was everywhere in Europe even prior to the 11th century.

Back to Anthony Wayne Bennett's and my concern; Bassett --> Bennett?

Based on all I have found, in the British Isles prior to the 13th century most names were based on land ownership, where you lived, or occupation. It probably wasn't unusual that John the butcher became John the blacksmith. Consequently, I believe names could have changed in terms of a letter here, or there or perhaps moving from one variation to another made them sound more important, without having to worry about an repercussions as a result.I suspect the Domesday Book, a census completed to ensure everyone was paying taxes, cause more regularity in names over time.

Bottom line, we shouldn't believe generational relationships unless there are referenced, valid sources.

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