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Notes on the Traditional Connexion of the Sussex and the Gloucester Families of Selwyn

By R. H. Codrington

From Sussex Archaeological Collections relating to the History and Antiquities of the County, published by the Sussex Archaeological Society, Vol. XXXVIII, Lewes: Farncombe & Co., Printers, 1892.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008




WHEN, after long association in New Zealand and Melanesia with the Bishops Selwyn, father and son, I came into this County, it was a matter of interest to me to find myself in the part of England in which the Selwyn family was believed to have had its rise. I found that, though the epitaph of the last of the Friston family speaks of the "ultimus Selwinorum," it was from that stock that the vigorous branch which bore the late Bishop and his brothers was believed to spring. During the past autumn I had opportunities of enquiring into the subject, and I ask for my conclusions a place in your "Collections."

I find that, besides the identity of name, the connexion of the Gloucestershire Selwyns of Matson and the Sussex Selwyns of Friston is based upon tradition and upon a common coat of arms: The name is said, and no doubt truly, to be a form of Silvanus, of which another form is Salvia. Of course, the common possession of a surname which has been a Christian name argues by itself nothing for the common origin of any two families that bear it; there may be a common origin or there may not.

The traditional connexion of the two Selwyn families is mentioned with particularity by Aubrey, who says of the last Abbot of Malmesbury that "he was uncle to old Sir Thomas Selwyn of Sussex;" but the pedigree of the Sussex family shows no such Sir Thomas. In the [163/164] "Records of Matson and of the Selwyn Family," by Rev. W. Bazeley, a paper read before the Gloucestershire Society in 1878, the tradition is said to be that "John Selwyn, eldest son of Thomas Selwyn of Friston, probably owing to some incident in the Wars of the Roses, was driven from Sussex into Gloucestershire;" but it is added that no authority can be found for such a statement; and the pedigree of the Sussex family shows no such John.

It appears to be certain that there were Selwns in Sussex at the beginning of the 14th Century (" Arch. Coll." XV., 211); and that the Selwyns who were at Selmeston at the beginning of the 15th Century settled at Friston in the same century, and remained there till the family became extinct. In Gloucestershire, Fosbroke mentions Robert Selwin in the 13th Century; and William Selwyn, ancestor of the Matson family, obtained lands from the Abbey of Gloucester in 1516, and his son again, Richard, had a lease from the Abbot of Malvern, in 1537. The last Abbot of Malmesbury was probably brother of this William ("Records of Matson," above mentioned). Here then, at the beginning of the 16th Century, are Selwyns in Sussex and Selwyns in Gloucestershire, of ancient standing, without any connexion of family that can be shown.

I now come to the proof, or corroborative evidence, given by the common arms borne by the Sussex and Gloucestershire Selwyns. A writer in "Sussex Collections," Vol. XXIV., says that the Sussex family "on heraldic and other grounds is probably a branch of the great Yorkshire family of Salvia;" but as, upon enquiry, I find the arms of the Yorkshire Salvias and Sussex Selwyns wholly unlike, I may pass this by. The Friston and Matson Selwyns certainly bore the same arms; and if these arms came to them both by inheritance the evidence of a common origin to the two families would be very strong. But I find that the arms borne by the Friston Selwyns were granted to them in May, 1611, being the same with those borne by Abbot Selwyn a hundred years before. If it can be shown that the Sussex Selwyns bore these arms before the grant of 1611, my argument and [164/165] its conclusion fall; otherwise it is clear that the origin of the Selwyn coat is in Gloucestershire, not in Sussex.

I proceed to show a probable origin, guided by a remark of Aubrey's. The last Abbot of Malmesbury was "Robert Frampton, alias Selwin" (the last Prior was John Codrington). It is well known that members of religious houses were named from their place of birth; the Abbot then was by family Selwyn, by birth-place Frampton. The Abbot's arms (shown on his seal) were on a bend cottised three annulets, a bordure engrailed; these have been borne by the Gloucestershire Selwyns, and were granted in 1611 to the Selwyns of Friston, and of Essex. Aubrey remarks on the likeness to the arms of the ancient family of Frampton, viz., argent a bend gules, cottised sable. The Abbot was a Selwyn undoubtedly, not a member of the Dorsetshire family of Frampton; but he appears, naturally enough, to have founded his arms upon those of the Frampton family. His relations, the Gloucestershire Selwyns, as they rose into the rank of county gentry, would naturally take his arms; the same arms were granted in the 17th Century to the family of the same name in Sussex.

I conclude, therefore, that the Selwyn family of Gloucestershire, members of' which in the last and present century have made the name well known, has no connexion that can be traced or proved with the Sussex family once flourishing at Friston.

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