George Clifford (Which is Which?) and the Clifford Family pedigree in England
This is a companion post to my Family Tree Circles story about John Clifford of Hampton NH. I notice that there are an awful lot of people researching this family, and, quite honestly, much of what people find and repeat is simply erroneous, so the misinformation multiplies exponentially. I’m hoping I can shed some light on the subject with my own research. The information below is copyrighted material, excerpted from my own work (Copyright 2022). However, I’m sharing it here for those wishing to use it for non-commercial use and non-reproduction. I thank the readers for respecting the copyrighted material appropriately and I hope it helps clear up some confusion. Spoiler alert: if all you need to know is whether George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland is the direct ancestor of John Clifford, early settler of Hampton NH and his supposed father George Clifford of 1640’s Boston, read no further. He is not!
(Copyrighted material begins here.) What can be believed is that the ancient roots of the name Clifford are indeed English, and likely originated with the place name associated with the village and castle of Clifford (which lies on the English side of the English-Welsh border, near Hay-on-Wye). It was so named because of the obvious; it was an area containing the ford near a cliff. The lands in that area came into the possession of the Fitzponz family (of Norman descent) following what the British refer to as simply “The Conquest”, a.k.a. the Norman Conquest. For the uninitiated, the term refers to the victorious invasion of England by Duke William (“the Conqueror”) and his band of warrior-knights in October 1066, who sailed from Normandy (yes, the same Normandy at the northern coast of France that we know from the D-Day invasions in 1944), which at the time was its own dukedom, or more correctly, a duchy. The story of the Norman Conquest is an interesting one that I will not attempt to re-tell, but it is a monumentally important world event, since it forever changed the face of Britain, and consequently as time went on, virtually every country that was ever part of the British Empire. In more blunt terms, it means that at one time, at the peak of the empire, the culture and laws of England affected over 400 million people. To this day our expressions, habits, and language are effected by the Norman Conquest. For this reason, every student in Britain knows the date 1066! And the Cliffords were there in the very beginning.
The victorious Duke William, having become William the Conqueror, moved quickly to have himself crowned king (Christmas Day, 1066). He also wasted no time claiming the spoils of war, namely the bulk of the British mainland, as his own. He parceled out vast chunks of land to his faithful knights and Norman supporters as rewards for their service. They were also given the powerful title of Baron. In return, these barons helped William defend his crown and “have his back” by building immense castles, conscripting militias, and imposing King William’s rules across his new realm. One of these worthies was a man simply referred to as “Pons”. This Pons and his descendants are the progenitors of the first claimants to the Clifford name. This is the family that received Clifford castle and environs following the death of its first Norman recipient, William Fitzosbern, said to have built the castle, and a subsequent series of other powerful landholders, most notably Ralf de Toeni III, a man of immense power and influence. By the year 1128 or so, however, the Clifford properties were back in the hands of the Fitzpons family (a French naming protocol made the name “Fils de Pons” [Sons of Pons], which morphs into Fitzpons or Fitzponz). One of these Fitzpons descendants, Walter I, married into the de Toeni family, helping him gain overall control of the Clifford lands. He eventually took the name of his holding, de Clifford, as a surname, a process not uncommon in Norman noble circles. Over generations, the “de” prefix was used less and less. Also, as time went on, the descendants of Walter Fitzpons/Clifford continued to form powerful alliances by marriage. For generations they were important participants in the events surrounding the monarchs of England, sometimes as supporters of the crown, and sometimes as enemies (and sometimes as both, as fortune dictated; the Cliffords were clever). Forebears from other European royal families were introduced into the Clifford line with every generation. And as with other aristocratic dynasties, Clifford blood soon flowed through the veins of almost all the powerful families in England, especially amongst the “Marcher Lords” (those located in the Welsh border region), as well as courtiers, crusaders, templars, and early immigrants to the new world.
That brings us to the numerous George Cliffords alive the 16th and 17th centuries, the time leading up to and encompassing what is referred to The Great Migration to New England. Many North American Clifford family researchers looking for the first Cliffords in the northern colonies (not necessarily those that went earlier to Virginia) have traced their trees up to John (of Hampton NH), and ostensibly George, his father, of Boston MA. Although research is still being conducted to verify the connection of these two to the various Clifford lines in England (including a so far inconclusive DNA and name study though the Clifford Association), there is strong historical evidence for the connection to what is known as the Bobbing Kent line (explained in further detail in the next paragraph), and more and more circumstantial evidence is coming to light to support the claim that George and John Clifford of New England are from this line. (YankeeRoots inserted note: see my post John Clifford of Hampton, NH).
Members of the House of Clifford have identified a number of lines of descendancy, named after the regions in which they developed, usually where their ancestors’ titles originated. For example, the current Lord Clifford is Thomas Hugh Clifford, 14th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh. His line is therefore called the Chudleigh line. The Bobbing (of the county of Kent) line, is a historical offshoot of the Chudleigh line. Sadly, the original manor of Bobbing Court, “seat” of the Cliffords of Bobbing, no longer exists; it was sold off by the heirs of Mary Southwell, widow of Sir Conyers Clifford (uncle of George Clifford of Boston), who by the time of her death had remarried and had had issue by that marriage. The old manor was demolished and later rebuilt in a different location by its new owners. What does remain as a testament to its Clifford years, however, is the adjacent church with its associated Clifford burials. Unfortunately, not all of the burial markers survive.
The name George Clifford appears in several different lines of the pedigree, sometimes simultaneously, Bobbing being one of the lines where the name is more prevalent. At one time there were 3 and possibly even more George Cliffords alive at the same time, including some Georges that are not depicted on any trees whatsoever, presumably of a lower social status, most of these found in legal records. Therefore, it is understandable that there would be confusion. In the course of my study of the Bobbing line, I realized that it is quite a common error for family historians to find and post information concerning one of these Georges to a completely different George. Most commonly I see people posting portrait images and data pertaining to Sir George Cliffford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1558-1605) with George Clifford, Esq. (1535-1585 grandfather of George the likely Boston immigrant). Sometimes, inexplicably, the information is transcribed to the George the immigrant himself. Also, it is highly unlikely that the Cliffords of Bobbing have any connection with the village of Arnold, Nottinghamshire; expert researchers have debunked this, irrespective of the claims made by 19th century genealogical references. With the death of Sir Conyers Clifford, the Bobbing line of Cliffords could no longer lay claim to the title attached to the manor of Bobbing, and to the best of my knowledge, were not authorized to bear arms (use a coat of arms). For this and other related reasons, slapping a generic “family” coat of arms on the Cliffords of New England, or any other person without justification, is simply wrong. The loss of the manor is, in my opinion, only one of the reasons George Clifford of Bobbing emigrated to America along with his son, John. (Copyrighted material ends here.)