Earliest History

Earliest Recorded History

The Early Anglo-Saxon Aristocrats – Lords of the Manor

The name of Merriott derives from “Maergeat”, meaning boundary gate.  The boundary was the line of the River Parrett, along which Saxon invaders were halted in 658 AD.  The triangle of roads – Broadway, Lower Street and Church Street, enclose about 30 acres of land which was communally cultivated from before the Norman Conquest in 1066.  Merriott belonged to an Anglo-Saxon family with large holdings in Somerset, Wiltshire & Devon.  The head of the family in 1066 was Eadnoth the Staller – Master of the King’s Horse – Sheriff, and Commander of the Men of Somerset.   He died in 1068, fighting the sons of King Harold, and William the Conqueror confiscated his lands and divided them up – part of Merriott going to the Count de Mortain, and the Manor later to Eadnoth’s son, Heardinc (or Harding).  Heardinc founded the de Meriet family, following the prevailing fashion of taking the name of the manor as a surname.  The village of Merriott is noted in the Domesday Book – a survey of England  drawn up by order of William the Conqueror in 1086.

The following paragraph of information is from:  The Domesday Book – England’s Heritage, Then & Now.

Meriet: Main Landholders: Dodman from Count of Mortain; Harding from the king. (Some holdings were granted by the king to his thanes).   4 mills.  10 cattle.  A village.  Once a centre for flax and canvas. Somerset was known to the Saxons as Somer Shire and its inhabitants were called Sumersetas.  There was much valuable pasture and cultivated land in the county.  After the Conquest the king either retained these holdings for himself or allocated them to his Norman barons, in particular to Robert, Count of Mortain, who ruled over 86 manors with a greedy and iron hand from his castle at Montacute. 

Heardinc’s eldest son was Nicholas FitzHarding de Meriet (d by 1171; the prefix “Fitz” meaning son of), and his second was Robert FitzHarding of Bristol. The FitzHardings were Anglo-Saxon, surrounded by areas in the charge of Norman Knights.  Merriott and its people flourished for 300 years, with aristocratic English Lords of the Manor. On Nicholas’ death, the manor passed  to his son Henry de Meriet (d. by 1192).  Then followed Nicholas de Meriet (d. by 1229), Hugh de Meriet (d. about 1236), Nicholas (d. 1258), and John (d. 1285).  This Sir John de Meriet began the building of the present Church – his infant son John being the first to be baptised there in 1276.   The young John was eventually acclaimed by the title “Great Warrior” after fighting in the Scottish War at age 21.  He was rewarded by the King with permission to hunt in the royal forests, an honour never lightly bestowed.   For the people of Merriott, an even greater reward was the permission given by the King to hold fairs and markets in the Manors of Merriott & Lopen, allowing the community to prosper.

The manor was passed down through the de Meriet family until the last Sir John de Meriet died in 1391, and no male heirs remained.    The Manor reverted to the Crown, and in 1397 the King bestowed Merriott upon Sir William Bonville (d 1408), who had married Margaret,  a de Meriet girl.  Unfortunately this brought Merriott into the sphere of the Wars of the Roses.   William, Lord Bonville, was a Yorkist, and there was bitter enmity between the Bonvilles and the Earls of Devonshire, the Courtenays, who espoused the Lancastrian cause.  Within a few years the Bonvilles had been defeated and the direct male line was extinct, although the Manor continued in the Bonville family for a number of years.

The heiress to all the Bonville estates was a ten year old girl, Cicily Bonville.  She married Sir Thomas Grey, and her Grandson Henry eventually became the father of Lady Jane Grey, born in 1537, who was also granddaughter of Mary, sister of Henry VIII.  Edward VI died in July 1553, and power politics saw Lady Jane Grey, at age 16,  become Queen of England for less than 2 weeks before being imprisoned and executed in 1554, a year after her father had met the same fate.  Mary I became the rightful Queen under her father Henry VIII’s will. In the same year, 1554,   the estate in Merriott was seized by the Crown and granted to William & Barbara Rice.  Their lease fell to Sir Jerome Bowes in 1575, and stayed in the Bowes family until sold to James Hooper in 1587.  James’ nephew Henry Hooper inherited in 1598, and he enfranchised much of the estate and granted parts of the manor by three
conveyances.   The manor was heavily mortgaged by the Hoopers. It was eventually sold in 1686 to Thomas Rodbard, a London fishmonger, who left it to a succession of Rodbards, including the illegitimate children of Mary Butcher.  See:  Butcher Family Page.    Eventually the Whitley family inherited the lordship into the 20th century.
Queen Mary bestowed the Manor of Merriott on one family; her successor Queen Elizabeth I on another. Since then the lordship of the manor changed hands many times; eventually no title remained.

[The Victoria County History  has more detail.]