The Peyton Name and Heraldry

The earliest known documentation of the name Peyton appears in the Little Domesday Book of 1087. It was the name of an inhabited place near Ramsholt on the Deben River estuary in Suffolk. Peyton had been earlier known as Peaga’s Tun; tun being a Saxon word meaning house, farm, or enclosed place. From tun the word town has evolved. Improvements noted at that location were Peyton Hall and a mill. The Visitation of Suffolk lists Reginald de Peyton as Lord of Peyton Hall in Ramsholt and Peyton Hall in Boxford and Stoke Nayland. Reginald was the first to adopt the surname Peyton, who, during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) followed the custom of the time, taking it from family property. It is not entirely clear which property was the original source of the family name. Although there is evidence of an inhabited place at the Boxford site that dates to pre-Christian times, the documentation of Peyton Hall at Ramsholt in 1087 suggests that the latter was the source.

Saint Peaga or Pega was a sister of Saint Guthlac, the founder of a hermitage at Crowland. A Saxon of royal descent, she was a virgin and lived as an anchoress at Peakirk (meaning Peaga’s church) in Northamptonshire. When Saint Guthlac realized that his end was near in 714 AD, he invited her to his funeral. For this she sailed down the River Welland, curing a blind man from Wisbech on the way. She inherited Saint Guthlac’s psalter and scourge, both of which she gave to Crowland. Saint Peaga died on a pilgrimage to Rome on January 8, 716. She was buried there in a church built in her honor near St. Peter’s, but which has since disappeared. Ordericus Vitalis (1075-1142), an English Benedictine Monk, claimed that relics survived in an unnamed Roman church in his day and that miracles took place there. The extant parish at Peakirk, Northamptonshire, is dedicated to her and her feast day is celebrated on January 8th. The name Peakirk was formerly Peychirche and then Peykirk. From this, one can see that the origin of the family name can be traced back about 1300 years. Major DCW Peyton credits the late William Christian Peyton of Alberta, Canada, for researching much of this information.

The family name has been spelled a number of different ways, the most frequently appearing being Peyton and Payton. Others used have been: Peytone, Peituna, Peiton, Paiton, Paighton, Petune, Paton, etc. Of some relevant interest is a quotation from a paper prepared in 1897 by Mr. Frances P. Barnard, at the time senior representative of the Barnards of Isleham. His family had experienced similar difficulties with their name. “In former times there was great carelessness about spelling generally, and there was no reason why personal names should be exempted from this laxity. Nor were they. The two brothers who stood (in 1415) at Agincourt (Sir John, father of Margaret who was the wife of Thomas Peyton, 1416-1484, and Sir Thomas Barnard) have their names spelt, one ‘Ba’ and the other ‘Be’ in the contemporary Agincourt Roll and individual members of the family long continued to write their names sometimes as ‘Bernard,’ and sometimes as ‘Barnard’.”

He went on to say that in the last three centuries the family had settled on Barnard, which fixed the matter.

Henry Peyton of Lincoln’s Inn (1590-1656) signed his last name “Payton,” while his son, Sir Robert Peyton, MP (1633-1689), used the spelling “Peyton.”

In the development of heraldry, the need for a highly visible and distinctive emblem for individual battle leaders occurred in the period following the Norman invasion in 1066. Changes in body armor from mail to steel plate and the adaptation of a helmet with visor covering the entire head effectively concealed the identity of the wearer. Since military leaders needed to be seen, recognized and followed by the troops under their command in battle, the practice of painting distinctive emblems on their shields evolved as a solution and became widespread in the 12th Century.

It was and remains the custom for the eldest son to inherit his father’s arms unchanged and for younger sons to add marks of difference to their father’s arms to indicate relative sibling seniority. Specific marks have been adopted for this purpose: crescent, mullet, martlet, fleur-de-lis, rose, etc. A situation nearly unique in English heraldry arose in the 13th Century when Robert Peyton, a younger son of John Peyton (l. 1136) of Peyton Hall, took the arms of his father without adding the customary mark of difference. This mark was a silver mullet, placed in the first quarter (upper left) of the shield. It has been suggested that the mullet was taken from the arms of the de Veres, Earls of Oxford and was intended to denote adherence to that family, who were the greatest magnates of the western part of Suffolk in which many of the Peyton manors were located. As a result of miscopying or reversal during printing, the mullet has been sometimes shown incorrectly in the second quarter of the shield, rather than the first quarter. A mullet is the rowel of a horseman’s spur and is shown with five points. It is sometimes shown with a hole in the center, provided to fasten the rowel to the shank of the spur. Sir John’s arms then became: Sable, a cross engrailed or, in the first quarter a mullet argent.

Robert Peyton, the younger son who took his father’s traditional arms without the difference, adopted the surname of Ufford from a manor in eastern Suffolk. He later rose to become Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1270 and lived until 1297. His son Robert was created a Baron and Knight of the Garter. His grandson, also Robert, was the Earl of Suffolk. Another Ufford was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, but died during The Black Death before he could be enthroned. It had been thought in recent times that the male line had long since failed. It was discovered, however, that Ufford descendants, who had adhered to the Yorkist cause, fled across the Channel after the War of the Roses. They changed their name to Poswick, deriving it from the village of Postwick, near Norwich in the county of Norfolk. This prominent branch of the family survives today in Belgium and retains the ancient arms of Peyton, later Ufford, with a substitution of the black field for one of red.

The earliest known representative of the Peyton arms is shown on the Herald’s Roll, ca. 1275, now at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (MS 297 E. 8). It appears, in color, as a rather crudely rendered engrailed gold cross on a black shield. It is identified on the roll by the name Ufford. These ancient Peyton arms, later Ufford, also appear on the Dering Roll, XIII Century, now at the British Museum (k9099 Add. MS 38587) in a more definitive rendering. The arms also appear on the St. George’s Role and the Charles Role.

One of the problems that arose out of the use of armorial shields was the potential, even likelihood, for similarity or duplication. Of course, this could lead to confusion or even disaster in battle. Family arms were, and still are, viewed as property to be passed from generation to generation, and to be respected as such. Accordingly, efforts were made to avoid problems of duplication and to secure entitlement. Nobles and knights employed heralds whose duties included introducing their masters on public occasions by reciting family history and military accomplishments. It fell to the heralds to keep a record of the family arms. The rolls mentioned on the preceding paragraphs were the work of heralds.

In 1417, King Henry V issued a writ stating that in the future men might not assume their own arms. Thereafter, a right to bear arms could only be acquired by proof of descent in an unbroken line from someone using arms before that date or by a grant of new arms from the king. Finally, in 1484, King Richard III established the College of Arms, which continues to this day. The College has been maintaining records of the Peyton arms and pedigrees for over five centuries and has been much help to the Peyton Society in its research efforts. The College receives no financial support from the Government and must, of necessity, charge fees for any research performed.

Over the course of time, the use of armorial bearings expended from the identification function in battle to more ceremonial, decorative, and administrative uses. Shields of arms were then more often termed coats of arms to reflect the wearing of arms on clothing such as surcoats and tabards.

There are numerous examples of Peyton and Ufford arms on display in England. Major DCW Peyton has identified a great many and recorded them in An Index to the Antiquities of the Peyton Family.

Some of these examples are found in many of the churches near lands held by the family. The largest group, numbering over sixty, is in St. Andrew’s Church, Isleham, where the late Vicar, the Reverend J. Brian Goodchild, painstakingly restored the damaged and faded tinctures of the arms of various members of the Bernard and Peyton families, impaled with those of their spouses, together with composite coats of arms, in which the Peyton arms are quartered with those of their wives. Most of the arms brought in by those alliances have been identified and, in some cases, have provided valuable clues to family relationships in earlier days from which few written records survive. They have also clarified some of the confusion caused by the perennial Peyton practice of over-frequent repetition of the same Christian names.

Two Peyton family heraldic documents are worthy of note. The first is an illustrated presentation of the Peyton family tree prepared by the Rev. Richard Parker, BD, in 1614. It consists of 15 pages in a 20x24-inch format, containing much genealogical information about the English Peytons up to that time. Included is a particularly handsome, complete coat of arms rendering in color, showing the achievements of Sir John Peyton. In this drawing an erect bear and erect griffin flank the shield. This type of augmentation may be displayed only by Peers of the Realm and Baronets. On the individual shields used in the presentation, there are a number of marks of difference to indicate relative seniority of younger sons. They are located at the center of the engrailed crosses. Also to be seen is the easily recognizable red hand on a silver escutcheon, a distinction accorded to baronets. This is described: On an escutcheon argent, a sinister hand erect, a paumee, couped at the wrist, gules.

The other heraldic document of note is the Heralds’ Chart of 1688, made for Edward Peyton, fifth son of Sir Edward Peyton. This also is an elaborate, illuminated pedigree chart of the Peyton family with much genealogical information and includes another handsome color rendering of the Peyton arms. It is now in the museum of the College of Arms, a gift of Mrs. Evelyn Peyton Gilpin-Brown. Copies were made of this large chart, in color, and one of these was presented to the Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia by the late Bernard Peyton, Princeton, New Jersey.

Just as the Washington family arms may have been the basis for various American governmental shields and emblems, the ancient Peyton arms have served as the source from which were derived the arms of the former English county of East Suffolk and, through the Uffords, the Belgium province of Limburg. Educational institutions including in their arms the Peyton’s engrailed cross are the Grammar Schools at Bury and at March, and (via Cardinal Wolsey) Christ Church College, Oxford.

The Peyton crest, the griffin, is commemorated in various inn signs; such are those of the hotel in March and the small inn at Isleham.

In a display of arms there is often a scroll beneath the shield bearing the family motto. This is not a part of the arms in any formal sense and has sometimes been omitted or been changed to suit the armiger. It was noted that the motto shown on the tomb of Sir John Peyton (obit 1616) at St. Andrew’s, Isleham bears the motto: Nec Vi Nec Metu, meaning “neither by force nor by fear.” The family motto in more general use is: Patior, Potior, possibly originated in part as a pun on the Peyton name. As with many other ancient Latin mottoes, it is difficult to translate, while retaining the spirit of the original language. “Through suffering, I prevail” may be a better rendition than the more literal “I suffer, I obtain.”