This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 22nd March 1999, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

“In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called CONQUEST?

A Reader from Chaddesden in Derby has asked about this name. Suggestions that it can relate to the Norman Invasion (1066) are doubtful. The expression "The Conquest" first occurs in 1347 whereas there is already a reference to a Geoffrey Conquest in Berkshire in 1248. Furthermore the title "Conqueror" was not bestowed upon William I until 1300. Before then he was often designated "The Bastard" - not necessarily a term abuse in those days: simple a statement of fact. Another suggestion is that the name related to the occupation of an estate won by fighting. There is historical evidence to give a margin of credibility to this explanation. Until the time of Henry II (1154-1189) disputes over the ownership of land could be settled legally through what was little more than a staged duel. The claimants, being of "noble birth" couldn't be expected (naturally) to fight themselves but it was quite in order to suggest that two of their underlings could run all the risks. In fact quite a flourishing profession of hired champions evolved.

In 1294 Ralph de Frechvile engaged the top duelist of the day (Roger de Meauton) to support his claims to land at Southwell against the local Bishop. He must have thought it worthwhile because it cost him £48 to vindicate his claim - and what that sum would be worth in modern values, goodness only knows! Nevertheless the point is that any such disputed territory would have had a given name already - indeed it would have been essential for identification purposes in the Court Proceedings which accompanied such contests. Therefore when ownership was resolved, lands would have passed under a name which was already established and additional "family" labels don't ever seem to have been tagged on in triumph. A further objection is that although there is a place in Bedfordshire called "Houghton Conquest" it first appears in this guise in 1316 and by which time the duelling procedures had been abandoned for nearly 200 years.

The real problem attaching itself to this surname is that "conquest" is now understood simply in the sense of "taking possession by force". But in the Middle Ages it had another meaning as well. Expressed very simply indeed, "conquest" was a legal term for describing the transfer of land by any means other than by direct inheritance. During that period (popularly called "Feudal") most occupiers of land held it for life on condition that they rendered services to their immediate over-lord - very often the king. The general arrangement was that on the death of the father the estate passed on to the eldest son who was allowed to inherit on condition that he surrendered, say, a full year's income to the over-lord. If the son was under-age the lord (usually the king) would assume guardianship and appropriate all profits for that purpose. Kings and over-lords were always pushed for money and kept their eyes open for any real or fancied set of circumstances to line their pockets at the expense of heirs. However there was one limitation: such losses or liabilities could only be imposed upon those who acquired an estate in succession to a father - still technically called "an entail".

So: just as today wealthy people seek to avoid paying taxes by scurrying off to "tax havens", etc. our Medieval Ancestors were just as crafty and resorted to all sorts of dodges to eliminate the automatic father-to-son succession. It is impossible within the limits of this little feature to expand upon the stratagems employed. It must be accepted that laws were passed eventually declaring that all inherited property was deemed to be subject to all Feudal Dues and Services unless the persons involved could prove otherwise. In legal circles such possessions as managed to escape these liabilities was described as having been acquired "by conquest" and the concept of "succession by conquest" still prevailed in Scotland until 1874. It would be too involved to explain how a word signifying "conflict" became confused with "ownership". Note: in Modern French, "Conquêt" describes property held jointly by husband and wife. A corresponding term in Scots Law was "conquest of marriage" and referred to acquisitions provided for in a formal matrimonial contract.

Hence the most credible explanation is that "Conquest" is a status name and may be included along with corresponding surnames such as "Freeland", "Heritage", "Tennent" etc. However without access to records and documents of Title it is no longer possible to relate the surnames to the properties involved.

Exactly the same must prevail with "Conquest" although some inspired guesswork might be ventured. The name is first associated with a place in Bedfordshire (1223) which was listed in Domesday (1086) as "Houstone" then later as "Hocton" (1202). Then in the Records for Berkshire a "Geoffrey Conquest" appears. Meanwhile Edward I (1272-1307) was becoming concerned that many land-owners were appropriating Privileges attached to land without Royal Authority. So in 1274 he sent out Commissioners to investigate. They were deeply resented by the land-owners affected and of whom a certain John Conquest might have been one. The hostility generated forced the king to amend the law which he promulgated at Gloucester in 1290. This might (only "might") account then for the inclusions of a "John Conquest" in the Records of that City in 1298. He could, presumable, have argued his case with success because a Record of Land Holdings in 1316 refers for the first time to "Houghton Conquest" in Bedfordshire. (c.f. "Burton Latimer" and "Stoke Mandeville" for similar family taggings).

Although the Local Directories muster about a dozen entries. a large number list none at all. It is a fairly uncommon name. There is a slight concentration around Peterborough, and, as expected, about 15 in the London Area. Even Bedford mentions only two!

Unfortunately the only "personality" bearing the name, George Conquest (1837-1901) is misleading. He was a popular pantomime actor/manager in his day and invented many "effects" - especially the "invisible" wires to simulate flying across the stage. However his real name was "Oliver" and "Conquest" was adopted for professional purposes.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 22nd March 1999.

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