Bourne Archive: FNQ: Wanty / Vantier           Latest edit 12 Mar 2010.   

Interactive version and photographs ©2008 R.J.PENHEY

The Bourne Archive


Fenland Notes and Queries. Edited by Rev. W.D. Sweeting, Rector of Maxey.

Part 56. January  1903.

This quarterly periodical took the form of a forum in which people sent in questions about the history, ecology and so on of the Fens and the region’s environs and others replied with some sort of answer. Some ‘answers’ seem to have been spontaneous, so qualifying as ‘notes’.

The Wanty Family

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967 – Wanty Family of Thorney (925). – In our last number we gave a short notice of Mr. Peet’s1 privately printed Memorials of the Huguenot Family of de Vantier. By the kindness of the author we are now enabled to give a page of the armorial bearings of some branches of the family. The different coats are so completely unlike, that in England we should feel inclined to question the fact that the families could have descended from one stock: but very probably the rules of foreign heraldry are not the same as ours.

In tracing the careers of the members of one of the Huguenot families, Mr. Peet is naturally obliged to give some account of the reasons for leaving their native land; and, accordingly, much of what he relates applies equally to members of others who for the same reasons felt compelled to emigrate to England in the 16th and 17th centuries. To those who live near the centres where these foreigners settled, and who are acquainted with some of the descendants of the original settlers, these details are of the greatest interest.

The French Church at Thorney was established in 1652. This was 33 years before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which caused a far greater number of the Huguenots to seek the hospitality of our shores, so that the first settlers at Thorney were driven to England in consequence of the persecution at the latter end of the 16th century. 2

We quote some passages describing the causes of the original coming.

There were two great immigrations of Huguenots from Flanders and France. The First commenced a few years immediately anterior to the Massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572), and continued for many years, partly of French and partly of Flemish Protestants – these latter were French-speaking Flemings or Walloons. The second, and numerically the greater immigration, occurred at the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and consisted almost entirely of French Huguenots. They found an asylum in this country, and settled in various places.

The French congregation at Thorney does not appear to have received any accession of members at this period. In the five years next after the Revocation not a single baptism appears in any family which was not settled at Thorney before that event.

The history of the Refugees in their settlements in England is intensely interesting, but the literature on the subject is at present confined to very narrow limits. The splendid work now being accomplished by the Huguenot Society of London in printing the Registers of the French Churches and other important documents long pigeon-holed at the Record Office, or buried amongst State Papers, will add materially to the sources of knowledge available for the student and genealogist. Holland3 and England constituted the principal asylum of the exiled Huguenots, especially those resident in the Northern Provinces of France.4 Holland in the first instance, and England in the next – many of the Refugees passing through one country on their way to the other. In Holland they naturally became adepts in the art of Embanking and Drainage, 5 and as is well known, a certain section, when they came to England, rallied to the call of Vermuyden – the Dutch Engineer – in the great Drainage works he undertook in the Fens of Lincolnshire and the adjacent counties. The successful reclamation of the drowned lands was to a great extent due to the skilled labour and patient industry of the French6 and Walloon Colony, which for the greater part of the century made Thorney its home. In the course of time, not a few of the refugee community, cut off from their native land, married with their English neighbours, although at first the practice was discouraged. The names of these foreign strangers – anglicised and corrupted often past recognition – abound in every village and hamlet throughout the district, but the tongue of La Belle France has long since ceased to be heard in the Fens.

The old home of the de Vantiers is Le Pays de l’Alleud.7 This is situated in France quite close to Belgium.

It was on the line of towns and villages between Armentières and Valenciennes, situated within a few miles of the present frontier of France and Belgium, and mostly within the province of French Flanders, then forming part of the Spanish Netherlands, that the storm of the persecution first fell.

It had the reputation of being one of the richest districts in Europe, renowned for its industry and thriving manufacture of linen and wool.8 The earliest members of the family who left the fatherland were Jaques Wantier, who in 1567 was sentenced to banishment in consequence of his religious zeal and active opposition to the cruelties of the Spaniards, and Jean Wantier and another Jaques, his brother, who were also sentenced to banishment in 1568. “The same sentence was passed upon Anna Wantier, the wife of Renault le Roy. for breaking images in various churches.” 9

Maidstone and Canterbury were among the first places in England colonised by the Refugees. Numerous instances occur in the Registers of the French Church at Canterbury of baptisms and marriages of Wantiers between 1586 and 1628. As is well known, the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral was made over to the French settlers as a weaving factory; and the south aisle of the crypt was appropriated to their use as a place of worship: and to this day, Divine Service is still conducted there in the French language, although there is now no French-speaking community in the city.* Offices in the French Church were held by different members of the family. But after 1644 all such entries in the Registers and other books cease; so there was “evidently a dispersal of the family about this period.”

By degrees some Wantiers seemed to have returned to Flanders. Descendants of the first exiles are found living at the old home at La Gorgue, 10 but, as we might expect from the confiscation of their property, in much reduced circumstances. And once more, in the middle of the 17th century, persecution raged again, and the family, who now were always named de Vantier, were obliged to escape. “A few joined their relatives in England”; but most, in 1661, went to the Palatinate, where they stayed till driven away by the French in 1698, when they made their way to Denmark.

Some details which Mr. Peet has collected of this later emigration confirm the fact that the ancestral home of the family was at La Gorgue. Members can be clearly traced through the Palatinate to many places in Denmark and Germany, “where many of their descendants are now living.”

It is to be noted that the colony of Huguenots at Thorney did not come to that place direct from abroad. They had first tried to establish themselves at the work at Hatfield Chase, in Yorkshire: but their presence there was resented, and they were “molested by the peasantry.” They accordingly made overtures to the Earl of Bedford to rent land on his Thorney estate, which they would drain and cultivate. With them there came some new arrivals from Flanders, as well as others who had already been living in Canterbury, London, and elsewhere in England. Mr. Peet divides the Thorney settlers into three classes: (I) the trained drainers, who received wages for their work; (II) the agriculturalists, eager to avail themselves of the low rental at Thorney; (III) the capitalists, who in some instances purchased land, and sometimes joined the body of the Adventurers. The Wantys, and the Bailleuls11 (Bayleys) belonged to this last class. Among the purchasers of land were members of the families Ris, La Pla, Le Cont, Prevost, Egar, and Melville.

We hope to return to the subject on a future occasion.

FNQ Footnotes.

*        Canterbury Cathedral in Bell’s Series, p. 100.


The Browne monument sheds a little light on the tensions arising from the variety of view as to the best approach to religious thought and observance, present in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The FNQ article on the Gaches Family draws attention to the fact that at broadly the same time, the same kind of tension was felt in southern France, though here, the mention of the town of Albi reminds us that the same problem had arisen there in the early thirteenth century when the people of Albi, the Albigenses, met a similar response. On that occasion, the father of Simon de Montfort, after whom the University at Leicester is named, was a prominent leader of the suppressing forces. In the present document, we see that such events were not confined to Languedoc but were also experienced in what became northern France.

To begin with, the Wantys’ home was in the Spanish Netherlands, the territory for which the Spanish Armada was heading when it sailed through the English Channel in the summer of 1588. The Netherlands was the scene of a prolonged struggle between the Roman Catholic, Spanish-controlled south and the independent, largely Protestant, United Provinces in the north. Similar struggles were going on among the states which became Germany. By the end of the story, the Wantys’ homeland had been taken over by France as a result of the War of Devolution (1667) and the Treaty of Aix La Chapelle (1668). The territory added to France at this time is now represented by the modern Département du Nord. 12

The name of Wanty appears also, from the nineteenth century, in Pamela Southworth’s History of Swineshead (pp. 60 & 108).

1.^     H. Peet, F.S.A., of Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. One might hazard that he was an elder contemporary relative of Eric Peet (1882-1934), Egyptologist, also of Liverpool. Eric was the eldest son of Thomas Peet, corn merchant, so H. Peet was neither Eric’s father nor his brother. (DNB) Eric Peet.

2.      It has to be emphasized that at this stage, until 1667, the homeland of this group of Huguenots was under Spanish government.

3.       From 1581 this was the United Provinces. See History of the Netherlands for an outline of the political arrangements from time to time and Eighty Year’s War for more details of the relevant period.

4.      Remember, when the Wantys left their home, it was not in France.

5.^    This is a little facile. By analogy: London is a great financial centre but you don’t become a financier by living in London, though some people do combine the two.

6.      Unless they arrived after 1668, the French settlers would have come from outside what became the Département du Nord.

7.       At first sight, the Pays de L’Alleud appears to be around Waterloo, now well inside Belgium, though the Kingdom of Belgium has existed only since 1831, following the Belgian revolt of 1830. The place called Braine-l’Alleud is there. It is known as Brinne-l’Alou in the Walloon language, Walon and by an attempted reading of its Wikipedia article and that on Alou, it is possible to track down the French word Alleu. This comes from the Old German Allod and is a term from feudalism. It was a hereditary property, exempt from all dues, as opposed to a fief which was charged with certain services (NPLI). (See Allodial title.) In other words, it is not the name of a region such as Picardy for example, but of a large or small patch of land held on such terms. This is appropriate to the artisan or merchant economy from which much of Protestant thought arose. After the set-back in population in the fourteenth century, much more land was put to pasture for raising wool. But someone had to process the wool and these tended to be the people from whom the Huguenots were drawn. Some of them had the economic means of bargaining away a lord’s feudal rights.

8.      It was to Flanders that Boston had exported wool. By the sixteenth century, this had fallen off but this is a reminder of the extent of trade and its cosmopolitan nature. The Huguenot dispersal was an unwelcome adventure but not one entirely into the unknown.

9.      It is possible to see how a Spanish ruler, looking for a quiet life, might see such people as troublesome fanatics.

10.^  La Gorgue lies on the right bank of the River Lys, at coordinates 50° 38’ 18’’  N 2° 42’ 58” E.

11.     This personal name is also that of a town of the district.

12.^  The development of the borders of Metropolitan France is covered in a Wikipedia article.

See Rootsweb for more on Cambridgeshire’s Walloon people.