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From David Smyth - family historian - Smyth Family Records
David Smyth considers generations 1-5.

David Smyth writes:

The earliest date for our branch of the Smyth family that I have been able to find so far, in other wider Smyth family ancestries, is in the entry for the Smyth family of Gaybrook, Mullingar, Westmeath, in Burke’s Irish Family Records.

It begins: Lineage – This family originally came from Stainton in the Palatinate of Durham but moved to Yorkshire circa 1500, settling at Rosedale Abbey which was leased to them by Ralph Neville, First Earl of Westmorland after the dissolution of the Monasteries.

There is already one mistake here. Ralph Neville, First Earl of  Westmorland, was born in 1364 and died in 1425. So the reference is presumably to the Fourth Earl. Stainton is a town just north of Darlington in County Durham, near Hartlepool on the northeast coast of England. It is only a few miles away from Stainford, the site of Raby Castle, built by the Neville family in the Fourteenth century. The proximity of the Neville’s castle and the Smyths’ town of origin seems to imply that the Smyths knew or had some connection with the Nevilles before they moved from Durham to Yorkshire.

Site Note: - During the early years of the fifteenth century, a Smyth/e daughter was born. Of unknown first name, she is noted as "Inconnu/e de Smythe", born in 1411 at Bedford. The family source (Nelson family) states that she married Sir Robert Spencer, son of Edmund de Beaufort Plantagenet and Eleanor de Beauchamp. Sir Robert Spencer was born in about 1435 in Spencercombe, Devon, England and died in 1502-1510 in Spencercombe, Devon, England. The link with Beaufort and Beauchamp is significant in that the period of the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor era placed the Smyth/e family and the Neville family in close association. The Nevilles and the Beauforts and Beauchamps were high ranking and powerful families of the day. 'Warwick the Kingmaker' was a Neville.


Generation 1

William Smithdike (?-?) = wife unknown
(Children: THOMAS, perhaps others unknown)

Rosedale Abbey was a small priory of the Cistercian Order, founded in the Twelfth Century in the narrow little valley of the River Seven (which is actually a small stream) at the foot of Spaunton Moor, about a day’s ride on horseback northward from the city of York. There is not much left of it now, and it does not seem to have been a very impressive place to begin with.The only remains of Rosedale Abbey, the stump of a tower - adjacent to the more modern church.

All that remains, as I found on a visit in 1996, is the stump of a tower and part of a staircase. Rosedale Abbey still shows on the map of Yorkshire but it is now the name of a small village rather than an abbey. The abbey itself was dissolved in 1538. At the time of its dissolution it consisted of only eight nuns and a prioress (who were compensated with state pensions) and twelve lay workers, mainly farmers and shepherds. But it did own a considerable amount of land, donated at various times by prominent local families, including the de Rosedales, Stutevilles, Wakes, Malcakes, and Bolebecks.

At the High Street shop I purchased “A History of Rosedale,” a local history written in 1971 by Raymond H. Hayes, MBE, FSA. According to this work:

On the dissolution of the priory, on July 9th, 1538 – together with Keldholme Priory – it was granted to Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, who leased it to William Smithdike of the household of the King, at seven pounds nine shillings per annum for twenty one years.”

This William Smithdike was apparently the father of Thomas Smyth, the first ancestor mentioned by name in the Burke genealogy of the Irish Smyth family. We have no explanation available for the contraction of the Smithdike name to Smyth, but according to the Rosedale history this William Smithdike had some connection with the court of King Henry VIII, so perhaps further research of Henry’s reign may dredge up some new information on the Smithdike ancestry. For the present, the fact that the Irish Smyths of Gaybrook did not know the name of the man who first leased the property from the Earl of Westmorland indicates that their knowledge of the period is very sketchy.

Smithdike’s twenty-one-year lease apparently ran from about 1538 to 1559. The size of the property at that time is not known, but according to the “History of Rosedale,”some years later, “when the Manor of Rosedale was leased in 1576… there were forty farms and six mills.” We may therefore conclude that William Smithdike was probably running a rented estate of considerable size.


Generation 2

Thomas Smyth (1520- ?) = Jane Layton (? - ?)
(Children: THOMAS, others unknown)

Burke’s Irish Family Records continues: THOMAS SMYTH, born 1520, married Jane Layton, of West Layton, and had with other issue, Thomas Smyth.

The dissolution of the monasteries was decreed by Henry VIII in 1535, when William Smithdike’s son Thomas was fifteen years old. It would appear from the initial Burke entry that the Smyth family had moved from Durham to Yorkshire before that event, in the early 1500s, but the timing is not very clear. It seems probable that the Earl of Westmorland leased Rosedale Abbey to Smithdike in the mid to late 1530s and that the family moved from Durham to Yorkshire at that time.

The political background to this is that Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon because she was unable to produce a male heir, the Pope would not let him, so Henry broke with Rome, founded his own church and declared himself the head of it instead of the Pope. This was the origin of the Anglican Church. Subsequently Henry confiscated the property of the Catholic Church, which owned large tracts of land in England, dissolved the monasteries and nunneries, and pensioned off the monks and nuns. Court favorites like the Earl of Westmorland ended up in possession of a great deal of the confiscated ecclesiastical property. All this religious upheaval was going on when Thomas Smyth was growing up, and he was probably eighteen when his family took over the running of the Rosedale property.

Jane Layton appears to have come from a prominent local family. West Layton and East Layton are two small villages northward of Rosedale Abbey, about nine miles west south west of Darlington in the North Riding of Yorkshire. The principal family of this area was the de Laytons, of Norman descent. It can be traced back to the Twelfth century and one Odarus, Lord of the Manor of Layton. The name was later shortened to Layton. Richard Layton, a younger son of the Laytons, of West Layton, was dean of York in Henry the 8th's time, and was one of the persons whose authority Henry made use of in dissolving the monasteries. He may have been an uncle of Jane Layton. Having taken over the management of expropriated land and marrying into such a family, it seems evident that the Smyths were well in with the new Anglican establishment. It was a connection that was to continue for several generations.


Generation 3

Thomas Smyth (1550-?) = Margaret Lightfoot (?-?)
(Children: JAMES, others unknown)

Burke’s Irish Family Records continues: THOMAS SMYTH, born 1550, married Margaret Lightfoot, daughter of Simon Lightfoot of West Clayton, and had, with other issue, James Smyth.

Thomas junior was now the third generation Smyth on the Rosedale estate. He would have been nine years old when the original Smithdike 21-year lease on the Earl of Westmorland’s Rosedale property expired in 1559. It was probably renewed or extended, since the Smyth connection with Rosedale was apparently maintained until the departure of his grandson William Smyth for Ireland around 1630.

The History of Rosedale has this to say on the ownership of the property: “On the de-possession of the Earl, owing to his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, they (the Earl of Westmorland’s properties) were forfeit to the Crown.”Mary Queen of Scots

It is now obvious that Raymond Hayes, the author of this work, is as prone to errors as Burke. Rosedale Abbey was expropriated from the Cistercian Order and handed over to the Earl of Westmorland in 1538. The Pilgrimage of Grace was a rebellion against King Henry VIII two years earlier, in 1536, by people opposed to Henry’s religious policy and his dissolution of the monasteries. It is obviously impossible for Westmorland to have been deprived in 1536 of property that he was only granted in 1538. And as a beneficiary of the dissolution of the monasteries he would in any case have been an unlikely participant in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

According to standard histories of England, the Nevilles were ringleaders in a revolt four decades later, in 1569, against Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I - the so-called rebellion of the North. In this uprising, Charles Neville, Sixth Earl of Westmorland, a Catholic by birth, joined forces with Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland. They captured Durham but failed in their attempt to free Mary Queen of Scots (Elizabeth’s Catholic rival for the throne) from prison. Westmorland fled abroad. The Protestant Elizabeth deprived him of his titles and all his properties, which included the ancestral seat, Raby Castle, and the Rosedale Abbey estate.

When Rosedale Abbey was forfeit to the Crown it may be presumed that the Smyths’ lease was renewed by the royal agents, since the family retained their connection with the estate in some way into the next century. However, the “History of Rosedale” states that in 1576 the Manor of Rosedale was leased to Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick and his wife Ann. At this time Thomas Smyth senior would have been fifty six years old, and his son Thomas junior twenty six. It is not clear whether the Earl of Warwick allowed the Smyths to continue managing the Rosedale property, but he probably did not take a direct interest in it himself, since he had other, much larger interests.

Ambrose Dudley was the owner of Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle, where he once entertained Queen Elizabeth with a spectacular fireworks party that burned down one of the local houses. He was married three times but died childless in 1589. His title and property then reverted to the Crown. So, perhaps once again the Smyths were granted a royal lease on the Rosedale Abbey estate.

It is evident at all events that the Smyth family had good connections with the establishment, and particularly with the church, as will be seen from the brief biography of William Smyth, the eldest son of Thomas Smyth and Margaret Lightfoot to be found on page 347 of the Durham Quarter Session Rolls 1471-1625: biographies of Justices of the Peace ...Smythe of Eshe Hall and Herrington ...


SMITH, William, esq., of Durham, son and heir of Thomas Smith and Margaret Lightfoot, married Mary Heron of Chipchase; counsellor at law; of Gray’s Inn; recorder of Durham city, 1603; bishop’s attorney-general; steward of Durham, 1623 (Reg. Cath. D., 82n.; Hutchinson  i, 490; Surtees IV ii, 20; CJ 199 n.42).


Although Thomas’s son James is our direct ancestor, James’s elder brother William is the key to opening up some further information on our ancestry. I am indebted to my cousin, Charmaine Robson for a pedigree of the Smiths of West Herrington, County Durham in which William alone figures (presumably as the first born) but our ancestor James does not. Charmaine ascribes this family tree to The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, London 1816-1840, by Robert Surtees (1779-1834).


According to this document, William’s father Thomas Smyth, of Barton, co. Richmond, co. Ebor. (Yorkshire), married Margaret, daughter of Simon Lightfoot, and sister of George Lightfoot of Durham, esq. Lord of the Manor of Greystones and Humbleton, co. Pal. (County Durham). It would appear therefore that the Lightfoots had substantial roots in Durham, which perhaps would partially account for the successful career of Margaret’s son William in that county. The West Herrington family tree then lists William as the only offspring of Thomas Smyth and Margaret Lightfoot, identifying him as “of the city of Durham, esq., Councellor at Law and Clerk of the Chancerie; descended from Smith of West Layton, co. Ebor. (Yorkshire); buried in Durham cathedral 7 Dec. 1631, aet. 63.” The West Herrington family tree then traces the descendants of William Smith down to the early 1800s.


One interesting point is that William Smith was granted a coat of arms in 1615 that closely resembles the coats of arms later adopted by various Smyth families in Ireland, and was presumably their point of origin. (See the discussion of Smyth coats of arms at the end of this family history). Surtees describes William Smith’s coat of arms as follows:


Argent, on a Bend Azure three lozenges Or, each marked Erminois inter two Unicorns’ heads erased Azure. armed and maned Or. Crest: On a wreath. a dexter Hand embowed or spotted Erminois, Cuff Argent, grasping a broken sword, proper, Hilt Or. Granted by Sir Richard St. George to Wm. Smith of Durham Counsellor at Law, at his Visitation 1615.”


Generation 4

James Smyth (?-?) = Helen Sayers (?-?)
(Children: WILLIAM, at least two other sons)

Burke’s Irish Family Records proceeds: JAMES SMYTH, married Helen, daughter of Francis Sayers, of Worsall, North Allerton, and had issue a third son, William Smyth.

James Smyth, who was probably born in the 1570s and was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, brings us to the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign (she died in 1603) and the beginning of the reign of James I, who united England and Scotland under one king for the first time.

According to the History of Rosedale James granted the priories of Rosedale and Keldholme to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who sold them to Charles Duncombe. They had presumably remained Crown property until that time.

This transfer of ownership probably affected the Smyth tenancy of Rosedale, leading ultimately to the emigration of James’s son William Smyth to northern Ireland around 1630. George Villiers was born in 1592 and was killed in 1628 at the age of thirty six by a disgruntled naval officer. He arrived at the English court in 1614 and became a favorite of James I, who gave him the title of First Duke of Buckingham. By 1620 he was dispensing the king’s patronage and perhaps doled out Rosedale to himself. Thus he probably took over Rosedale some time after 1620. He held the post of Lord High Admiral and was involved in foreign military expeditions, so he presumably had no time to manage the Rosedale estate. Charles Duncombe, who bought it from him, probably did, and this was perhaps where the Smyth stewardship ended.


Generation 5
(updated by David Smyth, March 2003)
William Smyth (1600?-1650) = Ann Hewley (?-1629?)
(Children: James, John, William, RALPH, Margaret {or Marjorie} and Isobel)
Smyth family, settled Ireland ... Link to page 1 of this Smyth line ... context page for this site's Smyth/e research ...

Burke’s Irish Family Records now records:

WILLIAM SMYTH, came to Ireland from Rossdale Abbey circa 1630, settled first at Dundrum, County Down, but later moved to Lisburn, County Antrim, married Ann (died ante 1630), daughter of Sir Thomas Hewley and aunt of Sir John Hewley, Member of Parliament for Yorkshire, and died 1650, leaving issue …

I have turned up relatively little about the life of William Smyth beyond what is stated in Burke’s Irish Family Records. The family history Smythe of Barbavilla by Stephen Penny contains a remarkable amount of original, documented information about his son Ralph Smyth but knows so little about the father that it is unaware that his Christian name was William and has to refer to him as The Settler. Nevertheless, it does have some tit-bits of information. It cites, as its earliest documentary evidence of him, a letter written in 1739 by a Miss Jane Smith in B(allin)derry, who says, “…as yu. Desired I send yu. Ye Genealogy…as I had it from my Mothr… She does not remember ye name of her Gt. Grnd. Father but that he had 3 sons & 2 daughters, John; Wm. & Ralph. & ye daughters Isabel and Margaret after he had settled his family dyed at B-macash. He came fm. Near Ross deal abbey in Yorkshire, where he left one son who enjoyed ye Estat.”

The son who remained in Yorkshire would be James, who is not mentioned by name in the letter, and who brings the number of siblings to six – four brothers and two sisters. There is no word of William’s wife in this letter, so presumably she had died before the move to Ireland. There is no indication of Jane Smith’s relationship to the family, but William the Settler’s daughter Isobel lived in Ballinderry, so perhaps there is a connection there.

Smythe of Barbavilla reports that “The Smyths, by family tradition, landed at Dundrum, County Down, before moving to Lisburn. The father died about fifteen years later at a place now called Old Ballymacash. A garden was all that remained of the first family home there.”

Smythe of Barbavilla’s version of the family’s move to Ireland is sketchy, but is corroborated in some details by information I obtained elsewhere. It states:

Early in the seventeenth century, Sir Fulke and later Sir Edward Conway, who became Viscount Conway and Killultagh, were granted a large estate, the Manor of Killultagh. On this was built a castellated house and the new town of Lisnegarvey, now called Lisburn. Settlers were encouraged to come over from England, Scotland, and Wales, and amongst these were a family named Smith, or, as it was usually spelt, Smyth. They arrived in about the year 1630 and quite soon they settled on Lord Conway’s estate, putting themselves under his protection. Like Thomas Wentworth, afterwards the Earl of Strafford, the next Lord Deputy, and Sir George Rawdon, Lord Conway’s son-in-law, the Smyths were Yorkshiremen.

Lisburn was destroyed in the Irish rebellion of 1641, and "Most of the estate papers which survived this destruction were burnt in 1707 when the whole town was again destroyed in an accidental fire. However, an early seventeenth century plan of Lisburn, preserved in the office of the Marquis of Hertford, shows the castle and the tenements, and in a list of the fifty-one tenants occurs the name of William Smyth." In fact, a copy of this plan is in my possession, as will be mentioned below.

I made a search on the Mormon website of all the William Smyths born in England between 1480 and 1520 to a father named James Smyth. About twenty came up. Narrowing the search down to those born in Yorkshire, I concentrated on a William Smithe, son of James Smithe, who was christened in Keighley, Yorkshire. January 13, 1600. I believe this man was perhaps the William Smyth on our family tree because the date seems about right, and because Keighley is only about six miles from Hawksworth Hall. William’s son Ralph married into the Hawksworth family, and the proximity might explain this relationship. Unfortunately the name of William’s mother, which might clinch the identification, is not given on this birth record.

We now turn to Burke, which records that William Smyth and Ann Hewley had five children: James, John, William, Ralph and Isobel. According to Burke, James remained in Yorkshire, but it appears that the other four went over to Ireland with their father. Their mother had died by this time. If their father was born in 1600 they must have been under ten years of age when he moved to Ireland. According to Burke, William died in 1650 (probably at the age of 50 if he was the man born in Keighley in 1600).

Why did William Smyth move to Ireland with his small children after the death of his wife? I have not yet been able to find out the reason. The Rosedale lease had probably expired, but William was only the third son and was probably not needed to run the estate anyway. He was evidently well connected in Yorkshire. His father-in-law was a baronet and through his wife he was related to a member of Parliament who later became a large landowner in Yorkshire. So why leave Yorkshire? Particularly as Ireland was convulsed by civil strife at the time.

Ireland had in fact never been an attractive place to settle. It had been in almost constant conflict with England for more than four hundred years, since the first Anglo-Norman invasion in 1169. In 1177 the Norman lord John de Courcy invaded Ulster and built Dundrum Castle on the Irish Sea. Over the centuries, the Normans were never able to subdue the native Irish, and in times of crisis they fell back on their two main castles in northern Ireland, Dundrum and Carrickfergus. Despite centuries of failure by previous dynasties, the Tudor dynasty tried to assert its control over the whole island. In 1541 Henry VIII proclaimed himself king of all Ireland. However, the native Gaelic earls managed to keep control of most of Ulster and were in almost constant warfare for the next sixty years with Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I of England and her successor, the first Stuart king, James I. Finally, in 1607 the native Ulster rulers Hugh O’Neill, Rory O’Donnell and Cuchonnacht Maguire gave up the struggle and fled to Spain. The so-called flight of the Earls thus opened the way for James I to confiscate their lands in the northern counties of Donegal, Coleraine, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Armagh and Cavan. James then tried to suppress the rebellious northern Irish once and for all by undertaking in these counties the Plantation of Ulster with English and Scottish settlers, which began in 1609-1610.

However, the colonization did not include the counties of Down and Antrim, where William Smyth settled, so he was evidently not a part of the official Ulster Plantation.

In County Down, Scottish settlers were brought over by Hugh Montgomery, a Scottish laird from Ayrshire, and James Hamilton, who had begun his career in Ireland as a school teacher in Dublin in 1587. Their royal grants obligated them to populate their lands with Scots and Englishmen, and the first Scottish settlers arrived in 1605. However, it does not seem very likely that William Smyth, an Englishman, had any part in these Scottish endeavors. But there were other smaller settlement ventures in which he could have been a participant.

It is worth recalling that Ireland was very thinly peopled at this time. The population of Ulster has been estimated at 50,000 in 1620 and about 100,000 in 1640. The entire population of Ireland was probably less than a million.

Dundrum, where William Smyth moved to, is a small town and port picturesquely situated where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the Irish Sea. Lisburn, known at that time as Lisnegarvey, is an inland town further north, about eight miles south west of Belfast.

Dundrum Castle,  built shortly before 1210, was held by the native Earls of Ulster - from the middle of the Fourteenth Century by the Magennises of Mourne. The castle was surrendered in 1601 by Phelim Magennis to Lord Mountjoy and the English Crown, which granted it in 1605 to Edward Cromwell, Lord of Lecale. (This Cromwell had no connection with Oliver Cromwell, who came to Ireland almost half a century later). In 1636 Edward Cromwell sold the castle to Sir Francis Blundell. The Magennises retook the castle briefly in 1642, but later lost it to Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians, who dismantled the castle in 1652 when they withdrew their garrison.

William Smyth arrived therefore when the castle was in the hands of Lord Edward Cromwell, and some connection between them may possibly be sought there. Perhaps the transfer of the property from Cromwell to Sir Francis Blundell in 1636 might have had something to do with William Smyth’s move to Lisburn.

The Lisburn area, as noted in Smythe of Barbavilla, was settled by Sir Fulke Conway in 1608 with  English and Welsh immigrants from his family estates in the west of England and Wales. It appears practically certain that William Smyth was closely involved with the Conway settlement even if that was not the original reason for his move to Ireland. Sir Fulke, an English army officer, obtained from King James I a grant of the manors of Killultagh and Derryvolgie in south Antrim and north Down. His land grant extended from west of Belfast down to the shore of Lough Neagh.

CarrickfergusSir Fulke settled at Lisnagarvey (now known as Lisburn), where in 1622 he built a castle and in 1623 founded the Church of Saint Thomas. In 1624 he died and his estates passed to his brother, Sir Edward Conway (later Viscount Killultagh in the Irish peerage and Viscount Conway in the English peerage). A fellow-researcher of families in the Lisburn area, Trevor Fulton, sent me a map of the original town of Lisnegarvey. It bears no date, but apparently goes back to about 1632. This map identifies the town plots of fifty three settlers, and a William Smyth is listed as occupying lot 29, on the south side of Bridge Street, which ran down to the bridge over the River Lagan. It seems probable that this William Smyth was our ancestor. However, if it was, he did not seem to have any distinguished position in the community as his plot is just one in a row of a dozen rather small holdings. All the inhabitants are listed as “tenants.”

The Lisburn Historical Society Journal comments that this sketch map of Lisburn recorded fifty-three tenements, possibly representing a population of about 260 people. By 1659 the number had grown, 357 people being recorded on the poll tax for that year. This may represent a population of about 700. Of these 357 persons, 217 were settlers and 140 were Irish. The town was then the sixth largest in Ulster after Belfast, Armagh, Coleraine, Derry and Canickfergus.

In 1641 the natives of Down and Antrim decided that they could no longer endure any further dispossession by foreign intruders. Not only the Gaelic Irish but also the “old English” (settlers in Ireland from previous centuries) rose in rebellion against the Anglican and Presbyterian newcomers from England and Scotland. They drowned, murdered and burned alive several thousand men, women and children. The rebels attacked Lisburn and burned the town. The rebellion lasted several years and was not ended until Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649 to perpetrate his own massacres of about 2,600 people at Drogheda and another 2,000 at Wexford. So William Smyth would have experienced all this appalling civil strife in the last years of his life, almost up to his death in 1650.

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