Stepping inside the main door of Kitley House, now the Kitley Hotel, visitors cannot fail to notice the spectacular array of arms depicted on the coloured shields above the great fireplace and spread around the walls of the entrance hall – there are no less than forty four shields on display! And that does not include the arms which are depicted in the stained glass panels of the hall windows, or those which are to be seen elsewhere at Kitley, in the windows and on the walls, and also surmounting the parapet above the main entrance.
On the walls of the hallway are to be seen the arms of some of the most important landed families of Devon – Courtenay, Earls of Devon; Coppleston of Tamerton; Woolcombe of Plympton & Shaugh; Bourchier of Tawstock; Glanville of Tavistock; Drake of Buckland;Fortescue of Valepit; Hele of Cornwall; Reyness of Forde & Wolborough; and many others. And the arms of some ancient Cornish families, too. Plus, of course, those of Pollexfen of Yealmpton, from which family the Bastards inherited Kitley, through the late seventeenth century marriage of William Bastard of Gerston to Ann, heiress of the Pollexfen fortunes.
The pure simplicity of many of the individual family arms testifies to their great antiquity. For, whilst the spectacular multi-coloured and multi-symboled arms to be seen in many places might attract the onlooker purely because of their rich display of colours and motifs, they certainly will not be “ancient” coats in the true sense of the word. A consideration of the original purpose of arms indicates why this is so – they were originally borne upon the shields of the knights, and were designed so that their bearers could be readily distinguished from others on the field of battle. They were also used in tournaments, in the days when knights would have been clad from head to foot in suits of armour and chain mail, thereby hiding their personal features from the spectators, so that the crowds knew who to shout for. Simplicity was the key, for a complex multi-coloured shield with a host of small motifs and different colours would not be instantly recognisable, either in the heat of battle or in the frenzied charge of the joust.
Hence, of course, why arms are still traditionally shown on shields, upon which they were first used, and for which purposed they were first devised. The original arms of Courtenay, for example, to be seen in quarters 1 & 4 of the dexter of shield 5 at Kitley, were borne on the shield carried by Sir Hugh de Courtenay into the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1300. There is no mistaking this design. Those which they impale, the arms of Champernowne, were carried by Sir Richard Champernoun into the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. Sir John de Stretchley arms, which latter are depicted in the sinister of shield 11. Also at Caerlaverock was Humphrey de Bohun, later killed at Boroughbridge, and he bore the same arms which are shown in the sinister of shield 2 at a tournament, which was held in Dunstable in 1308. Edward de Bohun carried a shield with a similar design at the Siege of Calais some forty years later.
Hugh le Scrope was also at Calais in 1347, and was killed during the campaign. His arms are to be seen in the sinister of shield 29. After the capitulation of that town in 1348. Richard de Vere and Robert Bourchier were knighted for their actions there. The Vere arms are seen in the dexter of shield 15, whilst those borne by Bourchier occur in shields 3 & 4. His descendent, le Sire de Boucer, carried the same arms into battle during the Siege of Rouen in 1418. William Crispin, whose family arms are depicted in the dexter of shield 26, is named in a Court Roll of Kind Henry III. Worsley of Lancashire was a knight during the reign of Kind Henry VI, carrying the same arms as those borne by his descendants many generations down the line, which are shown in the sinister of shield 20. And so the story could continue, for most of the other arms to be seen in this hallway had been registered long before the Visitations of the Heralds which took place in Elizabethan times.
Remarkably, there are also the arms of the Plantagenet Kings to be seen in the heraldic display in the hallway, in the impalements on shields 1, 2 & 3, the three golden lions of England which were adopted by King Henry II upon his accession to the throne in 1154 being quartered by the fleur-de-lys of France, the latter adopted when King Edward III claimed the French crown in 1337. These have been the arms of the Plantagenets ever since, and the golden lions of England are, of course, still retained in the coat of arms borne by the present monarch – long since transferred to most important position in the shield, the dexter chief (and the opposing quadrant) – where they quarter the red lion of Scotland and the golden Irish harp (the fiery red dragon of Wales being much too fiercesome a creature to dare quartering with these mere earthly beings!).
The arms of the Bastards, owners of Kitley for some three centuries until very recent times, might even pre-date most of these others, for the Bastards are themselves a very ancient family. A large tome published in Paris in 1848, entitled “Généalogie de la Maison de Bastard”, traces the pedigree of the name in France to Rahier, Lord of Bastardiene-sur-Sevre c1040. The name derived from an illegitimate son of Alan Short-Beard, Duke of Brittany c950, himself a descendant of Rivallon, Count of Poher in Cornwall c850. In 1066 Robert le Bastard, one of the descendants of the French Bastardiene line, was amongst the Breton followers of Alan Fargent who sailed with William, Duke of Normandy, and after the Conquest he settled in Devon.
William le Bastard held estates in and around Efford and Eggbuckland at the time of the Doomsday Survey, later generations moving back to their ancestral homeland in Cornwall, before the family seat was transferred to Gerston near Kingsbridge, and later to Kitley in Yealmpton. The Lords of the Manor of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were descendants, through female lines, of the Plantagenet Kings. One maternal line can even be traced way back to Cerdic, self-appointed King of the West Saxons, AD494 – the lineage can be followed in an unbroken descent through no less than fifty one generations to the present – that is some pedigree!
And so, by a devious and rather circuitous route, the Bastards came from
Poher in Cornwall to Kitley on the Yealm Estuary, via Brittany and France,
Efford and Eggbuckland, Gerston , and a brief sortie back into Cornwall, on
the way. And it is to their home which visitors to the Kitley Hotel presently
come, and their ancestry which is depicted in the shields displayed on the
walls in the great entrance hallway.