Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Grosvenors

by Katherine Pym
Eaton Hall, Cheshire

The first Grosvenor, a nephew and favorite of William the Conqueror, was *Gilbert d'Avranches. He accompanied William across the Channel to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. *See note below.

As a result of his dedication to William, Gilbert received the Earldom of Chester, but he had to fight for it. Very close to the Welch border and a Saxon stronghold, Gilbert dealt with those who refused to be conquered with such a brutal manner, he became known as Lupus (wolf). His brutality went far. One story holds he tortured and killed a young gypsy boy for poaching on his land.  

Along with the name of Lupus, Gilbert was known as le Gros. Extremely fat, he loved wine, rich food, and women. He's known to have sired upward to twenty illegitimate children. Finally marrying Ermentrude of Clarement, he had a legitimate son, Richard, and a daughter, Matilda.

His real passion was hunting, however, and this is where Gilbert received the name we all know and love. Gilbert gained the name 'Gros Veneur' which means in French: Large Huntsman. (The Grosvenor Estate translates it to: Chief Huntsman.)

Since Gilbert was obese, and later needed a hoist to set him onto the saddle for the hunt, one can say he was very 'gros' or truly gross (boo, hiss, bad humor). He spent many hours in the saddle, and had little humility or reverence before his Lord God. During one hunt, he kenneled his hounds in a church for the night, and in the morning found them all dead.

Toward the end of his life, Gilbert repented. Due to his gluttony, he had a difficult time walking. Afraid he would go to hell for his debauchery, he 'founded the Benedictine Abby of St Werburgh, where the monks were to spend their lives in solemn prayer for the soul of their patron.'

After he killed the young gypsy boy, the gypsies cursed Gros Veneur, 'that no son would follow father in the succession to the earldom.' Gilbert's son, Richard, succeeded him but died in 1120 without an heir. The Grosvenor curse  cropped up over the years, but the family did not play prominent parts in English history until 1385. There is mention Sir Robert Grosvenor went with Richard II to fight the Scots. He was known to John of Gaunt, and Henry IV.

In 1617, King James I knighted Sir Richard Grosvenor a baron, and the 'red hand' was added to the Grosvenor coat of arms. Despite this, Sir Richard resided in debtor's prison for many years. He had cosigned a brother-in-law's loans that went unpaid.

Sir Thomas, 3rd Baronet
It was not until Sir Thomas Grosvenor (1655-1700), 3rd Baronet, that the family came closer to the household name we know today. He married Mary Davis, daughter of a scrivener, who had inherited 500 acres in the west end of London. It was considered a wet meadow, which we know as Mayfair, Pimlico, and Belgravia, now called the London Estate.

By the time of Sir Thomas, the Grosvenors had built a robust estate. They owned coal and lead mines, stone quarries in Wales. Sir Thomas had built and moved his family home from a castle like affair with a moat to a large house on the present site of Eaton Hall. 

But the Grosvenor Curse continued. Thomas' son, Sir Richard, 4th baronet, 1689-1723, died without issue. Sir Thomas, 5th baronet, 1693-1733 died in Naples unmarried.

Several Grosvenor generations avoided the curse by siring heirs. Their wealth and status grew, marking them Baron, Earl, then Marquess.

Hugh Lupus, (1825-1899) created 1st Duke of Westminster continued this streak of happiness, but the curse returned when in 1909 the 4 year old son of the 2nd Duke died, and even though the 2nd Duke married several times, he never sired another son. William Grosvenor, the 3rd Duke of Westminster was born brain damaged, 'and so small he was fed milk through a fountain pen filler'. He died 1963 without giving birth to an heir. The 4th Duke held the dukedom for only 4 years. He died of wounds received during combat in WW2.

The current Duke is Robert, 5th Duke of Westminster, and his wife, the Hon. Viola Lyttelton. They produced two male children, thus finally breaking the Grosvenor Curse... Hopefully for good.

*Note: For those of you who know this history, most all of the data states the Gros Veneur ancestor is Hugh d'Avranches, but the The Grosvenor Estate professes Hugh was a relative of Gilbert, and not the nephew of William the Conqueror. I would have gone with 'Hugh' but I figured The Grosvenor Estate knows its own family.

Back in the 17th Century... London at the time of Sir Thomas Grosvenor was exciting and full of motion. His prime of life was during a period when so much changed forever in England.  For more on London (1662), please read my Of Carrion Feathers, a tale of espionage during the reign of King Charles II. You can find it at, and the NOOK.

I want to thank my primary sources: Tales of Old Cheshire, by Carole Sexton, and 'The Grosvenor Estate' (


  1. And just to make it confusing for non-natives, it's pronounced, "Grove-nor" or "Gruv-nor".

  2. Interesting post. Thank you.


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