Giffard meaning ‘chubby cheeks’ in Norman French is pronounced ‘jiff-ard’
The Giffards have held Chillington since the year 1178. The family originated in Normandy and three brothers, Walter, Osborne and Berenger came to England in 1066 with Duke William of Normandy. As a reward for their services, the family received many English Manors and Osborne, from whom the Giffards of Chillington are descended, received the Barony of Fonthill in Wiltshire. In the Domesday book Chillington (Cillintone) is entered under Warwickshire as forming part of the estates of William Fitz Corbucion, and it was the latter’s grandson, Peter Corbusun of Studley, who granted Chillington to Peter Giffard, his wife’s nephew, for “a sum of 25 marks and a charger of metal.”
In those early and turbulent days the owner of Chillington experienced constant military service, invariably, in support of the reigning monarch. Coming to the reign of Henry VIII, Sir John Giffard found himself a favourite at court and received many benefits. He accompanied the King in the Battle of the Spurs in 1513, carrying the Royal Banner when the army marched out of Calais and he was also present in 1520 when Henry VIII met the French King Francis I, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
During this period, the house was rebuilt and the estate greatly enlarged. After the dissolution of the Monasteries several monastic properties were purchased from the Crown, including those of Whiteladies and Blackladies where, in due course, younger branches of the family settled. The family were ardent Roman Catholics and subsequent generations were to suffer severely for their strict adherence to that faith. Queen Elizabeth I came on her Stafford progress in 1575 and spent the night of the 11th August at Chillington. The Queen discovered that John Giffard was not attending his Parish Church in Brewood and a few days after her visit he was summoned to appear before the Privy Council. Fines and imprisonment followed and life at Chillington must have been very difficult.
At this time it was customary for the children of Roman Catholic families to be educated abroad and a younger son, Gilbert Giffard, who trained for the Jesuit priesthood in France, came to England in December 1585 to open a secret communication between Mary Queen of Scots and her supporters in France. Arrested soon after landing, he agreed to work for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary and proceeded to Staffordshire to make contact with Mary, who was then being moved from Tutbury Castle to Chartley. During the next few months, Gilbert passed on all of Mary’s secret letters to Walsingham, correspondence which told of the forthcoming Spanish attempt to invade England and of the so-called Babington Plot to murder Elizabeth. As a result of this evidence, Mary was tried for plotting against Queen Elizabeth’s safety and finally executed in February 1587. Gilbert fled to France and died sometime later in a Paris prison.
During the Civil War, the Giffards fought for the King. Chillington was garrisoned but easily captured and the estate was confiscated by Parliament. It was, however, restored to the family after Cromwell’s death. Charles II was helped by the Giffards to escape to Boscobel after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
As is well known Charles II was loyally guarded at Boscobel by the Pendrell family and four of them were subsequently rewarded by a grant of pensions payable under Letters Patent dated the 24th July 1675. These pensions are still paid to the descendants of the Pendrells, and the Giffards have always been and still are the Trustees.
In 1718, Chillington passed to Peter Giffard of Blackladies. The date marks the beginning of modern times, for it was Peter Giffard and his son and grandson who were responsible for the Georgian house and the layout of the grounds as they are today.
The Giffard Family Crest- a story of a panther
The Giffard family crest has an interesting story attached to it which includes a panther.
In the garden of the lodge which is at the entrance gates to the oak avenue which leads to the house stands a cross. This is a replica of the original cross that stood on the spot and is now under the archway in the courtyard. The Cross reputedly marked the spot where Sir John Giffard in the reign of Henry VIII shot dead with a bow and arrow a panther as it was about to pounce on a woman and child. The panther was part of a menagerie of exotic animals possessed by Sir John and had escaped from its cage into the Forest of Brewood. Sir John and his son Thomas went in search of it and, as he shot, it was his son who at the crucial moment, shouted “Prenez haleine, tirez fort”, Take breath, pull strong.
From this incident the first of the family's two crests were granted. The first, granted in 1513, is a “Panthers head couped full-faced spotted various with flames issueing from his mouth”. The second granted in 1523, is a "demi-archer, bearded and couped at the knees from his middle, a short coat, paly argend and gule, at his middle a quiver or arrows or in his hands a bow and arrow, drawn to the head ”.
Where to find information if tracing your family
We are often contacted by people trying to trace family members, people who may have worked or lived on the Estate or are generally interested in researching the family.
The family records are not kept at the Hall, they are stored at the County Records Office in Stafford under the catalogue reference D590. Please contact them for further details and to gain access to records, please follow the link below.
Contact Staffordshire County Records Office
Alternatively in the Parish Church in Brewood many generations of the Giffards are buried beneath the Chancel. A visit there is recommended to see the four alabaster tombs of Sir John Giffard, his son, grandson and great grandson and their respective wives. In all there are ten recumbent figures with panels which display figures of the children of each family.