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The Question of the Bolles as Lords of Swineshead

Back to The Bolles of Swineshead or The Bolles of Bolle Hall

The Bolles of Haugh Pedigree as taken from the Herald's Visitations of Lincolnshire is often used as the basis for the claim that the earliest known ancestor of the Bolles of Swineshead line was an Alan Bolle who was Lord of Swineshead in about 1272. 

The claim that the Bolles were the Lords of Swineshead can be quickly disproved by the history of The Lords of Swineshead and can be illustrated by a document held by the National Museum of Wales.  It is a lease from John la Warre, knight, Lord of Swynesheued to Ralph Bolle of Swynesheued (Ranulph Bolle) for 5 years of a plot of ground called Le Ouxpasture (the Ox Pasture) in BeKir (Bicker parish) at a yearly rent of 100s.  Dated 12th mos 10th day 1382 (that Julian date would be Feb. 10, 1383 by the modern calendar) at Swynesheued with Armorial seal of Ralph Bolle.  That clearly places them near Bicker in the Manor of Swineshead and also clearly shows that the Bolles were not the Lords of Swineshead but instead were only tenants of Sir John la Warre, the actual Lord of Swineshead. 

Date: 1382/3, February 10
1st party John la Warre, kt, Lord of Swynesheued
2nd party Ralph Bolle of Swynesheued
LEASE for 5 years of a plot of ground called Le Ouxpasture Yearly rent, 100s and if 2 dies within the aforesaid term there will be no constraint upon his heirs to rent the aforesaid meadow beyond the first day of March following his death. Annual rent: 100s.
Dated at Swynesheued 12th mos 10th day 1382. Latin. Armorial seal of 2nd party (damaged) .
[Ref. to BeKir, i.e. Bicker parish. Ralph Bolle (local): cf. Bollehall, in Bicker parish] (note: this comment re: Bolle Hall was made by the archivist, there is no mention of such a place in the actual document)
I have a copy of the actual document but I don't have permission from the National Museum of Wales to publish it here.  I was not prohibited from showing a photo of the seal which the archives took for me though.  Click on the photo for a larger image.

As a side note, the seal mentioned on the document clearly shows the three cupped swine's heads and is the earliest use that I can find of the Bolles of Swineshead coat of arms.  The Abbot of Swineshead used a swine's head as his seal but the Bolles cleverly used a swine's head in a 'bowl' as their unique seal and in their arms.

But the statement that the Herald's Office documented their right to claim their descent from a Bolle who was Lord of Swineshead also needs to be examined.

The Bolle of Haugh family tree as published in several volumes of Heralds Visitations in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s state that the earliest Bolle in the line was:


Thomas Bole de Bole son of Alaine of Swineshead, Lord of Swineshead and 3 several manors within the same called Bole Hall. (Metcalfe 1881)


Thomas Bolle of Bolle son of Alan of Swinshed, Lord of Swinshed and of 3 several manors within the same called Bole Hall. (Maddison, 1903)

Metcalfe's use of 'de Bole'  shows that he assumed the Bolles were of Norman origin.

Thomas Farquhar’s book ‘The History of the Bowles Family’ discusses both the Norman and Anglo-Saxon roots of the Bowles surname in England and then just goes on to discuss the Bolles of Swineshead inferring Norman roots but doesn’t specifically state the claim.  However, W. H. Bowles in his ‘Records of the Bowles Family’ rather dismisses the possibility when he writes “I have seen several ingenious theories of the origin if the Bowles family in England.  Among these is the inevitable formula that ‘we came over with the Conqueror’ ...... of positive evidence there is none, and without wasting space on conjecture I will pass on to the post-Conquest history of the family”.


de Bolle?


In all the hundreds of Bolle references, many in the original source material, I have only found three that use the ‘de’.  These may be references to another family of ‘de Bolle’ or they may be a clerk’s error at the time of entry or a transcription error later on but I don’t think they can be taken as any indication that the Bolle of Swineshead ever used the ‘de Bolle’ surname:


1.   The History of the County of Lincoln by Thomas Allen

Volume I, p. 132

The list of Members of Parliament for Lincolnshire includes a Johannes de Bolle in 1355-56, 1362-63 and 1364-1365 (2 year terms).

Note: the book ‘The Parliaments of England, 1213-1702’ list the member for Lincoln county in 1355 as a Johannes de Boys, in 1362 a Johannes de Rodes for Lincoln City and indeed a Johannes de Bole was returned for Lincoln City in 1364;


2.   The Final Concords of the County of Lincoln 1244-1272 (published in The Lincoln Record Society Vol. 17) record a ‘Peter de Boweles and Mary his wife’ holding land at Rouceby (now Rauceby) and Morton in the county of Lincoln and also in 46 Henry III (1262).  Rauceby is about 10 miles west of Swineshead and Morton is a similar distance to the southwest.  This turns out to be Peter de Buelle of Gravenhurst, Bedfordsire, a member of a cadet line of the truly Norman de Busli family of South Yorkshire who had acquired a 1/3 share interest in this land in Lincolnshire through his wife, a co-heiress of Walter de Stukeley;


3.   The Hundred Roll of 1274 (p. 308) did refer to a John de Bole in an inquisition made in Kirton wapentake which would include Swineshead but it refers to a John Bolle on the page before that so we can't be certain that the 'de' was correct.


Lords of Swineshead?


Both Farquhar and W.H.B. quote the statement in the Bolles of Haugh pedigree that Alan was the Lord of Swineshead.  However, the descent of the title Lord of Swineshead is well documented in many histories of the Gresle (Grelley) and la Warre families and leaves no room for a Bolle. 


See The Lords of Swineshead for a history of the actual Lords of Swineshead.


The fit is also difficult as the Lords of Swineshead were of the noble class of Barons with vast landholdings while the Bolle in Swineshead civil parish in the 1200 and 1300’s were relatively small landowners.

Another problem is the complete absence of a Bolle in the record of patrons of the church of St Mary Swineshead between its founding by Robert Grelley, Lord of Swineshead, in 1135 and 1316 when Edward II granted the church a charter confirming that patronage.  If the Bolles had even been major landholders within Swineshead parish we would expect to find them in that list as recorded in The Calendar of Charter Rolls of Edward II (Membrane 19).


As land records from this early period are very scarce we are very fortunate to have a comprehensive list of the land held by William Bolle, the head of the family in 1326 and only 2 generations after Alan of Swineshead.  Considering the size of other Swineshead area landowners, the Gresles, la Warres, de Hollands, de Meres, de Haughs, Bondes etc. the Bolle holdings were comparatively small.  When William Bolle died in 1326 leaving a minor heir, an Inquisition Post Mortem (ipm) was held to establish the extent and disposal of his land, another ipm was held for his daughter when she died a few years later and there was another to assess William’s widow’s dower rights.  Very fortunately the reports of these ipms’ have survived and are very informative.  They give us an excellent snapshot of the wealth of the head of the Bolles in an early part of their history.  See The Inquisitions Post Mortem of William, Cecily and Joan Bolle (1326-1332). 


We get another indication of the scale of the Bolle’s holding in The Lincolnshire Lay Subsidy of 1332 in which the entire Swineshead townland (civil parish) was assessed as being worth 18 livres (pounds) 5s 5d rental per year (the rental value was assessed at 1/15 of the land’s value).  Far from being major landowners, John and Thomas Bolle held between them 3s 3d or about 1% of Swineshead’s land value.  ref.


It seems to be more likely that the Bolle family grew in wealth and prestige under the Norman kings from humble beginnings in the 1100's to becoming major landowners in the 1500's.  

Returning to the statement that Alan of Swineshead was the Lord of Swineshead, the information that we now have about the size of the Bolle’s holdings in Swineshead does not support such a claim.  The well documented histories of the Gresle and la Warre families show the passage of the title Lord of Swineshead through their lines of descent.  See The Lords of Swineshead. However, there is one notable point in William Bolle’s ipm that was of great honour to the family and which may have been the basis for the family’s tradition that the earliest Bolles were great Lords.  It turns out that William was on a relatively small scale a Lord as he did receive an income of 12p a year from his tenant(s) on a small parcel of land which William held ‘in chief’.

The Bolles of Haugh would likely also have had a document in their family papers stating that their direct ancestor, William Bolle of Swineshead had been a Tenant in Chief.  This title means that he held a parcel of land directly from the king.  If they assumed, as it sounds, that William had been the Tenant in Chief of Swineshead (240 years earlier so the family tradition could easily have grown over the generations) then they may have believed that he was also the Lord of Swineshead.  However, William Bolle’s Inquisition Post Mortem of 1327 shows that he held all of his land under other landholders except for one parcel in Coningesby, quite a ways north of Swineshead, which he indeed held as the ‘Tenant in Chief’.  William’s main landholding in Swineshead parish where Bolle Hall was located was actually in the southwest corner of the parish, nearer to Wygtoft, which he held under the Earl of Richmond.  He also held some meadow land in Bicker and in Esteveninge, closer to Swineshead, which he held under John de Holand, Lord of the Manor of Esteveninge.  However, having one plot of land as a Tenant in Chief gave him the right to use that very prestigious title in official documents.  It was also a declaration of loyalty to the Crown as one of the responsibilities that came with the title was the obligation of  Grand Sarjeanty, to provide some specific service to the king when called on.  In William’s case as he held Coningesby as parcel of the Manor of Scrivelsby, the traditional estate of the Champion of England, William’s Grand Sarjeanty was a strictly ceremonial one of ‘finding on the day of the coronation of the king for the time being, an armed knight on horseback, to prove by his body if necessary against all comers that the king who is crowned that day is the true and right heir of the kingdom’.  See William Bolle’s IPM and Coningesby for more on this.

There is also another factor that may have contributed to the family tradition that their ancestors had been Lords.  When the Herald’s visited Haugh in 1563/64 Sir Richard Bolles had twice been Sheriff of Lincolnshire and had been Gentleman Usher to King Henry VIII (per W. H. Bowles, Records of the Bolles Family).  When they visited in 1634 Sir Charles Bolle of Thorpe Hall was one of the leading members of the Lincolnshire nobility whose father Sir John Bolles (d. 1606) had been The Hero of Cadiz, had soon after that been a major force in subjugating Ulster for Queen Elizabeth and had served as Governor of Kinsale, co. Cork, Ireland. The Bolles of Haugh were truly Lords of their Manor of Haugh and a very powerful and influential family so the Herald's may not have challenged their claim to an earlier family nobility. 

This site was last updated 02/19/21