West Country families :
There were Speke families established in Devon/Somerset/Cornwall from about 1154; this family is probably of Norman French origins. The main line of this family enjoyed wealth and favour from the Crown, from the mediaeval period through to modern times.
The Domesday Book of 1085 shows a William Spech held lands in Warden, Bedfordshire, and he is usually assumed to be the father of Walter Espec, founder of the Abbeys of Rievaulx and Kirkham, Yorkshire and also the Abbey at Warden ca. 1135, suggesting the link between the two generations. Walter Espec's lands passed after his death to his sisters, and then by marriage to the De Ros family and subsequently to the Manners family, who today are the Dukes of Rutland, owners of Belvoir Castle, Lincolnshire and Haddon Hall, Derbyshire.
The earliest mention of the de Espek family in the West Country is in 1154 when a Richard Espec held land from Robert Fitz Regis son of King Henry II.
John Hanning Speke, discoverer of the "Source of the Nile" - Lake Victoria in 1858
After this date the family is mentioned regularly in official records, and it is clear that this family increased its holdings of land by Royal patronage, and also by marrying eligible heiresses ! It has been assumed, without any evidence, that this family are related to the William Spech of 1085. In her "Genealogy of the Speke Family" Matilda Pine-Coffin acknowledges that "..it has been impossible before the early part of the fifteenth century to place the heads of the family in Genealogical order....".
It is however reasonable to conclude from her documentary evidence that this family is almost certainly of Norman French origins. The Somerset Speke family suffered under the Commonwealth for their Royalist support in the civil war, but were recompensed thereafter. A branch of this family settled at Hazelbury Manor, Wiltshire, circa 1601. 150 years later, this branch died out with no male heir, leaving a dormant Baronacy. This family had strong Catholic sympathies, with two generations having studied at the Catholic seminary at Douai , Belgium .
In Charles' II reign, anti-catholic hysteria was aroused by trouble makers who feared that Charles' brother James, a Catholic would succeed to the throne. Also James' son in law was William, Prince of Orange. Much of this mis-information has been attributed to Hugh Speke, of the Whitelackington ( Somerset ) family, and his devious brother in law Sir John Trenchard -"capable of any villainy that was false enough". This mischief culminated in the infamous "Popish Plot" of 1678, when a rumoured imminent invasion by Irish Catholics was used as an excuse for widescale damage to Catholic property, especially in London .
Hugh Speke's trouble making also had other tragic consequences. In 1681, he and his brother John had declared their support for Monmouth's rebellion, and offered to raise 40,000 men in his aid. When the infamous Judge Jeffreys brought retribution to the West Country for their support of Monmouth, Hugh's eldest brother John, who had also declared his support, escaped overseas. But Jeffreys was intent on revenge. Hugh's other younger brother Charles, who was visiting Whitelackington from his home in London when Monmouth was entertained by the Spekes, was singled out; "..his family owe a life... he shall die for his namesake " was Jeffreys' comment, and in due course Charles Speke was hanged from an oak tree in Illminster market place.
The Hazelbury branch had members who in the 17th century were Merchant Adventurers sending boats to America with emigrants and supplies and returning with tobacco and other goods from the new colonies in Maryland and Virginia.
Somerset, ancestral home of the Whitelackington Speke family, never became industrialised. This family group was always numerically small but financially significant compared to the Midlands and Northern SPEAKE groups.
Please follow the links below for other Speke West Country families