Uncovering The Truth Behind A Royal Legend

“Did you know” said my Nan, “my Dad always used to say that the Lovegrove’s were descended from French royalty. We’ve got blue blood running through our veins! The King of France got a maid pregnant and we descend from that baby…”

Many families have these sorts of ‘tall tales’ and whilst they may not be an accurate reflection of the past, they often contain little nuggets of truth. This was one such story.

This story is about how I unearthed the parentage of my illegitimate ancestor, William Augustus Descrespigny Lovegrove and unravelled the little nugget of truth wrapped up in a family legend. For ease of reference, I have abbreviated William’s full name to WAD.

WAD was born about 1843 and spent his childhood in Great Haseley, Oxfordshire. Both WAD and his younger brother, George were brought up by their grandparents, William Lovegrove and Martha Maynard. Their home would have been crowded. Along with WAD and George, William and Martha had their own children to care for, with the youngest being born around the same time as their grandchild, William Augustus Descreigny Lovegrove.
1851 census showing William Augustus Descrespigny Lovegrove
Image showing WAD Lovegrove on 1851 Census. Ref: Class: HO107; Piece: 1726; Folio: 67; Page: 4; GSU roll: 193635

Great Haseley is a beautiful village, full of thatched stone cottages. But, as quaint as the village appears, life would have been hard for the Lovegroves. In 1851, WAD‘s grandparents were both out of work – their occupations are given on the census as Pauper, formally Agricultural Labourer (abbrev. Ag Lab). Several of William and Martha’s daughters have left home and are employed as servants elsewhere. There was little manufacturing industry in Oxfordshire and work inside the village was likely limited, forcing the girls to leave the area to find employment. The 1861 census reveals that as WAD reached his late teenage years he became employed as an Ag Lab. There were precious few other options, yet the occupation hardly provided security. It was often seasonal, unskilled a poorly paid. Of course WAD would have to have been physically capable of doing the job, something that by 1861 his grandparents, William and Martha were perhaps not. In their 60s, the couple were recorded as “former” Ag Labs in the census of the same year.

1861 Census showing William Augustus Descrespigny Lovegrove
Image showing WAD Lovegrove on 1861 Census. Ref: Class: RG 9; Piece: 885; Folio: 53; Page: 4; GSU roll: 542716

WAD must have realised that his prospects in rural Great Haseley were limited. By 1865, aged around 22, he had left the picturesque scenery of Oxfordshire and moved to Brentford, Middlesex. It’s likely that he departed the countryside in the hope that urban living would provide reliable, better paid work. At first though, WAD seems to have continued working in some form of agriculture. At the time of his first marriage in 1865, he was working as a gardener.

Marriage Record for William Augustus Descrespigny Lovegrove and Anne Penton.
Image showing WAD Lovegrove's marriage to Ann(e) Penton in 1865. Ref: London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Laurence, New Brentford, Register of marriages, DRO/058, Item 014

With WAD’s humble roots I was surprised to see that on his marriage registration his father was recorded as William Decripney (sic), a Clerk. I’d already suspected WAD was illegitimate but his marriage certificate confirmed this. His surname was not the same as his father’s, although he was using it as his middle name. But where did this grand sounding name, “Decripney” come from? Googling the surname brought up no information. It seemed likely that “Decrigney” was spelt incorrectly. Luckily, I was in contact with a member of the Guild of One Named Studies whose focus was on the Lovegrove surname. They pointed me in the direction of the Champion De Crespigny family – a family of Barons with roots in France.

I eagerly relayed this information to my Nan (WAD’s great-granddaughter). She laughed and told me the tale her father had told her, that the Lovegrove’s descended from French royalty. This was very curious but clearly I had a lot more digging to do to unearth the truth. 

“Decripney’s” occupation, according to WAD’s marriage record, was “Clerk“. A Clerk could be an office clerk, or a clergyman. This certainly indicated someone of a higher social status that my Ag LabWAD Lovegrove, but not royalty! The Champion De Crespigny family does have French roots though. Was there really a connection?

If so, how did WAD’s mother meet this De Crespigny? And for that matter, which of William and Martha Lovegrove’s children was WAD’s mother? At that point, I had no idea.

I desperately hunted for William Augustus Decrespigny Lovegrove’s birth registration, with a view to obtaining his birth certificate. The search was tricky though, his year of birth varied widely across the census’ – as did his place of birth, which had been recorded as both within Oxfordshire and Kent. Even now, despite knowing much more about WAD, I have been unable to find his birth registration. Without a birth record, how else could I narrow down the identity of his parents?

A search of the 1841 census for each of William and Martha’s children, revealed that their daughter Jane Lovegrove, was a live in female servant for a Heaton Champion De Crespigny.

Surely Jane was WAD’s mother? I confirmed this by finding WAD’s baptism record (which doesn’t give a father’s name).

1841 Census showing Jane Lovegrove as servant for Heaton Champion De Crespigny
Image showing Jane Lovegrove on 1841 Census. Ref: Class: HO107; Piece: 884; Book: 3; Civil Parish: Pirton; County: Oxfordshire; Enumeration District: 1; Folio: 9; Page: 9; Line: 12; GSU roll: 474574

Was Heaton the father? Or was it one of his relatives, perhaps a visitor? I couldn’t be sure, Heaton was a Reverend, so the occupation Clerk fitted but WAD’s marriage record clearly stated his father’s name as William. A general search for a William De Crespigny, in either Oxfordshire or Kent left me further puzzled. No relevant finds. The only William I noticed was deceased long before the birth of WAD. Could Heaton, a man at least 25 years older than Jane, really be the father? I felt I needed further proof. My luck changed when Ancestry released their London collection. I realised that although I had ordered the marriage record of WAD and his first wife, Ann(e) Penton (my direct ancestor), I had never viewed the marriage of WAD and his second wife, Elizabeth Ann Kopp.

It was easy to search the London Marriage and Banns collection and find WAD’s second marriage. This time I discovered that WAD’s father had been named as “Eaton Decrespigny Champion Lovegrove”. Occupation was given as Goldminer!

Marriage of William Augustus Descrespigny Lovegrove and Elizabeth Ann Kopp
Image showing WAD Lovegrove's marriage to Elizabeth Ann Kopp in 1894. Ref: London Metropolitan Archives, Christ Church, Turnham Green, Register of marriages, DRO/079, Item 010

Heaton could easily be misspelled as Eaton, especially if WAD only had a modicum of literacy – which seems likely (look at his signature!) I was confused by the occupation though – wasn’t Heaton a Reverend? Again, a look on Google soon revealed that by the time of WAD’s second marriage, Heaton had been de-frocked and emigrated to Australia – where he became a Goldminer! WAD’s second marriage record notes that Heaton was deceased, and this too turned out to be correct.

Portrait of Heaton Champion De Crespigny
Copyright: Kelmarsh Hall; Reverend Heaton Champion De Crespigny (1796–1858) by Philip August Gaugain. From: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/reverend-heaton-champion-de-crespigny-17961858-49124

This last piece of information finally confirmed that Heaton was WAD’s father – short of DNA proof. The story of this illegitimate birth must have been important to the Lovegrove family. It passed down the generations, getting exaggerated and embellished along the way. I’ve recently found a second-cousin, also descended from WAD. She too had heard this story of “Blue Blood” and her ancestors had told her about “some decrepny name” but no one had any idea how it was spelt. In the mid-Victorian period there was a stigma attached to illegitimacy, but perhaps the fact that someone wealthy and of a high social standing had fathered WAD gave him some sort of kudos? Whatever the case, WAD himself seems to have benefited little from this “blue blood”. After leaving Great Haseley, he spent the rest of his life in the Brentford area. He found steady, but back breaking, work as a Gas Stoker from 1871 to 1901. I’ve been unable to locate him in the 1911 census, but his death is registered in Brentford in 1919.

Thankfully there is a lot of information on Heaton and he’s a very interesting character. More can be found about him on this excellent blog http://ayfamilyhistory.blogspot.co.uk

There are still further mysteries to be solved. Where is WAD’s birth certificate? Why was WAD baptised in Sandford, Kent? What happens to WAD’s mother Jane (I’ve lost track of her after 1847)? Who is the father of WAD’s brother, George?

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