Bray Family Origins

ORIGIN OF THE SURNAME BRAY:   When individual surnames originated in Medieval times, around 1000 A.D., for the purpose of more specific identification, there were four primary sources: a person's occupation, location, father's name, or personal characteristics. The surname BRAY appears to be locational in origin, and is believed to have come from the French (and before that, from early Celtic), meaning "one living near a hill or knoll."

The name originated in very early times and is found under different spellings in many countries in Europe. Dictionaries of surnames indicate probable spelling variations of Bray to be Braye, deBraye, deBray, deBry, Brey, O'Bray, Obray, Brae, Bree, Braie, Brais, and Brayer. In County Wicklow, Ireland, there is a fashionable summer resort called Bray, near Brayhead, which rises 793 feet above the sea. In the ancient records the name was Bree, taken from the Old Irish bri or brigh, a hill. This word is similar in the old Gaelic and Celtic languages; in Scotland, brae means hill. In England the name is found applied to parishes in counties Devon and Berks. Many towns and districts in France employ Bray or some form of the name, such as: Bray-sur-Somme, Bray-sur-Seine, Bre-Cotes-du-Nord, Bray-la-Campagne, Bray-Calvados, and Pays de Bray.

"The Norman People" by King, states that the name Bray derives from a place called Bray near Evreux, Normandy; and that Milo de Brai (1064) and his son of the same name (1096), a crusader, are in evidence as early members of the family in Normandy.

Serving the Plantagenet Kings (1066 - 1485):
On the roll of Battle Abbey, among the names of those who came over from Normandy, France and aided William the Conqueror in his conquest of England in the year 1066, was Sir William de Bray. Also there is record of a Sir Thomas de Bray, who lived at the same time and may have been a brother.

During the time of William the Conqueror (the Duke of Normandy who became King of England), one of the most influential men of the English Court was the Right Honorable Sir Gore Ouseley. On the Ouseley Coat of Arms, eight other family coats of arms are also included. These were the important families to whom the the government of the various castles and estates of England were entrusted. Among these families was the family of Bray. The Coats of Arms of all these families have been grouped together and is known as the Ouseley group.

The Ouseley Group includes the following families:


A description of the Ouseley Group can be found in the Newberry Library in Chicago with references to each and every one of these families. At that time they were supposed to be the most noted families of Great Britain.

In the Domesday Book of 1086, the first official record of the property holders living in England and the amount of land they held (which information was collected and recorded at the command of William the Conqueror 20 years after the conquest); various lands under the control of Baron Henry de Bray can be found. They were sublet to the various Lordships, who held the tenants as vassals, and all paid certain royalties to the Lords, Barons, and the King, for protection under the feudal system. William the Conqueror had ordered the Domesday survey to discover how much land he and his followers owned, and how the rest was divided. Even though he had gained control over the government at the time of the Conquest, the old English (Anglo-Saxon) landholders, Lords and Barons, etc. didn't support the new Norman or French king, and were not paying tribute to him, so he took this step to get the rest of the land under his control. After the Domesday survey was taken, the properties which were still in the hands of English landholders were granted on paper to William's followers, and then it was left up to them to band together and take these lands and estates, by force of arms if necessary. Since the Baron Henry de Bray (mentioned above) was almost certainly a Norman and a follower of the King (probably a son or brother of the Willaim de Bray who had aided in the conquest), he almost certainly retained control over the lands under his jurisdiction at this time. Later, after all of the land in England itself had been distributed out, others of the Bray name were granted lands and estates in Ireland for aiding the king and his successors in various battles, so some branches of the Brays moved to Ireland and became established there.

Other early records of this family in England include Richard de Braie, who held lands at Winchester as early as 1148, while Richard de Brais (who could have been the same person) possessed an estate at Cambridge and Bedfordshire in 1165. One branch of the Brays was seated in Devonshire in the thirteenth century, and from this branch the Lords Bray descended, as well as Sir Reginald Bray, the eminent architect, doctor, and Prime Minister to Henry VII.

An ancient manuscript, the estate books of Henry DeBray, is part of the records of the British Museum. The manuscript is of great value as a source of medieval and economic history. On the first page it states "In the year of 1322, the fifty-second year of Henry DeBray, he, with his own hand, writes this book." According to this record Henry was born in 1269. His grandfather, also named Henry, died in 1280, and his father John died in 1282. His mother Matilda died in 1308. Henry married in 1294 and the records show that his wife's name was Mabel, and that she was only fifteen years old at the time of the marriage. Henry's daughter Alice was born in 1296 and married in 1318. She had six children; three sons and three daughters. Henry DeBray gives an account of his grandfather's and father's quarrel with the Abbot of St. James, Northampton, who held six and a quarter virgates of the Harlestone estate. The quarrel was a typical one for those times. Grandfather Henry and his son John had "laid violent hands on a monk." (It seems that churchmen of the time often used their affiliation with the church for their own economic advantage and administrative control, and they used unethical practices, being exempt from civil laws. The deBrays decided to take justice into their own hands!) Henry and John DeBray had built a bank which was to the "inconvenience, prejudice, and injury" of the Abbey's tenements in the villages. The Abbot was not satisfied with the deBrays' exchanges of land. He claimed fifteen butts of land, in order to effect a compromise between Henry DeBray and the Abbey. This settlement occurred in 1252, and after it was made, the estate contains no further trouble between the Abbot and the family of Bray. The estate book of Henry DeBray covers a period from the middle of the twelfth century to 1340.

From another branch of the Bray family came John Bray (fl. 1377), a physician and botanist. He wrote a list of herbs in English, French, and Latin, entitled "Synonyma de Nominibus Herbarum." This collection is now in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum.

As mentioned above, the name of William, Sieur DeBray, is in the Roll of Battle Abbey among those who aided William the Conqueror in his conquest of England in 1066. His son and heir (who may have been a brother to the Henry DeBray mentioned in the Domesday Book) was Sir Robert DeBray, Ranger of Saucy Forest, Northamptonshire. He was succeeded by his son, Sir James DeBray, in the time of Richard I. Anselm DeBray, of Cambridgeshire, 1273, was the next in this line of descent, and was succeeded by his son, William DeBray, whose son, Thomas DeBray, of Bedfordshire, married a Braxby and left a son, William Bray, father of Edmond Bray. (After the Reformation there was considerable trouble between France and England. The DeBrays dropped the first part of their name, "de," as did many British Norman families, and from that time on were known as the family of Bray. This was probably done for religious and political reasons, as it was very unpopular to be known as a Frenchman during these stirring times.) Sir Richard Bray, son of Edmond Bray, gentleman and surgeon, of Worcester, England, was descended from this branch of the Bray family which had held lands in County Bedford in the thirteenth century, and had a pardon of outlawry entered in the Patent Rolls of 1463. He is said by some to have been of the privy council to Henry VI. This is probable, as he was buried in the north aisle of Worcester Cathedral. His wife, Margaret, and five children were commemorated with him on his monument. Richard Bray married (first) Margaret Sandes, daughter of John Sandes, of Furness Fell, County Lancaster, by whom he had an only son, Sir John Bray, whose only daughter and heiress, Margery, married Sir William Sandys, Baron Sandys of the Vine. Richard Bray married (second) Joan Troughton, by whom he had two sons.
During the Reign of the Tudors and Stuarts:
The eldest of the two, Sir Reginald (or Reynold) Bray, the great statesman and architect, was said to have been born near Worcester, and died August 5, 1503. He was a particular friend of the Bishop of his diocese. He was spoken of as being sober, discreet, and well-witted, and a man of prudent policy. He was first receiver-general and master of the household to Sir Henry Stafford who was the second husband of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, mother of the Earl of Richmond, who afterward became Henry VII. In 1472 Reginald Bray engaged himself to serve beyond the sea for the King from where he "brought many trophies to his government." On Bosworth Field, August 22, 1485, after Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet Kings, was slain, Reginald Bray found his golden crown hanging on a thorn bush and gave it to Lord Stanley, who placed it on the head of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, proclaiming him King Henry VII. Five weeks later at his coronation in Westminster Abbey, the King created Reginald Bray a Knight of the Bath.

(Shield of Reginald Bray)

Sir Reginald was also instrumental in bringing about the marriage of the King with Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, which united the red rose of the House of Lancaster with the white rose of York. This brought to an end the War of the Roses, that fierce civil struggle which had desolated England for nearly twenty years. It marked England's emergence from the shadows of medieval times into the dawn of the modern era.

Sir Reginald Bray received many royal benefits and high honors, being created a Knight of the Garter; Privy Councillor and joint Chief Justice of all the forests south of Trent; Constable of Oakham Castle, member of Parliament one term; High Treasurer and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; paymaster of forces in Brittany, 1492; high steward of the University of Oxford and perhaps of the University of Cambridge. For his bravery at the battle of Blackheath in June, 1497, he was made a knight banneret. He was trustee for the dower of Katherine of Aragon and guardian to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who died April 2, 1502, and also guardian of his brother Prince Henry, afterward King Henry VIII. After the marriage of Katherine of Aragon to King Henry VIII (which he helped to arrange), Sir Reginald Bray was made trustee "for the fulfilling of the King's own will," equivalent to Prime Minister. He was also said to be a doctor to the King. As an architect, he designed Henry VII's chapel, and laid its foundation stone in Westminster in January, 1503.

Sir Reginald Bray also played a major part in the building of St. George's Chapel at Windsor (also called the Bray chapel), which has become the center of the historic castle. Of it is written, "In the reign of Edward IV, Windsor saw the beginning of what was to become its culminating glory in the erection of the famous and splendid Chapel of St. George. Alterations and additions to the castle have been made in successive reigns until the present time, but the stately chapel remains as the centerpiece of the castle and its crowning ornament. Begun and completed in one design, and the work of craftsmen who have never been excelled, if indeed, they have ever been equalled, it exhibits one style of architecture in completeness and perfection and is the wonder and admiration of every beholder. The south transept is occupied by the chantry or chapel, known as the Braye Chapel, from Sir Reginald Bray, who, after the death of Bishop Beauchamp in 1481, was appointed superintendent of the works at the castle."

Many parts of the building are decorated with his arms and crest, and by his badge of a "hemp-bray" or hemp-brake or flax-breaker (a device used for crushing hemp and flax stems in order to remove the fibers, which were then used to manufacture rope and linen). This badge occurs not only in the stone work, but also in the stained glass of the transept and of the nave, where some half dozen of these badges are still to be seen in the clerestory.

Sir Reginald Bray married Katherine, the faithful friend and attendant of the Lady Elizabeth York. She was the youngest daughter of Nicholas Hussey, Lord of Harling, Sussex. By his wife, who survived him, he left no children, and the representation of the male line passed to his nephew Edmund Bray, the son of Sir Reginald's brother John. Sir Reginald Bray lies buried in the Bray Chapel in Windsor Castle. His portrait was in the window of the Priory Church of Great Malvern, in Worcestershire, and this can be seen in Strutt's "View of the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants of England." His nephew and heir Sir Edmund Bray, Knight of the Garter, was the ancestor of the Lords Bray and is buried in the old Chelsea Church near his father, John. He was in attendance on King Henry VIII when he met Francis I on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, "one of those nobles who with their pawned manors glistening on their backs followed Henry VIII to the field of the golden folly." He married Jane Halliwell, daughter of Richard Halliwell, and left a son, Lord John Bray, who married a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and had eight daughters. He left no male heir.

(Burke General Armory)
(Arms in Possession of the Family)

After this Sir Edward Bray I, Knight, of Vachery Park, Cranley, Surrey, purchased the Manor of Shere in 1535 from his elder brother Sir Edmund Bray, to whom it had been bequeathed by his uncle Sir Reginald Bray. Sir Edward Bray I was sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1539, and represented Surrey in the two Parliaments of Queen Mary. He died December 1, 1558, and was succeeded by his son Sir Edward Bray II, Knight, who died in 1581. He was a Member of Parliament for Helston, Cornwall, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Sir Edward Bray II married (first) Mary Elrington, daughter of Simon Elrington, of Northampton; (second) Elizabeth Roper, daughter of Willaim Roper, of Eltham, Kent, and his wife Margaret.

Margaret was the daughter of Sir Thomas More, that eminent lawyer and statesman, Lord Treasurer of the Exchequer, manager of the intrigues of Wolsey with Francis I, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Lord Chancellor. Sir Thomas More held the Great Seal for two and a half years, but then was beheaded in the Tower because he refused to lend his authority to Henry VIII's project of divorce and second marriage. He also refused to swear allegiance to the act of succession for securing the throne to the offspring of Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas More was the author of "Utopia".

Sir Edward Bray II married (third) Magdalene Cotton, daughter of Sir Thomas Cotton of Kent.
Through the Reformation and Into the 18th Century:
During the sixteenth century, the official religion of England changed back and forth several times. An interesting story which took place in the parish of Bray, County Berks, England, concerns the Vicar of Bray who changed his religion three times in order that he might retain his position, saying that his one principal thought was "to live and die the Vicar of Bray." (Of course, this was just his title and position; he was not of the Bray family himself).

In the direct descent from Sir Edward Bray II is found William Bray, of Shere, the learned antiquary and historian of Surrey. He was the son of Thomas and Margaret (Roger) Bray, was born in 1736 and died in Dec. 1832. He was an attorney for fifty years on the board of Green Cloth and was treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries. He wrote a history which became a text book in all the important colleges in England, and covered the history of England very thoroughly.

Rev. Dr. Thomas Bray (1656-1729) was another member of the Bray family who left his mark on history. He was born in Marton, Shropshire, England in 1656, the son of Richard and Mary Bray. Although his branch of the Bray family was of the average working class (probably descended from a younger son of one of the noble families, who didn't inherit land), the local bishop took notice of young Thomas and felt that with his bright mind he should be given a good education. The bishop sponsored him and paid for his education, and Thomas Bray matriculated at All Soul's College at Oxford in 1674. His rise to notice was rapid. His sermons and books showed much light on the literature of his time. He was appointed by the Church of England to establish libraries in the American colonies and other British colonies, for the purpose of attracting clergymen to move there and strengthen the influence of the Church of England in the colonies. It seems that the clergymen of the Church of England were all very learned and scholarly men who spent much of their time doing research and writing. This is why they refused to move to the colonies, since good libraries were not available there. For this reason the Church of England did not gain much of a foothold in the colonies. Dr. Thomas Bray came to America in 1699 and spent some time in Maryland, and then returned to his home in England, where he died February 15, 1729 at the age of seventy-three. He left a life interest only in all of his property, so that after his death his fortune might ultimately go to charity.

Our Bray ancestor in America was possibly a nephew of Dr. Thomas Bray. His name was Henry Bray, and he came from England around 1698. His descendants lived in Chatham County, North Carolina for at least four generations before his great-grandson, also named Henry Bray, moved his family to Mississippi around 1830.

(It is not known where some of the Brays from Mississippi got the story that their immigrant Bray ancestors were Irish, and had come directly from Ireland to Mississippi by way of North Carolina around 1800, because this has been disproven. Even though some Brays had become Irish in the early years of the Norman Conquest, our Bray ancestor in America was not from this branch.)

Information Compiled
by Karen Bray Keeley

INTERNET Adaptation
by Sandra Shuler Bray