PERCY (FAMILY). This family, whose deeds are so prominent in -English history, was founded by William de Perci (c. 1030- 1096), a follower of the Conqueror, who bestowed on him a great fief in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The register of Whitby Abbey, which he founded anew, and in later days the heralds, were responsible for the fabulous origin and pedigree of the family which are still current. By Emma, daughter of Hugh de Port, a great Hampshire baron, William was father of several sons, of whom Alan the eldest succeeded him. His grandson William was the last of the house in the direct line, and left two sisters and coheiresses, Maud countess of Warwick, who died childless, and Agnes. Agnes de Perci had married Josceline, styled " brother of the queen " (i.e. Adeliza of Louvain, second wife of Henry I.), whose legitimacy has been questioned, and from this marriage descended the second house of Percy (which name it assumed), till its own extinction in the male line five centuries later (1670). By it was brought into the family the great Petworth estate in Sussex, which Josceline had obtained from his sister, who was holding Arundel and its fief. His son Richard (c. 1170-1244) and Richard's nephew William (c. 1183- 1245) were among the barons who rose in arms against John, but the latter made his peace with Henry III., and had his lands restored to him. Richard de Percy was one of the twentyfive barons appointed to enforce the observance of Magna Carta.
The next important member of the family is William's grandson Henry de Percy (c. 1272-1315), whom Edward I., after the deposition of John Baliol, appointed governor of Galloway, and who was one of his most active agents in the subjugation of Scotland till the success of Robert Bruce drove him out of Turnberry Castle, and made him withdraw into England. He was rewarded by Edward II. with the barren title of earl of Carrick, declared to be forfeited by the Scottish hero; and the same king appointed him governor of the castles of Bamburgh and Scarborough. But in 1309 he himself made his position strong in the north of England by purchasing lands from Anthony Bek, bishop of Durham, among which was the honour of Alnwick, the principal seat of the family ever since. The Percies had chiefly resided till then at Spofforth in Yorkshire, and their connexion with Northumberland dates from this acquisition. Henry's son, another Henry (c. 1299-1352), took part in the league against Edward II. 's favourites the Despensers, was in favour with Edward III., and obtained from Edward Baliol as king of Scotland grants of Lochmaben, Annandale and Moffatdale, which he surrendered to the English king for the castle and constableship of Jedburgh, or Jedworth, with the forest of Jedworth and some neighbouring towns. A few years later, in fuller recompense of the unprofitable gift of Baliol, a grant of 500 marks a year was made to him out of the old customs at Berwick; and in 1346 he did splendid service to his sovereign by defeating and taking prisoner David II, king of Scotland, at the battle of Neville's Cross.
To him succeeded another Henry Percy (1322-1368), a feudal baron like his predecessors, who fought at Crecy during his father's lifetime and whose brother Thomas Percy (1333-1369) was bishop of Norwich from 1356-1369. The next head of the Percys was Henry's son, another Henry, who was made earl of Northumberland at the coronation of Richard II., and whose younger brother Thomas (d. 1403) was created earl of Worcester in 1397. The 1st earl of Northumberland, father of the famous Hotspur, Sir Henry Percy (?..), was killed at Bramham Moor in 1408, while in arms against the king, and his title and estates were forfeited. But, by an act no less gracious than politic, Henry V. restored them in 1414 to this earl's grandson, Henry (1394-1455), then a prisoner with the Scots, whose liberation he had no difficulty in procuring from the duke of Albany during the time of James I.'s captivity. From that day the loyalty of the family to the house of Lancaster was steadfast and undeviating. The 2nd earl died fighting for Henry VI. at the first battle of St Albans in 1455; the 3rd, Henry (1421- 1461), was slain on the bloody field of Towton; the 4th, Henry (1446-1489), was killed in quelling an insurrection in the time of Henry VII. So strong was the Lancastrian feeling of the family that even Sir Ralph Percy (1425-1464), a brother of the earl who fell at Towton, though he had actually submitted once to Edward IV., turned again, and when he fell at Hedglcy Moor in April 1464 consoled himself with the thought that he had, as he phrased it, " saved the bird in his bosom."
No wonder, then, that in Edward IV.'s days the title and estates of the family were for a time taken away and given to John Neville Lord Montagu, brother of Warwick the king-maker. But the north of England was so accustomed to the rule of the Percys that in a few years Edward saw the necessity of restoring them, and did so even at the cost of alienating still further the powerful family of the Nevilles, who were then already on the point of rebellion.
A crisis occurred in the fortunes of the family in the reign of Henry VIII. on the death of Henry, the 6th earl (c. 1502- 1537), whose brothers Sir Thomas and Sir Ingelram Percy, much against his will, had taken part in the great insurrection called the Pilgrimage of Grace. A thriftless man, of whom it is recorded that in his youth he was smitten with the charms of Anne Boleyn, but was forced to give her up and marry a woman he did not love, he died childless, after selling many of the family estates and granting the others to the king. The title was forfeited on his death, and was granted by Edward VI. to the ambitious John Dudley, earl of Warwick, who was attainted in the succeeding reign. It was restored in the days of Queen Mary to Thomas Percy (1528-1572), a nephew of the 6th earl, who, being a stanch Roman Catholic, was one of the three earls who took the lead in the celebrated rising of 1572, and was beheaded at York. His brother Henry (c. 1532-1585), who succeeded him, was no less unhappy. Involved in Throgmorton's conspiracy, he was committed to the Tower of London, and was supposed to have shot himself in bed with a pistol found beside him; but there were grave suspicions that it had been discharged by another hand. His son, Henry (1567-1632), the next earl, suffered like his two predecessors for his attachment to the religion of his forefathers. The Crown lawyers sought in vain to implicate him in the Gunpowder Plot, but he was imprisoned for fifteen years in the Tower and compelled to pay a fine of 30,000. Algernon (1602-1668), the son who next succeeded, was a parliamentary general in the Civil War. At length, in 1670, the male line of this illustrious family became extinct, at least in the direct line, about five hundred years after the marriage of Agnes de Perci with Josceline of Louvain.
The representation of the earlier Percys had passed away through the daughters of Earl Thomas, beheaded in 1572, but his earldom of Northumberland (created anew for him in 1557) had passed to his brother Henry, under a special remainder, and appears to have become extinct in 1670, though persistently claimed by James Percy, " the trunk-maker. " The last earl's daughter Elizabeth, a great heiress, was mother by Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset, of Algernon, 7th duke, who was summoned (in error) as Lord Percy in 1722 and created earl of Northumberland in 1749. On the duke's death in 1750 his earldom of Northumberland passed under a special remainder, with the main inheritance of the Percys, to Sir Hugh Smithson, bart. (1715-1786), who had married his daughter and eventual heiress in 1740, and was created duke of Northumberland and Earl Percy in 1766. From this marriage descends the present ducal house, which bears the name of Percy in lieu of Smithson, and owns vast estates in Northumberland.
Alnwick Castle, their chief seat, where much state is still kept up, has been described by Mr Clark as " probably the finest extant example of a Norman castle of this type, having an open keep and a complete enceinte." It had been hardly occupied and in decay for some two centuries when the present family succeeded to it, but was restored by them to its former splendour between 1750 and 1786. " Princely Petworth," however, the seat of the later Percys, with their ancient Sussex estates and those in Yorkshire (Leconfield) and Cumberland (Cockermouth), all passed away in 1750 with the earldom of Egremont and barony of Cockermouth to Charles Wyndham, nephew of the 7th duke of Somerset, and these estates are now held by Lord Leconfield. The actual representation in blood of the later Percys (i.e. from 1572) passed in 1865, on the death of the 4th duke, to the dukes of Atholl, who in virtue of it are Lords Percy, under the writ of 1722, the oldest of the family titles now remaining. The ancient London residence of the Percys, Northumberland House, Charing Cross, was removed to make way for Northumberland Avenue. Above it stood the Percy crest, a (blue) lion with stiffly extended tail; but the famous badge of the house was the white crescent or half Moon " the HalfMoone shining all soe faire " of " the Northern Rising " ballad with a pair of manacles. Their coat of arms was a blue lion rampart on a yellow ground " Jaune o un bleu lyon rampart " of the Carlaverock roll, stated, but wrongly, to have been derived from the dukes of Louvain and Brabant. With it they quartered the " Luces " coat of the Lucys of Cockermouth after succeeding to their estates, whence the lines in The Battle of Otlerbourne:
" The Lucetts and the Cressaunts both, The Skotts fought them agayne."
See E. B. De Fonblanque, Annals of the House of Percy (1887), and G. Brenan, History of the House of Percy (edited by W. A. Lindsay, 1902), both somewhat adulatory and needing critical revision; Tate, History of Alnwick (1866); Hartshorne's paper on the Percys and their Castles in the Newcastle volume of the Archaeological Institute (1852) ; E. A. Freeman, " The Percy Castles " (1875) in English Towns and Districts; G. T. Clark, Medieval Military Architecture (1884) ; G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage(i8g$), vol. vi. ; Bishop Percy, Northumberland Household Book. See also the article Northumberland, Earls and Dukes of. (J. GA. ; J. H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)