Thursday, November 14, 2019

Clarel's name

No one has been able to conjecture a source or meaning for this unusual name.
-- William H. Shurr, The Mystery of Iniquity; Melville as Poet, 1857-1891 (The University Press of Kentucky, 1972) page 265 footnote 12.
The eponymous quester of Herman Melville's great 1876 poem Clarel is an American divinity student in the Holy Land. His traveling companions there include fellow-Americans named Rolfe and Vine, and later on, Ungar. Clarel belongs to the New World by birth, but his name, like that of the Anglican priest Derwent, aligns him with the Old. (For more about Derwent and his name, "inescapably associated with Wordsworth," see Karen Lentz Madison and R. D. Madison, "Derwent: Revisiting Melville’s Clarel" in Leviathan, vol. 19 no. 3, 2017, pages 50-58. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/lvn.2017.0034.)

The name Derwent is decidedly English. Clarel's name is suggestively Anglo-Norman. His Norman heritage evokes medieval tales of romance and knightly adventure that resonate with the role of pilgrim-wanderer. In view of Clarel's theological "vocation fled" (Clarel 1. 9) and the major theme in Clarel of faith in ruins, it also seems ironically fitting that the young hero's English namesakes were medieval clerics whose family hall in Yorkshire had been reduced by the early nineteenth century to "a heap of stones."

John Clarel founded an Augustinian friary in the time of Edward I, around 1256 according to David Hey in A History of the South Yorkshire Countryside (Pen & Sword Books, 2015) page 27. Thomas Clarel, as related in R. V. Taylor's Biographia Leodiensis (London, 1865), was "Vicar of Leeds from 1430-1469" and "descended from the ancient and knightly family of the Clarels, of Clarel Hall, near Tickhill."
"Thomas Clarell remained Vicar of Leeds forty years."  --  D. H. Atkinson, Old Leeds: its Byegones and Celebrities (Leeds, 1868).
"Clarell-Hall, the seat of that ancient and respectable family, the Clarells, is now only to be found in a heap of stones, at no great distance from the Church."  -- Thomas Langdale, Topographical History of Yorkshire (Northallerton, 1822). <>
The Northern Star or Yorkshire Magazine for November 1817, page 324

Not far from the church resided that ancient, respectable, and powerful family of the Clarrels, who were the founders of the House of Austin Friers, in the vale below. Of this mansion nothing remains of its former grandure; a heap of stones only mark the spot, and as all terrestrial things perish and decay, I have given a sketch of what has survived the destroying hand of time. The premises now belong to E. Laughton, Esq. of Tickhill, a descendant of the Eastfields. -- The Northern star or Yorkshire Magazine for November 1817, page 324.
As reported on the Tickhill and District Local History Society website, "the Northern Star published a further paragraph on Clarel Hall" in December 1817:
The ancient and knightly family of Clarel possessed this mansion for several generations, a younger son of which was Thomas Clarel, presbyter, who held the living of Leeds from 1430 to 1469. The Clarels were also of Aldwark, and resided there. Thomas Clarel, Esq. had an only daughter and heiress of his estates, who married Sir Richard Fitzwilliam, Knt., of Wadworth, in the 15th century; their son, Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam of Aldwark, married Lady Lucy Neville, co-heir of the Marquis of Montague. [The tomb-chest with effigies of Sir Thomas and Lady Lucy was moved to St Mary's Church after the dissolution of the Friary.] A daughter of Sir Richard Fitzwilliam by that marriage, married a Gascoigne of Gawthorpe, whose heir had an only daughter Margaret, married to Thomas Wentworth of Wentworth, Esq. who in right of this marriage was seised inter alia of lands in Tickhill. His grandson was the great Earl of Strafford. As the Aldwark estate had passed to the Foljambes, most probably these lands were the Clarel Hall estate, perhaps alienated with others by that unfortunate nobleman; became afterwards the property of the Farmerys and Laughtons of Eastfield, and lately have been sold to Mr Withers of Newark.
Northern Star Or Yorkshire Magazine for December 1817, page 487
William Grainge, The Castles and Abbeys of Yorkshire (York, 1855) page 9:
The environs of Tickhill are pleasant, and in most parts fertile. The vale, which extends north and south from the town, and the lower parts of the slopes on each side, produce abundant crops of corn. About a quarter of a mile west of the town, shaded by a grove of walnut trees, are the remains of Clarel Hall, anciently occupied by the family of Clarel, who held part of the manor under the lords of the fee. In a retired valley, about 200 yards distant from the remains of this house, stood a priory of Augustine Friars, founded by the ancestors of the Clarel family, who, as well as their descendants the Fitzwilliams, used the priory chapel as a place of sepulture ; but all monuments of them are gone, except a few shields of arms in the desecrated walls, and the splendid altar tomb now in the parish church. This house was surrendered in 1537, and there were at that time a prior and eight brethren. About the house were ninety fothers of lead, six bells, and sixteen ounces of plate. Part of the ruins are worked up in the outbuildings of the adjacent house; but the stable door, in the wall of what was the chapel, is very perfect, with a pointed arch, and double row of quatrefoils.

The environs of Tickhill are beautiful and interesting, and the town is well worth a visit from the passing tourist.
Today that "splendid" Fitzwilliam Tomb is still at St. Mary's Church Tickhill, recently restored:
"St. Mary’s church has housed the Fitzwilliam Tomb for more than 450 years. According to tradition, the tomb came into St. Mary’s from Tickhill Friary in 1538, during the Dissolution. The figures on the tomb chest are Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam and his wife Lady Lucy Neville. It is possibly the earliest Italianate alabaster tomb in the country, and would originally ha[ve] been highly painted.
According to the inscription on the tomb, it commemorates Sir Richard Fitzwilliam, his wife Lady Elizabeth Clarell, their son, Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, and his wife, Lady Lucy Neville. Lucy was the daughter of the Marquis of Montacute and cousin to Edward IV, Richard III and his Queen, Anne Neville. She was also a niece of Warwick the Kingmaker." --
John Tomlinson, Stories and Sketches Relating to Yorkshire (London, 1868), page 11:
The tower is further adorned with several human figures, principally female, in niches, but whom they are intended to represent I never could discover, the interior of the building contains many curiosities in the shape of altar-tombs, and monuments, several of which date from the commencement of the fifteenth century, while one, at least, is said to have been removed from some more ancient religious edifice. The principal of these are an altar-tomb and inscription to William Eastfield, steward to Queen Philippa, and a magnificent alabaster tomb, richly sculptured and painted. Upon this latter are re- cumbent figures of a knight and his lady, while around the upper edge of the tomb runs a crowded inscription, now almost illegible, but which, many years ago was copied, and reads thus : —
"Pray for the soul of Sir Richd. Fitzwilliam, Knt., and Elizh. his wife, daughter and heiress to Thomas Clarel, the which Sir Richard departed the 22nd day of Sept., a.d. 1478, and dame Elizh., the 12th day of May, a.d. 1496: and also Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, and the Ladv Lucy Nevell, daughter and one of the heirs to the Lord John Nevell, Marquis Montague, his wife ; the which Sir Thomas deceased "
But there was an earlier church at Tickhill — a Saxon or early Norman church. We have evidence that it was called All-Hallows, and situate a little distance from the present town ; but there our knowledge ends : not a relic of the building has occupied this site for many centuries.  
We can gather only a few scanty materials concerning the religious houses of Tickhill. Leland mentions, "A house of freres a lytyl by west without Tikhil, where lay buried divers of the Fitzwilliams, as the grandfather and father to my Lord Privy Seal, the which be now translated to the Paroch Church of Tikhil. So ys Pure-foy alias Clearfoy. There were also buried divers of Clarells in Tikhil Priory. " The monuments translated to the Parish Church might include that tomb, the inscription of which we have just read, it being probably removed here a short time before the dissolution of religious houses. The Clarells are said to have founded this Priory towards the close of Henry the Third's reign, and it is sometimes designated Clarell Priory.
Accessible online courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library:
Without having to know any Yorkshire history, Melville might have borrowed the family name of Alexis de Tocqueville, aka Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville, as William H. Shurr conjectured in The Mystery of Iniquity: Melville as Poet, 1857-1891 (University Press of Kentucky, 1972) page 266. Translator Henry Reeve puts Tocqueville's Clarels in the company of "gallant Norman adventurers who overran Britain" with William the Conqueror:
The family of Clerel, or, as it was anciently spelt, Clarel, has been established for many centuries in the peninsula of the Cotentin, on the Norman coast, and the village and lands of Tocqueville give them their territorial designation. The Clerels figure in the roll of Battle Abbey, among the companions of the Conqueror; for an extraordinary number of the gallant Norman adventurers who overran Britain, and filled the world with their exploits, drew their first breath in some manor-house of this district. --Introductory Notice, Democracy in America Vol. 1 (London, 1862), trans. Henry Reeve.
Herman Melville had some interest in Reeve's authority, the roll of Battle Abbey, where the name of his own illustrious ancestor Guillaume Maleville or Malleville or Maleuile also appears in the list of William's Norman knights. In a letter to Evert A. Duyckinck dated February 2, 1850, Herman Melville specifically mentions "Battle Abbey Directories" with other examples of "old fashioned London imprints" that he found "delicious, & full flavoured with suggestiveness."
In the magazine story of Edith Clarel, serialized in The Money Bag (London, 1858) the heroine's mercenary suitor is happy to discover the name Clarel in The Roll of Battle Abbey.

A later annotated edition of The Battle Abbey Roll (London, 1889) has more on the Clarel or Clarell family.
Clarell. We find the Clarels seated in South Yorkshire during the thirteenth century. John Clarel founded Tickhill Priory in the time of Edward I.; Sir William Clarel, at about the same date, acquired Aldwark through his wife Agnes, daughter and heir of Sir William Walleis. "This William was contemporary with John Clarel the Warden, and the posterity of William entering into the patronage of the house of Augustine friars which John founded near the town of Tickhill, there can be no doubt that there was a very near alliance between them. The patronage of their little foundation was a beautiful flower in the state and condition of the Clarels. The chapel of that house was their cemetery. Besides Aldwark, they possessed other land, and especially the manor of Peniston.

"The arms which the Clarels used betray their clientelage to the Lords of Ecclesal. They were six silver martlets on a red field, arranged in perpendicular parallel rows, and adopted by the Ecclesals from their superior lords the Furnivalls, who bore their martlets on a bend; and had, in their turn, derived them from the Luterels, of whom they held certain manors, and who bore the martlets and bend in gold on an azure field."Hunter's South Yorkshire. Sir William Clarel, who married the Lady of Aldwark, was Lord of Peniston, and the father of Thomas, who became the husband of another heiress, Isabel, daughter of Sir John Philibert. He held the manor of Adwick of the honour of Tickhill," and paid every two years towards keeping the Castle 7s 4d., and every third year 8s. and 10s. ad custodiam osterer (to keep a hawk). It remained in the family for two centuries and a half; the heir of Clarel married Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam, whose son and heir, Thomas, was slain at Flodden in 1513."—Ibid. The last heir-male, Thomas, was the son of another Thomas who had been drowned in the Don in 1442. He had three daughters; Elizabeth Fitzwilliam; Alice, Prioress of Hampole, and Maud, married to the son and heir of Robert Ughtred; but all the lands of the Clarels in Yorkshire devolved on the eldest, Elizabeth, whose husband was in her right Lord of Aldwark. Her missal, containing twelve entries relating to births and deaths in the Clarel family, is preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. There was, however another Thomas Clarel, who was evidently one of this family. "He was living in the parish of St. Giles', Cripplesgate, in 1493, when he made his will, in which he described himself of London, citizen and grocer. He bequeathed some paintings to the church of Rotherham, and was also a benefactor to Rawmarsh, and other churches around." —Ibid. Leland mentions one of their houses: "There ys yet a Place by Tikhill caullid Clarelle's Haulle." This was still standing in 1831.
Although this 1889 volume was published more than a decade after Melville's Clarel, the primary source for most of the information about the Yorkshire Clarels is Joseph Hunter, South Yorkshire (London, 1828-1831).

Below, Clarel Street in Penistone, South Yorkshire via Google Maps:

Penistone Grammar School was founded in 1392 by Thomas Clarel. In 1992 Penistone Church installed a new window to commemorate the school's 600-year anniversary:
"Proudly on display is the Clarel coat of arms with its six footless 'martlet' birds."
-- Penistone Pictorial - Penistone Church
Penistone Church - PGS 600th anniversary window with Clarel coat of arms
In the 21st century, the old school motto Disce aut discede has yielded to a new one that beautifully complements the traditional bird imagery on the Clarel arms:
"Never Stop Flying."


  1. Very very interesting and carefully traced. Go, SN, Go!

    1. Thank you, Maestro. Hey it's great to have CLAREL handy in the brand new Library of America edition. With its perfect size and notes in the back, the reading experience feels more direct, closer than ever. All the poetry, plus that cool blue strip of a bookmark.