REVISED - 1999




The family name "Pye", although not a particularly common British surname, is found in the directories of many cities, towns, and villages of the United Kingdom. Since the Middle Ages, with growth of worldwide exploration, furthermore, the name rapidly spread abroad, and today is found throughout the English-speaking world, notably in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Pye Households are particularly noteworthy in Ontario and the Maritime Provinces of Canada and in the New England States of the USA.

At last count, in 1986, there were 454 Pye households in Canada.1 Many can trace their roots to the American War of Independence and the United Empire Loyalists who remained faithful to the Monarchy after the War and settled in the British-held Canadas. My and other branches of the Pye family, however, only appeared late on the North American scene-my father, Edward Septimus Pye, for example, migrated to Canada only in 1912. Our household can trace its origins with reasonable confidence to the 17th century, however, to the area north of the City of Norwich, Norfolk County, England.

The name "Pye" or its antecedents (, pee, pie,) probably was first used to describe certain members of a small community at a time when only single names were common. When the Normans settled in England after the Conquest in 1066 AD, following the battle of Hastings. It was soon found that, as small towns and villages became more populated, it became awkward to register each of several people with the same single name. In a single community, for example, the residents were familiar with one another on site. But to facilitate differentiation for government purposes, it became necessary to introduce surnames to compliment the original given names. As a result, John with long legs became known as John Longfellow; the village carpenter became known as John Carpenter; John the blacksmith became John Smith; John Cook became John Cook, and so on. It was only by the use of surnames that the Doomsday Book became possible.2 "Pye" was one of the surnames that was recognized in the Doomsday Book of 1086.3

The name "Pie" or "Pye" may be metonymic for a maker or seller of pies. Reaney4, for example, in his dictionary of English surnames, mentions a Peter Piebakere, 1320, Adam le piemakere, 1332 and John Pyrnan, 1524. The name is also suggestive of the bird called magpie, a type of crow noted for its boldness and habit of noisy chattering. Indeed the French word for magpie is "pie". Supporting this theory is the expression "As pert as a Pye". The word "pert" is defined in Webster's dictionary as "bold or impudent in speech or behavior; saucy; forward". But the name more likely refers to a location - it could have been derived from Puy near Dieppe across the English Channel or Le Puy in the Loire valley in southern France. A medal of a Raymond de Puy, Grand Master of the Knights Hospital of Jerusalem, for example, is now preserved in the Norfolk County Museum.

The late Charles Gordon Pye of Massachusetts, USA, has suggested that the surname Pye was derived from the early Welsh pronunciation of' "ap Hugh" (meaning son of Hugh) as "Apee" which in time evolved into "Pye". The writer, however, is rather of the opinion that de Pie or de Puy is the original French or Norman family or locality name of Hugh de Kilpeck, Herefordshire, who may have registered the name "Pye" at the time of the Doomsday census in 1086. A Norman or French origin is further suggested by a record of a John and Fulco Pie de Boeuf in Normandy in 1180-11955 the name "Pie"(pronounced 'pee'in French) or "Puy" may simply have been anglicised to "Pye" after the Conquest of 1066.


According to Charles Gordon Pye, the first Pyes of Herefordshire, England, may have been of Viking origin. They can be traced back in time, to Fitz Thorir Thobard (Herbert), a steersman in the fleet of Rolf the Ganger, who helped to defeat the French in 9126. As a reward, Thobard was granted the Fiefdom of Maera in Normandy, and became known as the Sieur de la Mare (Lord of the sea). A Son or grandson, William Fitz Norman in turn served under his kinsman, William the Conqueror, at the Battle of Hastings, after which he was awarded the castle of Kilpeck in the former small Welsh Kingdom of Erging (Archenfield) near Much Dewchurch in Herefordshire.7

William's son, Hugh (Pye) de Kopeck served in the first crusade (1095-1099). According to legend, he was captured and imprisoned by the Emir Mohammed Amiraud. He is said to have fallen in love with the latter's daughter, who soon became the mother of a girl named "Susan Pye"(b.1097), and arranged Hugh's escape from his captors.8 Susan Pye is said to have eventually married Gilbert Becket, who sired Thomas Becket (b.1117), the famous archbishop who was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The story of Susan's romance (in which Susan perhaps is confused with her mother) is recorded in the old English ballad "Young Beckie". According to legend, in memory of his Saracen mother, Thomas Beckett is said to have had a gold scimitar hung over the high altar of Canterbury Cathedral 9 It was Hugh de Kilpeck who had the present Church of St Mary and St. David built at Kilpeck following his deliverence from captivity and return from the Holy Land.10

Figure No.1: The Church of St. Mary & St. David, built at Kilpeck, Herefordshire, England, in 1124.
(Photo Courtesy Joan Kenner).

Hugh de Kilpeck married Meirig, the daughter of the Welsh King Griffin, whose dowry was the Manor of Saddlebow in the parish of Orcop, Herefordshire. Hugh had three sons: Thomas, Henry, and John. Upon Hugh's death, Henry became the next Lord of Kilpeck, and Thomas and John inherited Orcop and the Manor of Saddlebow. In 1196, Henry de Kilpeck was succeeded by his son John, who inherited Kilpeck and all the forests of Herefordshire. John probably served in the third crusade of 1190-93, and had the singular honour of being described by King John as the "Greatest Knight in Christendom".ll

Figure No. 2: The family tree of the Pyes of the Mynde. (After Delphine Coleman, Orcop, p. 61.


   Walter Pye m. Elizabeth Barry
Lord of Saddlebow 
          Circa 1433              |
                               Thomas Pye m. Jane Bromwich 
                                          Walter Pye m. Elizabeth Scudamore
                                                                    of Kentchurch
_________________ |_______________________________________________| 
                |                                                 |                                                               | 
    |      Jenkin Pye m. Elizabeth Selwick    John Pye m. Agnes d. of              Walter Pye m. Agnes
                                                                  Roger ap. William                        verch David ap.
                                                                  ap. Andrew of the Mynde            Jeuan Vychan of
                                                                   |                                                   Llanfair Cilgoed
                                                             _ _|  
                                                           John Pye m. Anne Brydges (3rd wife) 
                                        ________________ |________|____________________
                                          |                                                                                 |
                                Walter Pye    m. Margaret Price                                          Other Issue 
                                 of the Mynde     Co-heiress of Orcop 
                                                 Roger Pye m.       Bridget Kyrle
                                                                             of Walford
                                                                             bur. 14 Nov., 1624

______________________________ |__________________________________________
                               |                                                                                 |                                          |
                     Sir Walter Pye m. Joan Rudhall (22/07,1602)                  Blanch Pye                       4 Others
                   of the Mynde       bur. 10/09, 1625                                   m. Robert of Saddlebow
                   Atty. Gen of the
                  Wards & Liveries
                   bap. 01/10, 1571
                   bur. 09/01, 1635
               |                                                                   |                                                                           | 
     Sir Walter Pye m. Elizabeth Saunders         John Pye m. Blanch Lingen                       6 Other Sons of the Mynde               of Dinton, Bucks              of Stoke Edith
 b. 1610                                                                      b. 1650 
  bur. 1659                                                                    bur. 1701
             _______|____________                          _____|_____________________ 
            |                             |                                                          |                                            | 
     Walter Pye              Robert Pye m. Meliora Drax     Edward Pye m. Ann Snell     son & daughter
  cr. Baron of Kilpeck      of the Mynde 
     by James II.                                 ________________________ |_______________ 
     b. 1631, bur. 1690                                |                                                      | 

                                                    Charles Pye m. Mary Booth         Ann Pye m. Robert Beedham,   1714
                                                          of the Mynde      of Breinton              of Upper Hilston
                                                           bur. 1716-43                                         Monmouth Co.
                                                                            | Ann Pye 
                                                                               ob. inf. 1753

Figure No.2: The Family Tree of the Pyes of the Mynde. (After Delphine Coleman, Orcop, p. 61.

An interesting descendant of Hugh Pye de Kilpeck was John Pye de Mynde, named after the family's new place of residence at Bryn's Place or Mynde Park, about a mile from Kilpeck, acquired in 1475 through the marriage of his father (John Tregos Pye) to Agnes, daughter of Roger de Mynde. Like his forbears, John Pye traveled to the Holy Land. He was perhaps the most amorous and virile of the early Pyes. He died in 1547 at the then-astounding age of 106. His tombstone in the Church of Much Dewchurch readsl2:

"Here lies the body of John Pye of Mynde, a traveler in far countries, his life he ended. He left behind him Walter, his son, heir of Mynde, and forty-two children. He was 106 years old truly. He was in Jerusalem and at the sepulcher of Christ. He was married three times and fathered {an additional} 43 children. He also had 22 children by concubines, in all 64 children. He completed the 24 Acts of Chivalry which few men could do them all."

Figure No 3: The Mynde Manor House, Kilpeck, Herefordshire 

The Pye Family Home.
(Photo Courtesy Brian Ashcroft).

Of the several Barons of Kilpeck, the most renowned was Sir Walter Pye de Mynde. He was born Oct 9,1571. Following education at Oxford, he qualified at the Bar in 1597, and through the influence of Lord Buckingham, was appointed as Attorney to the Court of Wards and Liveries, with a salary of 1500 pounds Stirling per annum. He was knighted by Charles I on June 20, 1640, for services to the state. In a book about the Civil Service, a contemporary historian (G.E. Aylmer) wrotel3:

"His memory was so clear he could name every English gentleman (Yeomen too, some would say). Because of his ancestors pedigree, coat-of-arms, their chief mansions, and other revenues, and being employed to make searches into estates, he was well 'fed to remember names, families and estates and oft, as I tied on him, he would diligently inquire whence, through what towns, by what houses I passed, and he could better describe my way than I who had so lately viewed it."

Sir Walter Pye de Mynde invested in the West Country Adventurers, which financed the settlement of Ferryland by George Calvert (Lord Baltimore) in Newfoundland. During his lifetime, he was said to be one of the richest men in England.14 

Figure No.4: Church of St. David, Much Dewchurch, Herefordshire, England
(Photo Courtesy Brian Ashcroft)

A portrait of Sir Walter by Cornelius Jannsens hangs in the picture gallery at Kentchurch Court. The portrait was purchased from the Barrington-Mocas estate in Cornwall, where Sir Walter's daughter Francis had married Henry Vaughn, the ownerl5. His tomb and those of his wife and sons are prominent in the Church of Much Dewchurch, Herefordshire. Also in the center aisle of the church are marble markers over the graves of Robert Pye de Mynde and other members of the Pye family. Sir Walter's elaborate marble tomb is decorated with a rare funeral helmet and a coat-of-arms that displays six vivid red triangles arranged diagonally across a white shield (One for each son?). 16

Figure No.5: The interior of the Church of Much Dewchurch. 
Bote the tomb of Sir Walter Pye on the right-hand side of the archway 
(Photo courtesy Brian Ashcroft).

Upon the death of Sir Walter in 1635, his eldest (?) son. Sir Walter the younger, became the owner of the Mynde, the Manor of Orcop, and numerous other properties, including the castle of Kilpeck.17 Sir Walter Pye, the younger was a staunch royalist. He is known to have loaned the king 2000 pounds Stirling, a huge sum in the 17th century, in 1640. In 1642, he was commissioned to travel to Rome on a secret mission on behalf of the king to seek the support of the Pope in the parliamentary conflict of the time. At the start of the Civil War in 1641, he managed to raise troops for the king, and put a garrison in Kilpeck Castle. At the commencement of hostilities, he was one of nine noblemen who led an attack by Royalist troops on Brampton Bryan. He later participated in, and was taken prisoner, during, the royalist siege of Hereford, only later to be released on the payment of a prisoners' ransom by the county of Herefordshire. The Castle of Kilpeck was stoutly defended during the Civil War, but fell to the forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1645, and was demolished, 18 never to be rebuilt. Today, only the remains of a few crumbling stone walls near the Mynde and the village of Kilpeck mark it's former presence.

Figure No 6: The ornate marble tomb of Sir Walter Pye Sr.
Note the rusty funeral helmet above the coat of arms.
(Photo courtesy Brian Ashcroft)

It was not uncommon for the members of an extended family to support opposite sides in the Civil War. It has been reported that the family of Robert Pye of Farington Manor in Berkshire, for example, supported Parliament rather than the King. Early in the War, however, Farington House was captured and occupied by the Royalists. In 1644, Parliamentary forces under the command of Robert Pye recaptured the town, although the Royalist troops defending Farington House itself were able to hold out against Pye's bombardment. The Royalists at Farington finally surrendered only after the capture of the King's headquarters in Oxford following his defeat at Naseby in 1645.19

Figure No.7: The ruins of Kilpeck Castle, defended by Sir Walter Pye Jr. against the puritans.
(Photo Courtesy Brian Ashcroft)

Sir Walter Pye's support of the Royalist cause, and his other commitments at the time, greatly diminished the value of the family estate. By the early 18th century, the family's fortunes continued to decline. Finally, in 1718, after passing through the hands of his brother Robert and the latter's heirs, the Mynde was sold to the Duke of Chandos.20

The religious strife that lay at the root of the English Civil War did not dissipate easily. After the execution of Charles 1st, and the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Roman Catholics in England were commonly persecuted by their Protestant neighbors. In 1673, for example, Parliament demanded that official members of the Catholic Faith take the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England and in 1678; Father Kemble was executed in Hereford after being convicted of leading a revolt against the new statute.21

In the autumn of 1680, James Brydges and the Lord of Chandos, both devout Protestants, were successful in obtaining a Royal Proclamation that required all Roman Catholics to take an oath of Abjuration and Allegiance before the magistrate of the Quarter Sessions in Hereford. John Bodenham, an equally devout Roman Catholic, refused to attend, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. John Bodenham was a neighbor of Robert Pye of the Mynde, an ardent Protestant unlike his forbears, and one of the Justices of the Peace, who was determined to serve the warrant. One day (January 12, 1681), on the road from the Mynde to Wormelow, the two men met accidentally, and came to blows. John Bodenham hit Robert over the head with his hedge bill, injuring Robert so badly as to cause his death 18 days later, on January 3022.

Figure No. 8: The headstone of the murdered Robert Pye of the Mynde in the church of Much
Dewchurch. (Photo courtesy Joan Kenner).

A black marble slab in the Church at Much Dewchurch marks Robert's grave. Some local residents have claimed that "the shadowy forms of Pye and Bodenham may be seen struggling by moonlight under the walnut tree" where the murder supposedly occurred.


From Herefordshire, some Pyes emigrated to Lanarkshire, Scotland, where they formed a Sept of the clan Graham23, and elsewhere throughout the British Isles. After the 11th Century, families named "Pye" are known to have appeared in Norfolk, where even today the name is still well recognized. Rye24 records that a Walter Pye held land at Reedham and Breydeston, Norfolk, in 1294; that other Pyes lived at Cressingham where John Pye was a small land holder in 1328; Thomas Pye, in 1414; and John Pye, in 1492. The Pyes of Reedham and Cressingham probably gave rise to the households of Norwich, to which city a John Pye was admitted as a "freeman" in 1407. In the late 1300s, corruption in the Church led to demands for change by the followers of John Wycliffe; and accusations of heresy, in response, by the priesthood25. Hugh Pye was one of those convicted of heresy - he was burned at the stake at Bishop's Gate in Norwich in 1428.26

Some early members of the Pye families were not always model citizens. Joan Kenner, a Pye descendent also interested in family genealogy, records that in 1312, Roger Pye of Hilgay, Norfolk, was found guilty of stealing rushes (used by the poor for floor coverings) from Roger Ropere and John Miteyn; Mary Pye was found guilty of stealing in 1751 and was transported to the colony of Maryland; John Pye was transported to one of the colonies for "violent assault" the same year; and Richard Pye, for theft, in 1752. In the late 1700s, Thomas Pye organized and led a gang of criminals who terrorized the Norfolk countryside, robbing travelers, rustling cattle, and assaulting local farmers and their helpers. In 1838, a Richard Pye was transported to Australia after having been found guilty of stealing two sheep and a lamb from James Rump of Swanton Morley; and in 1902, William Pye, shoemaker, was found guilty of the murder of his brother Thomas at Rockthorpe and was sentenced to 12 years penal servitude in the Norwich gaol.27

The Pyes of Norwich were more notable. Edward Pye served as sheriff in 1571; John Pye, as sheriff, in 1579; Thomas Pye, as Sheriff in 1581, and as Mayor in 1597; Richard Pye, as Councilor, in 1587; and Henry Pye, as sheriff in 158328 Thomas Pye, a dedicated civil servant, founded alms houses for the poor in 1614.29

From Norwich some Pyes, many of whom became agricultural workers, migrated to the countryside and soon were found in Buxton and nearby settlements - Aylsham, Booton, Cawston, Coltishall, Hainford (Hayneford), Horsted, Lammas, and elsewhere. My branch of the Pye family has been traced with reasonable confidence to Nicholas Pye, who lived in Buxton in the mid-1600s.

The writer is indebted to Jean and Brian Ashcroft, Southport, England; Joan Kenner, London, England; and Willette Pye Wood, Reading, Massachusetts USA, all members of the extended Pye family, for their kind assistance in the preparation of this paper.

Copyright by E.G. Pye, Ph.D.

1Taylor, Sharon, 1986: the Amazing [sic] Book of the Pyes in Canada; Halbert's Inc. USA.
3Rye, Walter, 1911: Norfolk families, Vol. II; p 703-704. (Courtesy Norfolk County Library).
4Reaney, P.H., 1991: A Dictionary of English Surnames; Routledge, London.
5Rye, Walter, 1911, Ibid
6Pye, Charles Gordon, Jr., 1978/79: The Pye Family History, Unpublished Manuscript, p. 3 of 10.
7Guide to the Parish of St. Mary & St. David, 1989, p. 7.
8Pye, Charles Gordon, Ibid., p. 5.
10Guide to the Parish of St. Mary & St. David, p. 1.
11Ibid., p. 7.
12Coleman, Delphine, 1992: Orcop; Hanley Workshops, E.P.A. Ltd., Hanely Swans, Worcs.
13Wood, Willette Pye, 1997, personal communication.
14Coleman, Delphine, Idem., p. 65-66.
15Kenner, Joan, 1997, Personal communication.
16Ashcroft, Jean, 1997, Personal communication.
17Coleman, Delphine, Ibid., p. 65-66.
18Ibid., p. 66-68.
19Hinde, Thomas, ed., 1985: Doomesday Book, England's Heritage Then and Now; Book Club Associates, Guild Publishing Co., London, p.32
20Coleman, Delphine, Idem., p. 67,73.
21Coleman, Delphine, Ibid., p.
22Coleman, Delphine, Idem., p. 69-71.
23Clan Grahm Society of Canada.
24Rye, Walter: Norfolk Families Vol. II, p. 703-704.
25Wade Martins, Susanna, 1984: A History of Norfolk; Phillimore & Co., p. 4.
26Rye, Walter, Idem.
27Kenner, Joan, 1997: personal communication.
28Hawes, Thimothy (ed.): An Index to Norwich City Officers, in Norfolk Genealogy, Vol.21, p. 125.
29Rye, Walter, Idem.

This info furnished by Ed George Pye.

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