Outline History of the Appelyn (Aplin) Family
By the end of the Middle Ages the early form of the Family name Abelyn was giving way
to Appelyn, which in the County of Dorset , England continued throughout the 16th
Century. Meanwhile in the Counties of Devon and Somerset the forms Aplin, and Applin
were appearing for the first time. The exact origins of the Family Name remain unclear,
although traditions within the Family suggest a strong Celtic influence, but whether this
occured in Wales, Cornwall, or Brittany is not yet known. In Bannister’s “Glossary of
Cornish Names” it is suggested that the Family Name could have been developed from
the Celtic “ ab or ap belin “ meaning “Son of the King”.
Earlier research in Wales indicated that the family name may have been derived from the Celtic patronymic “ab or ap Llewelyn” later reduced to “ ab or ap Ll’yn “ meaning
“son of Llewelyn”. However as more attention is now being given to the fact that the early
forms of the family name contained three syllables, this idea is now being questioned.
As we discover more about the family in the Middle Ages, it is possible to see closer ties
with Cornwall, then known as West Wales.
The earliest reference to a member of the family, Sir Nicholas de Abelin, Knight at the Siege and Capture of Acre in 1191 during the Third Crusade, suggests that he may well have been descended from a family that came to England with William, Duke of Normandy in the 11th Century. The possessive “de” was one of the principal ways of identifying such families. Recent research has raised the interesting possibility of the family being originally decended from the Dumnonii, a Celtic Tribe, who inhabited the South West of England before the Saxon Invasions. Sometime after the 6th Century these people migrated across the Channel to Armorica, that later became known as Brittany.
They retained their Celtic tongue, and may well have joined their neighbours in Normandy, when they invaded England many years later.
It has been very helpful to find that the principle family Coat of Arms “ or on a cross sable five eagles displayed argent”, granted to Sir Nicholas de Abelin, Knt. In the 12th Century, has continued to appear in family wills, documents, and monuments to the present day.
These references, and others, have made it possible to identify members of the family in the Counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, and Dorset in the Middle Ages, and in the years immediately following the introduction of Parish Registers in 1538.
By the beginning of the 16th Century the family settlements in the South West of England, including Barnstaple, and Exeter in Devon, the Vale of Taunton Dean, the Polden Hills in Somerset, and the Blackmoor Vale in Dorset. It was from these early settlements that branches of the family later settled in other parts of this beautiful corner of England.
Until the late 18th Century few members of the family left the South West of England, although in the 17th Century one branch had settled in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and others in the Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland, in Barbados in the West Indies, and in the New England Colonies in North America. In the 19th Century members of the family settled in Australia, and New Zealand.
For the past 800 years members of the family have lived in the South West of England. The family name is not only unique to this corner of England, but is also one of the rarest names in the Kingdom. Variations in the spelling of the family name have been many, including the form Appling, which was adopted by some members of the Virginia branch of the family in the early 18th Century, although similar examples can be found in English Parish Records. Few of the family remained in Cornwall at the end of the Middle Ages, despite the rugged beauty of its rocky coastline, and high moors. Most of the family had long since settled in the fertile valleys, and green hills of Devon, Somerset, and Dorset.
The population of England and Wales at the end of the Middle Ages was approximately
three million, a figure that had little more than doubled by the beginning of the 19th Century. It is unlikely that the family numbered more than a few hundred at the time of the Reformation in 1536. The lovely old towns, and villages in which they lived all lay within a day’s ride of each other. Little has changed even today. Some of the tracks and bridal-paths have become country roads, but each village still had its ancient church next to the manor house, with a cluster of thatched cottages around a well kept green.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the South West of England was already one of the great centers of the “woolen industry”.The great baronial and monastic landowners grazed the sheep, selling the wool to the wealthy clothiers in the towns, who in turn employed the cottagers to weave the cloth, and the fullers, and dyers to finish the cloth. This and the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII enabled a new land gentry, and prosperous yeoman farmers to increase their landholdings.
The wealth generated by the demand for these new woolen products, not only in England, but also in Europe, benifited the great religious houses , as we can see in the magnificent Cathedrals in Exeter, Wells, and the Tudor establishment, whose beautiful Country Houses began to replace the austere Castles of earlier days. Many fine houses were built in the South West of England, including Montacute House, Athelhampton Hall, Forde Abbey, and Barrington Court, for long the home of the Daubeney Family, and later the Strodes, both with connections to the Aplyn Family in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
The South West of England is proud of it’s history, and military traditions. This was the home of the great Seafarers, Sir Fransis Drake of Tavistock, Sir Walter Raliegh of East Budleigh, Sir John Hawkins of Plymouth, and also that military genius of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough of Musbury. In our own Family many have served with great distinction, including Adimiral of the White, Peter Aplin, R.N. (1752-1817), Vice Admiral John Goerge Aplin, R.N. (1789-1860), Brig.General Andrew Snape Hamond Aplin (1796-1855), Lieut. General John Guise Rogers Aplin (1819-1883), and Vice-Admiral Elphinstone D’Oyly D’Auvergne Aplin(1821-1882). In 1646 General Owen O’Neill, and his Catholic Army defeated the English and Scots under General Robert Monro at the Battle of Benburb in the County Tyrone,Ireland. Captain Robert Aplyn of Londonderry was killed in that Battle. Throughout Britian’s long history members of the Family have fought, and died in nearly every campaign undertaken by their Government, from North America to China.
On three occasions the South West of England has been the scene of a violent struggle for power within the Kingdom. In 1497 some twelve years after the end of the Wars of the Roses(1455-1485), Perkin Warbeck, the Yorkist pretender to Henry VII’s Trone, marched from Cornwall to London, where he and his followers surrendered at Blackheath. For aiding the Rebellion, when they passed through Somerset, Robert Applyn, a Burgess of Taunton, was fined “twenty shillings” with fifty other leading members of the community.
During the Civil War (1642-1646), Cornwall was loyal to Charles I, whilst most of South West England supported Parliament. Several of the Family took part in the heroic defence of Taunton, under the famous Colonel Robert Blake, against the very determined Royalist Army. The third occasion was in 1685, when the Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch led a tragic Rebellion against James II, Which ended with his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset. William Aplyn of North Petherton was later convicted of being a Rebel, and was sentenced “to be transported to the Colonies in America”.
As with most families, some of the Appelyns enjoyed wealth and honours, whilst the majority kept faith with the lovely countryside in which they lived. Two of the Family became Members of Parliament, RobertAplyn(-1596) represented Barnstaple in
Mary I’s Parliment summoned in 1554, and four parliaments during the reign of Elizabeth I, including that of 1571, when the “39 Articles of the Church of England” were ratified, and Lieut. Colonel Reginald Vincent Kempenfelt Applin, D.S.O. (1869-1957), who sat twice as a Member of Parliament, after World War I, for Enfield in Middlesex, England.
His family originally lived in East Somerset.
Other members of the family became influential landowners, wealthy clothiers, lawyers and churchmen, in the 18th Century, including the Revd. Henry Albyn of West Camel, a famous Puritan Minister in Somerset during the Commonwealth. The Albin Family of Bruton changed the spelling ofthe Family name during the late Middle Ages , but continued to use the “Coat of Arms”. Many of the Family served in the administrastion of the Empire, some becoming Governors, and Deputy-Governors of Provinces in India and Africa. Captain Richard Aplin(1760-1864) made eleven voyages to India and China for the Hon. East India Company before retiring to Melton Lodge, his lovely house in Suffolk in 1838, with its beautiful park of 48 acres. An Orient trade Ship named “Admiral Aplin” after Peter Aplin, was launched at South Shields in 1801, only to be captured by a French privateer off Mauritius, on its second voyage to Calcutta in 1804.
The story of William Aplyn ofOffwell, in east Devon , represents many aspects of life in the countryside in the 17th century. Born in about 1640, at the start of the civil war, his family had most likely settled in Honiton from theVale of Taunton Dean in Somerset during the reign of Elizabeth I . After they were married , William and Ann Aplyn lived at Branscombe on the coast, a few miles south of Honiton. Later they were to build a farm at Offwell , an old Saxon village on one of the hills above Honiton, and the river Otter. The ruins of the Aplin farm , and the quarry which William Aplyn obtained the stone to build his farm, can still be found on forestry commission land, that is still known as Aplin Common.
It is a romantic site withthe small farmhouse, outbuildings, adjoining orchards, field plans, and trackways still identifiable . A spring of crystal clear water still bubbles forth above the farm, which is why no doubt William Aplyn chose this particular piece of land. This family of Yeoman farmers, are also remembered by another Aplin farm, at nearby Monkton. Unfortunately this lovely Tudor farm was destroyed by fire before world war 1, although the ground plan can still be traced in the farmyard. Other members of the family at various times farmed Cottarson Farm at Awliscombe in the 17th century, Ridgeway Farm near Wilmington in the 19th century, and today Clive Alfred Aplin ( 1935-)farms Widworthy House Farm, near Offwell, with a fine dairy herd. Traditionally most farmers in east Devon have grazed sheep on the hills, whilst maintaining their small dairy farms in the valley.
Honiton has always been an important small market town , on the coach road from London to Exeter, and then onto the mail-packet at Falmouth in Cornwall. An annual mid-summer fair has been held continuously since 1257. Many of the family attended the old grammar school built in the 16th century, but now Allhallows is a private school in Rousden, near Lyme Regis, and the old school buildings have been turned into a fine museum. The old parish church of St Michael stands above the town . Honiton is famous for its lace, which is still made today by a few cottagers. The Aplyns of Honiton were an influential family in the 17th , and 18th centuries, and their descendants still live in many of the surrounding villages.