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The Chronicles of the Welbys (part the first)


The desire to know more about the antecedents of our spiritual leaders has a respectable history: much of the First Book of Chronicles is taken up with genealogies of the Israelites, the first ten verses of which are as follows:

1 Chronicles 1-1: From Adam to Abraham

Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  The descendants of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The descendants of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Diphath, and Togarmah. The descendants of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim. The descendants of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The descendants of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first to be a mighty one on the earth.

Like the rest of the human race, the future Archbishop of  Canterbury is descended from Adam. However, Giles Fraser, writing on the day Bishop Justin’s appointment was announced, wrote:

The CofE … like many religious organisations, it still thinks in terms of “Papa”… Which is why no guide to surviving the church is complete without a serious study of Freud. .. Freud was not wrong when he explained the need for God in terms of the child’s need for a father figure. Not, I would argue, that God is simply a product of this need. But it’s certainly the case that the whole knotted ambivalence of the Oedipal imagination bears down on the relationship between a priest and his parish – and even more so on that between the church and its top man. Man being the operative word…But as Mr Welby is now going to find out to his cost, this Reformation remains a work in progress. Progressives like me did it to Rowan Williams. And his own evangelical tribe will do it to him. We still project all sorts of needs and fantasies upon the man with the big mitre. And then we despise them for not giving us what we want. The church is where adults revert to children.

These two extracts begin to explain why I, along with thousands of others, feel a strong desire to know the lineage of the new head of the Church of England.


A mystery to be solved

Although it is obviously desirable to tell a story by beginning at the beginning, going on to the end and then stopping, it is not possible to do this in the case of the new Archbishop because his father’s line is clouded by the mists of time and recollection. I therefore propose to proceed backwards in time from the known to the unknown, and then outline some of  the various elements handed down by family members over the years. I will then suggest a hypothetical lineage which, most suitably, leads us back to the second Bishop of St Helena, formerly Archdeacon of Cape Town, in the middle of the nineteenth century, and hence to the known tree of the Lincolnshire Welby family. But before joining me on this speculative narrative journey, I must stress again that I have no proof, only a trail of clues. I have come to the conclusion that the balance of probability favours my explanation, but look forward to hearing the views of anyone else with a detective bent who has followed the trail.


 What do we already know?

(+)+Justin Welby was born in London on 6 January 1956 to Gavin Bramhall Welby and his wife, Jane Gillian Portal. He is definitely related by marriage to the present Welby baronet, Sir Bruno. It works as follows: Sir Bruno (7th baronet) is the son of Oliver (6th), and grandson of Charles (5th baronet). Sir Charles’s daughter Joan (ie aunt of the present baronet) married ‘Peter’ Portal, the 1st Viscount Portal, whose half-brother Gervas was the father of Jane Portal, mother of (+)+ Justin. (If you think that is complicated, wait until we get to the paternal line!).


So who are the Portals?

According to Burkes, the family of Portal, or de Portal, originally Spanish, established itself in Languedoc at the end of the 11th  century, and subsequently occupied a prominent position in the  South of France. ‘Oldric de Poitou, Capitoul de Toulouse 1204′, is one of the earliest of this family mentioned. Jean Francois de Portal (of whom more later) of Poitiers, was forced to fly from France on  the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.  He took refuge in Holland under the protection of William of Orange and subsequently settled in London. He was born (or more likely baptised) on 3 November1642; married Marie, daughter of Jacques Gousett, the pastor of Poitiers, and died about 1705 (will dated 26 May, 1704  proved in London 23 April, 1705), leaving a son, the Revd William, who married on 2 January 1733-4 Mary Magdalene Findlater Meure (1704 – 1754) and was buried 25 September 1768, leaving issue, from whom descend the Portals of Daventry, Northamptonshire and London.


Thus Oldric, of Poitou , (fl 1204), begat several generations of Portals until Jean,( fl 1530), begat Francois (who made his will in 1570), who begat his second son, Guillaume (who made his will in 1591), who begat Etienne, (who died before 1672) , who begat Jean Francois, who married the daughter of the Protestant pastor of Poitiers and, with her, fled France because of the persecution of the Protestants.

Their second son, the Revd William Portal, was a priest in the Church of England from 1720-1769, serving as Rector of Grindon, Staffordshire from 1720-1722, and then from 1722-1734 as Rector simultaneously in Thorpe and Clowne in Derbyshire. (Source: the clergy database).

Their third son, Henri, “having settled in Hampshire, acquired the privilege in 1724 of manufacturing the notes of the Bank of England’ (Burke‘s).


The Revd William Portal begat Abraham Portal, a playwright, who named his son Richard Brinsley, after Sheridan, the great playwright of the day. Richard Brinsley (1785-1859) begat William Thomas (1820-1889, who begat Edward Robert (1854-), who begat Gervas Edward (1890-1961), who begat Jane, who married Gavin Welby and together they begat the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Portal Welby.


Nature or nurture? What makes us who we are? I remember this forming part of our university course, and we all agreed that nurture was responsible for our views, inclinations and character. But when I started looking into genealogy, I changed my mind. I now think that our genes are also responsible for a great deal.

Archbishop-designate Justin is descended from a long line of Protestants, unwilling enough to convert to Catholicism that they fled their native France, seeking asylum in first Holland and then England. They seem to have blended seamlessly into English life, to the point of being entrusted with the manufacture of English banknotes, in other words our currency. So there you have it, a long line of interest in religion and money. And in the present generation….?





7 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

I’m a bit confused about how the Aristocratic heritage of Bishop Welby has any precedent for his role as Arch Bishop.

It’s not as if he were the second or third son, who might due to tradition have gone into the Army or the Church?

I don’t see any Clergy in his ancestry, unless they were non-conformist, in which case, they probably weren’t recognised as such by either the Roman or Anglican Church.

His heritage of Eton demonstrates to me that he will have suffered trauma and separation from his family at an early age, but it might also have been the making of him?

For me, the key elements that have emerged are:

1. The foundational confirmation at HTB.

2. His work in Nigeria and other West African Countries for reconciliation and difference.

3.. Being told by the than Bishop Of Kensington when he went for interview “There is no place for you in the Church of England”.

4. His return a year later and being accepted.

5. His curacy and incumbencies in deprived areas, must have been challenging but affirming to him of his vocation and choice of ministry.

6. His work as a Bishops Chaplain in the midlands, which must have been a good preparation for what was to come.

7. His work in Coventry and Liverpool.

8. His all to brief sojourn at Durham and the identification of his gifts being utilised in the House of Lords.

You note that I don’t place to much weight on his secular work, which supposedly ideally equips him to be a man of the world, of commerce and able to relate to those in those worlds. I believe that his active ministry is the most important part of his formation for this role, which the Church is calling him to, his secular work is complementary to that ministry.

Lay Anglicana said...

UKViewer, I am not saying that Bishop Justin’s heritage is aristocratic – the first Portal who came to England was a grocer. You don’t know, do you, whether he was the second or third son? Unless you know something I don’t, so far we have only looked at his mother’s ancestry. If you can’t see any clergy, I don’t think you can have read what I have written – his ggg etc grandfather was the son-in-law of a Protestant priest (probably the only Protestant priest) in Poitiers,and fled France to escape persecution as a Protestant. His (ie Justin’s ggg etc grandfather) was a Rector in Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

You may or may not think the story of his family is relevant to what he is today: I happen to think it is relevant. Chacun a son gout – each to his own gout!

James Mac said...

He’s an only son.

Source GRO via

Lay Anglicana said...

This is true! But I think UKViewer was thinking historically about how the gentry operated – how did it go, 2nd sons went into the army, 3rd sons into the navy and 4th sons into the church? Something along those lines…the main thing was not to end up in trade. But I really don’t think our future Archbishop of Canterbury had that sort of upbringing at all. After all, his father was ‘in trade’ and we think his grandfather probably was as well. Also, if I am right, it applies to his ancestors back to the mid-nineteenth century. I could have called this post ‘Who does the Archbishop of Canterbury think he is?’, basing it on the television genealogy programme, but somehow it sounds rather combative, which is not the intention.

Joyce said...

Ernie, boys don’t go to Eton at an early age.They are at least the age my parents and I daresay yours were leaving school for jobs or apprenticeships.There’s no particular need to think of him as suffering trauma and separation from his family,don’t worry. Public school holidays were double the length of yours or mine so he probably had the chance to spend twice as much time at home as we did. What it demonstrates to us all is his intellectual and academic ability: Eton admits boys from the group with the highest Common Entrance scores.
Lay Anglicana,I agree with you that family history can be relevant.If it were not so, surnames would not be related to occupation and there would be fewer jokes on Radio 4 about people whose names fit their jobs today.

13 November 2012 23:40
13 November 2012 22:12
13 November 2012 20:43
13 November 2012 20:26
13 November 2012 20:18
Matthew Caminer said...

There does, at any rate seem to be some evidence to show that many clergy can indeed trace continuity as clergy through several generations, though statistics may equally show that there are just whose entry to the church comes as a bolt from the blue as far as their families are concerned! Interestingly, there seem also to be a number of clergy spouses, especially wives, who were children of the vicarage and end up marrying clergy, sometimes having gone through a phase of saying through gritted teeth that they will never do anything of the sort! Whether or how any of this will affect (+)+Justin’s future ministry as ABofC I am not sure!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Matthew. I am struggling with part two, which will be up tonight.

16 November 2012 17:18
15 November 2012 18:42

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