Who Was the Ragman?

“Phipps” genealogy, for whatever reason, has proceeded for decades on the assumption that no surname variations like “Phillips” or “Phelps” should be considered.  Another strange assumption is that unsourced claims about the family must be correct as long as they are written down.

One of those assumptions has to do with the idea that the name “Phipps” (or Phips, or Phyppes, or Fips, etc., etc.) originally meant “lover of horses.” John Mullins, in his 1982 book on the Phipps family, noted that he had read somewhere that this is derived from “the Greek word for ‘lover of horses’ – Philippos.”

A glance at a standard 19th century reference work, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, shows that Robert Young, the noted scholar in Biblical languages, notes that the Biblical name Philip is, in Greek, φιλιππος (Philippos).

Further, Young cites as the name’s definition (if a personal name can have a definition), “lover of horses.” Similarly, Liddell and Scott’s Greek lexicon in Perseus refers to the name as suggesting “fond of horses” or “horse-loving.”

An overly simplistic view of genealogy would suggest that this proves, then, that a distant “Phipps,” far back in the mists of time, had something to do with horses. Perhaps he bred horses, perhaps he took care of the king’s horses.

More likely, the name underwent various twists and turns as it moved from one country and perhaps even one continent to another. The name could have simply derived from a given name patterned after Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. The only “horse lover” involved might have been Philip of Macedon, and not any Phipps.

One of the more interesting facets of this, and something that no “Phipps” genealogist appears to have ever noted except as a fleeting parenthetical remark, is that the apparent “Philippos”/horse connection, if it’s even correct, applies to “Philips” or “Phillips” as well as to “Phipps.”

Lots and lots of web pages abound which purport to give the “meaning’ of a particular surname, typically along with “the” family crest, as though it can be applied to everyone using that surname. In a different category, however, is the Guild of One-Name Studies.

The Guild is a respected organization with emphasis on data extraction from actual records. In a page headed “The Origins of the Surname Phillips” in the Phillips One-Name Study section of the Guild’s website, the same “lover of horses” or “friend of horses” appellation appears which has been cited in “Phipps” literature, but with a more sensible explanation of its origin than has appeared in some other sources..

That page refers to what it terms one of the earliest appearances of the surname Phillips spelled with a “Ph.” This is a reference from 1273 in the Hundred Rolls of Huntingdonshire to an Alicia Philippes.

The page also notes the popularity of the name Philip in France prior to its arrival in England during the 12th century. We’ve noted in various earlier posts that some evidence exists which suggests that at least some “Phipps” (however spelled) family members supposedly came into the British Isles from France. More might have come later as Huguenots.

Conflicting and completely unsourced family legends have the Phips, later Phipps, family of Ashe County, North Carolina as originating in either Ireland or Wales. The one-name page has the name Philip as arriving in Wales as a given name, later as a patronymic surname.

The name Phillips, as an English name, appeared in Ireland, according to the same page, which says that in some cases the name supplanted the name Philbin as an Irish version of Philip. Earlier posts in this blog have noted the family which came into Ireland, which used various surname spellings, including Phipps, Phibbs, and Phillips or Philips, and which appears to have used essentially the same heraldic design as the Francis Phipps or Phips family of Reading, Berkshire, England.

Perhaps significantly, the surname study page also refers to a mention of a “Filippus” in Lincolnshire in 1142, followed by “Philipus” in the same county in 1150. What’s interesting about this is the assertion associated with the family of Ramsay Weston Phipps, that the Reading, Berkshire family seems to have originated in Lincolnshire.

Various attempts have been made to associate some “Phipps” (however spelled) in the distant British past with horses, hence (supposedly) the “lover of horses. One story is that a Phipps kept horses for the king. One Phips (as spelled) who battled the king, however, was the Ragman.

Someone referred to as “Capt. Phips the Ragman” figures prominently in a part of the “Anthony & Wood” section of The Lives of Those Eminent Antiquaries John Leland, Thomas Hearne, and Anthony à Wood, Volume 2, pp. 30-31. This was published in 1772 in Oxford by the Clarendon Press.

. . . The next great Disturbance, whereby A.W. and his Fellow Sojournours were alarum’d at Thame, was this. In the latter end of Apr. 1645, a famous Buckinghamshire commander, called Capt. Phips the Ragman, was in Thame with 20 Horse and Dragoons, to guard their committee for the Excise (the chief of which committee were Goodman Heywood and Goodman (Hen) the butcher his servant) and tarrying there two dayes or more, Sr. Will Campion, Governour of Borstall House, having received notice of them, sent out his Captaine Lieuetenant, called Capt. — Bunce, with a partie of 20 Horse, who instantly marching thither over Crendon Bridg, as it seems and so by the Vicaridge House, drove them thro the Towne of Thame. Whereupon Phips and his Committee flying pretty fast, till they came to the Brig below Thame Mill (which is Eastward and a little by North about a Stone’s-cast from the Vicar’s house) they faced about, hoping to make good the bridge with their Dragoons. But this valiant Captain Bunce, after he had receiv’d a volley from Phips and his partie (which touched only one common Soldier (lightlie) charged over the Bridg, and with his pistols shot one of them dead, and beat them off the Bridge, so as they all ran away, but lost just half their number; for besides him that was killed, there were nine taken, whereof two were Cap. Phips himself & his Lieutenant, ten only escaping, most of which had marks bestowed on them. . . .

The disturbance discussed above occurred in 1645. The same account, using the same words, also appears on page 545 in Frederick George Lee, The History, Descriptiono, and Antiquities of the Prebendal Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Thame, in the County and Diocese of Oxford (London: Mitchell and Hughes, 1883. It also appears in several other books.

Note that Captain Phips is said to have been a “famous Buckinghamshire commander.” Prior blog posts have noted Phyppes (along with Wyche, an associated name we’ve previously discussed) as appearing in a 1525 subsidy roll for Wendover in Buckinghamshire, listed under Aylesbury Hundreds.

At the same time, the name Henry Syppys (Phyppes) appears in the list for Hardwike cum Wyddon, under Cottesloe Hundreds. Also, at Whittchurche, which is also listed under Cottesloe Hundreds, were John Phyppys and Henry Phyppys. As we’ve already noted, this information would appear to connect to data already posted about Lollards in the family in Buckinghamshire – the same Buckinghamshire as associated with Captain Phips, the Ragman.

The skirmish which occurred in 1645 at Thame is cited in several published sources, all using the same exact wording, taken from a journal. That account, fortunately, dates the event to April 1645.

One more contemporary account of the event, although sketchy, appears in a Thame Conservation Area Character Appraisal, published in 2006 by the South Oxfordshire District Council. There it is said (p. 10) that a “further skirmish” took place at Thame in April, followed by the garrisoning of a sizable pro-Parliament force there by September.

Mentioned in connection with events late that year is High Wycombe. We’ve referred in past blog posts to this place. The Hughenden which was associated with the Phip, Phips, Phyppe, etc. Lollards was just a bit north of there. These Phyppe, etc. individuals are discussed in the Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, a renowned work which was later greatly abridged as one of the greatest classics of Christian literature, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

The political and religious struggles which were apparent during this era are discussed at some length in the Council report just cited, as well as in, of course, countless other sources. This was the period of the Civil War, which lasted from 1642 to 1646.

The battle, in an overall sense, was between Parliament and Charles I. The report notes that Parliament controlled the area east of the Chiltern Hills. Chiltern Hills is a location which should be familiar from our previous discussions about the Lollards as documented by Foxe.

Other areas were controlled by Charles I, including the city of Oxford. The prevailing sentiment in the town of Thame, on the Oxfordshire border, according to the report, was reportedly more Puritan than Royalist in 1643.

The Parliamentarian party, led by the Earl of Essex, attempted to move in toward Oxford, and established its base of operations at Thame. As a Royalist response, Prince Rupert then attacked the Parliamentarian party from his base at Oxford. Anthony Wood was a student during all this, and kept a diary or journal from which the above account is derived.

Apparently these events served as a prelude to what is termed the “second siege” of the three sieges which, together, make up the Siege of Oxford. Another relatively recent source which discusses these events is Paul Sullivan, Bloody British History: Oxford (Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2012).

He cites from the Wood journal, further noting that the “Bunce” referred to above was a Royalist captain. (Was this actually Lieutenant-Colonel Buncle?) Bunce, as noted in that source, attacked the Parliamentarian forces under Captain Phips at the bridge below Thame Mill.

The term “ragman” should evidently not be taken as meaning that Captain Phips collected and sold old rags. Various sources suggest different derivations and meanings for the term, some connecting it with the Ragman Rolls of Scotland, which had to do with allegiance  to the king (or lack of it).

Others say that the term suggested that the person involved was a craven or cowardly person. Phips hardly comes across as a coward in the journal account, so we will have to assume that a different meaning was intended.

Although it concerns somewhat earlier events (1643), a very helpful map appears in the British Civil Wars site in its “The Siege of Reading & Chalgrove Field, 1643” page. That page shows the relative proximity of places we’ve been discussing, including Thame, Wycombe, and Reading.


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