A drawing by Jersey artist Millais of the Lempriere family in 1847
The family originated in the Cotentin area of Normandy where they owned a small fief near Crosville-sur-Douve. There are two stories concerning the origins of the name, one comes undocumented from France the other from Jersey, in the writings of J Bertrand Payne.
The French associate the name with an annual village archery competition. The winner was known as the "Emperor" and the loser the "Empress", ie "l'Empereur" and "l'Imperatrice" respectively.
Payne, however, writing in 1862 has a far more romantic tale to tell. In 864 AD the Viking Rollo was returning from an expedition low on food, so he decided to replenish his stores by pillaging the settlement that is now Oslo. Their King, enraged at this action, banished Rollo and his followers from the land. They sailed off first to the Hebrides, then to southern England, and finally to northern France.
They made a considerable nuisance of themselves there by suppressing the local population, sacking large towns, and making no fewer than three attempts to take Paris. In order to diffuse the situation, the Frankish king, Charles III (the Simple), negotiated a peace. In return for a cessation in hostilities, Rollo was granted the area of land now known as Upper Normandy and he would have to pay homage to the king. Rollo would also be baptised and marry the king's daughter.
When Rollo went to meet the king he was asked to kiss the royal foot, a duty he declined, delegating the task to one of his followers. When this Viking approached the royal person, he grasped the foot and instead of stooping low, lifted it to his mouth, toppling the king from his seat! The nickname of Emperor was given to the warrior, in recognition of his diplomatic skills! The name has been corrupted to Lempriere.
The accuracy of this tale may be uncertain but it seems to be based around historical fact. Payne quotes William of Malmesbury and Dudo.
In a modification of this story, a jester at the Court of King Rollo, in trying to amuse the king, asked if he could take the title King if he were to overthrow Rollo. With Rollo in fits of laughter, the jester grabbed the king’s foot and threw him over the throne, saying I have overthrown the king, I am the King. After the king forgave him, he allowed him to take the title l’Empereur, the Emperor, which wasn’t a title for the Vikings.
The family traces its origins back to 970 AD in the Morfontaine province of Champagne and Brie in what is now Normandy. There are two ancestral groups: those who settled in Jersey in 1270 AD, emigrating from Normandy; and those who remained in France, but emigrated to Jersey later. It is not known if these are connected. Some still remain in France. There are three main branches of the Jersey family: Rozel, Trinity, and St John La Hougue Boete. There are few remaining in Jersey, but there is a large group in Australia, as well as groups in New Zealand, USA, Canada, and the UK.
Lemperière exists in Normandy to this day. Lemprière only arises in families that have come from Jersey. The name Lemprière appeared in Jersey in the early 1300s when Thomas dropped the use of “de”, and continues to this day.
In the 1274 Extente of Jersey there is a mention of Willelmus dictus Imperator (Guillaume dit l'Empereur) as a Jurat, holding the Fief of Guillaume l'Empereur in St Helier. At the time of the 1299 Assize Raoul Lempriere held this 30-acre fief (Fief ès Empereres). Several other members of the family are mentioned in the Assize Roll.
There is considerable dispute among genealogists about the family's exact ancestry in the Cotentin. Payne's Armorial of Jersey contains a Payne: Lempriere detailed family history which suggests that the first member of the family to arrive in Jersey was Raoul, son of Jean de Lempriere, Seigneur of Pont Ruilly in the Cotentin. This ancestry is challenged by George Balleine in his Biographical Dictionary of Jersey. He claims that no son of this name is ascribed to Jean by French genealogist d'Hozier, a noted authority on the family, and suggests that Raoul actually came from a branch of the family which had settled in Brittany. When Raoul's grandson, also Raoul, bought Rosel Manor his right to own property in Jersey was challenged because he was a Breton.
Whatever the truth of their ancestry, the Lemprieres quickly became established in the island, acquiring futher fiefs and becoming actively involved in politics in the centuries to come.