James E. Doan

                                                                                                              Nova Southeastern University


Dwnns, Donnes and Doan(e)s: Familial Connections?


I.  Introduction


 It has been 30 years since I last spoke at one of the Doan(e) Family Reunions, when I gave a talk on the Doans in California from the Gold Rush to 1900.[1]  Since then I completed my Ph.D. in Folklore and Celtic Studies at Harvard University and have taught in Boston and Florida, most recently at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale for the past 20 years.  My research during that time has included the study of linguistics, medieval and Renaissance British and Irish history and literatures, which has led me to speculate that our ancestor, the John Done who came to Plymouth ca. 1630 and settled in Eastham, MA, may have been descended from the Kidwelly (Carmarthenshire or Dyfed) Dwnns who flourished in southwestern Wales and at the English court during the latter part of the 14th through the 15th and 16th century.

            I will begin with the suggestion that the name Dwnn, variously Don, Donne, Done, Doune, Doane or Doan, is of Celtic rather than English origin.  Welsh dwn and Irish donn both mean “dark brown,” usually when applied as an epithet for hair color.  The word was borrowed into Old or Middle English as dun and is probably also the origin  of the Irish and Scottish name, Dunn(e).[2]   Another possible etymology is based on dunum, which is, in fact, the usual early Celtic word for “fort,”[3] surviving in numerous placenames on the Continent and in Britain, such as Augustodunum (“Autun”), Camulodunum (Colchester), and Lugdunum (“Lyon”).  In Ireland it is still found in placenames such as Dún Laoghaire (Dunleary, the harbor south of Dublin), although in Welsh the vowel has been fronted to /i/ in the equivalent words din and dinas, as in the town name, Dinas Emrys.  When I lived in Wales in 1972-73, I was told that the closest name to Doan was that of the Celtic mother goddess, Dôn (possibly related to the Irish goddess Danu, who gives her name to the pantheon, Tuatha Dé Danann), mentioned in the medieval Welsh tales known as The Mabinogi, though somehow I suspect we can’t really trace our ancestry back that far!  


II.         The Dwnns/Dones of Kidwelly


By the 1390s Henry Don or Dwnn appears as a wealthy townsman and steward (chief officer) of Kidwelly (see http://www.castlewales.com/kidwelly.html for photos and map links), one of the Norman castles in southwestern Wales which had passed into the hands of the Earl of Lancaster in the late 13th century and was then in the hands of John of Gaunt, King Richard II’s uncle.  Richard II himself stopped in Kidwelly in 1394 and again in 1399, during his ill-fated expeditions to Ireland.  Later that year the king was captured at Flint Castle in Wales and forced to abdicate by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who had himself proclaimed Henry IV.  Richard was taken to Pontefract Castle in West Yorkshire where he was dead by early 1400, possibly starved to death.        

            At about the same time, the northeastern Welsh nobleman, Owain Glyn Dŵr (ca. 1349-1416) (Shakespeare’s Owen Glendower in Henry IV, Part I), launched a rebellion due to a conflict with one of his neighbors, Reginald de Grey of Ruthin, a Marcher lord and close confidant of the new king, over land which Lord Grey had stolen from him. Glyn Dŵr contacted other disaffected Welshmen and, when he raised his standard outside Ruthin on 16 September 1400, his followers proclaimed him “Prince of Wales,” partly since he was descended from ancient kings and lords of both north and south Wales.  The response was startling, perhaps even for Glyn Dŵr himself.  Supported by the Hanmers, other Norman-Welsh Marcher lords and the dean of St Asaph (in Powys, or NE Wales), he attacked Ruthin with several hundred men and went on to attack every town in this region of Wales. There was an immediate response from Oxford University (e.g., Jesus College, traditionally a Welsh institution), whence Welsh scholars fled for home. Welsh laborers in England also dropped their tools and returned home. The English Parliament rushed virulently anti-Welsh legislation onto the books. Henry IV marched a large army across north Wales, burning and looting mercilessly. Whole populations scrambled to make peace while, over the winter, Glyn Dŵr, with a mere seven men, took to the hills.

            During 1401 Glyn Dŵr became increasingly aware of the growing power of the rebellion as high-ranking men began to defect to his cause. In his letters to south Wales he declared himself a liberator appointed by God to deliver the Welsh race from their oppressors. The English king, Henry IV, dispatched troops and drew up a range of severely punitive laws against the Welsh, outlawing Welsh-language bards and singers (who could stir up the population against the English), similar to actions taken 200 years later during the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland.  Battles continued to rage, with Glyn Dŵr capturing Edmund Mortimer, the earl of March, in Pilleth in June 1402. By the end of 1403, Glyn Dŵr controlled most of Wales.

            The twelve-year war which ensued was, for the English, largely a matter of relieving their isolated castles. Expedition after expedition was beaten back.  Henry IV, confronted by Welsh, Scots, French and rebellious barons, sent in numerous forces, all of them futile. He never came to grips with the revolt, which eventually wore itself out.  For the Welsh, it was a rebellion of Marcher lords and a peasant's revolt which grew into a national guerrilla war. The sheer tenacity of the rebellion is startling. Few contemporary revolts in Europe lasted more than a few months; no previous Welsh war had lasted as long as this one, which raged for ten years and did not really end for five more.

            In 1404, Glyn Dŵr assembled a parliament of four men from every district in Wales at the town of Machynlleth, establishing treaties of mutual recognition with France and Spain. At Machynlleth, he was also crowned king of a free Wales. A second parliament in Harlech took place a year later, at which time Glyn Dŵr made plans to divide England and Wales into three parts, in alliance against the English king: Mortimer would take the south and west of England, Thomas Percy, earl of Northumberland, would have the midlands and the north, and himself Wales and the Marches of England. The English army, however, concentrated on destroying the Welsh uprising, and the Tripartite Indenture was never completed.[4]

            Among Glyn Dŵr’s strongest supporters in south Wales was Henry Don or Dwnn, descended from Llywelyn ap (“son of”) Gwrgan, one of the ancestors of many noble Welsh families and their descendants, including the present-day British royal family.[5]  In addition to lineage and high birth, he was also quite wealthy by contemporary standards: we have no direct records of the rents on his estates, but we know in 1388 they yielded £252 (perhaps profits over several years). [6]  He also had the appropriate military credentials: in the 1340s his father had seen service as the leader of a force of 350 Welshmen in the retinue of Henry of Grosmont, earl of Lancaster.  Henry himself had served under John of Gaunt in Picardy and Normandy in 1369, and under Richard II in Ireland in 1394-95.[7]  What power was not given him he took for himself; evicting tenants, collecting his own personal subsidies and seizing land, even though these actions led to large fines and threats of legal actions against him.  He ruled the Kidwelly area rather like a petty tyrant or, as Gwyn A. Williams calls him: “a domineering bully boy of a squireen.”[8]                    At least by 1403 he had gone over to Glyn Dŵr’s side.  In August of that year, Henry (now well advanced in age) and his grandson, Gruffydd, led “all the Welsh” of the commotes of Cydweli and Carnwyllion in an attack on Kidwelly Castle in which several of its defenders were killed.  By early October he led Frenchmen, Bretons and Welshmen in a second attack on Kidwelly Castle, then in the hands of the Lancastrians, and during the next month they were involved in an attack on Caernarfon Castle.[9]  Henry shows that he had not lost any of his former military skill, even though he was now leading attacks on the English whom he had formerly served; and that he had an eye for the profits of war is shown by the ship he captured from a Llansteffan merchant in the port of Carmarthen.[10]  That Glyn Dŵr considered him a confidant and effective lieutenant is shown from a letter he sent him.  Unfortunately, Henry paid a heavy price for his commitment: his lands were confiscated in 1407 and given to Walter Morton, the English constable of Kidwelly.  Henry himself spent time in prison at Kidwelly and Gloucester and was only eventually pardoned in May 1413 in return for a fine of £200, one of the largest recorded for a former rebel.  He had to pay a further £100 to Morton to recover his lands: in fact, the £200 was never paid and was eventually cancelled in February 1445.  Nor was Henry in any way chastened by the events of the previous years.  He remained as defiant as ever, even sheltering a fugitive rebel in his household as late as 1413.  Perhaps nothing expressed more vividly his view that the Welsh rebellion was no more than a formal regime change under which he exercised the power in his “country” than the fact that he now demanded fines from over 200 local Welshmen who had failed to follow him in his revolt and dared to occupy his lands during the uprising!  Only his death in November 1416 could loosen that level of control.[11]                                                     Henry’s grandson, Gruffydd, present with him during the siege of Kidwelly in 1403, also received a pardon ten years later.  He 1421 he petitioned and received letters of denizenship from Parliament, which allowed him the same rights and liberties as Englishmen, and he even managed to marry Joan, a daughter of Sir John Skidmore, one of Glyn Dŵr’s old enemies.  He redeemed the family’s honor through his war record: in 1415 he was present at Agincourt as a man-at-arms; he acted as lieutenant of Cherbourg in 1424, captain of Carenton in 1437, of Tancarville in 1438, of Lisieux in 1441-43, and of Neufchâtel in 1443.[12]  This was a period of upward mobility for the Welsh: when a court butler named Owen Tudor was able to win the heart and the hand of the dowager Queen Catherine and fathered two children, one of whom was to be the father of Henry VII.[13]  During the siege of Harfleur in 1440, Gruffydd was at the head of a force of Welshmen which intercepted a French relief column and captured its leader, causing the garrison to surrender, though by 1445 Gruffydd himself was a prisoner at Dieppe, being ransomed by Sir Walter Devereux for 400 gold coins called saluts d’or.[14]  Three of Gruffydd’s sons also won their spurs in France: Robert, Henry and John (later to become Sir John Donne).  By 1437 Gruffydd had obtained lands in the baillage of Alençon as a servant of the duke of York; and later the lordship of Arqueville and the fiefs of Ortier and Fervaques, all in France.  His intimate knowledge of France placed him in a good position to engage in trade, and between 1430 and 1435 his own ship, “Le George,” imported red Gascon wine to Carmarthen.                                        Gruffydd was also employed as a royal servant in the Lancastrian lordship of Kidwelly, being appointed receiver there in 1427 and constable of the castle in 1430, later promoted to be sheriff of Carmarthenshire.[15]  He was also granted custody of Talley abbey (Carmarthenshire), with orders to enquire why it had been ruined by misrule, and in June 1432 Carmarthen priory fell into his joint custody for the same reason.  Nevertheless, despite his loyal service to the Crown, he and his brother Owain were still being charged in 1439 with the fine imposed on their grandfather, Henry, for felonies committed during the Glyn Dŵr revolt.  Gruffydd was associated with his father-in-law, Sir John Skidmore, in having joint custody of the estates of John Clement, during the minority of his son and heir.  The most substantial estate Gruffydd ever leased was the lordship of Traean, with part of the town of St. Clears (Carmarthenshire).  By 1445 he was serving Duke Richard of York as steward of the lordship of Usk, the same year in which the fine dating back to his grandfather’s day was finally lifted.  As lord of Penallt, he and his wife received papal permission in 1443 to erect a portable altar in their castle, as well as plenary indulgences.  He disappears from view after 1446, though it is not known when he died, and he is buried in Kidwelly church.                                                                                                             Gruffydd’s brother, Owain, was another prominent member of the family and something of a poet.  In 1435 he engaged in military service as part of the retinue of Sir John Talbot, later earl of Shrewsbury.  However, his clandestine marriage to Catherine, widow of Sir Henry Wogan, created difficulties for him since he had married her without royal license.  In 1436 at the Carms. sessions, a £100 bond was imposed to make him appear before the king and Council to answer for his conduct.  He could not muster the bond and was, he claimed, wrongfully arrested and imprisoned.  An appeal to the king led to an investigation which showed that his wife was not an heiress of lands held in chief, so he was exonerated in 1439.  Meanwhile, in 1437 he petitioned for and received from Parliament letters of denizenship for himself and his heirs, after which his life appears to have been peaceful.  In 1442-43 he was described as a burgess of Kidwelly and was granted property in the lordship of Kidwelly in 1444 and 1445, after which he described himself as lord of Muddlescombe.  His and Gruffydd’s sister, Mabli, married Gruffydd ap Nicholas, and on 11 June 1446 Owain and his brother-in-law held a tourney at Carreg Cennen.  Gruffydd may have also composed verses in his brother-in-law’s honor.[16]                                The most prominent of the 15th-century Dwnns is Sir John Donne, Gruffydd’s third son, born in Kidwelly ca. 1430, who may have served with his father in France during Henry VI’s reign, but became allied with the Yorkists after 1461, both at Court and in south Wales.  His name first appears on the court rolls on 11 March 1461, when he was made an usher of the Chamber (which office he performed until 1465), then esquire of the body from 1465 to 1469.  He was a member of the Calais council of 1471 and a councilor of Edward IV from 20 May 1477.  By 1466-67 his wife had become one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting.  He was later granted the office of sergeant of the armory in the Tower for life.  This grant was confirmed by Richard III on 11 March 1485.                                                                                                                In Wales he served as steward of Kidwelly from 1461 to 1483, and again under Henry VII in 1487-97, as well as constable and porter of the castle from 1469 to 1483.  A 50-mark (£33 1/3) annuity which he was awarded for life in 1461 was to be drawn on the lordship of Kidwelly.  He also became sheriff of two West Welsh counties and captain of Carmarthen and Aberystwyth.  In 1463 he and Roger Vaughn overcame insurgents in the Towy Valley, between Carmarthen and  Llandilo, and they were rewarded with the confiscated Lancastrian estates.  On 17 November 1469 he was granted the offices of constable of Haverford castle and steward of the lordships of Haverford, Pembroke, Llanstephan and Cilgerran, during the minority of Earl William Herbert II.  At the same time two of his cousins, Morgan ap Thomas and Henry ap Thomas (grandsons of Gruffydd ap Nicholas) seized Carmarthen and Cardigan castles and held them against Lancastrian authority.[17]  Further to strengthen his hand in Wales, Edward gave John the power to array men for service in Pembrokeshire.    John Dwnn played an important role during the Lincolnshire rebellion of March 1470.  Under the leadership of Sir Robert Welles, one of the earl of Warwick’s henchmen, the rebels were scattered in an engagement known as Losecoat Field.  On 13 March the king (Edward),

Nothing mistrusting the duke [his own brother Clarence] and the earl, sent from Stamford toward them John Dwnn, one of the squires of his body, with two letters in his own hand, telling them to come to him and disband their levies.  John Dwnn found them at Coventry.  The duke and the earl told him that they would come to the king with a thousand or at most fifteen hundred men.  Dwnn, noticing that they were not going in the direction of the king, told them [i.e. the duke and the earl] of it.[18] 

In fact, they were heading off to Burton to collect more troops and Edward then named them traitors.   After the battle of Tewkesbury (4 May 1471), when Edward IV’s Yorkist forces defeated the Lancastrians, John was knighted and his position at Court became even more secure.  In 1472, 1477 and 1478 he conducted negotiations for Edward IV at the French and Burgundian courts.  It was possibly on one of these occasions when the portrait of John, his wife and daughter (Anne?) kneeling before the Virgin and Child and surrounded by saints and angels, was painted by Hans Memling in Bruges, now in the National Gallery, London.[19]  Some suggest it was painted during an earlier visit (1468) during the marriage of Edward IV’s sister, Margaret of York, to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (one of those attending is identified as Jehan Don).  The portrait shows both John and his wife, Elizabeth (daughter of William, Lord Hastings), wearing Yorkist collars of gilt roses and suns from which hangs the Lion of March pendant of Edward IV.  In July 1479 John became the steward for the prior of Carmarthen.     The only new public office which he accepted from Richard III was to become sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire (English home counties) on 3 November 1484, and these positions were reaffirmed by Henry VII on 12 September 1485, showing that John had made peace with the Tudor succession.    By March 1487 Henry VII was describing John as “our trusty and well beloved counsellor” when he went on embassy to France.  In terms of his legal service, John was one of the itinerant judges appointed on 7 June 1463 in the lordships of Monmouth, Ogmore and Kidwelly and in November 1493 he was nominated to hold sessions at Kidwelly.  He was Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire in 1462-64, and regularly appointed J.P. for Buckinghamshire between 1483 and 1503.  He sat on a number of commissions, most after 1483 and dealing exclusively with English affairs.    His heir was his son, Sir Edward, for whom he had arranged a marriage with Anne, daughter of Sir John Verney of Middle Claydon (Buckinghamshire), on 20 October 1500.  By this time Sir John was a prosperous landowner, holding the manors of Roxwell (Essex), Saunderton St. Mary and Saunderton St. Nicholas (Buckinghamshire) and Horsington (Lincolnshire).[20]  He died in 1502 and asked that his body be buried in the collegiate church at Windsor castle.  His wife, Elizabeth, was named as his executor, and he bequeathed his landed property to her for life.          

            John and his family prospered under the Tudor dynasty, with several of his children making good marriages with British aristocracy.[21]  His second daughter Margaret became the great-grandmother of Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford (one of the claimants to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays), and his oldest daughter Anne was a collateral ancestor of the 17th-century Vaughan poets via her widower, Sir William Rede.                                                         

III.  Clues from the Poet and Clergyman, John Donne

The English poet and clergyman, John Donne (ca. 1572-1631), apparently claimed descent from the Dwnns, using the same arms as Sir Edward  (“azure, a wolf rampant or salient, with the crest a sheaf or knot of snakes,” which has also been used probably inaccurately for the Doan(e) family) as early as on a 1591 portrait attributed to Nicholas Hilliard.  The arms are also found on one of his seals, and they seem to be on his funeral monument, impaled with the arms of St. Paul’s Cathedral (one of the few surviving artistic representations from before the Great Fire which destroyed the medieval cathedral, later rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren).[22]  However, the poet’s father, also named John (ca. 1535-1576), of Welsh descent, was the warden of the Ironmongers Company and lived on Bread Street in London, so is this a case of the poet falsely seeking to claim noble ancestry?[23]           However, there do seem to have been close links between Sir Edward and the poet, apparently through the Heywoods. The poet's mother, Elizabeth (1543-1631), was the daughter of the epigram and interlude writer John Heywood (d.1580) while Sir Edward Donne's grandson, Edward Don Lee (d.1598), married a daughter of Richard Heywood. The two men also seem to have been connected through the Herberts: the Dwnns were allied with the Herberts as seen above and, in a dedicatory epistle to his edition of the poems of William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke (1580-1630), John Donne's son publicly claimed descent from the Herberts, stating that he was obliged to them “not only by descent” but “by many favours.”[24]  Additional evidence of a link between the poet and Sir Edward Donne is suggested by the former's association with Sir John Wingfield (d.1596), the brother-in-law of Mary de Vere (1554?-1624), a lineal descendant of Sir Edward Don's sister, Margaret.  Both Donne and Wingfield served under the earl of Essex in his 1596 expedition to Cadiz, where Wingfield died a heroic death. If not a relative or personal friend, Donne at the very least admired Wingfield.  Interestingly, Donne and the Dwnns appear to have been connected with many, if not most, of the prominent Anglo-Welsh writers of the late 16th and 17th century.                           

IV.  “Our” John Done

So, this brings us to John Done, later Doane, who became a deacon in the separatist (eventually Congregational) church in New England, and who was roughly a contemporary of the poet and Anglican churchman, John Donne.  We know little of his early life, except that he came to the New World around 1630, settling first in Plymouth and then in Eastham.  Might he have also claimed descent from the powerful and well-known Dwnn or Donne family?  Participation in the church was certainly one way for upwardly mobile men of that period to become accepted in society and earn an honest living.  Claiming a relationship with a powerful noble family was certainly another.  I believe a closer look at these connections would be warranted.  

Please contact me at doan@nova.edu with any comments or suggestions on this paper.   


[1] Published as "The Immigration and Settlement of the First Doans in California, 1850-1900," in Report of Proceedings of the National Reunion, 1978, pp. 33-35.

[2] Another related color word is Welsh du and Irish dubh (“black”), with a diminutive or hypochoristic form dubhán (literally “little black thing,” sometimes used to translate “kidney” in Irish and pronounced [dú’an] or [dwan]), 

[3] Since Celtic forts were generally located on the tops of hills for defense, the word eventually came to mean “fortified hill” and eventually “city.”  This would also explain another etymology of “Doan(e)” as “hill dweller,” though one must consider the English words “down,” from OE. d­ūn (“hill”), or “dune,” from Middle Dutch d­ūne (“sandy hill”), both cognate with or perhaps derived from the Celtic word dunum, as possible sources.

[4] From Gwyn A. Williams, When Was Wales?  (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985), 106-11, and “Owain Glyndwr” (n.d.) at http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html , Retrieved 8 December 2006.

[5] R. R. Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr (New York: Oxford U.P., 1995), 200.

[6] Davies, 200.

[7] Davies, 200.

[8] Williams, 108.

[9] Davies, 192.

[10] Davies, 200.

[11] Davies, 201.

[12] Ralph A. Griffiths, The Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages: The Structure and Personnel of Government.  I.  South Wales, 1277-1536 (Cardiff: U. of Wales P., 1972), 201.

[13] H. T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 1915: rpt. 1998, Sutton Publishing Ltd.), 44-45.

[14] Griffiths, 201.

[15] Davies, 313.

[16] Griffiths, 323.

[17] Evans, 113.

[18] Cited in Evans, 113.

[19] http://www.wga.hu/tours/flemish/memling/index.html

[20] Griffiths, 188.

[21] The Dwnns, like most of the nobles mentioned in this section, represent a very small percentage of the Welsh population of this period, speaking Welsh, English, French and probably Latin, part of the international aristocracy of the later Middle Ages/early Renaissance.

[22] “Does the Don triptych portray an ancestors of Sir Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford?” [Part 2 of 4], from Edward de Vere Newsletter, No. 46  (1992, 2001). http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/drk/ Don_ Sir_John_2_of_4-46.pdf.  Retrieved 10 December 2006.

[23]  See http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp01330 for the National Portrait Gallery, London, Web site including several John Donne portraits, though not the ones specifically mentioned here.

[24] Cited in “Does the Don triptych portray an ancestors of Sir Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford?” [Part 2 of 4].