11 February 2021

Searching for the missing
links as I move from
Zoos to Zoom with Darwin

Trying to find the missing link with Charles Darwin at Zoom meetings

Patrick Comerford

I am all Zoomed out this week. It seems there have been at least three Zoom meetings each day for the last three days, including school boards, school committees, chapter meetings and clergy meetings, and meetings of local community projects, and now I am about to go into a Zoom meeting of the Diocesan Council.

I cannot be alone in tiring at looking at my own image on the screen before me. I have not had a haircut in months, and now I fear my hair has grown to what my father would have described as ‘cavalry length.’ It has not been this long this the 1970s, before I started going bald.

Someone else I know thinks it has reached the length of a Greek priest and needs to be tied back behind my neck. Another person has commented that under my broad-brimmed black hat, it looks like Haredi hair from Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.

None of us knows what we look like to other people taking part in a Zoom meeting or watching a livestream. Unlike Rod Ponton, the Texas lawyer who has gone viral for struggling to find how to switch off his Zoom filters during a court hearing, I am sure I am not going to be mistaken as a cat online.

But sometimes, looking at my own image on Zoom meetings this week, I was beginning to wonder whether other participants thought I was using a filter so that I looked less like my self and more like Charles Darwin in a tired old £10 note or in his portrait by Walter William Ouless in the College Hall in Christ’s College, Cambridge.

I wonder is this the same shock people joked about when Darwin first met an ape face-to-face in London Zoo on 28 March 1838. He was then only 29, and was far from being the Victorian celebrity he later became, so he was hardly balding and bearded by that age.

Darwin became a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London in 1839, and later as a member the council he used his time at London Zoo to study the behaviour of animals and develop his theories.

Did he ever know that we would evolve from Zoos to Zoom?

I have often searched for the link that family lore says connects the Comberford family with Charles Darwin. His grandfather, Ersasmus Darwin, lived in Lichfield, and there were a number of Darwin family connections with the families that lived at Comberford Hall.

Every time I see that similarity with Darwin in my reflections on Zoom, I am amused about the prospect of finding the missing link.

Comerford profiles: did this
Richard Comberford ever
move from Lichfield to Ireland?

The Guildhall in Lichfield … four generations of the Comerford family were members of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist, including Richard Comberford’s wife Isabella (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Joseph Comerford’s pedigree registered in 1724, and the pedigree compiled at the College of Heralds in 1786 for the Countess of Crequy, claim the Comerford families of Co Kilkenny and Co Wexford are descended from Richard Comerford.

But who was this Richard Comberford, and, whether he ever came to Ireland, what his career in England, and where does he fit in the story of the Comberford family of Comberford Hall?

(Judge) Richard Comberford (ca 1512-post 1547), was born ca 1512, a younger son of Thomas Comberford who died in 1532 and his wife Dorothy Fitzherbert. He was the ancestor of the Bradley branch of the family, but he was also claimed as the putative ancestor of the Comerford family in south-east Ireland.

Richard Comberford’s father, Thomas Comberford (1472-1532) of Comberford, had been admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield in 1495. Two generation earlier, Thomas’s grandfather, William Comberford, as ‘Will’s Combford,’ was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John in Lichfield, in 1469.

Within a few years, William Comberford’s son, John Comberford (ca 1426-1508), as ‘Joh’s Cumberforde,’ was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in 1476. The guild acted as the city government until Lichfield received a charter.

Thomas Comberford was the third generation of his family to become involved in the governance of Lichfield when, as M’r Thomas Cumberforth, was admitted to membership of the Guild in 1495.

We have a good account of Thomas Comberford’s land holdings in Lichfield and the surrounding area around the year 1525, when John Archard, Master of Saint Mary’s Guild, recorded the land holdings of the guild on the outskirts of the city. He provides a thorough account of the neighbouring estates held by Thomas Comberford, particularly in Wall and Wigginton. In that account, Archard spells the family’s name variously as Comberfort, Combyrford, Combyrforde, Combyrfort, Cumberforde, Cumberforte and Cumbyrford.

Thomas Comberford’s wife Dorothea was a sister of Canon Thomas Fitzherbert, Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, and Canon William Fitzherbert, Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, while another sister Alice was the Abbess of Polesworth.

Thomas Comberford’s son, Richard Comberford, the putative ancestor of the Irish branch of the family, was born ca 1512. His records at Cambridge note that he was born at Comberford, Staffordshire. In all, three Comberford brothers, Humphrey, Henry and Richard, benefited from the terms of a bequest from John Bayley, who had funded a fellowship at Saint John’s College, Cambridge, stipulating that preference be given to men from Tamworth.

His eldest brother, Humphrey Comberford (ca 1496/1498-1555) of Comberford Hall and the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth, was educated at Cambridge (BA 1525, MA 1528). However, his principle commercial interests were in Lichfield, and he was the fourth generation of the family to be involved in the civic governance of Lichfield when he became the Master of Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in 1530.

A second brother, Henry Comberford (ca 1499-1586), was admitted to Saint John’s College on 31 March 1533. He graduated BA (1533), MA (1536) and BD (1545). He went on to become a Fellow of Saint John’s College and a Proctor of Cambridge University, and later, as Canon Henry Comberford, was the Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral (1555-1559).

Saint John’s College, Cambridge … Richard Comberford was a Fellow and Senior Bursar, but did he ever move to Ireland? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Richard Comberford, who was born ca 1512, married Isabel Biggs before going to Cambridge. As ‘Dame Isabella Cumberforde,’ she was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield in 1530, in the year her brother-in-law, Humphrey Comberford, was the Master of the Guild.

Richard Comerford was admitted to Saint John’s College, Cambridge, on 8 April 1534, and became a Fellow of Saint John’s College that year. He proceeded MA in 1537, and, like other members of his family at the time, he was known for his Catholic sympathies during the Tudor Reformation.

In his history of Saint John’s College, Peter Linehan notes that ‘the Fellows were constitutionally quarrelsome.’ Richard Comberford was one of two fellows of Saint John’s, along with Richard Swayne, who led a conspiracy of regent masters in 1539 to take control of the Senate House in Cambridge and to stop an adjournment of the election of William Buckmaster of Peterhouse, former Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity (1532, 1534), as the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge.

When Comberford gave the signal, ‘nowe playe the men and I will begyne,’ Swayne barred the doors and there was a rush to assault Dr Geoffrey Glynn, who was presiding over the assembly.

Nevertheless, Richard continued as a fellow of the college’s seven seniors in 1542, and he was the Senior Bursar of Saint John’s in 1542-1544.

A senior barrister, after leaving Cambridge Richard Comberford was a serjeant-at-law or servillus ad legem, according to the Visitation of Staffordshire. He held one of the highest judicial posts as the King’s Remembrancer from about 1547.

Richard Comberford of Cambridge and his brother John Comberford both leased lands at Much Bradley in Staffordshire from Saint John’s College.

Richard and Isabel Comberford were the parents of a son and two daughters:

1, Dorothy, who married Edward Bulkeley.
2, Elizabeth, who died in childhood.
3, Francis Comberford, who was the ancestor of the Comberford family of Bradley.

Richard Comberford has sometimes been named incorrectly as the father also of:

4, John Comberford, whose daughter Alice married Walter Littleton [however, see Comberford 4: Comberford wealth from Wednesbury].

Richard Comberford has often been confused by 18th century genealogists with Richard Comerford of Ballybur, Co Kilkenny, and so in a confused way, the Comberford and Comerford family trees became entangled.

Joseph Comerford’s pedigree registered in 1724, and the pedigree compiled at the College of Heralds in 1786 for the Countess of Crequy, make an even more fantastic claim, saying Richard moved to Ireland and became Lord of Ballymacken and Danganmore, Co Kilkenny, through his marriage to Mary, daughter and heiress of Allen de Comerford, last Baron of Danganmore, said to have died in 1504, and niece of Edmond Comerford, Bishop of Ferns, who died in 1509.

According to these Irish pedigrees, Richard Comberford and his wife Mary Comerford were the parents of:

Thomas de Cumberford, who married Anne FitzGerald of the House of Kildare, and was ancestor of many of the Comerford families in Ireland, including: the Comerfords of Danganmore, Co Kilkenny; the Comerfords of New Ross, Co Wexford; Edward Comerford, Archbishop of Cashel; Joseph Comerford, soi-disant Marquis d’Anglure, who erected the Comerford memorial in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth; and the Comerfords of Athy, Co Kildare, ancestors of the Countess of Crequy.

Of course, these pedigrees are of a fantastical nature, composed to boost the claims of 18th century members of the family, and are totally unreliable. Yet they show how the family claims to links with Staffordshire continued to be part of family lore down through the centuries.

Saint John the Evangelist at Saint John’s College, Cambridge … Richard Comerford was Senior Bursar at a time he was said to be living in Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This Comerford profile is written for the Comerford Genealogy site and I plan to migrate it to that site in due time