Three Yarborough Myths 1
Ralph Webster Yarborough

Back in west Texas where I grew up, before WWI we had a town of 500 and a company of 20 Confederate veterans. Some of them had fled to get away from the old south, and we had one who had charged with Pickett's brigade at Gettysburg. So, it was a dream world for a boy to hear their stories. Other people had heard them before and didn't want to listen, but I would go up to our little town and ask them for their experiences. When they found someone who liked history, they would talk. When you pulled out that Confederate flag back there in Chandler, Henderson County (Texas), we thought that was the greatest flag of any national back where I was growing up as a boy. There has been a little change in this country since then, but that was the climate back then and some of you might have lived in parts of the country where that was still the climate.

Whether you be a Yarbrough by name or a Yarbrough by birth or a Yarbrough by adoption or a Yarbrough by marriage, or whatever way you got the Yarbrough name, and whatever spelling it is - there are many different spellings, Yeredeburg, Yarborough, Yeregurg and so forth - All Yarbroughs have a natural trait. I have never run into a Yarbrough family anywhere that wasn't very proud of this name. That is one common trait that you find among members of the Yarbrough family. It pulls us all together, that common pride we have in the name, whether we are born with that name .. or it is acquired by marriage or otherwise .. and it was always stressed to me as I was growing up that this was a great family, an important name and that we should never do anything in life that would bring discredit to the Yarbrough name. That Is a common thread - "cord of memory" as Abraham Lincoln called it - that mystic cord of memory that reaches back in time and binds us all together.

As I grew up, my father told us about this great family. I went to the public schools and read Virginia's history and Texas history and United States history, medieval history and ancient history and I couldn't find any Yarbrough named anywhere in any of those histories. So, I got to wondering what made us such a great family and I kept bugging my father about it over the years and he said, "Well, son, we are descended from a great judge in England."

I later bought a book of all the judges of England from 1066 down through about the time I was in law school at the University of Texas, about 1910, and no Yarbrough judge was listed in there. So, I thought that this was just a myth, a family myth. Most families have myths, you know, about how great they are.

The second myth ... I kept asking when the Yarbroughs came to America and how. My father said that seven brothers migrated to this country from the old country and each had families, that we are most of us descended from those seven brothers' migration.

Then the third thing I asked my father about was the Yarbrough name. He had said that the Yarbrough name was about to play out. I thought he was talking about the United States. He said that several times a Yarbrough woman married a man who agreed to assume the Yarbrough name. That was a condition of him marrying the woman who had a ranch or a farm. [He said) it wasn't hard to find a husband under those conditions who would assume the Yarbrough name. I was told the name was perpetuated that way.

Well, as I grew up and went to the University of Texas Law School, I would run into other Yarbroughs there and they would say "Which one of the seven brothers are you descended from?" I was still thinking about what my father told me about the seven brothers coming from the old country - meaning England, I thought.

I found out that it was a true story of migration, but my father was a little confused as to what the "old country" was. Finally I found out that the "old country was Virginia. Those seven bothers migrated in the middle 1700's and not all at one time, from Virginia into North Carolina. The reasons for the sizable migrations from Virginia, as I know them from history, were because they [the settlers] had cultivated that tobacco there for about 100 years and worn out a lot of land. There was much new land in North Carolina; it was cheap land and they could sell worn out land in Virginia for much more than they could buy new land for in North Carolina. North Carolina was one of the only three colonies at the time of the revolution that had religious freedom. In the other ten colonies the churches were tied to the state and you had to pay taxes to support the churches. That was another thing that led to migration. So, they moved to North Carolina, and that is where many of us here from different branches are descended from.

That myth of the seven brothers was not a myth2. It was a true migration. The only difficulty was [determining] the place of migration.

The first myth about the great judge was a little bit harder to answer. We found out about it later when I was studying some books about Chaucer and where he got his financial support. There books were published by Oxford and the University of Texas Press simultaneously in the early 1960's and I found from them where the "great Judge Yarbrough" legend came from.

John of Gaunt was the son of a king and the father of a king. When the succession died in England, a nephew became king, even if he were just a child. It was the custom in England that when that happened, the child was strangled and an adult in the line took the kingship. But, John of Gaunt did a very strange thing. When the king died and a baby was next in line for the kingship, John of Gaunt swore a fealty to that baby ...that the baby was entitled to the kingship. John of Gaunt would not kill him. The baby was made king. As a result, John of Gaunt had great privileges from the crown from then on.

John of Gaunt - they called him that because he was born at Ghent, Belgium - through his marriage to his cousin Blanche, daughter of Henry of Lancaster, became Duke of Lancaster in 1362. After the death of Blanche, John of Gaunt married Constance, daughter of Peter the Cruel of Castile. Spain, at that time, was divided into two kingdoms, Castile and Leon. When Constance's father died, John of Gaunt went to Castile to try to put his wife on the throne. She was entitled to it through inheritance. But the Spanish would have none of it because if Constance was Queen, then John of Gaunt would be King. The Spanish were not willing to have an English king. John of Gaunt fought three unsuccessful campaigns in Spain trying to attain the crown.

This is where our ancestor comes in. John Yarbrough held office under John of Gaunt. He was Keeper of the Royal Seal and Keeper of the Royal Wardrobe. If a king signed a document and it did not contain the royal seal, it was not considered a royal document. The Keeper of the Royal Seal had custody of the seal and he was the only man who could put that royal seal on the king's commission. It was a very [high]trust position. The Keeper of the Royal Seal had to know who to read and write - and not many people could in those days. John Yarbrough wrote all of the papers for John of Gaunt and he used the Royal Seal.

As for the Royal Wardrobe - if they had a big function (like a wedding), all the kinfolks were expected to come in appropriate robes. The only person who

had enough robes to outfit all the kinfolks was the Duke or the King himset. So, the Keeper of the Royal Wardrobe would issue out these fine robes to the kinfolks to be worn for the wedding and then the wardrobe was turned back in after the affair was over.

When they were researching Chaucer's history and trying to figure out where he got his financial backing, the only financial records they found were vouchers payable to Chaucer, signed by John Yarbrough on behalf of the "Duke of Lancaster and King of Castile".

Because his wife as entitled to the throne in Spain, and because the king of England owed his life to John of Gaunt, John of Gaunt had certain privileges. He traveled all over England with a royal retinue almost like he was the king. Chaucer's wife, Phillipa, was the sister-in-law of John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt was Chaucer's patron. He appointed Chaucer a notary public and then made him Collector of the Customs of the Port of London, a very prestigious and high-paying job at that time. Having a patron like John of Gaunt gave Chaucer the time to write the Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer is given credit by English scholars and historians as being responsible for English being the language of England rather than French. During Chaucer's time, the court and society used French; French in the law court and French as the written language. Chaucer wrote in the vernacular at the time when French was still generally considered the proper language of literature. Chaucer used the language spoken by descendants of the Saxon's (who were conquered by William the Conqueror in 1066). It was mixed in with a smattering of Latin and a smattering of French - we could almost call it "Slanguish" because it is such a mixture of languages. Chaucer wrote in this "slangulsh" and scholars give Chaucer the credit for the fact that we, as English descendants, speak English instead of French today.

The man signing the pay warrants at the direction of John the Gaunt was John Yarbrough. This man, John Yarbrough, had what we would call quasi-judicial duties - passing on the things ordered by John of Gaunt.

We come to the third myth now - that of men marrying a Yarbrough woman and taking the Yarbrough name. That was true. It happened, but It wasn't in America - it was in England. It wasn't before our ancestors came over from England, it was In the 1800's. In 1852 Nicholas Edmund Yarbrough died - the last male in the Yorkshire line. (Most of the Yarbroughs in America came from the Yorkshire or Lincolnshire lines.) The line then went over to the women in the family. This was Joyce Graham Severlyhouse. Her husband assumed the Yarbrough name, keeping it alive. He died in 1856 without a male heir, so the title went over to his sister, Alicia Maria. She married George John Lloyd. He dropped the Lloyd name and assumed the Yarbrough name. John Lloyd, born 1811, leaving two daughters. In 1862, the eldest, Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough, married George William Bateson who, on the death of his brother, became Lord Deremore. That was Miss Bateson de Yarbrough who died in 1884. The present Lord Deremore is still the head Yarbrough3. He is elderly, has two spinster daughters and he says to me that they will probably not marry, that there will be no more heirs and, when they pass away, that will end the line of Yarbroughs in England from which most of the Yarbroughs in America descend.

Ask a real historian, he will tell your that much of oral history handed down from hundreds of years proves to be based on fact. The facts may be somewhat distorted in the telling and retelling over the years, but if you dig long enough, you can sometimes uncover the facts.

1 - Excerpt from a talk given by the late former US Senator from Texas, Ralph W. Yarborough, at the Sixth Annual National Yarbrough Conference, Memphis, Tennessee, July 30, 1988. Recorded by Arlene Weidinger; transcribed and edited for the YFQ by Karen Mazock. Published in the YFQ ,Vol 1, Nr 4, pp 14 - 16, June 1992. Minor corrections to grammar and parsing made during the transcription to this format. Senator Yarborough was a dedicated family authority and proud of all things associated with the Yarborough name.
2 - It is now believed that there were three brothers and four sons who migrated. Which were the fathers and which the sons is a matter of conjecture.
3 - Lord Deramore died in 2006, leaving the title vacant.
©  YNGHA 2017.