Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Oldest Vances

Detail from Blaeu's 1645 map of the Luxembourg area, showing the town of Vance and its bridge over the Semois River

In the hills of the Ardennes in southern Belgium not far from where the Battle of the Bulge was fought in World War II the small village of Vance sits in a quiet spot on the Semois River away from major roadways and tourists.    The village dates back to Roman times and depending on sources it was first called Veen or Wannen but for nearly a thousand years now its name has been spelled Vance.   It is the oldest use of the Vance name that has been uncovered so far.

In the 10th century after the death of Charlemagne the local area was split up into counties with Vance falling into the newly-formed county of Chiny.  A fief system developed with knights ruling villages and their surrounding regions, subject to the local Counts.  One knight became the Seigneur (Lord) of Vance and following local tradition from that point forward his sons and grandsons adopted the last name "de Vance". 

The Lords of Vance flourished in the 1200's and 1300's.  It was the age of the Crusades, when chivalrous knights would feast, joust, and fight endless battles in the service of their local rulers.  Surviving records show that the de Vance knights were well-respected both in peace and in war, and educated enough to keep an enviable library.   Two castles were built in Vance over the centuries, but no trace now remains of either.

Seal of the Count of Chiny

The county of Chiny was eventually absorbed into Luxembourg in 1364 and soon afterwards the lordship of Vance passed through marriage to men of other names.  But the surname "de Vance" continued down other family lines until the last local person of that name was recorded in 1667.  It is believed that the surname died out after that.  

Although these Vances might be ancestors of any of us, it's unlikely that we got our surname from them.  But long before the Irish Vances or German Vances adopted that exact spelling of the name, one European family carried it with respect and honor.  And the village of Vance survived them all and still sits there today.

The village of Vance in Belgium today

1 comment:

  1. Sources: this article was mainly drawn from the combined works of two authors who wrote about the history of the village and knights of Vance for the Luxembourg Archaeological Institute's annual publication: Alexander Pruvost, published in Volume 6, and Jules Massonnet, published in Volume 90.