The Fascinations of Halliday, or The Perils Of Ignoring Old Research

Way back in the mysterious depths of time (aka 2002) when I was still something of a newbie and early on in my family history journey (following a move from the UK to France where I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands…), I was in correspondence with a distant relative based in Queensland, Australia. Brian had spent many years compiling what he called The Halliday Heritage, a story of our combined family, which he very kindly shared with me. Sadly, I took what I immediately needed (yep, I admit to being a harvester of names back then …) and ignored the rest. Going over it again and giving this rich seam of information the attention it deserves has thrown up some interesting titbits …

The Halliday (aka Holliday, Holydaye, Halyday, Holladay, etc) family first cropped up here in a blog post 2 years ago, which was followed up with another post about ancestral uncles moving to Australia. To recap – my 4 x great-grandmother was Ann Halliday was born in Willsley, Wiltshire in 1816 but married and settled in the Leighteron/Tetbury area of Gloucestershire. Her 3 brothers (and possibly one of her children) all emigrated to Australia.

Brian’s research took me back to the early part of the 15th century and Walter Halyday, annotated as “Walter the Minstrel to King Edward IV”. As it turns out, he wasn’t just a minstrel, and not just to Edward IV. He first crops up as royal minstrel to Henry V, and in 1415 is listed in his retinue at the Battle of Agincourt. Interestingly, two other Hallidays were also there – Thomas and William. It has been proffered that William was the father of both Thomas and Walter. Walter retained his position under the reign of Henry VI, and in 1449 Walter was among 7 people licensed by the king to investigate charges of people fraudulently claiming to be royal minstrels and punish them. (I can’t help but think of Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music here … Hat. Hat. Hat.)

147181-004-D3B1D140When Henry’s cousin Edward of York came to the throne, Walter continued his position. In fact, in 1464 he became Master of the Minstrels, and when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville he commanded an orchestra of 100 performers. Five years later Walter founded the Guild of Royal Minstrels with 7 others under a charter of Edward IV. (This guild would eventually become the Worshipful Company of Musicians.) This was the last time Walter appears in court records.

It’s believed that Walter owned property near Rodborough, Gloucestershire, and it was to here that he moved following his retirement from court.

Skipping forward 3 generations, we find ourselves still in Rodborough, in the family of William Halliday, a wealthy clothmaker. His son Leonard was my 14th great uncle. That is, the brother of my 13 x great-grandfather. Whichever way you cut it, not close! Upon the death of his father in the 1560s, Leonard was sent to London as an apprentice to the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. Apparently he did very well for himself. By 1592 he had become a member of the Levant Company (a company chartered by Elizabeth I with the purpose of regulating trade with Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean – and that ran until 1825). He also became an alderman in 1594 and one of the sheriffs of the city of London in 1595/6.

In September 1599 he was one of 125 merchants who formed The Governor and Merchants of the City of London Trading to the East Indies – aka the East India Company. Leonard was  certainly doing alright for himself – he invested £1000 in the EIC’s first voyage (at a conservative estimate this would be £200,000 in today’s money!), captained by Sir James Lancaster in 1601. Leonard served as one of the directors and was joint treasurer from 1600 until 1602. He is on record as contributing £400 (approximately £78,000) to the third voyage, under the command of General William Keeling in 1607.


Portrait of Sir Leonard Halliday, Lord Mayor of London. Source and artist unknown, possibly Flemish.

On 26 July 1603 James I knighted Leonard (before we get too crazy – James I knighted 906 men in his first 4 months as king!), and two years later on 29 October 1605 he became Lord Mayor of London, and his installation was celebrated by a pageant created by Anthony Munday called The Triumphs of Reunited Britannia.

For those of you with a grasp of key dates in English history may be doing some ready reckoning. And you’d be right. Barely a week after obtaining his mayoralty, Leonard was busy placating the city and maintaining order as the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, and throughout the subsequent trials and executions. He must’ve acquitted himself fairly well as the next year in August, Leonard hosted the King and his brother-in-law, King Christian IV of Denmark, during the latter’s state visit to England.


Coat of arms confirmed in 1605

Leonard was also instrumental in developing the area of London known as Moorfields from swampland to a series of walks and gardens. Apparently the workers didn’t find this a marvellous endeavour and a new slang term was coined: “Holidaye work” referred to any hard labour. Although his term as mayor came to an end in October 1606, he was also the Master of the Merchant Taylors Company and continued to serve as a director of the East India Company. In 1605 the College of Arms confirmed arms upon him and granted a crest.

Leonard had married Anne Wincott, daughter and heiress of William Wincott, in 1578. Leonard died in January 1611/2 and Anne then married Sir Henry Montagu in November 1613. Henry went on to become 1st Earl of Manchester, but in 1616 he was made Chief Justice of the King’s Bench and one of his acts was to pass sentence on Sir Walter Raleigh in 1618.

Leonard’s only surviving son, John, married Alice Ferrers, daughter of William Ferrers, a London mercer. Upon John’s death in 1610 Alice remarried to Sir Arthur Ingram. His History of Parliament biography states of Arthur: “In 1613 he defeated ‘an army of suitors’ to capture a wealthy City widow.” How much of Alice’s wealth was due to her father, that of her husband or the considerable estate left by her father-in-law isn’t known …

These are only a couple of … fascinations with the Halliday family in Brian’s research, but I am very grateful that I rediscovered the delights of The Halliday Heritage – and let that be a warning for all name harvesters out there – you don’t know what you’re missing out on!


  1. Thank you for this fascinating history. Leonard Halliday is my 11x great grandfather. Sadly, none of the family wealth or fame seems to have trickled down this far.


  2. Please contact me! I believe we are related. I am so-called, “ African American.” Leonard rebuilt Moorfields because he was a Moor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leonard had North African blood in him? I’ve never heard that about him! The Moor in Moorfields is an old English term for a wetland or fen and aren’t in any way related to the Moors.


      1. There was definitely Moors there. There’s a book that speaks about The Mollies in Moorfield. I am a Black Woman and these are my ancestors.


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