William Gayer of Okehampton, Devon

John Gayer, Week St. Mary;

Samuell Gayer of Stratton;

Benjamin Gayer of Stratton


Rev John Gayer

Philip Gayer

Edward George Gayer

John Gayer of Dublin and children


The Gayer family is one branch of my family tree.  Other branches can be viewed by clicking on HOME or any of the buttons above.


My great, great, great, grandmother Anna Frances Gayer married Arthur O’Brien Bernard, who was from Carlow, Co Carlow, Ireland in 1825.  For four generations the Gayer family had lived in Northern Ireland from the time that Rev. John Gayer, son of Benjamin Gayer of Whitstone,  left Cornwall to become the Curate at Derriaghy, Co Antrim circa 1698. I have been able to trace his ancestry back to the middle ages in Cornwall.


Name origin:
Surnames were not in common use in England until the 1400s.  A person would have been known by their given name followed by their place of residence or their occupation.
The name Gayer has evolved over time from Gare and Gear.  The earliest references to Gayers that I can find are from the 12th, 13th and 14th century. I searched on Gayer name variants including, Gayre, Gear, Gaer, Caer and Kaer.

The surname Gayer (originally Gear) derived from a geographic locality i.e. 'at the gare'. 
"There is an estate named Gear in the parish of St. Earth, which Polwhele thinks may have had its name from caer, castrum; and he says Gear Bridge below was originally Caer Bridge. Geare in Cornish signifies "green or flourishing." There are places called Tregear and Tregeare; and Tregare is mentioned by Hals under Gerans. Hence the names Gayer, Geer, Geere, and Gare." (10)

Other sources suggest that Gear (and its variants) mean place of war   "Caer, Kaer, Gaer as in Tregaer - place of war"; (11) Another suggestion, from the Parochial History of the County of Cornwall is that it means a fortified town. For example the town of Leskeard (Liskeard) could be derived from "Les, a court or a palace, and kaer a fortified town". (12)   

Early mention of Gayers in Cornwall and Devon:

A.E Gayer in his book, Memoirs of the Family of Gayer” found references (1) to Gayers in Devon:

  • Ricardus Gayer in 1303, 
  • William and Richard Gayer in 1346 
  • Willhelmus Gayer in 1428
The National Archives has records of:
  • Walter Gaer, witness to a deed 1396
  • will of John de Gaire (in Latin) dated 1485.
Cornwall Records Office has documents mentioning:
  • William Kaer 1284
  • Alric de Caer, 1308
  • Andrew de Kaer in 1331 and 1347
  • Walter Gaer 1396 and 1399
  • John Gayre, 1486
  • John Gayer of Liskeard, gentleman, between 1480 and 1499, mostly as a witness to a deed.
  • A John Gayer was Mayor of Liskeard in 1496.
  • Richard Gayer in 1525 was a portreeve of Liskeard. According to a letter from Edward Arundell, he died in 1553. 
  • Between 1554 and 1558 a John Gayer was mayor of Liskeard
  • Stephen Gayer - was the attorney for Sir John Arundell between 1535 and 1545.
  • Richard Gayer party to a bond in 1550 and 1551; witness to a lease in 1552
Portreeve: a bailiff or mayor charged with keeping the peace and with other duties in a port or market borough of early England. (Ref: Merriam Webster)

Burke's Peerage records: (2)

  • William Kaer "was Gayre"  lived at Gear (Tregear), Ladock, Cornwall in 1376
    • Walter Gayre (son of William) living near Gear (Tregear), Ladock, Cornwall between 1381 and 1394. A Walter Gaer is mentioned in records from the national Archives and the Cornwall Records Office. His son
      • Walter Gayre who married Emma. Lived at Gear, Ladock, Cornwall, between 1381 and 1394. He had sons:
        • Walter Gayr and Reinold [Reginald] Gayr, living in 1439. Walter had a son:
          • John Gayre, who married Elenora. They had three sons:
            • John, Otys and Stephen.  Stephen's son was
              • Reinold [Reginald]Gayre who married Alice Courtenay, daughter of Edward Courtenay. Reginald died before 4 December 1519.
Ladock is about six miles south of Truro. Gear, Ladock was the home of the Gayers (Gears) as early as the 1370s.  It was also the family seat of the Courtenay family in Cornwall (9).

Ladock map

Sir John MacLean, in The Parochial and Family History of the Parishes of Forrabury and Minster claims that

"Reginald Gayer married Alice [Courtenay] daughter of Edward Courtenay of Landrake, second son of  Sir William Courtenay of Powderham, by Margaret, daughter of  William Lord Bonville, which Sir William Courtenay was eldest son of  Sir Philip by Elizabeth daughter of Walter Hungerford".  and that 

Reginald Gayer left issue John Gayer his eldest son, who was Burgess in Parliament for Launceston, 1553; for Liskeard, 1557; and for Helston, 1571.  His daughter Johanna married Gilbert Flamank of Boscarne on 29th October, 1553.  Reginald Gayer is believed also to have been the father of Robert Gayer, who was burgess in Parliament for Trevena 1553, and was probably the father of Francis Gayer, who was instituted to the Rectory of Minster in 1572” .  

Trevena today is more commonly known as Tintagel and is located less than 5 miles from Minster. 

There are two errors in MacLean's book (7) Firstly, John the eldest son of Reginald was not the Member of Parliament. His grandson John (son of Stephen) was the MP.  Secondly the Robert Gayer he mentions was not the M.P. for Trevana.  Robert Gayer was a descendant of Reginald's grandson Otys Gayer.

Reginald (or Reinold) GAYER  is my earliest ancestor that I can verify:

Little is known about Reginald Gayer and his antecedents. In an extract from Sir J Maclean's Trigg Minor, i, 667-9 MacLean states

The family of Gayer is of great antiquity in the West England. We find Richard Gayer mentioned in the Hundred rolls of the co. Devon as early as the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) or Edward I (1272-1307), but the earliest person of the name in Cornwall of whom we have any knowledge is Elionora Gayer, widow, who, being seized of forty messuages in Liskeard and other places, by her charter dated 12 Aug. 5th Henry VIII (1573) granted the same to Richard Reyne, William Carnsuyowe, Stephen Gayer and others, to hold to such uses as might be specified in the last will of the said Elionora. This lady was probably the mother of Reginald Gayer of Liskeard, who on 4 Feb. I508 was appointed Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of the Crown for Cornwall”.

I believe that MacLean was mistaken about Elionora Gayer being Reginald’s mother as Reginald died in 1519 and Stephen Gayer was the grandson of Reginald and Alice (Courtenay) Gayer. It is more likely that Elionora Gayer was Stephen’s mother, widow of Reginald’s eldest son, John Gayer.  In Burke's Peerage (2) Elenora (?) is identified as John Gayer's wife. 

Reginald Gayer's 
birth year is unknown (he was appointed as a guardian in 1507 and a clerk of the crown in 1508 he was likely at least 30 years old or more at that time, which means he would have been born before 1477). He married Alice Courtenay daughter of Edward Courtenay (5), probably before 1515 (based on the fact that she had three children with Reginald before he died in 1519).

Most references to Alice Courtenay give her birth year as 1499 which, if correct, means she probably married at the age of 14 or 15. She was the daughter of Edward Courtenay who was the 2nd son of Sir William Courtenay (d. 1485). Edward Courtenay married Alice Wotton. He was the younger brother of Sir William Courtenay who was born in 1451.  Edward was born about 1453 and died in 1509.

Reginald Gayer and Alice Courtenay had a son John who was the M.P. for Launceston in 1553, for Liskeard in 1557 and for Helston in 1571.   He is described in Bibliotheca Cornubiensis (3) as “the eldest son of Reginald Gayer of Liskeard” thereby assuring me that there was a younger son.        
  •  He was appointed guardian for William Harris in 1507
  • In 1508 Reginald Gayer was granted the offices of clerk of the peace and clerk of the crown in Cornwall for life by Henry IIV.  
Reginald Gayer. Inspeximus and confirmation of patent, 4 Feb. 22 Hen. VII.(1507), granting him the offices of clerk of the peace and clerk of the crown in Cornwall for life. Westm. 8 May. Pat. 6 Hen. VIII. p. 1, m. 14. (4)   
An inspeximus is a charter beginning with the Latin word Inspeximus (‘We have inspected’). It is declared in the charter that an earlier charter or letters patent, here quoted or summarized, has been examined and its validity confirmed.
  • He died 1519
The descendants of Reginald and Alice are documented in The Visitations of Cornwall, 1530, 1537 and 1620. by Vivian. The 
Heraldic Visitations were tours of inspection undertaken (by the Crown) to regulate and register the coats of arms of nobility and gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees. The records have been described as an upper class census (Ref: Wikipedia). Inclusion implied that the family had some class status and was eligible to use a coat of arms (Gayer Coat of Arms - A fleur de Lis and a Lion Rampant bearing a spear).

Coat of Arms

The Gayer family tree, in Vivian's "The Visitations of Cornwall, 1530, 1537 and 1620" publication was supplemented by A.E Gayer in 1870 and some of those additions have been found to be inaccurate. Those Gayers documented by the Visitation are shown in italics (below), all other names were submitted by A.E. Gayer.

Children of Reginald and Alice Gayer:

  • John (estimated birth year 1515/1516). Married [unknown, possibly Elionora?] about 1535.
    • Reginald –  son William (lived in Plymouth, Devon)
    • Stephen – married Jane, daughter of William Trenbrace (lived in Cornwall)
      • Son – John (married Sybil Trefry) and was the great grandfather of the Gayers of Devon (Robert, Humphrey, Hugh, Richard and John)
      • Henry [no further info]
      • John (of Knaresborough, Yorkshire)
        • Robert, Thomas and John 
          • Robert (a priest) and William (who married 1st - Agnes Derelove + 2nd wife [unknown])
            • Robert (later MP for Trevana) and John (by Agnes) and Thomas, John (2) and Henry (by 2nd wife)
  •  Robert (estimated birth year 1517/18 or earlier).  Married  [Harris ?] about 1526.  Some historians have suggested that this Robert Gayer, the second son of Reginald and Alice, was an M.P. and a burgess in Parliament for Trevena for 1553. However, in the History of Parliament Online, the biography of Robert Gayer (6) states that although he represented Trevena (in Cornwall), he was born in Yorkshire, the son of William and Agnes Gayer (descendant of Otys Gayer). Reginald and Alice Gayer had a son named Robert but he was not a member of Parliament.
  •  Johanna (estimated birth year 1519) married Gilbert Flamanke in 1538
    • Son - William

If Reginald’s son Robert was born about 1516 then he would most likely have married when he was older than 20 and younger than 30, approximately in 1540. I have estimated that Francis Gayer, Rector of Minster was born about 1550 so it is feasible to assume that Francis was the son of Robert Gayer and grandson of Reginald and Alice Gayer. Indeed MacLean suggested that Robert Gayer had a son called  Francis.

"Reginald Gayer is believed also to have been the father of Robert Gayer, who was burgess in Parliament for Trevena 1553, and was probably the father of Francis Gayer, who was instituted to the Rectory of Minster in 1572” (7) .

It is possible that Robert Gayer also had others sons besides Francis as there are three Gayers listed in the Muster Roll of 1569 in the same area of Cornwall as Minster where Francis Gayer became the Rector in 1572 (3) :  

  • Degory Gayre    Whitstone
  • Marten Gayre     Laneste or Laneast (Between Launceston and Lanteglos by Camelford)
  • William Geayre   Whitstone

In trying to learn more about Reginald Gayer I found an interesting reference to him becoming the guardian of William Harris, eldest son of Francis Harris

On his father’s death (1509) William Harris aged 5 became the ward of Philip Harris, Reginald Gayer and Sir John Arundell. The last named may have been either Sir John Arundell of Trerice, whom shortly before his death Francis Harris had appointed one of his feoffees, or his namesake of Lanherne, husband to William’s maternal aunt and brother to Humphrey Arundell, soon to become Philippa Harris’s second husband; this second Sir John was receiver-general of the duchy of Cornwall and father of the Sir John Arundell(8)

            Definition: Feoffe: (in feudal law) a person to whom a grant of freehold property is made.

Who were Philip Harris and Sir John Arundell?

I cannot find any reference to Philip Harris in the medieval period (other than the quote above). He was probably related to Francis Harris (son, brother, cousin?). Francis Harris was related (by marriage) to the Arundells.  The Harris family had many branches settled in both Devon and Cornwall, one branch of the family lived in Liskeard, Cornwall which is where the Gayers were from.

Francis Harris (1475–1509) of Radford (Plymstock, Devon), was the son of John Harris (4th) of Radford who died in 1485 when his son Francis was only 10 year’s old.  Francis married (before 1504) to Phillipa Grenville (1489-1524).  When Francis Harris died, his widow Phillipa, married Humphry Arundell of Lanherne, younger brother of Sir John Arundell (1474–1545) who was Phillipa's brother-in-law. Sir John Arundell was married to Katherine Grenville (sister of Phillipa).

  • John Harreys (Harris) 1st of Radford and Alice le Abbe (or Abbetot).
    • John Harris 2nd
      • Sir John 3rd of Radford (died in 1430) and Katherine Hansford (1430-1489, daughter of William Hansford).
        • John Harris 4th of Radford (~1450-1485)
          • Francis Harris (1475–1509)
            • William Harris born 1504


By the 1500s there were several Gayer families who established themselves in Cornwall and Devon in S.W. England.  All these Gayers came from eithernear Liskeard or Truro in Cornwall or from Plympton in Devon (Plympton is about 6 miles east of Plymouth). Liskeard and Plympton being about 25 miles apart. Liskeard (in Cornish - Liskerrys) was originally a stannary (tin mine) and market town, a market charter being granted in 1240.

Map truro, etc.

Knowing that my direct ancestors came from Cornwall I reviewed all the births, marriages and deaths from the Cornwall OPC (13) to try to determine their links with the Gayers of the Liskeard or Truro area.      

The records showed that there were several distinct settlements of Gayers: The North Coast group; the Land's End Group; and the St Keverne's group (which includes the Liskeard Gayer ancestors) and the East Coast Group.


Research of existing Cornish records has established that I am a descendant of Rev. John Gayer who descended from Francis Gayer of Minster who I believe was the grandson of Reginald Gayer of Liskeard, all in the county of Cornwall.  As it was fairly common to name children after parents and grandparents it became obvious that Francis Gayer and his descendants had settled in North Cornwall in communities which included Lesnewth, St Minver and Whitstone.  

In 1870 Arthur Edward Gayer, a descendant of Rev. John Gayer, published a book, “Memoirs of the Family of Gayer”. It is amazing how much detail he was able to glean about the family. One can only imagine the places he had to visit to find this information, there were no databases or the internet in the 1800s so he must have gone to libraries in England and Ireland to find the details. I feel very privileged to have been given permission to publish two pages of original notes in A.E Gayer's handwriting by another Gayer descendant.

Unfortunately, some of the information A.E Gayer included about the Gayers of Cornwall has proven to be incorrect, Viz.

I now come to the third son of John Gayer of Plymouth, by Margaret Trelawny, Hugh Gayer who married Joan, daughter of Thomas Forres of that place, of whom I know nothing more than that he had three sons: John Gayer of Whitstone, Robert, and Benjamin, and two daughters, who do not appear in the Harl. MS. pedigree, but who are given small legacies by Sir John's will.

“I come now to these three sons of Hugh Gayer. The eldest, John, appears to have-resided at Whitstone, where his family remained for several generations, and from the parish registry of which, and the adjoining parishes of St. Mary's Wick (or Week) and St. Genny's (which three parishes constitute the union of Stratton), I have ascertained nearly all the dates specified in the annexed pedigree”.

A.E. Gayer believed that John Gayer of Whitstone descended from Hugh Gayer of Devon.  I obtained the will of Hugh Gayer from the National Archives in England and confirmed that he did not have three sons: John, Robert and Benjamin as claimed by A.E. Gayer.  According to his will Hugh had only two sons: John and Robert.  Other references indicate that these two sons both died at the age of 14.

Although some parish registers were kept from 1583 on it was not until 1598 that Queen Elizabeth I stipulated that records of births, marriages and deaths must be recorded. It is therefore difficult to identify a family’s ancestry and determine accurate dates before this time.  The dates below are estimates based on known documentation and historical relationships.  In estimating births and marriages in this era historians suggest that the average age of a woman at marriage was 18 and for a man, 8 to 10 years older.  The age of consent for a woman was 12 and for a man, 14. 


Although I cannot prove it with birth or marriage records I have made an assumption that Robert Gayer (son of Reginald and Alice) and a daughter of Francis Harris [name unknown] were married.  If my assumption is correct about Robert Gayer’s wife being a Harris and, also assuming that Francis Gayer of Minster was the son of this marriage, the name Francis could have come from the Harris family. This is only a theory and as yet I have only clues, no proof of this assumption. It is, of course, possible that the Gayers and the Harris family were united in marriage in an earlier generation.

(1)    These references came from "Inquisitions and Assessments relating to Feudal Aids; with other analogous documents" 1284-1431.
(2)   Burke's Peerage.
(3)   G.C. Boase:Bibliotheca Cornubiensis – A catalogue of the writings both manuscript and printed of Cornishmen and of works relating to the County of Cornwall
(4)   Calendar of State Papers: Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII
(5)   For the history of the Courtenay family see
(6)   History of Parliament Online,
(7)   The Parochial and Family History of the Parishes of Forrabury and Minster. By
Sir John MacLean
(8)    r of Launceston
(10)    Patronymica Cornu-Britannica (1870) by Richard Stephen Charnock
(11)   Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall, Vol 10,
(12)   A complete Parochial History of the County of Cornwall (vol 3),
Joseph Polsue


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