William de Merlay, according to Leland, was a serjeant to Geoffrey, bishop of Constance, about the time of the Conquest; and, according to an antient charter, in the time of Henry the First, for the good of the souls of Menialda his wife, and the souls of Ranulph, Gotfrid, and Morel, his sons, and of all his other sons, gave the lordship of Morwick to the monks of Durham — (Morp. Misc. 1) Also, according to the Great Roll of 1128, Wm de Merlai owed a palfry to the crown, for the right to enter upon his brother's ground.
Ranulph de Merlay signed his father's grant of Morwick to the church of Durham; and, after his father's death, in 1129, went to Durham, and there upon the tomb of St. Cuthbert, by one intellum, offered the same land of Morwick to the said St. Cuthbert and his monks there... 1
In the time of Henry I. William de Merley, who had been a servant of Geffery bishop of Constance, for the soul of Menialda his wife, and the souls of William and Gosfride his sons, gave the lordship of Morewil to the monks of Durham; and left issue... 2
The earliest known tenant of Morpeth.
It is likely that William de Merlay can be identified with the W. de Merlaio who was at court in 1088 on behalf of Geoffrey, bishop of Coutances, to claim for his cattle, which had been seized by the men of the bishop of Durham while in the king’s custody... William de Merlay’s tenancy of Morpeth is first noticed in 1095, during the rebellion of Robert de Mowbray, earl of Northumberland. According to Geffrei Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis, ... during the rebellion the king ‘took Morpeth, a strong castle, which stood on a hill. Above Wansbeck it stood. William de Merlay held it’... Robert de Mowbray was captured and lost his earldom, and Northumberland remained in royal hands until 1139. There is no other indication of William de Merlay’s role in the rebellion. His son’s tenure of the fee in Northumberland shows that the earl’s tenants were not forfeit with him.
William de Merlay was a benefactor of Durham cathedral. With the consent of his wife and sons, he gave Morwick, a vill about 14 miles north of Morpeth, ‘cum diuersis ad illam uillam pertinentibus, preter unam piscariam in Tina . . . pro anima mea et uxoris mee Menialde et pro filiis meis Ranulf de Merle et Gosfrido et Morello et aliis filiis meis omnibus’. Each of the three named sons added his signum to the deed, which cannot be precisely dated. Ranulf, the eldest, confirmed his father’s gift: ‘. . . post mortem Willelmi de Merle, filius eius Ranulphus qui fuit heres illius uenit Dunelmelmum, anno ab incarnatione domini MCXXIX, mense septembris proxima die post festum sancti Cuthberti [5 September 1129], et dedit et concessit et confirmauit et super sepulchrum sancti Cuthberti per unum cultellum obtulit predictam terram scilicet Morewic sancto Cuthberto et monachis eis . . .’ . A long list of witnesses to Ranulf’s confirmation follows, including ‘Willelmus filius Ranulphi, Eustacius sororius ipsius Ranulphi’... This record is not easy to reconcile with the entry in the Northumberland section of the pipe roll of 1130: ‘Willelmus de Merlai debet j palefridum pro recto de terra de fratre suo’ ( PR 31 Henry I , 36). The most likely explanation is that the debt had been held over unchanged from a previous year despite the fact that William was dead in September 1129. If there had been a younger William alive at Michaelmas 1130, he would surely have been mentioned in the Morwick deed. 3