John de Holcombe

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John de Holcombe is a legendary figure from the time of the Third Crusade.

The legend

Legend says that John de Holcombe was knighted by King Richard the Lionheart for bravery in battle.[no citations needed here]

John de Holcombe beheaded three Turks with one swing of his sword at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191, an act witnessed by the king, who bestowed a knighthood on de Holcombe for his bravery.

While not on the scale of that of legendary figures like Robin Hood, Holcombe genealogists believe that Sir John de Holcombe is one of the earliest-known ancestor of the extensive Holcomb(e) family in England and Wales, members of which emigrated to North America in the 17th century and established a dynasty there.[1]


Holcombe Coat of Arms
Holcombe Coat of Arms

The Holcombe coat of arms depicts the heads of the three Turks on an azure field, recorded in The College of Arms.[no citations needed here]. The arms are illustrated in a book by Elizabeth Weir McPherson.[2]

A knight's tomb in Dorchester Abbey was long believed to be that of Sir John de Holcombe (died 1270).[3]

John de Holcombe is listed in the Visitations of England, 1530.[no citations needed here]


The knight's tomb in Dorchester Abbey is now believed to be that of William de Valance the Younger (died 1282). However, neither de Valance nor de Holcombe, if their death dates are correct, are likely to have been old enough to have fought at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191. If the tomb is of a John de Holcombe, it may be the son of the John who fought at Arsuf.

A plaque devised by a Holcombe researcher was placed by the tomb to illustrate the knight's descendants, but was subsequently removed, creating a dispute among researchers. The matter has yet to be resolved as evidence of John de Holcombes's historical existence about nine centuries ago is naturally extremely elusive.

The coats of arms pictured are also disputed in their detail by some researchers. Burke's General Armory notes the arms as of Holcombe, but of Hull in the county of Devon, not Dorset. It describes the heads and headdress as pictured, and notes seven descents (no details) recorded in a Visitation of 1630.[4][5]

While there is no substantiated written evidence prior to 1530 that John de Holcombe existed, the legend persists nonetheless, and researchers continue their efforts to find reliable evidence.


Further Reading

  • Seaver, Jesse - The Holcomb Genealogy, American Historical-Genealogical Society (Philadelphia, 1925). Lib Cong CS71 H725