My particular branch of the family had its English origins in Brisco near Carlisle.The earliest references that I can find online in books such as John Burkes book on the genealogical history of ‘commoners’, refer to Robert Brisco as the earliest recorded ancestor and list him as being contemporary with Edward I (more on our relationship to the Plantagenets later). To quote John:
[...] branch of the house of Crofton Hall in Cumberland [...] The surname was originally De Birkskeugh from the family’s dwelling at Birkskeugh or Birkswood near Newbiggin in a lordship belonging to the priory of Carlisle which lands or a great portion of them remain in the chief’s possession Robert Brisco great grandson of Robert Brisco of Brisco was living in the reign of Edward I His younger son Isold Brisco wedded Margaret daughter and heiress of Sir John Crofton and thus acquired the manors of Crofton Winhow and Dundraw
There are various versions of this quoted in other books and Genealogical journals, but I’ve found one quote online from EJM Briscoe that suggests that:
The old records state that Robert de Brisgau of Brisgau in Swabia, brought one hundred lancers to join William I’s army of freebooters in his fight for the Crown of England. He settled at Byrescoye near Carlslisle. In a Deed 20, Edward I. his greatgrandson is described as Robert Brisco de Byrescoye and his family resided there until his grandson, Christopher, had to sell it to the Abbot of Carslisle in order to pay his ransom to the Scots, as he had been taken prisoner at Wigan. His father Isold had married Margaret, daughter and heiress of John de Crofton (tem. Richard III), by whom he obtained Crofton. Whinhow and Leendraw and after the family resided at Crofton. The name Brisco is a corruption of Brisgau.
Brisgau is actually Breisgau in modern day Germany. It makes sense on a couple of levels, one being the sudden appearance of the Brisco/Brisko/Brysco name in history (I don’t completely buy the Birkskeugh thing phonetically), the other being the likelyhood that any land holding family at that time was probably Norman, or an ally of the Normans. There is no source quoted for the ‘old records’ so that needs some further research to establish whether there is any validity to those claims. It sounds nice though, lots of men in armour charging around on big horses. Something that my ancestors seemed to do a lot of.
In support of the use of ‘Brisco’ to refer to that region of Burgundy, I did this reference in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1509-1514:
Desires, as he has before written, to have the genealogical tree of the kings of Spain which will be found with a tapestry merchant of Brussels, who had charge from the King of Aragon to make it; likewise to have the genealogy of the kings of England in the house of the Sieur de Berghes at Berghes. Also writes to his secretary Pierre Ximaines for a printed history of Spain called La Valeriana; and desires her to pay for it. Fribourg in Brisco, 31 Dec., 1510.
The acquisition of Crofton Hall, Dundraw and Winnow estates via Isold’s marriage to Margaret is another often quoted ‘fact’ that I don’t have a primary source to verify against. There is a copy of a letter from (Sir) John Brisco to J.C.Brooke at the National Archives dated 8th May 1782:
Written in third person asking him to insert in the pedigree the marriage of Isold Brisco with a daughter of Sir John Crofton in the reign of Richard II. Isold Brisco married Margaret, daughter and heir of Sir John Crofton of Crofton (see Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage)
Burke’s is indeed one of several books that refer to this marriage, but one interesting thing to note is that Isolde is generally considered to be a feminine name.
I believe that my Irish branch of the family settled in Ireland some time around 1640-1660. George Briscoe says in his book, The Best of Times:
John Briscoe, ADC to General Coote, is said to have been an officer in Queen Elizabeth the first’s army against O’Neill, Ealr of Tyrone. He married Eleanor Kearney of Scraghe, near Tullamore, Co. Offay. In 1588 he built the castle of Scraghe, adjacent to the to the Kearney family house. John Briscoe is said to have been of the family of Crofton Hall, Cumberland.
Now, it appears that some of his facts aren’t quite right. There is an interesting article at Library Ireland suggests that in 1641 Sir Charles Coote ‘obtained a commission’ to raise a thousand men to fight the rebel army of Sir Phelim O’Neile. That’s not Elizabeth’s reign, that’s Charles I and too late for John Briscoe. It does fit nicely with John’s great grandsons though – Colonel William Briscoe MP and John Briscoe. Their sister, Dorothy, married Sir John Ponsonby who went to Ireland as a soldier and established what became the seat of the Earl of Bessborough.
Interestingly, the Offaly Historical & Archaeological Society does seem to back up the date for the building of Sragh Castle by John Briscoe (born 1541) in 1588, which suggests that a couple of lines of history may have become tangled together here. John married Anne Musgrave, who was a direct descendent of Edward I. That is one of several bloodlines that we have linking us to the Plantagents, but I digress.
I will expand on this as time allows and add some more detail about later generations, including some interesting tidbits like my grandfather being one of 21 children! There’s a a letter ‘Eighteen sons in the army‘ sent to a newspaper by my Great Grandfather, Edward Whitby Briscoe, on 8 Dec 1914 that makes for an interesting read (copy below).
By Oz Warren