Parish registers constitute the earliest archive sources from which genealogical information can be extracted on a continuous basis, as they record daily life over time. They were started in 1538, although very few survive from that date. There are a host of earlier documents which record names for various reasons (muster rolls being a good example), but, by their very nature, they are snapshots of a particular instant in time. From these documents we can get tantalising glimpses of evidence of the Marples families' existence before 1538.

The following references all come from a work by J.P. Yeatman called "Feudal Derbyshire" and published in the late nineteenth century and are all extracts from various court proceedings of one form or another. Explanatory notes in italics are enclosed in square brackets [] and do not form part of the original entry. In those days it was very common to identify a particular year not, as we do today, by using the A.D. system (e.g. 1997), but by the regnal year of the monarch. This system is still used for some parliamentary proceedings and the dating of some of their Acts. I am writing this article in 1997, but I could say that I was writing it in 44 Elizabeth II instead. I have put the A.D. year in brackets after the regnal year for clarification.

7 Henry VIII (1516): Court Rolls: Tideswell: John Marpol - juror sworn on 11th October

24 Henry VII (1509): Court Rolls: Edensor and Pillesly : Roger Marpull - Juror; Jo. Marpull - prosecuted for assault

23 Henry VII (1508): Great Court of Sir Hy. Vernon held at Byrcheles on 16th October: Richard Marple, fined 4d. [2p] for enclosing a parcel of land lying upon Tolshill. It is also imposed upon the said Richard that he should lay open the said land by the feast of St. Martin [11th November], under a penalty of 3s. 4d. [17p].

Rich. Marpull - presented for default of Court [i.e. he failed to "lay open the said land"]

10 Edward IV (1471): Duchy of Lancaster Rental: Ffernlee, Kinder and Hayfield Magna: Robto Marpull, 8s 7d. [43p]

30 Henry VI (1452): Court Rolls: Ensore and Pillesly: John Merepull - frank pledge

20 Henry VI (1442): Court Rolls: Edensor and Pillesley: John M'pull - frank pledge

20 Henry VI (1442): Court Rolls: Hocklowe: Thomas Marpoll - frank pledge

4 Henry V (1417): In the Muster Roll of Philip Leche of Chatsworth: John de Marpole

7 Henry IV (1406): Feet of fines: Clic John Marples of Rotherham

Pleas Tempe Edward I (1272-1307): Peak Forest Rolls: Alan de Merple; Gamel de Merpel [2 mentions]

Pleas Tempe Edward I (1272-1307): Roll V: Olresete: Roger de Merpal (?)

Pleas Tempe Edward I (1272-1307): Roll VIII: Pleas of Vert in the Forest: Roger de Merpel

A frankpledge is an early form of parish constable, and was usually elected by the community as a whole, meeting as "the vestry", taking that name from the fact that the church vestry offered an ideal meeting place for such activities. Note the evidence of the Marples family in Edensor in 1442, nearly a century before the parish registers start. It is possible that the John Marple mustered by Philip Leche of Chatsworth lived there as well.

The method of transferring title in land was somewhat different in medieval times from that used today. In those days it was the practice for the buyer and seller to institute court proceedings (albeit on an amicable basis) between them with the buyer acting as plaintiff and the seller as defendant. This procedure was known as fining. The result of these proceedings was to effect the desired transfer and this was recorded by the court officials on a three part document divided into top left, bottom left, and a thin strip on the right. This document was written out in such a way that all three parts contained the same written record of the court proceedings. The document was then cut into three parts with the buyer and seller receiving the left hand pieces and the court retaining the narrow right hand strip. This strip was duly filed in the court archives and is known as the foot of the document and hence the expression "feet of fines" is derived.

Clic. is an abbreviation for "clericus", Latin for clerk, and at that time a clerk was a clerk in holy orders, or, in other words, a priest. Occasionally the term could mean a lawyer. The term "vert" refers to a particular type of offence that seems only capable of being committed in the king's forest. It should be noted that the word "forest" has absolutely nothing to do with trees! A forest is an area of land set aside for the King's deer (over which he claimed absolute supremacy) to feed and roam over. Peak Forest was one of three great forests (the other two being Sherwood Forest and the New Forest). "Vert" relates to such offences as lopping of trees, taking wood, clearing land and is to be contrasted with the other type of offence relating to the king's forest, that of "venison", which relates to the illegal poaching of deer.

The earliest references are those associated with the Court records of Edward I, some of which relate to the Forest of the Peak (Peak Forest). The village of Marple (interestingly spelt "Marpull" on the maps of Christopher Saxton, England's earliest cartographer, who made his maps in the mid 16th century) is situated on the boundary of Cheshire and Derbyshire on a tributary of the River Mersey. As such it is quite possible to think of it as on the edge of the Peak Forest. This opens up the interesting prospect that the name "de Merpel" is a geographic form of name meaning "of the village of Marple."

Surname reference books that I have consulted state that the derivation of the name Marples is "de Mapples" meaning "of the Maple trees" and do not refer to the village of Marple at all. They give the earliest reference as John del Mapples in 1349 in Yorkshire. This is possibly supported by the reference to John Marples of Rotherham in 1406 above. However, it is by no means clear that the authors of these books would have been aware of the Peak Forest records cited above. Consequently, the possibility the reference books are wrong and that the origin of the name is based on the village of Marple cannot be ruled out.

There is an alternative solution: that there are two families with no connection whatsoever, one, the "del Mapples" based in Rotherham; the other, the "de Merpel" based on Marple in Cheshire.

I favour Marple as the village of our origin for two reasons. Firstly, the obvious association of the name; and secondly, because to favour Rotherham requires an explanation of how Mapples, where the "a" is short, rhyming with "hat" changes to Marple, where the "ar" rhymes with "far" in the one county in the country renown for its short vowels!