Norman surnames and Y-DNA

Normans arriving at Pevensey, depicted in the Bayeux tapestryA brief survey of Norman-French surnames in Scotland found little or no R1a1a, seen as a Norse marker.1A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 191. Should we expect it? The army that William the Conqueror brought to Britain included Bretons, Flemings and French, as well as his own Norman barons and their men. The Normans themselves were a mixture. The Germanic Franks had imposed their control on the Gallo-Roman people of Gaul as the Roman Empire crumbled in the West. They gave their name to France, but did not settle in sufficient numbers to change the Romance language to a Germanic one. Nor did the Vikings who came after them. In the reign of Charles the Simple (898-929), a band of Vikings under Rollo settled in the Lower Seine area. In 911 the Franks managed to prevent Rollo taking Paris and Chartres. They took the opportunity to make a treaty ceding territory around the Seine to Rollo, in return for Rollo's acknowledgement of Charles as his feudal lord. In 924 Rollo received a further grant of Maine and the Bessin. By 933 the Duchy of Normandy had enlarged to include the Cotentin peninsula. So the Duchy by then covered roughly the area of modern Normandy.2F. Neveux, The Normans, trans. H. Curtis (2008), chapter 4; R. Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross: a new history of the Vikings (2009), chap. 9.

To gain acceptance into the Kingdom of the Franks, Rollo agreed to convert to Christianity. In 911 he contracted a marriage with the daughter of Charles the Simple. His successors William Longsword and Richard I also made political unions.3F. Neveux, The Normans, trans. H. Curtis (2008), p. 89. Meanwhile no doubt a good deal of mixing went on among their followers and local women, though some Scandinavian women appear to have settled in Normandy. If the children of Vikings were raised by French-speaking mothers, it is not surprising that Old Norse vanished in Normandy over just the few generations between Rollo and William the Conqueror. The Normans who arrived in England in 1066 spoke Norman French and were culturally homogeneous, whether or not they had a Viking among their ancestors. This is not to say that no R1a1a arrived with the Normans. As we shall see, some appears among the bearers of at least one Norman name. Haplogroup I1 may also be a signal of the Viking element in the Normans. Yet the mass of fighting men who clashed with the English at the Battle of Hastings were a mixed bunch.

Family tree of the Dukes of Normandy. Click to enlarge in  new window.In his move to conquer England, William could rely upon the support of his father-in-law, Baldwin V of Flanders, who was at the time the guardian of the young Philip I, King of France. This gave William contingents from Flanders and the Ile-de-France. A strategic match before William's birth also bore fruit. A great-aunt of William's had married Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany. A Breton contingent was supplied by Geoffrey's younger son Odo (Eudo) de Penthievre. However William relied most strongly upon his chief vassals and councillors. Many were related to him. These great Norman lords contributed ships to the enterprise, and fighting men from among their own vassals. They replaced the Anglo-Saxon earls as the principal barons in England.4F. Neveux, The Normans, trans. H. Curtis (2008), pp. 129, 132-3. William and his successors chose to recycle the familiar title of earl in creating their English peerage from among these major landholders.

A few Norman barons had hereditary surnames in Normandy before the Conquest, generally only going back a generation or two, such as Mortimer, Warenne and Vernon. The Tosny family was exceptional in having taken an hereditary surname from the family estate as far back as the second half of the 10th century. None of these four baronial families survived into modern times in the direct male line, and there is no evidence that present-day British Mortimers and Vernons descend from junior branches of their families, rather than other migrants from Mortemer and Vernon.5D. Hey, Family Names and Family History (2000), pp. 31-32.

Most Normans were identified in the same sort of way as the Anglo-Saxons, as we can see from these Norman and Saxon examples taken from the Somerset section of the Domesday Book:6Domesday Book 8: Somerset, ed. C. and F. Thorn (1980), which includes details from the Exon version of the Somerset data.

Some Norman second names became hereditary baronial surnames in the next few generations, and the great majority of knightly families possessed hereditary names by 1250. The Domesday Book itself may have encouraged that. It became the irrefutable proof of who owned what. So in the absence of birth certificates, deeds and the like, retaining a name recorded in Domesday could be an advantage. Common practice for barons was to take the name of the place of the family's chief residence, which was often in Normandy. Yet many Normans took their surnames from their newly-acquired English estates, which again would provide a link to Domesday. Few baronial lines last down to the present day. Nearly a third failed to produce male heirs just in the century after the Conquest. Barons were expected to fight for the king, and might turn out for war with every able man of their family. Risings against a monarch tended to start among the barons too, leading to civil war. So lineages could be lost on the battlefield, while some overmighty subjects were condemned to death as traitors. Among the Earls, Norman male lines had shrunk to de Vere, Percy and Talbot by 1600, though new earldoms had been created for some old Norman families. Subsequent centuries saw more Norman male lineages disappear from the ranks of the aristocracy. The present Percy family, Earls of Northumberland, has twice descended through female lines, adopting the Percy surname.7D. Hey, Family Names and Family History (2000), pp. 33-36, 51-2. The last de Vere Earl of Oxford died without issue in 1625.

Talbot

So of the medieval earls of Norman lineage, only the Talbots survive to this day in the male line. The Talbots were a minor Norman family in origin, considered baronial by the 14th century. The Marcher lord John Talbot was created Earl of Shrewsbury in 1442.8K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 1: Domesday Book (1999), p. 368; K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 2: Domesday Descendants (2002), p. 1123; G.E. Cokayne et al (eds.), The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new edn., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959), vol. 12, part 1, p. 610. The Talbot Y-DNA project lists the results of a handful of men bearing the Talbot surname today, none of whom is a known descendant of the Shrewsbury line. It is clear that they cannot all be descended from the same ancestor. Four different haplogroups (including a little R1a1a) have been identified. This is a cautionary tale. Even if you carry a surname that can be found in the Domesday Book, you are not necessarily descended from the person recorded there. The origin of the name is a Germanic personal name Dalabod, which occurs in 13th-century England in the form Talebod and Talebot.9P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). So the surname could have arisen a number of times, first in Normandy and later in England. Initially it would mean X, son of Talebot, but become hereditary. It has been assumed that the two Talbots listed in Domesday - Richard and Geoffrey - were related, but that is not necessarily so. Richard was a feudal tenant of Walter Giffard and his descendants can be traced partly through continuing service to the Giffards.10K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 2: Domesday Descendants (2002), p. 1123. Geoffrey Talbot held a manor from Hugh de Gournai.11Domesday Book: a complete translation (2002), p. 1037. So there is nothing to link the two men.

Rossell

Distribution of Rossells 1891. Click to enlarge in new windowThe Rosel/Rossel/Rossell surname makes another enlightening case-study. The surname has two derivations. Rocel occurs as an Old French nickname, meaning little red, a diminutive of Rosce. Related surnames are Ross and Russell. A Robert son of Rocel is recorded in 1214 in Lincolnshire.12P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).

Arms of Rosell of DenbyThe other origin is a small place called Rosel, north-west of Caen, between Rots and Cairon, in Normandy. Hugh de Rosel, who held this fief around the time of the Norman Conquest, later became a monk at the Abbey built by William I at Caen. He left a son Hugh, but the younger Hugh's only heir was his daughter Philippa.13J. H. Round (ed.), Calendar of Documents Preserved in France: 918-1206 (1899). The Rosells of Denby, Derbyshire and Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire both used the forms Rosel and de Rosel interchangeably in early documents, indicating that they too were from Rosel, probably of the same family as Hugh. The English de Rosels were linked by service to the Byron family, who stemmed from Ralph de Burun, a baron in a modest way at Domesday. Ralph held a handful of manors, among which were Cotgrave and Denby. The Denby Rossells died out in the male line in the reign of Henry VI. Those at Cotgrave gained the nearby Radcliffe-on-Trent by marriage in the 14th century, where the family remained until it too died out in the male line in the 18th century.14Domesday Book: A complete translation (1992), pp. 752, 776-7; R. Thoroton, Antiquites of Nottinghamshire (1677), vol. 1, p. 167; S. Glover, The History of the County of Derby (1829), p. 366. This does not rule out the possibility of descendants of cadet branches. Younger sons of manorial lines generally had to find their own way in the world, unless there was a convenient heiress for them to marry. Popular routes were entry into the Church or military service with a greater lord. But a cadet branch could become merchants or yeoman farmers. It is not unusual to find men of Norman surnames in quite humble occupations by the 19th century. The 1891 census shows a strong cluster of Rossells in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, where the surname could have been boosted by cadet lines of the Rosells of Cotgrave and Denby.

Arms of Russell, Dukes of Bedford The prestige of descent from a companion of the Conqueror was such that the Russell family, Dukes of Bedford, attempted to trace their origins to Hugh de Rosel, and were justly rebuked in a magisterial study by John Horace Round.15J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History (1901), chapter 6: The origin of the Russells. The Russells actually rose to the peerage on their own merits. The first Earl's great-grandfather was a wine merchant and shipper, who was MP for Weymouth.16G. S. Thomson, Two Centuries of Family History: a study in social development (1930). The fact that the coat of arms of the Russells bears no resemblance to that of the Rosels is a clue that the two were unrelated.

Amusingly the Russell DNA Project seems to be telling the same tale, with a variety of Russell lineages, and one lonely Rosell fitting into none of them. However since the lone Rosell there is a Carl, he may not be an English Rosell at all. There is a similar German surname Rösel. Naturally the Rosel surname also occurs in France, and there is a habitational name in Spain from Rossell, a town in Castelló de la Plana. So Rossells in the Americas first need to know the nationality of the paternal ancestor who arrived in the New World. If that ancestor can be traced to England, the paternal origin was almost certainly Norman, but it could prove difficult to tell if he was the son of a redhead or a knight of the Byrons.

Bretons

The Bretons had a stronger Celtic heritage than the Normans. Brittany took its name from the strong influx of Britons during the Dark Ages, reinforcing Gallo-Roman resistance to the Franks. Brittany has a level of R1b-M269 twice as high as the other regions of France tested, but also has a higher level of haplogroup I1 (12%), just above that found in Lower Normandy (11.9%).17E. Ramos-Luis et al., Phylogeography of French male lineages, Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series, vol. 2 (2009), pp. 439–441; unpublished data from this study supplied by its authors; Rootsi et al., Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup I Reveals Distinct Domains of Prehistoric Gene Flow in Europe, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 75 (2004), pp.128-137. This may be a Viking marker, rather than Frankish, since Brittany was controlled by Vikings from about 919 to 939.18R. Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross: a new history of the Vikings (2009), pp. 185-6.

Richmond Castle as it might have looked c. 1400 (English Heritage)The Breton force sent by Odo de Penthievre to join the invasion in 1066 was led by Odo's second legitimate son, Alan the Red, second cousin to William the Conqueror. Alan's loyalty and worth to William was recognised by early grants to him in Cambridgeshire, where two of his Breton men also held tenancies-in-chief: Aubrey de Ver and Harduin. Alan's support for William in crushing the northern rebellion in 1070 was rewarded by the grant to him of a large tract of north Yorkshire, centred on Richmond, where a great Norman fortress was built. His heirs took the title Earl of Richmond from this new honour. Alan also gained massive landholdings in Lincolnshire and East Anglia in 1075 which had belonged to Earl Ralph, who made the mistake of rising in rebellion against William. Alan ended up as one of the wealthiest of the new English barons. 19K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 1: Domesday Book (1999), chapter 3: Bretons and the Norman Conquest and pp. 127-8: Alan Comes (Alan Rufus fl. 1050-93); J. A. Green, The Aristocracy of Norman England (1997), pp. 83, 94.

Even in the late 12th century distinctively Breton personal names, such as Alan, Brian, Conan, Constantine, Jarnegon, Justin, Mengi, Samson and Tengi can be found in the country around Boston and Louth in Lincolnshire (part of the lands of Alan the Red), and in the North Riding of Yorkshire. All survive as surnames. In the southwest the Breton Judael of Totnes held a baronial fief. The name Judael became the surname Jewell in Devon and Jekyll and Joel elsewhere.20P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xxxi-xxxii. As with other names derived from personal names, we can expect several unrelated lineages, but it would be interesting to see if a typically Breton pattern survives among men of these surnames. The Jewell DNA project has only a few results so far, but R1b1b2 predominates, as we would expect, and haplogroup I1 appears.

Stewarts

One particular Breton line was to rise to the Crown. David I of Scotland was exiled in England for some years before taking the throne of Scotland in 1124. He spent time at the court of Henry I (1100-1135). There he was influenced by Norman culture and gained Norman and Breton allies.21M. Chibnall, The Normans (2000), p. 69. Walter Fitzalan (d.1177) entered David's service and rose to become Steward of Scotland, which became an hereditary office. Walter was the third son of a Breton knight, Alan fitz Flaad, lord of Oswestry, descended from the hereditary stewards of Dol in Brittany. Walter was granted the district later to become Renfrewshire and extensive other lands in Scotland, where he and his descendants settled knights and other men recruited from the Welsh border country. Walter's descendants eventually acquired the surname Stewart from the office. Walter, 6th High Steward of Scotland married Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert I of Scotland. On the death without heirs in 1371 of Marjorie's brother, David II, his nephew Robert Stewart took the throne of Scotland.22G. W. S. Barrow, Stewart family (per. c.1110–c.1350), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). The House of Stewart ended with Mary, Queen of Scots, but since she married her cousin Henry Stewart or Stuart (descendant of Alexander, 4th High Steward of Scotland), their son continued the line, and brought it to England, as James VI of Scotland and I of England.

In 2012 the DNA of the Duke of Buccleuch was tested and found to be an exact match of a descendant of Charles Stewart of Ardshiel, who fought at Culloden, both men being descended from Alan, the Seneschal of Dol. The Duke of Buccleuch was positive for the SNPs L744 (=S388) and L745 (=S463). This confirmed Stewart SNP, L744, fits onto the Y-DNA R1b family tree. The chain downwards leads from the widespread British and Breton marker R-L21 > DF13 > DF41 > L744. See Stewart Stuart DNA Project - News.

Notes

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  1. A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 191.
  2. F. Neveux, The Normans, trans. H. Curtis (2008), chapter 4; R. Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross: a new history of the Vikings (2009), chap. 9.
  3. F. Neveux, The Normans, trans. H. Curtis (2008), p. 89.
  4. F. Neveux, The Normans, trans. H. Curtis (2008), pp. 129, 132-3.
  5. D. Hey, Family Names and Family History (2000), pp. 31-32.
  6. Domesday Book 8: Somerset, ed. C. and F. Thorn (1980), which includes details from the Exon version of the Somerset data.
  7. D. Hey, Family Names and Family History (2000), pp. 33-36, 51-2.
  8. K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 1: Domesday Book (1999), p. 368; K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 2: Domesday Descendants (2002), p. 1123; G.E. Cokayne et al (eds.), The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new edn., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959), vol. 12, part 1, p. 610.
  9. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  10. K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 2: Domesday Descendants (2002), p. 1123.
  11. Domesday Book: a complete translation (2002), p. 1037.
  12. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  13. J. H. Round (ed.), Calendar of Documents Preserved in France: 918-1206 (1899).
  14. Domesday Book: A complete translation (1992), pp. 776-7, 752.
  15. J.H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History (1901), chapter 6: The origin of the Russells.
  16. G. S. Thomson, Two Centuries of Family History: a study in social development (1930).
  17. E. Ramos-Luis et al., Phylogeography of French male lineages, Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series, vol. 2 (2009), pp. 439–441; unpublished data from this study supplied by its authors; Rootsi et al., Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup I Reveals Distinct Domains of Prehistoric Gene Flow in Europe, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 75 (2004), pp.128-137.
  18. R. Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross: a new history of the Vikings (2009), pp. 185-6.
  19. K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, Domesday People, vol. 1: Domesday Book (1999), chapter 3: Bretons and the Norman Conquest and pp. 127-8: Alan Comes (Alan Rufus fl. 1050-93); J. A. Green, The Aristocracy of Norman England (1997), pp. 83, 94.
  20. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xxxi-xxxii.
  21. M. Chibnall, The Normans (2000), p. 69.
  22. G. W. S. Barrow, Stewart family (per. c.1110–c.1350), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).