Surname Origins

Historic Origins

Although surnames are integral to tracing one’s family history it does not take long for the novice genealogist to recognize that our surnames of today have gone through an evolutionary development in both form and spelling. In England the popular use of surnames does not occur until after the introduction of the Normans in the late ninth century. The Norman conquest was a pivotal event in English history. The invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066 brought about significant changes in all aspects of English life including the adoption of formal surnames by the new landed gentry.

As a child I often thought that my Sambells surname developed from someone by the name of Sam or Samuel who was a smithy of bells. It seemed to make common sense. However, there are many other common sense origins of surnames but non so intriguing (at lest to me) than the true medieval English and French origin of our own surname.

The French connection

In 1153 Henry II when he sailed from France with a flotilla of about 3000 men to claim the throne of England. The loyal supporters of Henry II came from many of the noble families who administered small feudal territories extending from Normandy to Flanders. The pedigree of most of these noble French families have been well documented in a variety of tenth and eleventh century charters called “cartularies”. These cartularies registered the title deeds to properties and gifts that noble families made to regional monasteries and churches.

One of these noble French families, the Candavenes, possessed a feudal county in the vicinity of St Pol (Saint-Pol-sur-Turnoise, formerly part of Flanders) which was situated at the eastern end of the county of Normandy. They had held that territory for over a hundred years through nurturing loyal agreements with the more powerful house of Bolougne. By the mid 1100’s Hugo Candavene, “Comte de St Pol”, developed a close vassalage relationship with the Count of Normandy, Count of Maine and Count of Anjou. Interestingly all of these titles were held by one young man by the name of Henry Plantagenet (later to become King Henry II of England).

The arrangement between Henry and Hugo seems to have been quite cordial since Henry appointed Hugo as his chamberlain or manager of his royal household. The appointment put Hugo’s family in immediate contact with the King on a daily basis. Hugo’s son Robert served as one of the kings household tailor serjeants and even Robert’s wife Emma continued the tradition after Robert died. Both Candavene men were frequently part of the Kings royal entourage and received land grants first at Rugeley Manor in Bedfordshire, and shortly thereafter at several other locations including Clayworth in Nottinghamshire; Oakley in Suffolk; and Evesham and Hardwick in Norfolk; and Newnton in Oxfordshire.

Remarkably, I have discovered that the evolution of our own family surname “Sambell / Sambells” can be traced to one particular Anglo-Norman adventurer by the name of Hugo Candavene, Comte de St Pol. I made these discoveries during an arduous two year review of the early medieval Pipe Rolls. In 1883 the Pipe Roll Society was founded in England and completed the task of transcribing the Latin script of these ancient documents (1066-1205) into type set Latin books complete with index and notations. There are thirty volumes covering the reign of Henry II. These records comprise the yearly audits performed by the Exchequer and included the accounts and payments presented to the Treasury by royal officials. The records include taxes and payments made to the government, debts owed to the crown as well as disbursements made by the royal officials.

The Pipe Rolls clearly show that after accompanying Henry II to England in 1154 Hugo and Robert Candavene took the Latin surname “de Sancto Paulo” to signified the region of northern France where their noble family held a fiefdom. Instead of taking the French surname “de St Pol” it was customary to write the name in its Latin form since all royal records at the time were written in Latin. The adoption of French locational surnames became common practice for the elite Norman adventurers who were loyal to Henry and were awarded land grants in England.

It is from these primary source documents that I have been able to develop descendent charts for four generations of our earliest English ancestors. Much more research has yet to be done to complete the family pedigree for the medieval period from 1225 to 1550.

Evolution of the surname de Sancto Paulo to Sambells.

The evolution of the surname Sambell/s with variant spellings that include Senpol, Sempol, Sampol, Sempill, Semple, Samble, Sambles, Samwell, Sambel are all forms that developed from the original Latin records of the name “de Sancto Paulo”. The written records of taxation and court proceedings in England for the medieval era were all done in Latin script. During this time the original surname gradually took on the anglicized form Senpol. Sen was the Cornish word for Saint. Depending upon regional dialects, and subsequent variations in pronunciation, the spelling of the surname varied considerably from place to place across England.

Full documentation to support the above discoveries, interpretations and associations will be available in book form. It is my intent to have this ready for publication by 2014/15.

To learn more about where we came from; when and why we dispersed over much of England during the last 900 years register as a full member and participate in our collective efforts to write the story of the Sambell/s family history.

[The small hill top fiefdom of St Pol is located just southeast of the coastal community of Boulogne on the map at the top of this page.]


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