Birnell History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The name Birnell comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon culture of Britain. It was a name for a person with brown hair or a dark complexion. The surname Birnell is derived from the Old English word burnel. This word comes from the Old French word brunel, which is a diminutive of the Old French word brun. Normally a nickname, Birnell was also used as a personal name.

Early Origins of the Birnell family

The surname Birnell was first found in Shropshire where they were a family of great antiquity. They held a family seat at Acton Burnell in the county of Salop where they were found as early as 1087 according to Dugdale. They also acquired Holgate in the same shire and one of the first on record was Lesire le Burnell, whose son Robert Burnell (1239-1292) was Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1275 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1274-1292. He was "descended from a knightly family in Shropshire, and was born at their seat of Acton Burnell, near Shrewsbury. After he became famous the monks of Buildwas forged a genealogy which traced his family back to the Conquest." [1]

"That this family has been of great antiquity here in England, an old Martyrologe (sometime belonging to the abbey of Buildewas, county Salop) doth plainly demonstrate: for thereby appeareth that Sir Robert Burnell, knt, died 15 November, 1087; Sir Philip, 14 December, 1107; Sir Roger, 5 February, 1140; Sir Hugh, 7 January, 1189; Sir Hugh, 12 May, 1242; and another Sir Robert, 6 December, 1249." [2]

However, another source disputes this entry and postulates: "This evidence is too minutely circumstantial as regards dates to be above suspicion; and with the exception of Robert and Philip, none of the Christian names given are found in the records, nor even these at the same periods. An Ingelram Burnell was living in 1165; and a William Burnell attested one of the charters of Wenlock Abbey in 1170. (Eyton's Salop.) They were seated in Shropshire, where they have left their name to the village of Acton Burnell, and Eudon Burnell. The first mention of them at Acton (Actune, the oak town) is found in the Testa de Nevill, where it is stated that William and Gerain Burnell held half a fee there. [3] A passage in the Hundred Rolls, evidently referable to the time of Henry III., proves that Robert Burnell then held it in fee of Thomas Corbet. William had joined the rebellious barons; but Robert, a churchman of remarkable ability, was the "secretary and confidential clerk" of Prince Edward, and his most trusted and valued counsellor when he became King." [4]

Another branch of the family was found in the parish of Sibthorpe in Nottinghamshire. "This place was anciently of some importance, and was the residence of the Burnell family, of whose spacious mansion, however, no remains now exist." [5]

The parish of Acton-Burnell is of great importance to the family too. "This place, which is of considerable antiquity, is on a branch of the Roman Watling-street. It takes the adjunct to its name from the family of Burnell, of whom Robert, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Lord High Chancellor in the reign of Edward I., had a castle in the parish, of which there are still some remains. Nicholas Burnell, a distinguished warrior in the reign of Edward III., was born and buried here." [5]

Early History of the Birnell family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Birnell research. Another 290 words (21 lines of text) covering the years 1272, 1274, 1292, 1283, 1571, 1542 and 1641 are included under the topic Early Birnell History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Birnell Spelling Variations

Only recently has spelling become standardized in the English language. As the English language evolved in the Middle Ages, the spelling of names changed also. The name Birnell has undergone many spelling variations, including Burnell, Burnhill, Byrnell and others.

Early Notables of the Birnell family (pre 1700)

Distinguished members of the family include Edward Burnell ( fl. 1542), English professor of Greek at Rostock, Germany. [1] Henry Burnell (fl. 1641), the dramatist, belongs to the Anglo-Irish family of Burnell, which acquired considerable estates in Leinster...
Another 36 words (3 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Birnell Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Ireland Migration of the Birnell family to Ireland

Some of the Birnell family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 33 words (2 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Migration of the Birnell family

To escape the unstable social climate in England of this time, many families boarded ships for the New World with the hope of finding land, opportunity, and greater religious and political freedom. Although the voyages were expensive, crowded, and difficult, those families that arrived often found greater opportunities and freedoms than they could have experienced at home. Many of those families went on to make significant contributions to the rapidly developing colonies in which they settled. Early North American records indicate many people bearing the name Birnell were among those contributors: Mrs. Burnell who arrived in Barbados in 1680 with servants; Henry Burnell settled in Virginia in 1656 with his brothers Francis and Robert; William Burnell settled in Salem Massachusetts in 1630.



The Birnell Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Caritas fructum habet
Motto Translation: Charity bears fruit.


  1. ^ Smith, George (ed), Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1885-1900. Print
  2. ^ Dugdale, William. The Antiquities of Warwickshire Illustrated London: Second Edition, 1730. Digital
  3. ^ Testa de Nevill or "Liber Feodorum" or "Book of Fees," thought to have been written by Ralph de Nevill, for King John (1199–1216)
  4. ^ Cleveland, Dutchess of The Battle Abbey Roll with some Account of the Norman Lineages. London: John Murray, Abermarle Street, 1889. Print. Volume 1 of 3
  5. ^ Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of England. Institute of Historical Research, 1848, Print.


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