Show ContentsFitzwilliam History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The name Fitzwilliam arrived in England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The name Fitzwilliam comes from the Norman form of the Old French personal name Wilhelm, which is composed of the elements will, which means will, and helm, which means helmet or protection. The prefix Fitz indicated that the bearer is the son of someone named William or Wilhelm.

"As to the time and occasion of assuming this surname, the greatest certainty I have found is that William, the son of William FitzGodric, in King Henry the Second's dayes, called himself William Fit/ William. It probably here stands for the Robertus filius Willelmi who held de capite both in Derby and Nottingham (Domesday), and became a very considerable landowner during the reign of Henry I., whose tutor he had been." 1

Early Origins of the Fitzwilliam family

The surname Fitzwilliam was first found in Buckinghamshire where they were granted lands by William Rufus, King of England. The first on record was Alard Fitzwilliam who married Cecilia, daughter of Emma Langetot, who was descended from the Cheyneys and the Crispins. The Fitzwilliams inherited Gethampton which had belonged to the Crispins in the Domesday Survey in 1086, and this became the Fitzwilliam principal seat.

Conjecturally he may have been the natural son of King William Rufus. Gatehampton, as it was later known, continued as the family seat. Some of the family held estates in the parish of Sprotborough in the West Riding of Yorkshire. "This place anciently belonged to the Fitzwilliam family, one of whom founded an hospital here, dedicated to St. Edmund, which flourished till the Dissolution." 2

Another source has a slightly different understanding of the family's heritage. "The Earl of this title and surname is lineally descended from William Fitz-Goderic, a cousin of king Edward the Confessor. His son, William Fitz-William, is said to have been ambassador from England to the Norman court, and to have accompanied Duke William in the invasion of this country. He was at the battle of Hastings, and tradition asserts that in reward for his prowess, the Conqueror gave him a scarf from his own arm." 3

Another branch of the family was found at Tankersley, again in the West Riding of Yorkshire. "The parish is bounded on the west by the river Don, and comprises about 8500 acres, of which 2500 are in the township of Tankersley, and chiefly the property of Earl Fitzwilliam, who is lord of the manor. On an eminence in the grounds, which are still preserved as an appendage to Wentworth, the principal seat of Earl Fitzwilliam, is a building in the Grecian style, commanding extensive prospects." 2

Withern in Lincolnshire was also an early family seat. "It was formerly a seat of the Fitzwilliams, and a large moated area is still pointed out as the spot on which their mansion stood." 2

"The manor of Perran-Arworthal, [Cornwall] which includes about two thirds of the parish, belonged to the ancient family of Fitz William, by whose heiress it was carried in marriage to the Mohuns." 4

Early History of the Fitzwilliam family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Fitzwilliam research. Another 65 words (5 lines of text) covering the years 1327, 1420, 1460, 1526, 1534, 1537, 1542, 1547, 1554, 1581, 1599, 1609, 1610, 1640, 1650, 1653, 1658, 1667, 1670, 1699 and 1704 are included under the topic Early Fitzwilliam History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Fitzwilliam Spelling Variations

Endless spelling variations are a prevailing characteristic of Norman surnames. Old and Middle English lacked any definite spelling rules, and the introduction of Norman French added an unfamiliar ingredient to the English linguistic stew. French and Latin, the languages of the court, also influenced spellings. Finally, Medieval scribes generally spelled words according to how they sounded, so one person was often referred to by different spellings in different documents. The name has been spelled Fitzwilliams, Fitzwilliam and others.

Early Notables of the Fitzwilliam family

Outstanding amongst the family at this time was

  • Sir William Fitzwilliam (1460?-1534), Sheriff of London, son of John Fitzwilliam. Another William Fitzwilliam (d. 1542), was Earl of Southampton (d. 1542), Lord High Admiral of England and was the you...
  • Sir William Fitzwilliam (1526-1599), Lord Deputy of Ireland, was eldest son of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Milton in the hundred of Nassaburgh, Northamptonshire. He was also the grandson of Sir William...
  • William Fitzwilliam (c.1609-1658), 2nd Baron Fitzwilliam, was an English politician, Member of Parliament for Peterborough (1640-1653); and John Fitzwilliam, D.D. (died 1699), was an English nonjuring...

Ireland Migration of the Fitzwilliam family to Ireland

Some of the Fitzwilliam family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 111 words (8 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

United States Fitzwilliam migration to the United States +

To escape the political and religious persecution within England at the time, many English families left for the various British colonies abroad. The voyage was extremely difficult, though, and the cramped, dank ships caused many to arrive in the New World diseased and starving. But for those who made it, the trip was most often worth it. Many of the families who arrived went on to make valuable contributions to the emerging nations of Canada and the United States. An inquiry into the early roots of North American families reveals a number of immigrants bearing the name Fitzwilliam or a variant listed above:

Fitzwilliam Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • T. Fitzwilliam, who settled in Pennsylvania in 1692

Contemporary Notables of the name Fitzwilliam (post 1700) +

  • Charles E. Fitzwilliam, American politician, U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, 1993 5
  • William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, British administrator, sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant in 1795
  • Richard FitzWilliam, 5th Viscount FitzWilliam, an Irish nobleman and politician
  • William Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), British statesman
  • Viscount Richard Fitzwilliam (1745-1816), 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Meryon
  • Walter Fitzwilliam Starkie CMG, CBE, Litt.D (1894-1976), Irish scholar, Hispanist, author and musician, best known for his travel-writing books Raggle-Taggle (1933), Spanish Raggle-Taggle (1934) and Don Gypsy (1936)
  • Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819-1905), American wildlife artist
  • John Fitzwilliam Stairs (1848-1904), Canadian businessman, politician from Nova Scotia, elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1879

The Fitzwilliam 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: Appetitus rationi pareat
Motto Translation: Let your desires obey your reason.

  1. Cleveland, Dutchess of The Battle Abbey Roll with some Account of the Norman Lineages. London: John Murray, Abermarle Street, 1889. Print. Volume 2 of 3
  2. Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of England. Institute of Historical Research, 1848, Print.
  3. Lower, Mark Anthony, Patronymica Britannica, A Dictionary of Family Names of the United Kingdom. London: John Russel Smith, 1860. Print.
  4. Hutchins, Fortescue, The History of Cornwall, from the Earliest Records and Traditions to the Present Time. London: William Penaluna, 1824. Print
  5. The Political Graveyard: Alphabetical Name Index. (Retrieved 2015, October 7) . Retrieved from on Facebook