Show ContentsFortescue History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

Soon after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the name Fortescue was recognized on the island as a name for a valiant or strong warrior. This name is composed of the Old French elements, fort, which means strong, and escu, which means shield. Sir Richard le Forte was one of the leaders of the Norman army at Hastings. He was a great fighter and protected Duke William by holding a large shield or escue in front of him, hence Fortescue.

The motto of the family, "Forte Scutum salus ducum," meaning 'a strong shield is the safety of commanders,' attests to the family's founder. 1

Early Origins of the Fortescue family

The surname Fortescue was first found in Devon at Wymodeston (later called Winston) in the parish of Modbury in the year 1209. 2 3

This was "the most ancient seat of the Fortescues, in whose possession it continued from the days of King John to the Reign or Queen Elizabeth." 2

A current search for Winston in Devon returns nothing other than a reference to Winston Manor. However, the parish of Modbury is today in the South Hams region.

"In Filleigh [Devon] is Castle Hill, the seat of Earl Fortescue, the representative of this most ancient and distinguished family, whose surname, as in their motto, Forte scutum, salus ducum, is said to signify a 'strong shield.' The common ancestor was settled at Wimpston or Wymondeston in Modbury, which, according to the family tradition, was given to Richard le Forte, shield-bearer to the Conqueror, for his good services at Hastings. John Fortescue was settled at Wimpston in 1209 ; and the elder branch continued to live there until early in the seventeenth century. The family branched out from Wimpston to Preston, Spriddleston, Shipham, Wood, Fallapit, Wear Giffard, Filleigh, and Buckland Filleigh in Devon, and settled also in Cornwall, Hertford, Essex, Buckingham, and Ireland." 4

"Salcombe Castle was the last place in Devon which adhered to the cause of Charles I. The Castle dates from the reign of Henry VIII., and was one of the numerous little strengths built by him on the Western coasts to defend the principal ports from sudden forays. Sir Edmund Fortescue of Fallapit, the Royalist High Sheriff of Devon in 1642, and for many months a prisoner at Winchester House and Windsor Castle, on his release undertook to re fortify and man the ancient walls. Prince Maurice gave him a commission for this purpose in December, 1643, while he was engaged in the siege of Plymouth; and Fortescue evidently carried out his work thoroughly. " 4

Early History of the Fortescue family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Fortescue research. Another 196 words (14 lines of text) covering the years 1394, 1442, 1461, 1476, 1531, 1535, 1539, 1578, 1580, 1581, 1607, 1621, 1659, 1665, 1666, 1689, 1695, 1698, 1719 and 1797 are included under the topic Early Fortescue History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Fortescue Spelling Variations

Norman surnames are characterized by a multitude of spelling variations. The frequent changes in surnames are largely due to the fact that the Old and Middle English languages lacked definite spelling rules. The introduction of Norman French to England, as well as the official court languages of Latin and French, also had pronounced influences on the spelling of surnames. Since medieval scribes and church officials recorded names as they sounded, rather than adhering to any specific spelling rules, it was common to find the same individual referred to with different spellings. The name has been spelled Fortescue, Fortesque and others.

Early Notables of the Fortescue family

Outstanding amongst the family at this time was

  • Sir John Fortescue (c.1394-1476), the English jurist. A supporter of the Lancastrian king Henry VI, he was chief justice of the Court of King's Bench from 1442 until 1461
  • Sir Adrian Fortescue (1476?-1539), was a Knight of St. John and the second son of Sir John Fortescue of Punsborne, Hertfordshire, and grandson of Sir Richard, younger brother of Sir John, the famous c...
  • His third and youngest son, Sir Anthony Fortescue (b. 1535?), was a conspirator who was educated at Winchester. Unlike his elder brother Sir John, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Anthony adhered to t...
  • John Fortescue (1531-1607), was the third Chancellor of the Exchequer of England; George Fortescue (1578-1659), was an English essayist and poet; Jacques Fouquier (Jacob Focquier, Jacques Fouquières)...

Ireland Migration of the Fortescue family to Ireland

Some of the Fortescue family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 47 words (3 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

United States Fortescue migration to the United States +

Many English families emigrated to North American colonies in order to escape the political chaos in Britain. Unfortunately, many English families made the trip to the New World under extremely harsh conditions. Overcrowding on the ships caused the majority of the immigrants to arrive diseased, famished, and destitute from the long journey across the stormy Atlantic. Despite these hardships, many of the families prospered and went on to make invaluable contributions to the development of the cultures of the United States and Canada. Early North American immigration records have revealed a number of people bearing the name Fortescue or a variant listed above:

Fortescue Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • Simon Fortescue, who settled in Virginia in 1626
  • Nicholas Fortescue who settled in Virginia in 1635
  • Nich Fortescue, who landed in Virginia in 1635 5
Fortescue Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Daniel, James, Jay, and Patrik Fortescue all, who arrived in Philadelphia between 1850 and 1870

Contemporary Notables of the name Fortescue (post 1700) +

  • Mabel Fortescue (1892-1930), birth name of Mabel Normand, the American silent film comedienne and actress
  • Charles LeGeyt Fortescue (1876-1936), Canadian electrical engineer among the first graduates of the Queen's University electrical engineering program in 1898
  • Sir John William Fortescue KCVO (1859-1933), British statesman and historian
  • Harriet Angelina Fortescue (1825-1889), British writer
  • Trevor Victor Norman Fortescue CBE (1916-2008), British politician
  • Admiral Sir Richard Fortescue Phillimore GCB KCMG MVO (1864-1940), British Royal Navy officer, Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth
  • Frank Fortescue Laidlaw (1876-1963), British biologist who chiefly studied molluscs
  • Sir Gerald Fortescue Boles (1900-1945), 2nd Baronet
  • Sir James Fortescue Flannery (1851-1943), 1st Baronet, an English engineer and naval architect
  • Humphry Fortescue Osmond (1917-2004), British psychiatrist, known for coining the word "psychedelic"

The Fortescue 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: Forte scutum salus ducum
Motto Translation: A strong shield is the safety of generals

  1. Lower, Mark Anthony, Patronymica Britannica, A Dictionary of Family Names of the United Kingdom. London: John Russel Smith, 1860. Print.
  2. Shirley, Evelyn Philip, The Noble and Gentle Men of England; The Arms and Descents. Westminster: John Bower Nichols and Sons, 1866, Print.
  3. Guppy, Henry Brougham, Homes of Family Names in Great Britain. 1890. Print.
  4. Worth, R.N., A History of Devonshire London: Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, E.G., 1895. Digital
  5. Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8) on Facebook