The Mysterious Lancaster-Satterfield-Satterthwaite connection.

This webpage, written by Andrew Lancaster, gives further discussion concerning one male line discovered by the Lancaster Surname DNA project.

To see the main page: http://users.skynet.be/lancaster/Lancaster.htm. Please contact the project if you have any ideas about this subject or which to take part.


One of the most surprising discoveries of the Lancaster Surname DNA Project so far (as of 2008) is that a large number of Lancaster family male lines from Eastern Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, match very closely to most Satterthwaites, Satterfields, Saterfiels, Saterfields, and Sutterfields. The least surprising aspect of this discovery is that it proved an old theory that all these other names are related, which therefore seems to make it certain that they all descend from a male line that was originally resident in or near the hamlet of Satterthwaite in the English Lake District.

Errol Lewis confirmed my impression that it appears that back in Britain the Satterfield spelling is first found far to the south of Satterthwaite, in Derbyshire. Could it be because of a big move to the south that someone converted the very rustic and northern-looking “thwaite” into a more standard English “field” (which means about the same thing)? Might others for the same reason have used “Lancaster” as a more vague reference to their home county?

Whatever the case, most genealogists appear to accept that it from Derbyshire that this surname spread, both into Yorkshire and Kent. Kent appears to be the place from whence most of the people with the spelling Setterfield come (and this particular spelling is not as typically US as the seemingly similar ones like Satterfield). As can be found discussed on the main DNA project page, this Kent family appears to be from a different male line though, than the Satterfields.

I also finally found evidence of an historical record showing a person being referred to as using both types of surname. This comes from the Catalogue of the National Archives in Kew:

ASSI 45/14/2/127, 128, 129 (ASSI 45 Assizes: Northern and North-Eastern Circuits: Criminal Depositions and Case Papers)

Saterwhaite or Satterfeild, Richard – deposition taken in Northumberland 1685

Satterwhite and similar spellings are common and well-known old variants of the name of the village of Satterthwaite, and represents another group of surnames which we should eventually try to compare to. This is discussed further in another webpage which is a complement to this one: http://users.skynet.be/lancaster/Satterthwaite.html

But how do we explain the more surprising aspect of this discovery, the connection to the surname Lancaster?


General remarks about findings so far for this family (E3b Family #1 in the project), and aims of further work.

How concrete is all this?

It is worth remarking that with this DNA family we started by succeeding two times to develop a theory, and then go out and test it, and confirm it:

Where things have gotten more complex is in testing to see if Lancasters from Westmorland would also be related. It appears there were many different Lancaster male lines in northwestern England.

Some Aims.

We now aim to confirm and cross check and expand our theories about the origins of these families in earliest times. In particular:

For example, close name variants are now very important to test, as are Lancasters from more areas around the Northwest of England. (With Cumbria now especially interesting!) For some thoughts on which families apart from the obvious ones might be related see the webpage on this subject.

Some first theories.

Based on our findings so far we can say that some North West English Lancasters, specifically at least the ones around Gisburn in Craven, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, have relatives who had an old association with Satterthwaite, probably in the Middle Ages. The surnames Satterfield and Satterthwaite were already spreading around England in the times of the earliest modern registers, although Satterthwaite was still most common around Furness Fells, and indeed it was very common there. They appear to have been a yeoman family in that area.

Theory A. An obvious theory is therefore that these particular Lancasters originally came from Satterthwaite or nearby, and used the name Lancaster because Satterthwaite was within Lancashire (it was in the most northerly parish of Lancashire, Hawkshead). Note that Satterthwaite was right on the Lancashire border. In moving out of the area, Lancaster or Satterthwaite were perhaps both obvious surnames, at least in the later middle ages when the surname Lancaster might have become less well-known as the name used by Cumbrian family of lesser (but very ancient) nobility.

In this case, as our data builds up, we can expect to see that the Lancasters in this family might form a branch within the broader group of Satterfields and Satterthwaites.

Theory B. The second possibility is that the families of Satterthwaite had themselves come from Lancaster, or at least somewhere more centrally important within Lancashire or the “Honour of Lancaster” . This theory sticks to the “null hypothesis” for any Lancaster family – that they come from the town or parish or general region somehow of Lancaster city itself, concerning which see our separate webpage.

In this case, we can expect to see the Satterthwaites and Satterfields form into a branch within the Lancaster family.

Concerning the de Lancastres of Kendal, records frequently cite their rights and responsibilities in the forests of Furness including the one where Satterthwaite lay. Apart from them I have found one interesting citation: in the 32nd year of King Henry II (1185-6) the pipe rolls for Lancashire refer to several convictions made by the sheriff of Lancaster “against the Forest” including a Harold of Lancaster (Haroldo de Lancastra) being fined 2 marks for “vaccaries or cow sheds for the cattle pasturing in the forest” (pro vaccariis in foresta). We do not know in which Lancashire forest that this is supposed to have occurred. This information comes from a 1902 publication by William Farrer. Satterthwaite was technically in a Lancashire forest, but a closer forest to Lancaster town itself would have been Quernmore.

An even more interesting one is cited in a 1910 article by F. W. Ragg, which shows that just before all rights in Hawkshead were finally transferred to Furness Abbey, the last secular lord with rights there, Gilbert fitz Reinfrid, leader of the de Lancaster family at the time, granted Hawkshead to his half brother-in-law, Gilbert de Lancaster, whose main residence was apparently in Sockbridge, to the north east. This same Gilbert founded the Lancasters of Sockbridge.

Theory C. Both families may have a common ancestor, presumably in North Western England, who originally used neither of the two types of surnames we are looking at so far. By some time in the Middle Ages, one branch of descendants settled in Satterthwaite, while another settled in or near Lancaster. An example might be one of the old Furness families, like the Kirkbys of Kirkby Ireleth, who are known to have also held possessions around Lancaster in post-Norman times, whom William Farrer suspected of using the surname Lancaster on at least one occasion.

In this case we would expect to see no recent connections between Lancasters on the one hand, and Satterthwaites and Satterfields on the other.

Within either of the above three options, if we are to let our imaginations go a little, we might allow ourselves to wonder if the DNA signature we have discovered is that of one male-line of the aristocratic “de Lancastre” family, the powerbase of whom was actually around Kendal in Westmorland, and not in Lancashire at all. Kendal is right between Satterthwaite and Gisburn. Satterthwaite is surrounded by the old parishes of Ulverston and Kendal, possessions of these de Lancasters. Once again however, please note that there were clearly several different Lancaster male lines in the Cumbrian area.

A seperate webpage has been made concerning the background of this idea, but in summary:

1. In the Middle Ages (as perhaps always) Satterthwaite was very sparsely populated. The “thwaite” or clearing in the Grizedale forest after which the hamlet and it’s chapel are named presumably had only had one family running it. The old Norse names indicate that the clearing was originally a summer pasture, while the forest was used more for pigs. Lordship of the area was disputed between de Lancaster family and the powerful Abbey of Furness, leading to various compromises.

2. While the main lordly lines of the de Lancaster family all died out (or actually were daughtered out), this family as a whole did not die out, and eventually used the normal surname of Lancaster. There is even the possibility that many or even most modern Lancasters descend from them, especially in the northwest of England. They became land-holders of various levels of importance in the area all around Satterthwaite. For example we find early sightings of them in the parishes of Ulverston, Ambleside, Rydal, Patterdale and Sockbridge.

3. According to http://www.ormerod.uk.net/History/Ormerod/de_lancaster_connection.htm

"George Ormerod, the historian, also found the De Lancasters owning a 'detached property in Pendle', far from their power base in Westmorland."

This would put them in the neighbourhood of at least some of the Lancasters we have found in Eastern Lancashire.

Ormerod, writing in his Parentalia, was referring to the idea he found in Thomas West’s Antiquities of Furness, that the de Lancasters had settled into many newly developed hamlets, especially nearer to Westmorland, and most importantly, that they often seem to have taken up new surnames based upon these new places. Ormerod was seeking to explain how the Ormerod family from the Pendle region might be a branch, based upon its similar coat of arms. Two separate webpages we have made cover related ground, one concerning the heraldry of the Lancasters of Westmorland, and another concerning written records of early Lancasters.

The Pendle region, by any definition, is at least adjacent to Colne and Gisburn. It would have been within the large parish of Whalley, in the Hundred of Blackburn, which bordered on Gisburn. The Listers of Gisburn, eventually the Lords Ribblesdale, were amongst the most important land-owners in both Gisburn and Pendle, as had the Lacys been before them, and there seems to have been significant intermarriage over the county border from a very early date.

4.The clearing of Satterthwaite might therefore have made a suitable place for a junior branch of the de Lancaster family to have settled, becoming yeoman and the founders of a very successful family. Or might a de Lancaster even have worked within the power structure of Furness Abbey, which certainly held land in areas close Gisburn, for example in Gargrave. It appears that Thomas West, mentioned above, felt that the De Lancaster family settled into small hamlets in precisely this region, and often changed surname, leaving only heraldry as a sign of their ancient roots – something we don’t know much about apart from the DNA for the Satterthwaites.

A slightly tamer variant of this idea is that what we have discovered is not the de Lancasters of Kendal themselves, but one of their allied families in Furness, as mentioned by Thomas West. That the minor lords of Furness used variants of the de Lancaster coat of arms has long been known, that they held land in the main part of Lancashire is also known, and that they sometimes used the name de Lancaster has long been suspected.

Having now played Devil’s Advocate, I hope people will send in their counter ideas!