Some Remarks Upon Surnames Related to Lancaster

Like a number of other webpages, the notes here originally come from discussions involving the work of the Lancaster DNA surname project
If you quote from these ponderings in your own work, please cite your source (so you don’t get blamed for any errors for one thing! but also so people can find me back and help me correct them), and indeed please contact me so that I can update you.

The first thing to note is that I have moved notes about some less obviously related surnames to other webpages:
a. Satterthwaite-related surnames. Spelling variants include Satterthwait, Saterthwait, Satterthwayte, Saterthwayte, Satterthwayt, Saterthwayt, Satterwhite, Satterfitt, etc.
b. Surnames associated with the Lancaster Barons of Kendal. Surnames include Tailbey, Tailboy, Tallboy, Tailby, Curwen, Culwen, Culwyn, Camerton, Lamplugh, and possibly many others.

1.    Starting with the surname Lancaster. How many types are  there?

Study of the surname Lancaster, including a DNA project, was the starting point which led to the creation of these notes. The surname could have been taken up by many families over the centuries before surnames became fixed to families, and this was the first reason why this project, which started as the Lancaster surname DNA project, must by necessity cover several names, with several possible origins. Some of these are very interesting in their own right, and may give us possibilities to reconstruct family trees back into the Middle Ages. Let's list the most likely possible origins...

Firstly, the most obvious origin is the City of Lancaster in North-Western England, which when it was first given this name was a remote castle town with a role in managing the western defenses against Scotland, and indeed the still semi-independent families of old Northumbrian blood who remained powerful upon both sides of the border, but not yet fully integrated into Norman politics.

At the time of the Norman invasion in 1066, nothing to the north of Lancaster was particularly certain to remain a part of England in the long term, and had indeed only been made English (Northumbrian), rather than Scottish-Welsh (Cumbrian), a relatively small time beforehand. A recognizable version of the name of the town Lancaster first appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 where it is spelled Loncastre. Other common very old Latin and French official spellings for the placename were Lancastre, Lancastr', Lancastra, and Lancastria. The surname was sometimes spelled in more casual situations, for example in records of business or taxation transactions, and this makes it appear as if it had a "French" sound until surprisingly recently, with spellings like Longkester (and not Lenkester, which might be a more understandable error for the modern pronunciation) being typical whenever the writer was of a tendency to try to write phonetically. So presumably the first "a" was closer to "o" (like it is in French) than to the sound in "cat".

It should perhaps be mentioned here that surnames such as Lancastle appear to also be variants of Lancaster, and an etymologically justifiable one at that. This variant may have begun in Cheshire, where for example we find a legal case in 1299 involving one John de Lancastr' or Lancastel.

ref. ZM/R5/m.4v  - date: 1299

"John de Lancastel put in his place Henry the Cutler in a plea of debt between him and Roger de Huntindon." "Roger de Hontindon appeared through Henry the Cutler, his attorney, v. John de Lancastr'; and he essoined himself through William Iuvenis."

ref. ZM/R5/m.5v  - date: 1299

"John de Lancastel appeared through Geoffrey Pigas, his attorney, v. Roger de Huntindon; and Henry le Cotiler, attorney of the said Roger, essoined himself through William de Edlaston."

I am not quite so sure what to make of the old surnames of the form Lancstey, Lancstea, Lancsty etc, but I see no evidence so far to link them to the subject matter of this webpage.

Perhaps most English surnames based upon major regional towns developed amongst the moving populations in the cities, which became more important in the high Middle Ages. In this new type of environment, the increasing number of businessmen, urban landowners and tradesmen needed to refer to themselves in some recognizable way, and they often did this by referring to their hometown, or perhaps that of their father or some other patriarchal figure. Indeed Lancasters appear very early in big towns like London and York. Such may be the origin of all Lankshears (from around Oxford), and perhaps other shortened two-syllable Lan-ca-shire names (see below).  It is almost certainly also the origin of many older Lancaster families from southern England. In old records we sometimes also find Lancastershire as a surname. Presumably if any such families have survived to our day their name has been standardized to either Lancaster or Lancashire for example.

Around Lancaster itself, the first use of the name as a heritable family name by a noble family was in the 12th century, and by the non-nobility apparently in the 13th century, at the time when heritable surnames where first appearing. However it is extremely difficult if not impossible to determine which people using this name were not nobility, if any. Most records we have concerning such people do not specify profession, but many do specify that the people involved were property owners - something that not many people without at least some noble blood were at that early time.

Apart from nobles and burghers, another class must be kept in mind at all times, albeit a class which was often made up of the younger sons of the nobility:  clerics, like tradesmen, often seem to have been named after their place of origin, which is logical given their relatively nomadic lives. And they did sometimes found families. Amongst the earliest we can mention, and particularly relevant to the discussion below, the third recorded abbot of Furness Abbey in the early 12th century was one Michael of (de) Lancaster. Also a Tocka de Loncastre was one of the monks in that period that left Furness to inhabit a new establishment in Calder in Coupland. One Adam de Lancaster was Dean of Lancaster, and had a daughter who married Henry de Redman. According to William Farrer, like some other early Lancasters of Lancashire, he may have been a member of a Furness family, that of Waldeve of Ulverston, ancestor of the de Heatons and de Tathams. We shall explain why the lesser nobility of what is now Cumbria, not Lancashire, may have sometimes taken this name below. (Another possible example noted by William Farrer was Richard de Lancaster, whose widow Margaret held land in Lancashire in 1202. Farrer thought he was probably a member of the family of Kirkby of Kirkby Ireleth. See

I have created a separate series of webpages concerning known branches of the Lancaster families of Westmorland. But not all Lancaster families need have had some connection to the Lancasters of Kendal and Barton. I have also created a webpage with further notes about early Lancasters whose origins and/or connections to later Lancasters are not often discussed. (This includes discussion of Adam the dean of Lancaster, and Richard de Lancaster who may have been related to the Kirkby family.)

Secondly, we should mention some other place names which also seem to have led to surnames.

1. There is a town now named Lanchester in Durham (near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Northumberland) and this may also be a source of some lines of Lancasters. It must here be emphasized that it is very likely that the spelling "Lanchester" could sometimes refer to the place Lancaster, and vice versa, given the way that pronunciations and spellings could vary in the early Middle Ages, and even into modern times.

While it is unclear whether the place-name Lanchester really led to any modern surname, at least as a medieval name it is mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, where they cite a witness (Heruis de Langecestre) to a charter in Durham around 1150, which was published by the Surtees Society in 1872. This publication, when examined, also mentions "Magister Alexander persona de Langechestre" and a William de Lanchester (the original Latin spelling is not given), vicar of St Oswalds, Durham, as well as (several times) a John "de Loncastre" or " de Lancastre" who might perhaps take his name from Lancaster. The etymology of this town's name is thought to be quite different from that of Lancaster, although equally ancient.

One example I have found where Lanchester and Lancaster may have been seen as the same name is in the parish registers for Leeds St Peters in the 1500s and 1600s.

2. Another placename which apparently led to a similar sounding surname is Langscar in the Yorkshire dales. Surnames of this form appear from at least the 1300s, just in the West Riding of Yorkshire, for example around Skipton. They eventually spread as far as Leeds and Halifax, only to dissappear. I have found no hard evidence of any register or document which clearly uses LanSKar form names with LanKSTer style names, but given that the name suddenly disappears after having been quite common it seems a possibility.

Thirdly, some Lancasters may have taken the name through an association more generally with territory controlled from Lancaster castle, rather than the more immediate town around the castle itself, or they might have been connected to one of the noble families who named themselves after the castle and its domain without being closely associated with the life of the town. In addition to the town, vill or castle of Lancaster, three other historical ways of defining Lancaster are available: parish, traditional county, and "honour". Indeed, Lancaster was often referred to as "Church Lancaster" in early medieval times, in order to distinguish it from other possible ways of using the word "Lancaster" (especially perhaps a place called "Old Lancaster" which may simply have been the old centre of town, which became less important after the Church was built).

a. Parish. All genealogists who have studied English families will be aware of this type of unit. Parishes originally "existed for ecclesiastical functions" but by the 19th century were the traditional basic units of English government. By the 19th century many big parishes had been split into smaller units, something particularly necessary in Lancashire and Cumbria where parishes were quite often huge and under-populated. Lancaster was at the centre of a big parish which remained big for a long time. "In 1835 the parish of Lancaster contained the townships of Lancaster, Gressingham, Poulton, Bare and Torrisholme, Skerton, Bulk, Heaton with Oxcliffe, Aldcliffe, Ashton with Stodday, Overton, Thurnham, Scotforth, Quernmore, Caton, Over Wyresdale, Bleasdale, Preesall with Hackensall, Stalmine, Myerscough and Fulwood." A map can be found here.

b. County. The most obvious broader definition of Lancaster's territory is probably the "traditional county of Lancashire", which was indeed normally simply called Lancaster. This includes the now populous territory between the Ribble and Mersey rivers (including Liverpool and Manchester), and also Furness and Cartmell, which together form a detached part of Lancashire which is now in Cumbria. But we should not leave it there. What we now call Lancashire developed during the Middle Ages and evolved from the earlier "honour of Lancaster" which will need separate discussion below. 

In the early Middle Ages, for example in the Domesday Book of 1086, there was no county of Lancashire or Lancaster. Between the Mersey and Ribble seems to have been administered at least partly from Cheshire, building upon old Mercian custom, while in the same way, the northern parts plus Westmorland were apparently administered partly from Yorkshire, and had been Northumbrian. In fact, Cheshire and Yorkshire were once the most northerly two points of the normal English administrative system through counties. The counties to their north (Lancashire, Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumbria and Durham) developed out of special arrangements more suitable to the proximity of a dangerous border, and a restless and disenfranchised Northumbrian aristocracy, with links to the Scots. Indeed, Lancashire and Westmorland are perhaps the youngest of all the "traditional" English counties - the ones which had their borders fixed last.

Lancashire was historically also referred to as Lancastershire or even more commonly just Lancaster - and this until relatively recently. Therefore surnames like "Lancashire" are certainly amongst the names of interest to the Lancaster surname project, and all those interested in the Lancaster surname. A common spelling of that particular surname now seems to be Lankshear. Ron Lankshear believes all modern Lankshears descend from a single family that settled in Oxfordshire, possibly coming from Burnsall. For the record, in medieval law, the traditional county of Lancashire or Lancaster was not a normal shire or county, but rather (like Durham) a special form of princedom called a Palatine County (or in the Frenchified English of the day: a County Palatine). So "Lancashire" can even be considered a less correct name than "Lancaster" for the county. Nevertheless, as most of England was made up of counties which were also shires, it was probably a common error in many parts of England going reaosonably far back.

In relatively recent times, Lancashire has been reduced in size – losing its northern territory of Furness and Cartmell (sometimes referred to collectively as Furness, but more correctly as Lancashire "North-of-the-Sands") to the new amalgamation called Cumbria (which also includes all of the traditional counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, plus a part of Lonsdale which was in Yorkshire), while its now heavily populated southern territories such as Manchester and Liverpool have split off into several independent administrative entities.

But areas in southern Lancashire might not always have been considered part of the honour of Lancaster, and large parts of what is now Cumbria may have been. We must go further back in time to consider what earlier entities the county was built from...

c. Hundreds, Wapentakes and Wards. Smaller than the "traditional county" and larger than the city or parish, are administrative units which came to be called "hundreds", wards or wapentakes in different parts of England. These are often ancient districts in their own right, and they can help us understand the base from which the honour and county of Lancaster were built. Putting all its other dynastic and ecclesiastical connections aside, Lancaster castle was anciently a centre for several districts of such an intermediate size, but they did not all come to be in the same counties. Here are the most obvious ones...

·         Roughly from Lancaster north, the Lancashire Hundred of Lonsdale, which is the part of the valley or "dale" of the Lune River which extends into Lancashire, but which also administered over Furness and Cartmell.

·         Roughly from Lancaster south, the Lancashire Hundred of Amounderness, between the Wyre and Ribble Rivers, with its capital at Preston. Some believe that in the early Middle Ages this name was used to refer to a larger region also including the Lonsdale areas to its north and perhaps even the Barony of Kendal.

It appears that connections to the other places evolved in complex ways until Lancashire came to be what we know of as the traditional county, but the above regions have the most solid and ancient links to the name Lancaster. Many authors suggest that Lancaster's area of influence also spread into areas which never became part of Lancashire, most obviously amongst the later hundreds are...

·         The northern extreme of Lonsdale, the Westmorland Ward of Kirkby Lonsdale, which belonged, or came to belong, to the Barony of Kendal.

·         Just to the east of Lancaster, the Yorkshire Wapentake of Ewcross, especially Sedbergh and Thornton, which are both in "geographic Lonsdale", but which both came to be part of the West Riding of Yorkshire (and much later of Cumbria). William de Lancaster, for example, when enfeoffed by Roger de Mowbray in the mid 12th century, is sometimes thought to have become possessed of the entire wapentake of Ewcross.

Going further, in 1900, William Farrer, writing in the Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society (p.88) explained the evidence that before 1066, "Furness, Kendal, and North Lancashire, bounded on the north by the river Duddon, Dunmail Raise, Kirkstone Pass, and Borrow Beck, and on the south by the river Ribble, formed a complete fiscal area of five hundred teamlands for the levying of Danegeld". This had been, he argued, a single district in the old kingdom of Northumbria, and therefore later connected to Yorkshire, while the land south of the Ribble had been under Mercian influence, later reflected in its connection to Cheshire. He considers the position of not only Ewcross (of which he seems to accept that some part was included), but also Millom (in Cumberland, bordering Furness) and Bowland (in Yorkshire, bordering Ewcross and Amounderness), but the most important unit of land which he insisted was originally connected to Northern Lancashire Cartmell, Lonsdale, and Amounderness, was...

·         The Westmorland Barony of Kendal. This means that all of the southern half of Westmorland, not only the Kirkby Lonsdale Ward of Westmorland, but also the Kendal Ward, were linked with Northern Lancashire from a very early time. This is the meaning of the boundary rivers named above.

These five small regions, two ""hundreds", a "ward" and a "wapentake" are the closest ones to Lancaster, and are all associated with it in various ways. In the Domesday book of 1086 they were all in the remote corner of the kingdom. If we go back to the times when surnames where first developing in use, anyone living in this region might conceivably have thought of themselves as being from “Lancaster”.

While the hundreds, wards and wapentakes are ancient territories, the way they were connected and dis-connected changed over the centuries. Which brings us to the question of how other regions came to be associated, eventually leading to the formation of Lancashire in medieval England, in such a way that it might help us understand what types of family might use Lancaster as a surname. The obvious answer is "politics", and politics was based around powerful individuals, who possessed bundles of territories often referred to as "honours".

d. The "Honour" of Lancaster.

Before the administrative functions of parishes and counties had evolved into their "traditional" forms, the territory controlled by and associated with Lancaster castle was once referred to as "the honour of Lancaster". In general, it can be said that the traditional counties of England corresponded to “honours”, but in Lancaster this was not so simple because Lancashire evolved during the Middle Ages. In fact, exactly how the honour of Lancaster was defined at different moments in the very early Middle Ages is not clear to this author[1], and apparently to others, and so we need to consider this in more detail. 

Three different dynasties or groups of families were associated with control of Lancaster and its territory in the Middle Ages.

1. The Montgomery/Poitevin family, of Roger the Poiteven, who rebelled twice and left the area in the first generation after 1066.

2. The Lancaster Barons of Kendal, who claimed connections to Ivo de Taillebois, another important Norman after 1066 in the area, as well as apparently to the older local aristocracy with their Anglo-Danish names, especially Ketel son of Eldred.

3. The Plantagenet dynasty of the royal family of England, a branch of whom were given the honour of Lancaster in the 13th century. Indeed the royal family still have it.

Only one of these families remained local to north-western England and is known to have kept using the family name Lancaster, even after they lost the power which gave them the name, in such a way that we might expect to find their descendants being called Lancaster. This was the family of the Lancaster Barons of Kendal. While Roger the Poitevin and the Plantagenets, both political powers at the international rather than local level, seem to have been forces driving Lancaster into its union with the lands between Mersey and Ribble, to the south, the Barons of Kendal linked Lancaster more closely with areas to the north, in what is now Cumbria, some of which were never part of the traditional county of Lancashire. So when we think about the early history of the surname Lancaster, we must think about these "almost Lancashire" regions in Westmorland.

Together with the Kendal "ward" itself, a piece of Lonsdale became a part of the Barony of Kendal, which in turn became one half of the traditional county of Westmorland. (The northern part of Westmorland is the original Barony of Westmorland, which is now more often called the Barony of Appleby. It was eventually divided into an Eastern and Western Ward.)The family who came to hold the Kendal Barony called themselves "de Lancaster" because they also held the honour of Lancaster, and therefore presumably the whole of Kendal was considered part of the honour of Lancaster in some way.

Indeed the Barony of Kendal fits perfectly to join the two parts of Lancashire

I have combined two old maps, Kendal and Lancashire, reproduced on "British History Online" to show what I mean...

Based on images at British History OnlineKendal Map

Barony of Kendal

Kendal Ward of the Barony of Kendal

Lonsdale Ward of the Barony of Kendal

Kendal Parish

Parish of Kirkby Lonsdale

1. Kendal

6. Docker

11. Bannisdale

16. Longsleddale

41. Kirkby Lonsdale

45. Barbon

2. Helsington

7. Lambrigg

12. Selside

17. Kentmere

42. Casterton

46. Mansergh

3. Natland

8. Dillicar

13. Skelsmergh

18. Staveley

43. Hutton Roof

47. Middleton

4. Hay and New Hutton

9. Grayrigg

14. Strickland Roger

19. Crook

44. Lupton

48. Killington

5. Old Hutton

10. Whinfell

15. Strickland Ketel

20. Underburrow

49. Firbank

Parish of Heversham

Parish of Windermere



27. Crosthwaite

30. Hincaster

24. Ambleside

25. Troutbeck



28. Levens

31. Sedgwick

26. Undermillbeck, Applethwaite and Winster 



29. Heversham

32. Stainton

(Winster in Kendal Parish, but in constabulary with 



33. Preston Richard

Undermillbeck and Applethwaite.) 



Parish of Grasmere

Parish of Burton



21. Grasmere

22. Rydal

38. Burton

39. Holme



23. Langdale

40. Preston Patrick



Parish of Beetham



34. Beetham

35. Haverbrack

36. Arnside

37a. Farnside



37. Witherslack, Meathop and Ulpha



As its situation changed over the generations, this Lancaster family became much more strongly associated with holdings in the other parts of Cumbria, especially Barton and Milburn in northern Westmorland, and facing Cumberland, and Ulverston in Furness, stretching from the high "Fells" down to the coast, than Lancaster itself or even perhaps eventually Kendal. (This may have actually to some extent been a reversion by this family to its true roots and home ground, as it lost power in the south.) Together with the greater Kendal region, or ward, these large, mountain-rimmed parishes form a neat, defensive-looking circle around a barrier mountains and hills between the English and Scots. Indeed the Scots could walk into neighboring Cumberland at any time. This shape may have defined the eventual boundaries of Lancashire, had things been different. But instead they determined the fact that these Lancasters would are primarily known as a Westmorland family, despite their name.

These maps from British History Online and Lancaster University's "Cumbrian Manorial Records" websites show the northwest before the formation of the traditional counties:


Cumbrian Manors 1086 Before the Counties

Obviously the first family to name themselves consistently after the honour of Lancaster was this aristocratic family who held it and were named after it, the "de Lancaster" Barons of Kendal. There is a small possibility that an earlier noble, Roger the Poitevin, who was the first Anglo-Norman master of Lancaster castle, might have been referred to as “De Lancastria” in his lifetime or soon after, but I know of no evidence that any lasting dynasty of his used this name. He was a member of the de Montgomery family. He was also apparently the man who set in motion the joining together of this castle and the relatively uninhabited territory "twixt Mersey and Ribble" to the south, foreshadowing the creation of Lancashire. But he did not establish himself permanently in England, taking the wrong side in some important conflicts. 

Would any other North Western English families have dared name themselves Lancaster? Probably the answer is yes, at least once surnames started to become more widespread, because by this time the de Lancasters. In this respect it is important to remember that the Lancaster Barons of Kendal lost power quite early in English history. Eventually their title was in fact overtaken by the Plantagenet family who will be discussed below, and then forgotten, except with reference to the war that one branch of this family fought with their "York" cousins in the "War of the Roses". I think there is a reasonably good chance that at least some citizens of the town of Lancaster started to use the name to refer to themselves, at least when necessary, around 1200, and at least a few of these cases had turned Lancaster into a heritable name by around 1400. Nevertheless, it is even conceivable that all such seeming cases had a  relationship to the de Lancasters of Kendal. 

In conclusion, although some other possibilities should be kept in mind, the Barons of Kendal seem to be the most consistent users of the surname Lancaster in the north west of England, at least during the early Middle Ages. From a DNA project perspective however we should keep in mind that families were not only defined by male lines of descent. On at least one known occasion the surname Lancaster was passed on through a daughter to a grandson, presumably creating a separate Y-DNA dynasty. There must have been many such cases in such a long running family.

Old records concerning the Lancasters of Westmorland also refer on at least one occasion to someone by a second name of the form “Lancasterman” implying that there may have been families who named themselves based on their allegiance to the Lancasters.

Fourthly, I believe that there is a small possibility that some people were named Lancaster not based on an association with the original Lancaster, (or Lanchester) but rather indirectly, due to the enormous influence of the name which can come via its use for a time by the royal family. Most interestingly, there were places that were called Lancaster, simply because the “House of Lancasterwere present or influential there. (It was only this family, by the way, which used the Red Rose as it’s symbol!) As this branch increased in power, especially under John of Gaunt, it also increased the number of places around England which might have given families cause to use the surname Lancaster. (Eventually, under John's son King Henry IV, the title of Lancaster was absorbed into the personal title of the monarch, where it still is. See For example...

·         There was an area in what is now London which was called the Duchy of Lancastercomprising that portion of the metropolis known as St. Clement Danes, St. Mary-le-Strand, and the Savoy, which occupies the site of the palace of the earls and dukes of Lancaster”. See

·         There is Lancaster Fakenham (now just called Fakenham) in Norfolk. There is a report that the church of St Peter in nearby Dunton cum Doughton, has “a long inscription to Matthew Lancaster, "descended from John Lancaster, the first of that race in England, and first founder of Lancaster."” See

Apart from the influence of placenames, it should however be kept in mind that despite the ideas of many modern Lancasters it is very unlikely that there is any direct male line link from the Plantagenets to modern British Lancasters. If there were, they would be well known because of the enormous importance this branch's survival had to people during the War of the Roses. However...

·         There could be families who take their name from a branch of the Plantagenets more indirectly – for example through a daughter or a servant or a bastard son. An intriguing example of the latter would be the two sons of Thomas de Lancaster. Their names were John, a cleric and scholar, and Thomas a knight who possibly became a friar. Both used the name “de Lancaster”. See At the very least these people must be kept in mind when trying to identify who is who in medieval records.

·         It appears that some non-British descendants of the House of Lancaster have survived and kept the surname, though not through an unbroken male line. The surname “de Lancastre” (various spellings) was certainly used by Portuguese and Spanish aristocratic families descended from John of Gaunt’s daughters, and this surname is still used in Europe and Latin America. Although they are not male line Plantagenets, these families may in fact be male line descendents of the first line of Portuguese kings, back to the Capetian Kings of France and the Frankish nobility of early France - a very interesting family indeed then!

The Plantagenet Lancasters:




King Henry II

































King Richard I "Lionheart"


King John "Lackland"


































King Henry III

































King Edward I "Longshanks"


Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster































King Edward II "of Caernafon"


Thomas, 2nd Earl de Lancaster (rebel)


Henry 3rd Earl de Lancaster



























King Edward III "of Windsor"


John de Lancaster

Thomas de Lancaster


Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke






(John and Thomas were illegitimate sons)































Edward of Woodstock "the Black Prince"


John "of Gaunt" (Ghent), Duke of Lancaster


Blanche of Lancaster




























King Richard II


King Henry IV "of Bolingbroke"


Katherine of Lancaster


Phillipa of Lancaster









m King Henry III of Castile 


m King John I of Portugal




King Henry V "of Monmouth"



















King Henry VI "of Windsor"























Edward, Prince of Wales








Conclusion about Lancaster Surname Origins:

·         All or most Lancaster paternal lines of Britain probably don't descend from anyone related to the royal family, unless through a very distant and illegitimate line.

·         It seems certain that amongst various other families with the name Lancaster, there should be several separate Y-DNA lines carried on by the modern descendants of the de Lancastres of Kendal and Westmorland. 

·         Three such families who may survive into modern times have separate webpages now, for more detailed study and discussion: the Lancasters of Howgill, the Lancasters of Sockbridge, and the Lancasters of Rainhill.

·         In addition, we can be certain that townsfolk and clergy from Lancaster scattered the surname all around England from a very early date.

Several possible misunderstandings should be kept in mind for Lancaster genealogists:

·         Spelling, pronunciation and naming conventions have changed and varied so much over time that we modern Lancasters, Lanchesters, and Lankshears can not use the spellings of our surnames now as any totally secure indication of what the origin of our name was – association with the castle city, the region, a county, or even the town in Durham. Some Lancasters might not even be British. This certainly happened in America with many German surnames, where Liebensteins becoming Livingstons and so on. DNA testing is a tool which helps genealogists determine more about the true connections between various families and places. Common spellings found until relatively recently are Longcaster and Lankester. (Lankester remained the modern spelling for a well-known family from Suffolk and Hampshire.)

·         Having a famous medieval place name as a surname is not proof of any connections to any ancient aristocrats of that place – and this is even true of families that appear in early modern registers with a French/Latin “de” (meaning “of” or “from” in the Middle Ages) in their name – for example, “de Lancastre”. Despite the fanciness of this name, it often simply means you had ancestors associated with that place in some way. They may have taken up the name when they moved away for any reason at all – military service, a profession, etc. (Of course in some DNA projects people find out that they ARE unexpectedly connected to a famous person or family, and we hope the Lancaster DNA project will contribute to study of all “Lancastrian” families.)

·         Surnames were often misunderstood or mis-spelt in faraway places like America, Ireland and even London - perhaps in our case becoming things like Longester, Lancastell, Lanquishear, Landcastor or even Lemaster. (Thanks to Chuck Lancaster for these examples.) On the other hand names like Longstaff could become Lancaster. Or was it the other way around?

Note concerning DNA research: Because surnames were not fixed in the Middle Ages, we can expect a High Number of Lancaster Families Might also have taken up other Surnames.

·         One case which has been proposed based on documentary evidence is that of the Lawrences of Ashton Hall. One generation of Lancasters apparently took up their father's name as a new way of identifying themselves, perhaps because the use of the surname Lancaster was becoming too common in that time and place?

·         Another case which is suggested from work in the DNA project, is that of all the surnames derived from the hamlet of Satterthwaite. We do not yet know why, but many of the old Anglo-Danish families of that region did ally themselves to the Lancasters of Kendal, as shown by the fact that they often used the same coat of arms. Satterthwaite was indeed right in the heartland of those Lancasters. And so even if this group of families do not descend directly from the Barons of Kendal, it seems inevitable that they have something to do with their use of the surname Lancaster.

According to George Ormerod, a 19th century historian, in his Parentalia, the de Lancasters of Kendal were probably related to “numerous branches, which had long parted from the parent stem and changed their names as successive territorial acquisitions induced them”. For some reason he felt there was evidence that a branch had settled in Eastern Lancashire, near where these Satterthwaite-matching Lancaster families seem to originate.

2.    The Ancestral Places

All the names of interest above are surnames based upon place names from the same region of England – the Northern Pennines; the English side of the “Borders” region. Some small remarks on what the relevant place names were originally might help people consider what variations are possible, and give a feel for the history.

 Chester and Caster, the second part of the names Lancaster and Lanchester, are two old “Englished” pronunciations of a single Roman word for a fortified camp (Castrum which later came to be pronounced as Castro all over Europe by the time Rome fell). For a time in England, the word Chester or Caster (Old English Cćster with the "c" tending to be softened to a "ch" sound) was apparently used as both a separable word for a walled town, and as a useful component for the making-up of new town names. This term had come to refer to fortified cities – especially older ones. In western European languages a more Romanesque diminutive of this word (Castellum, a little castrum) eventually became a more universal word for fortified cities: Castillo, Chastel, Château, Kasteel and Castle, which English took from an old French. The Norman aristocrats were French-speaking descendents of Vikings who over many generations eventually went from being military adventurers to becoming major political players in all of Western Europe, Sicily, and the holy lands. They were famous in early medieval Britain, France and Italy for their castle building – along with their Northern Spanish “Castilian” counterparts they were the WMD proliferators of the Middle Ages. It is they, under the command of Roger of Poitou (Roger the Poitevin), who refortified Lancaster (originally a Roman or even Welsh settlement) into a medieval centre of power, after having only just taken control of this region from the Scots.

 The "Lan" in Lancaster comes from the name of the river upon which this castle was built, now called the Lune, most of which was in the county of Westmorland. The pronunciation of the river name has changed over time (Loyne is one old spelling which was common) and was probably something similar in Roman and Celtic times (Lona? Possibly deified as Ialanus?). It is also possible that the Roman fort underneath Lancaster may have already had a name containing this component (Alione? Calunio? Lunium? Lonaco?). Some people think it meant something like pure or clean.

Lanchester in Durham is thought to get its name from a nearby settlement once called Longovicium in Latin. The name is thought to have meant something like “ship settlement” (perhaps the settlers had been on one ship together?). In this case the “chester” is known not to have been in the original Roman name, but was added later by English speakers. This was almost certainly the case with the city of Lancaster also - we just aren't sure what the Roman name was!

3.    Some Remarks About What Our Ancestral Places Have in Common

As genealogists, all of us researching any of these names can note that all the places have something in common. Lancaster, Lancashire (including Satterthwaite) and Lanchester are areas where history has demanded a lot more movement and migration than one would normally find in a relatively un-urbanized part of Europe. In the beginning of the Middle Ages, this was a fairly rough part of England settled by military lords. By the late Middle Ages, a strong local culture of smaller, but independent, landholders had developed. In modern times, this area exported people to other regions of England, and on to the colonies.

They were literally frontiersmen. The Middle Ages continued a long interaction of the Northern English Pennine region with the people of what is now Scotland. While our perspective is distorted by our knowledge that the English conquered and built an empire, our ancestors would have seen that the chance remained throughout the Middle Ages that their neighbors, especially Scotland and France might one day divide the kingdom. Ireland was also often felt as a dangerous nearby presence. To the north of the Humber and Mersey estuaries, sudden Scottish invasion was a constant possibility. Above it was explained how the de Lancasters of Kendal were somehow allied with the Scottish royal family at the start of their power. Later, another branch of their de Brus cousins became the royal family of Scotland.

Lancaster was a vital castle city and a military capital - sacked twice by the Scots, and on occasion playing a role in the English conquest and/or administration of what is now the Scottish side of the border. Satterthwaite, Sockbridge, Howgill and Lanchester, on the other hand, were even closer to the border than Lancaster and must have felt the effects of border conflict on a far more regular, perhaps sometimes seasonal, basis.

After the Scottish royal family became the British royal family the military value of the city and the region became irrelevant, and many of the hardy folk on both sides of the border were encouraged to settle in the conquered territory of Ireland. They form a key part of the ancestry of both the Irish Loyalists and Protestants of today and the “Scots-Irish” of the USA and Canada. People with border blood fought notably on both sides in both the War of Independence and the American Civil War, and are in some ways the core of the Mid-Western element in American culture.

Lancashire later became one of the homes of industrialization, and its people deserve great fame in the history of economics. Towns on rivers, and later canals, became specialized in processing the wool from the hills and shipping it to ports in the south. Later they worked cotton. Textile processing became more efficient, and finally mechanized. Eventually the military and administrative capital of Lancaster in the extreme north (with Satterthwaite nearby) became less important than Manchester in the extreme south of the county. The Lancashire population to some extent moved south with the economy - land owners becoming investors and businessmen, the children of rural professionals becoming book-keepers and managers, and rural workers becoming city workers, but northern English classes remained less fixed than in many parts of Europe, and became even less fixed in this new and dynamic time.

One result of this was that Lancashire also supplied the English-speaking world with more than its share of the new upper middle class of engineers and businessmen who of course moved about with demand for their services – both to the colonies and to the bigger British cities. Both Lancashire and Lanchester were also amongst the most important coal producing areas during the industrial revolution. Lancashire, which seems like an unpopulated wilderness in the Domesday censuses, became one of the most populated parts of Britain, but also a major source of Britain’s most mobile and important citizens.

Another interesting factor in these regions was religion. In the time of great religious upheavals in the 1600s, Lancashire was conservative. It was sympathetic to Catholicism and the Stewart Monarchy. However in the following century, as weaving started to change the economy, Methodism and similar movements took sudden root in many of these areas, especially Eastern Lancashire. They seem to have hit a nerve with the newly developing "middle class" - people who could read and write and indeed make money, but were not landed.

Thus, with these complicated, but logical movements of people, many genealogists in the area have theories about connections between families in different places, and can now benefit from a method of cross checking those theories.


[1] From Google Books it is clear that p.16 of "The Royal and Seignorial Bailiffs of Lancashire in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries" by George Henry Tupling, published by the Chetham Society, contains remarks on this, but I have not been able to see what it says. Anyone with access to this work, please contact me.