Chamberlain Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Chamberlain Meaning
is an occupational surname describing an official who was in charge of
the private chambers of his master.  It
evolved into a title of high rank.  There
have been Lord Chamberlains
of the
Royal Household since 1399.  The root is
the Old French word cambrelane or chambrelain
brought to England by the
Normans.  The Chamberland spelling
cropped up in Normandy.
Chamberlayne was an early surname spelling in
England.  Martin le Chamberleyn was
recorded in Cambridgeshire of 1232.
Chamberlain and its variant Chamberlin are found today.  The surname Chambers also exists; although
this might have denoted a lower-ranking person.

Chamberlain Resources on

Chamberlain Ancestry

Early Chamberlaynes were said to have sprung
from the Tankarvilles who had come to England from Normandy at the time
William the Conqueror.  The first of that
name, William Chamberlayne, was chamberlain to King Henry II in the
century.  His descendants were to be
found at Stoke-near-Nayland in Suffolk.

There was also an early Chamberlain line
at Wickenby in Lincolnshire, reputedly descended from Herbert, the
of Scotland in 1130.  Descendants here
held Pletsoe manor in Buckinghamshire.

Both the Chamberlain and
Chamberlayne names featured in Oxfordshire:

  • Sir
    Edward Chamberlain of Shirburn was Sheriff of Oxfordshire and
    Berkshire in 1505.  His son Leonard
    guarded Princess Elizabeth during her imprisonment at Woodstock in the
    reign of
    Queen Mary.  He was from a
    Catholic-sympathizing family.
  • meanwhile
    the Chamberlaynes of Wickham were
    descended from William Chamberlayne who had ventured to Ireland and
    from his
    son Sir Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of Chester in 1616.
    Thomas of the next generation became a
    baronet in 1643 because of his Royalist support during the Civil War.

Chamberlain name had become more predominant at this time, although the
Chamberlayne name did persist into the 20th century – notably at Weston on the
outskirts of Southampton
where they were gentry and local MP’s.

Orland Chamberlain
of uncertain origins was an English diplomat in
Portugal made a baronet in 1828.  He
married twice:

  • his first marriage produced Henry, the second baronet,
    who became
    a British army officer and an artist of some repute.
  • his second marriage
    produced British army and naval officers as well.  The
    line from William, his eldest son here
    and a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy, led to three notable sons –
    another naval
    officer; Basil, a leading Japanologist of his time; and Houston, who
    would be
    considered racist for his writings today.
  • two other sons – Crawford and Charles – were officers in
    the Indian army.  Charles’s son Francis is credited with having invented the
    game of snooker
    while stationed in India in 1875.

line of Joseph Chamberlain, the British
politician and statesman of the late Victorian era, began in Wiltshire
Daniel Chamberlain, born in 1688, who was a maltster in Lacock.  His son William came to London in the 1730’s
to pursue a trade as a cordwainer (shoemaker).
Three Joseph Chamberlains followed, the last of whom settled in

“Joseph Chamberlain made his career

, first as a manufacturer
of screws and then as a notable

 of the city. As a
self-made businessman, he had never attended university and had
contempt for
the aristocracy.

He was the father by different marriages of the
politician Sir Austen
Chamberlain and of the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlen was a Huguenot
brought to London from Paris in 1569.
Peter Chamberlen and his sons were “barber surgeons,”
practitioners in
midwifery.  They attended the royalty of
the time.  Either Peter or one of his
sons was the inventor of obstetric forceps, something that they kept as
closely guarded secret for over a hundred years. 
instruments, rediscovered in 1813, were given to the Royal College
of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London.

Chamberlin has been a
variant spelling.  It seems to have first
cropped up in the Barnstaple area of Devon in the early 1500’s.  But the largest numbers have been in
Norfolk.  Henry Chamberlin from Hingham
in Norfolk emigrated to America in 1638.
A much later Henry Chamberlin started a department store in
Norwich in
1815 that lasted until the 1950’s.
George Chamberlin was three times Mayor of Norwich between 1891

There were some notable Chamberlain lines coming
to Massachusetts and to Pennsylvania.

Massachusetts.  Two Henry Chamberlins
apparently arriving in
Hingham, Massachusetts in the 1630’s.
One returned to England, the other – a blacksmith –
stayed.  A descendant
line has been traced through thirteen generations to Richard Chamberlin
Georgia, a recent member of the House of Representatives there.

Chamberlain brothers from Norfolk made their home in Billerica,
Massachusetts in
1654, although only William remained there.
His wife Rebecca was caught up in the Salem witchcraft trials
and died
in prison in 1692.  William lived onto

Some of his descendants migrated to New Hampshire and then
to Maine.  Joshua
, born there in 1828, served with distinction at the
Battle of Gettysburg
during the Civil War and afterwards was elected the Governor of Maine.  Another descendant line was to be found in
Alton, Illinois.

Pennsylvania.  There
were two Chamberlain lines in Chester county, Pennsylvania – one
through Robert
originating from England and coming in 1692 and the other through Jonas
Ireland in 1731.  The line from Robert
extended to:

  • Dr. Joseph Chamberlain of Newark, Delaware in the early
  • his
    son Charles, also a doctor, who moved south to Natchez, Mississippi in
  • and
    his son George who migrated to Oregon and became its Governor in 1902
    Senator in 1908.

There were Irish Chamberlains headed by Jeremiah
Chamberlain in
York county, Pennsylvania by the 1740’s.
A later Jeremiah
this family also headed south to Mississippi, in his case in 1830,
where he
founded Rodney Presbyterian church and Oakland college.
However, he was foully murdered on the
college campus in 1851.

Chamberlain family association of America

was founded in 1897
by Joshua Chamberlain of Maine.  It has
continued on and off until today

.  The Chamberland name
appeared in Normandy as
early as the 12th century.  Simon
Chamberland departed France for Quebec in 1663 where he married Marie
Boileau.  His main line of descendants
remained in Quebec.  But some crossed the
border into America, changing their name in the process to Chamberlain
or Chamberlin.

David and Polly Chamberlin
departed Connecticut for Hatley, Quebec in 1794; while John and Jane
Chamberlain came from Lincolnshire in England in 1837 and were early
in Nobleton, Ontario.  Many of their
descendants remain there.

New Zealand.  John Chamberlain, a farm
laborer from
Hampshire, and his family were early arrivals in New Zealand, coming on
the Sir Charles Forbes in 1842.  They
settled in the Tasman district, SI.  Charles
Chamberlin came in 1854 and purchased
an island east of Auckland, now known as Ponui Island, for his family
farm.  They are still there.
Brian Chamberlin’s 2006 book was entitled Ponui and
Beyond: 150 Years of Chamberlins


Select Chamberlain Miscellany

The Lord Chamberlain.  The Lord Chamberlain is the senior official of the Royal Household and oversees its business – including liaising with the other senior officers of the Household, chairing Heads of Department meetings, and advising in the appointment of senior Household officials.  The Lord Chamberlain also undertakes ceremonial duties and serves as the channel of communication between the Sovereign and the House of Lords.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Office is a department of the
Royal Household and is responsible for organising ceremonial activities
including state visits, investitures, garden parties, the State Opening
of Parliament,
weddings and funerals.  The Lord
Chamberlain also regulates the design and the wearing of court uniform
dress and
how insignia are worn.

The Licensing Act of 1737  gave the Lord Chamberlain the authority to veto the performance of any new plays for whatever reason.  Theatre owners could be prosecuted for staging a play that had not received prior approval.  This veto power continued in limited form until 1968 when the veto was finally abolished. The first London performance of the musical Hair had been delayed until the 1968 act was passed after its initial licence had been refused.

Who Was Henry Orland Chamberlain?  Henry Fane
was from a noble family.  He was almost
forty when he married Anne Batson, a banker’s daughter, in 1778.  By her he had fourteen children and they
lived at Fulbeck Hall.

Henry Chamberlain, born in 1773, was brought up there
with the rest of Fane’s children as a supposed distant relative.  But when Chamberlain expressed an interest in
one of Fane’s daughters, he was informed of his true parentage and
to Portugal, sailing there on the HMS Briton.

Was he a bastard son?  Henry Fane’s
correspondence makes reference to a John Chamberlain and Hannah, his
perhaps.  Was she the mother?
Another source has the Chamberlain name as
fictitious, given
to him by his father after an
illicit love affair with a young girl.
The identity of this girl, or even her name, is unknown.

In any event,
Henry Chamberlain did well as a consul general in Portugal and later as
d’affaires in Brazil.  He was made a
baronet in 1828.

Francis Chamberlain and the Invention of Snooker.  While serving
at Jubbulpore in 1875 Francis Chamberlain developed a new variation of
pool by introducing coloured balls into the game.  It
was dubbed snooker – a derogatory nickname
given to first-year cadets studying at the Royal Military Academy at
Woolwich that
Chamberlain had heard about from a young Royal Artillery subaltern
visiting the

Chamberlain later retorted to a fellow player who had failed to pot a
colored ball:

‘Why, you’re a regular snooker.’

While explaining the term to his
fellow officers Chamberlain – to mollify the officer concerned –
remarked that
they were all ‘snookers at the game’ and the name snooker or snooker’s
immediately stuck. 

The Chamberlaynes of Weston near Southampton.  The
Chamberlayne name in Weston may have dated from the early 15th
century.  In
1781 William Chamberlayne inherited what was
then the Weston Park estate.  His son
William, later to become MP for Southampton, inherited the estate on
the death
of his father and built the Weston Grove estate, a marine villa on
Water, in 1802.

most prominent act of
munificence was a gift of iron lamp-posts for Southampton, first lit by
gas in
1821.  His generosity was commemorated the following year by the
erection of Chamberlayne’s Column, an iron obelisk
of some 50 feet which, after its removal to the quay in 1829, served as
landmark for shipping.

Weston Grove estate was subsequently inherited
by Thomas Chamberlayne, his cousin, in 1831.
Thomas’s son Denzil took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade
the Crimean War and survived.  In 1876
Tankerville Chamberlayne assumed
the estate.  He too was to become MP for
Southampton.  He died in 1924 leaving
a daughter,
Penelope, who married and they changed their surname to

The Murder of Jeremiah Chamberlain.  On the
night of September 5, 1851, Jeremiah Chamberlain was stabbed to death
in front
of his home on the Oakland College campus in Mississippi.
The assailant was a local man named George
Briscoe.  Witnesses observed that Briscoe
had stopped at the gate of the house and that Chamberlain had gone out
to meet
him.  After a heated exchange Briscoe
stabbed Chamberlain in the chest.
Staggering back to the house, the victim died in the arms of his

murderer rode away and
hid for several days after the killing, but was himself found dead a
week later
having poisoned himself.  While a motive
was never clearly established, many attributed the murder to the
politics of the time.

accounts detailing the murder were filled with shock and remorse over
senseless killing.  The local Port Gibson
Herald and Correspondent labeled it
“a horrid tragedy” and closed its account by writing: “President
has gone, but will never be forgotten.”
Even the New York Times had a

for Jeremiah Chamberlain,
his grave remains on the campus of Oakland College, now Alcorn State

Incorrect Reports of the Death of Joshua Chamberlain.  In April 1864 Joshua Chamberlain was promoted to Brigade Commander in the Union
army and
given command of the 1st Brigade, V Corps.

a major action two months later at
the Battle of Petersburg, he was shot through the right hip and groin,
bullet exiting his left hip.  Despite the
injury Chamberlain withdrew his sword and stuck it into the ground in
order to
keep himself upright to dissuade the growing resolve for retreat.  He stood upright for several minutes until he
collapsed and lay unconscious from the loss of blood.
The wound was considered mortal by the
division’s surgeon who predicted that he would perish.

recorded death in battle was reported by the Maine newspapers and by
Ulysses S. Grant who gave
him a
supposedly posthumous battlefield promotion to the rank of Brigadier

expected to live, Chamberlain displayed surprising will and courage
and, with the support of his brother Tom, was back in command by
November.  Although many, including his
wife Fanny,
urged Chamberlain to resign, he was determined to serve through the end
of the

courage that he displayed
throughout the course of the Civil War made him a hugely popular figure
in his home
state of Maine.  After
the war was over, Joshua Chamberlain served as
Governor of Maine from 1866 to 1970 and later served as President of
College.  He died in 1914 at the good old
age of 86, due – it was said – to complications from the wound he had
at Petersburg.

Chamberlain Associations of America.  The
first Chamberlain Association of America was founded in 1897 by Joshua
Chamberlain who served as its first President. They published
thirteen annual reports of their meetings held in Boston,
Massachusetts.  The
Association became inactive from the 1920’s to the 1940’s.

The Chamberlain
Association of America, sometimes referred to as the New Chamberlain
of America, was organized in 1980 in New York by Alison Chamberlain
Ainsworth. They published the Chamberlain
Association News
three times per year from 1981 to 1993, but became
inactive shortly afterwards.

Many of the first Association’s collection was
re-published by the World Chamberlain Genealogical Society.  This
was established
in 1996 to carry on the tradition of the original Chamberlain
Association of


Select Chamberlain Names

  • Sir
    Thomas Chamberlayne
    a distinguished
    diplomat in Elizabethan times, serving as ambassador in the Low Countries. 
  • Joseph Chamberlain was a prominent
    British politician and statesman of the late Victorian era.  He was first a radical Liberal and then a leading imperialist in coalition with the Conservatives. 
  • Neville Chamberlain was British Prime Minster from 1937 to 1940, most remembered for his appeasement policy towards Hitler. 
  • Edward Chamberlin was
    an American economist best known for his book The Theory of Monopolistic Competition published in 1933. 
  • Wilt Chamberlain was an American basketball player
    who still holds many NBA records in scoring and rebounding.  He is widely considered one of the greatest
    and most dominant players in NBA history

Select Chamberlain Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Chamberlain and Like Surnames.

From our surname selection here, these are the names of those who have risen in British politics to become Prime Minister from the time the office was first established in the 1730’s (although missing here are noteworthies such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, and Thatcher).





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