Fiennes Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fiennes Surname Meaning

Fiennes, pronounced as fiynz, is a surname of Norman origin.  Fiennes was a commune in what is today the Pas-de-Calais department.

Fiennes Surname Resources on The Internet

Fiennes Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Oxfordshire)

England.  The first of the Fiennes would appear to have been Ingelram de Fiennes, who hailed from Fiennes near Boulogne, married well (Sybil de Boulogne, the heiress to the Counts of Boulogne), but was killed at the Battle of Acre in Palestine in 1190. 

It was a later de Fiennes, Sir John de Fiennes, who also married well and established himself in the early 1300’s at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex.

James Fiennes was killed by a Kentish mob in 1450. But a third providential marriage brought together a few years later his son William Fiennes and Margaret Wykeham of Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire.

Broughton Castle was to be the family home of the Wykeham-Fiennes and later of the Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (to give the family its full spelling).

Thomas Fiennes fared badly at the time of Henry VIII, being stripped of his lands and titles and hanged as a common criminal in 1541.  But the family did later return into favor.

William Fiennes, nicknamed Old Subtlety, wavered between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians at the time of the Civil War. He eventually supported Parliament. However, the execution of King Charles proved a step too far and, almost 70, he retreated into exile.  Come the Restoration eleven years later, he was brought back at the age of 80 as a Privy Councillor.

The family history was colorfully described in Ranulph Fiennes’ 2010 book Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Later History.  The 19th century Frederick Fiennes, 16th Baron Saye and Sele, had two notable lines of descendants:

  • via grandson Sir Eustace Fiennes who was a distinguished soldier, politician and colonial administrator, and made a baronet.  His grandson Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the 3rd Baronet, is the famous explorer.
  • via great grandson Sir Maurice Fiennes who was a noted industrialist, Chairman of the Davy-Ashmore steelworks in Sheffield.  His son Mark was a photographer and illustrator, his grandsons Ralph (pronounced Rafe) and Joseph famous film actors.

Fiennes Names

  • Celia Fiennes was a pioneer English woman traveller of the late 17th century.  Her travel memoirs, written in 1702, were eventually published in 1888. 
  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes is a British adventurer and holder of several endurance records (including the oldest to climb Mount Everest). 
  • Ralph Fiennes is a well-known English film actor.

Fiennes Numbers Today

  • 500 in the UK (most numerous in London)

Fiennes and Like Surnames

These are surnames which have a small number of people bearing that name but are included here – for the curiosity of the name, its history, or because of some famous person who bears that name.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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