Fortescue Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Fortescue Meaning
surname derived from a martial nickname for a doughty, valiant warrior,
from the Old French fort, meaning “strong”
or “brave” and escu, meaning “shield,”
from the Latin scutum.
The English
family named Fortescue
is traditionally thought to have been
descended from
a strong Norman warrior who carried a massively heavy shield in the
service of William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings.

Fortescue Resources on

Fortescue Ancestry

England. The Fortescue family was first found in Devon,
Radulfus Fortescu being recorded there in the Domesday Book of 1086,
before branching out elsewhere in England and then to Ireland and

Devon. The
earliest surviving record of the Fortescue family relates to its 12th
century holding of the manor of Wimpstone in the parish of
Modbury. Other historic seats of branches of the Fortescue family
have been at Weare Giffard, Buckland Filleigh, and Spriddlestone in the
parish of Brixton and Fallapit in the parish of East Allington.

Fortescues rose to national prominence when Sir John Fortescue
became Lord Chief Justice and Chancellor to Henry VI in 1442. He
managed to survive Henry VI’s deposal by the Yorkists but did not live
to see the victory of the Lancastrians in 1485. His son
Martin married the heiress Elizabeth Denzell, thereby bringing the
Filleigh estates and Buckland House into their possession.
Buckland House remained a family seat until it burned down in

By the 18th century these
Fortescues had become Earls. They built a new home for themselves
at Castle Hill
in the 1730’s and they have been living there for a subsequent
fifteen generations. The last of the line was Lady Margaret
Fortescue who was known for her prowess in hunting.

“A tiny birdlike figure who invariably
rode side-saddle, she was known as a ‘thruster,’ a member of the field
who rides closest to the hounds.”

inherited the estates in 1958 and held them until her death in 2013.

A history of the family entitled A
History of the Family of Fortescue

was written by Thomas Fortescue, who became Lord Clarmont, in 1869.

Leicestershire. One
line of Fortescues was based at Bosworth Hall in Leicestershire, which
had been
bought by Lady Grace Fortescue at the time of Henry VIII. She was
a Catholic
recusant who refused to join the new Church of England faith.
Fortescues at Bosworth Hall have remained
Catholic to this day.

Adrian Fortescue,
a courtier at the court of Henry
refused to join and
was executed for his beliefs in 1539. He was later
beatified as a Roman Catholic
. But this mishap apparently did his family little
harm. His
son Sir John Fortescue rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in
the latter part of Queen Elizabeth’s
reign. Later descendants have included the Rev. Edward Fortescue,
well-known High Church Anglican
in Victorian times, and his son Adrian a noted Catholic priest.

from Buckland Filleigh in
Devon came to Ireland in the early 1600’s with his uncle Sir Arthur
Chichester on the latter’s
appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland. His
position gave him access to much land
that the
Government was
handing out.

From this adventurer who died in 1666
came the Fortescue landowners and governors in county Louth during the
century. The Fortescue presence at Stephenstown
began in 1740 and continued until 1914.

America. Simon
Fortescue was in the early 1620’s the first Fortescue to step ashore in
but he died at sea on his way back to England. However,
he did leave a wife and at least one child
on the eastern shore of Virginia. The name there became Foscue. Simon Foscue
acquired the family’s first plantation in Northampton county in 1691.

Foscue purchased the plantation or “divident
of land” called Nevilles Neck with a partner for 32, 400 pounds of
tobacco. There is a story that, about 200
years ago, it
was lost in a card game played in front of a mirror in which Foscue’s
were seen.”

The later Foscue plantation was
located outside of New Bern in North Carolina. The
antebellum house there, built in 1824 by another
Simon Foscue, has been in the family for eight generations

The Fortescue name did appear in America, although initially it was a fictitious
devised by Teddy Roosevelt’s uncle to cover an illicit

Fortescue Miscellany

The Fortescue Legend.  The Fortescues
originally were a Viking family who first plundered and then colonized
French territory near the mouth of the River Seine that is now known as
Normandy. During their years in France these people became Christians
adopted French customs.  In 1066 Norman warriors under William,
Duke of
Normandy, conquered England at the Battle of Hastings.

One of the knights who performed heroics on
that day was one Sir Richard Le Fort.  During the battle it is
alleged that he
held his own shield on front of the duke, ensuring his safety, and
the danger he himself was in.  In recognition of his bravery the
duke gave him
the title- Fort Escue — which means strong shield.  He
then adopted the name Fort
Escu (strong shield) and returned to France to found the French
Fortescu branch.

His son Adam, who
also fought at the Battle of Hastings, settled in South Devon near
Modbury.  All English Fortescues are
descended from him.

Faithful Fortescue the Adventurer.  Faithful Fortescue,
the youngest son of Sir John Fortescue of Buckland-Filleigh in Devon,
came to
Ireland with his uncle Sir Arthur Chichester on the latter’s
appointment as
Lord Deputy of Ireland.  In 1606 he was
constable of Carrickfergus Castle, the chief garrison then for the
English in
Ulster.  He managed to avail himself of a
lot of property that the Government was handing out at that time.

restless nature did not restrict him to
Ireland.  He served against Spain and
Austria in the Low Countries in 1629 before returning to become
governor of
Drogheda.   At the outbreak of the
War he crossed the Irish Channel to fight on the side of the King.  At Edgehill he found himself fighting on the
side of Parliamentarians.  When he
realized his mistake he showed great courage and bravery by turning his
and charging across the field to fight for his King.  Sir
Faithful also fought at the Battle of
Worcester and afterwards fled to the Continent where he remained a
close friend
of the King until his Restoration in 1660.

his lands had been seized during the inter-regnum.
In 1660, as an eighty year old man, he had
little to return to.  Charles II,
however, had great regard for him and reinstated him with all his
wealth, position and lands.  Fleeing from
the London plague in 1665, Sir Faithful died on the Isle of Wight in
1666 and was
buried there.

The Fortescues of Stephenstown.  The Fortescue presence in Stephenstown in county
Louth began in 1740 when Mathew Fortescue leased land there and his son
the family home there.  They were to
remain as the local country gentry until 1914 when the last Mathew of
family died.

was said that the Fortescues were generally
recognized as “good landlords” by their tenants, workers and neighbors.  Their kindness during the famine years
lingered on in the folk memory as this area escaped the worst ravages
of the

However, not all went well,
particularly after Colonel Fortescue after he married and came to live
Stephenstown in 1858.  At first, he
was welcomed by the tenants.  But it was not long before he
created umbrage
when he refused to give a site for the new church and school-house that
been requested by Father Kearney, the parish priest at Knockbridge.

He wrote:

Sir,  After
a careful
consideration of your request for ground on which to build a chapel and
I have come to the consideration that I cannot conscientiously grant
it, for
though I do not wish to meddle or interfere with the religious creeds
of others,
yet I do not feel that I ought to promote the interests of a religion
which I
believe in error; and this, I conceive I should be doing in making a
gift of
land for the of a chapel on my property.
I am sorry to refuse you, and also sorry not to be
able to oblige my
tenants; is a matter of principle; and feeling as I do, I cannot act
otherwise.  I
have the honor to be, your obedient
Charles W. Fortescue.”

His refusal sparked the wrath of the local
newspaper, the Dundalk Democrat,
which thundered:  “Mr. Fortescue has
betrayed the people and clergy.  He
despises the priests, the people and the bailiffs who elected him.”  However, the relations did improve in
subsequent years.

The Fictitious Captain Fortescue.  Robert B. Roosevelt, a US Congressman, was uncle to
Teddy Roosevelt, the future President.  He
maintained two households in Manhattan, both on Twentieth Street, one
with his wife Elizabeth and three children and the other along the
street with
his mistress Minnie O’Shea, an Irish maid.
By her he also fathered three children.
For this family, he
listed himself in the New York City directory
as a lawyer under the fictitious name of Robert E. Fortescue.

1880 US Federal Census, when they had
moved to a more discreet location in Queens, perpetuated this Fortescue
illusion.  The inhabitants were described
as follows:

  • Marion
    T. Fortescue (this
    was Minnie), aged 29, female, keeping house
  • Kenyon
    Fortescue, son aged 9, at school
  • Maude Fortescue, daughter aged 8, at school
  • Roland
    (Rolly) Fortescue, son aged 4.
  • plus
    two servants.

wife Elizabeth died in 1888 and he did
marry his mistress Minnie.  Her story was
duly embellished for the public.   She
was the daughter
of Thomas O’Shea, the editor of The
Dublin Freeman’s Journal
, and had been employed to edit The
in New York.  She had been
married to a Captain
Fortescue.  Roosevelt always referred to
his children by her as his step-children.

The Fortescue children did well, none more so than Rolly.
He was a Rough Rider with his cousin Teddy in
Cuba, a presidential aide in Teddy’s first administration, and later a
correspondent.  He was for a short time
upstaged by his wife Grace.  In 1932 she took
the law into her own hands and killed a defendant charged with the rape
of her
daughter, an act which, thanks to her lawyer Clarence Darrow, earned
her an
extraordinary lenient one-hour sentence for manslaughter.

Fortescue in Australia.  Fortescue is a name in Australia, but not of a
family.  It is the name of a small mining
company that was created by its Chairman Andrew Forrest in 2003.

that modest beginning the Fortescue
Metals Group has expanded at an extraordinarily rapid pace to become the world’s fourth largest producer of iron ore.  The company has holdings of more than
87,000 square kilometers in the Pilbara region of Western
making it the largest tenement holder in the state – larger than both
Billiton and Rio Tinto.  But the
company’s rise has been a bumpy ride for investors, with the company
price soaring and crashing again and again.


Select Fortescue Names

  • Sir John Fortescue became Lord Chief
    Justice and Chancellor to Henry VI in 1442. 
  • Sir Adrian Fortescue was a Catholic
    martyr who
    was executed for his beliefs in 1539.

Select Fortescue Numbers Today

  • 500 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 200 elsewhere (most numerous in America)





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