Neville Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Neville Surname Meaning

The Neville surname originates from the French place-name in Normandy, either Neuville in Calvados or Neville in Seine Maritime. In each case the name meant “new town or settlement.” The Neville name was brought to England by the Norman Conquest.  

The spelling in England can be either Neville or Nevill. 

Neville Surname Resources on The Internet

Neville and Nevill Surname Ancestry

  • from SE England and from Ireland (Wexford)
  • to America and Canada

England. The story of the Neville family is a strange one. They reached their peak of power and influence during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century when England was in chaos. After 1485 it was all downhill.

Medieval Times. The first Neville in England was said to have been Gilbert de Neville, steward to William the Conqueror. However, the line from there is indistinct until we reach Isabel de Neville who married Robert fitz Melred, a powerful baron of the north, in 1197. It was their son Geoffrey who inherited both estates and adopted his mother’s name.

This Neville family grew in power and influence during the 13th and 14th century and reached its peak with Richard the Kingmaker at the time of the Wars of the Roses. Because of a succession of judicious marriages, the Neville family was at the center of power in the 15th century.

After the passing of Richard the Kingmaker and the defeat of the Yorkists, the Neville influence declined.

It received a fatal blow when Charles Neville the 6th Earl of Westmoreland, at the instigation of his wife, led an insurrection against Queen Elizabeth and in favor of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1569. Known as the Rising of the North, this insurrection failed miserably and the Neville estates in the north were all forfeited. The senior line in fact became extinct after the Earl’s death abroad in 1601.

Other early Neville lines were:

  • the Nevilles of Hornby may have been related to the Nevilles of Raby, but they emerged as their own distinct force in Lancashire by the end of the 14th century. The main line seems to have died out in the next century, although some Nevilles did cross the Pennines into Yorkshire.
  • there was also a Nevill line in Essex which flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. This line died out somewhat earlier, in 1358.

Later History.  Other Neville lines did continue. Edward Nevill, a younger son of the Westmorelands, was made Baron Bergavenny, the title later becoming Abergavenny, in 1450. The family home since that time, inherited from his wife, has been Eridge Park near Rotherfield in East Sussex. They also held land by the coast at Birling Gap and many early Nevills were buried at the church there. What survives today at Eridge Park is a neo-Georgian mansion that was built in the 1930’s.

Today the Nevill surname is mainly a surname of London and the southeast. Neville also appears there, the Nevilles from Wrotham in Kent for instance. But this spelling is found more in the north.

Ireland.  There was a Neville family from the 13th century in county Wexford. Initially important, these Nevilles took part in Silken Thomas’s rebellion in 1535 and had their lands forfeited. Nothing was heard from them again.

Richard Nevill from the Sussex Nevills came to Ireland in the 1640’s and made his home at Furness in county Kildare. Arthur Jones, the Surveyor General, was Richard’s only great grandchild and he assumed the name of Nevill before succeeding his uncle at Furness in 1750. These Nevills were MP’s for Wexford from 1727 until 1822 when Arthur’s son Richard died.

One Neville family dates back to Mountmellick in Laios around the year 1700. William Neville, a stone mason, moved to Tullamore a hundred years later to work on the building of Charleville castle. The family migrated to America in 1844.

Irish.  There were also Irish Nevilles from the Gaelic O’Niadh, meaning “descendant of Nia or champion.” It was the name of an old Kerry family. As Neville it appeared in Kerry and Limerick. There were many Nevilles in Ballylongford, Kerry who emigrated to America and Canada in the 1850’s.

America.  Two early John Nevilles in America may or may not have left descendant trails:

The first John was brought to Maryland in 1633 as a servant. He then became a sea captain and appeared to have led a rough-and-tumble life before his death in Charles county, Maryland in 1664. There was a descendant line traced in Joseph B. Neville’s 1974 book History of One Neville Family: 1612-1972.

The second John was a Rear Admiral in the British Navy who based himself in Virginia. He died on his ship of yellow fever in the West Indies in 1697 and was buried in Hampton county, Virginia. No line from him has been traced.

Two other early Nevilles in Virginia were the Nevilles of Isle of Wight and Fauquier counties and the Nevilles of Gloucester county.

Revolutionary War.  America had two Neville generals during the Revolutionary War, John Neville and Joseph Neville, and they were brothers from Virginia.

John’s son Presley Neville wrote a letter in 1803 in which he stated that his grandfather John had been kidnapped and brought to Virginia against his will around the year 1679. This John became a planter in Gloucester county and prospered.

Canada.  Anthony and Margaet Neville were Loyalists from upstate New York who departed for Ontario in 1793.  

“The Nevilles set off with two cows, an ox team, and a sleigh on which they piled all the furniture they could hold. The trek took them six weeks. For eight years the Nevilles lived in Fredericksburgh before moving to Ernestown near their Switzer relatives.”

However, the majority of the Neville immigrants to Canada were Irish. Among the early arrivals were:

  • John Neville who came to Newfoundland in 1805 and married Anne Colbert in St. John’s that year
  • Patrick Neville from Wexford who married Catherine Kelly at Notre Dame church in Quebec in 1825.
  • John Neville from Limerick who came with his family to Bridgeport, Nova Scotia in 1834.
  • while Thomas and Catherine Neville from Ballylongford in Kerry came to Ontario in 1853.

Mitchell and Clara Neville were Irish immigrants who had settled in Ernestown, Ontario in the 1830’s. In 1865 their son Anthony Neville patented a kerosene burner, called the Neville lamp, that was designed to produce a smokeless fuel without a chimney.

Neville Surname Miscellany

The Nevilles of the North.  The Neville family has Saxon origins in Northumberland that preceded the Norman invasion.  Their line can be traced back to Uhtred, whose son Dolfin was recorded in 1129 as holding the manor of Staindrop with substantial estates.

This family was said to have been descended on the female side from King Ethelred the Unready.  One writer on this family concluded: “The Nevilles are thus a Saxon race with a Norman name.”

Dolfin was succeeded by his son Meldred and he in turn by his son Robert fitz Maldred. Robert it was who married the Norman heiress Isabel de Néville at Brancepeth in Durham in 1197. And it was their elder son Geoffrey de Neville who inherited the estates of both his father and his mother and adopted the Neville surname.  This was borne by his descendants thereafter.  Their younger son Ralph also adopted the Neville name and became Archbishop of Canterbury.

The parish of Staindrop remained the principal seat of the Neville family until 1569, their chief residence being at Raby where in the 1380’s they had built Raby Castle.  After Charles Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, led the failed Rising of the North in favor of Mary, Queen of Scots, Raby Castle was seized and taken into royal custody.

The Neville Family in the 15th Century.  The main lines of the Neville family when it was at its most powerful ran as follows:

  • Ralph Neville (died in 1425) who married Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt
  • – Cicely Neville (died in 1495) who married Richard, Duke of York (killed in battle in 1460)
  • — EDWARD IV  (died in 1483)
  • — Edmund, Earl of Rutland (killed in battle in 1460)
  • — George, Duke of Clarence (executed for treason in 1478)
  • — RICHARD III (killed at Bosworth Field in 1485)
  • Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (died in 1460)
  • – Richard, Earl of Warwick (died in 1471) who married Anne, heiress of the Earl of Warwick
  • — Isabel (died in 1476) who married George, Duke of Clarence
  • — Edward (executed for treason in 1499)
  • — Anne (died in 1484) who married first Edward, Prince of Wales (killed in 1471) and then Richard III.

William Neville, Stone Mason at Charleville.  The Neville family were Irish Quakers and had been living at Mountmellick in county Laios since around 1700.  Family oral tradition has it that in 1799 William Neville moved with his wife and four children from Mountmellick to Tullamore fourteen miles away to help build a castle.  He was a stone mason by trade and that castle was Charleville castle.

The castle was designed by Francis Johnson, one of the leading architects of the day, and was built for the new Earl of Charleville.  Work started in 1800 and the castle was finally completed in 1809.

Presley Neville’s Letter of 1803.  Presley Neville, the son of General John Neville, wrote the following about his family’s ancestry in a letter written in 1803 shortly after the death of his father:

“The following is the only history of my family which I am in possession of and which I this day collected from my father General John Neville.

In the early settlement of Virginia it was common to kidnap or steal young people in England, Ireland and Scotland but particularly in the former and bring them to the colonies with a view to profit by either selling them, or using them as clerks or overseers as their abilities seemed to promise the most advantage.

My great grandfather was brought to Virginia in this way about the year 1679. Although a small boy, he had a good education as such and remembered well coming from Warwickshire.

By exposing the circumstances of his being forced from England he made friends on arriving in Virginia and escaped a servile situation.  How he spent his life for sometime is unknown, but he finally had a good estate in Gloucester county.  He was married to a woman by the name of Weeks who was my great grandmother.

To her John Neville was married and had several children.  Joseph Neville, my grandfather, one of their sons, was born about 1700 in Gloucester county and he was bred a planter.  He married a Mary Barget, a very handsome and genteel woman.  They had many children of which my father John was the eldest.  He was born about the year 1730 and married in 1754 to Winifred Oldham.

The three generations of Neville here mentioned – my great grandfather, grandfather and father – were remarkable for sound understanding, great activity, bodily strength and violent dispositions.  My grandfather Joseph Neville died about the year 1799 aged near 100 years.  John Neville, my father, died on July 29, 1803 aged 73 years.

Presley J. Neville.”

General John Neville lived on an island near Pittsburgh (now called Neville Island) in the latter years of his life.  Presley moved from Pittsburgh to Ohio in 1813 and died in Neville, Ohio in 1818. General John’s brother Joseph, also a general in the Revolutionary War, lived onto 1819 and died in Hardy county, Virginia.

Anthony Newville and the Neville Lamp.  In 1865 Anthony Neville, a young man living in Ernestown in Ontario, received the first of two patents for a new type of kerosene burner.  It was designed to produce a smokeless flame without the use of a chimney. To achieve this, Neville used a tall, flat wick tube with a variety of tips that allowed more oxygen to reach the lamp’s flame. As long as the length of the wick was controlled, smoke would be reduced.

The Neville Lamps featured a conoid font with a rounded shoulder and ring-shaped handle riveted to the side of the lamp. The lower portion of the font was the burner chamber, with the underside threaded to fit the collar.  Two wick wheels rested inside the chamber while a wick tube extends through the chamber and protrudes through the font, exposing a flared tip with a series of small holes around the rim.

The Neville Lamps were fuelled by kerosene, discovered by a Canadian geologist in 1846.   By the 1860’s, the kerosene lamp became the primary source of light, replacing whale oil and lard.

Anthony Neville’s life after his discovery seems to have descended into obscurity.  He got married in 1872 and was recorded as living in Hamilton in 1881.  By the time of the 1901 census he had moved with his family to Saskatchewan and his occupation was listed as farmer.

Neville Names

  • Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was known as Warwick the Kingmaker during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century. He orchestrated the power battle between Yorkist factions at that time.
  • Wendell C. Neville was a highly decorated general of the US Marine Corps in the early 1900’s.
  • Richard Neville was an Australian writer who had a brief moment of fame as the editor of the counter-culture magazine Oz in the early 1970’s.
  • Gary Neville was a football player for Manchester United and England and is now a TV football pundit.

Neville Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Neville and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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