Nugent Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Nugent Surname Meaning

The origin of the Nugent name is a place-name in northern France, Nogent-le-Rotrou, located near Chartres. The Rotrou family was a powerful one in northern France in the 11th century. A branch of this family, known as the de Nogents, came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. 

The Anglo-Norman Sir Gilbert de Nogent from this family came to Ireland in 1172. His descendants were the Nugents in Ireland.

Nugent Surname Resources on The Internet

Nugent Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Westmeath)
  • to England, America, Caribs (Antigua), Canada and Australia

Ireland.  In 1172 Sir Gilbert de Nogent came to Ireland with Sir Hugh de Lacy. Through a clever marriage to de Lacy’s daughter, he was granted the barony of Delvin in Westmeath and he distributed this large tract of land among his brothers.

In 1181 Sir Gilbert began the building of Ballinlough Castle on a hill overlooking two lakes at Clanmellon in Westmeath (a castle, albeit of 17th century construction, still stands at this site).

Early Nugents.  All the principal branches of the Nugent family, including the main Delvin line, are descended from the marriage of Sir William Nugent and Catherine FitzJohn, recorded variously as being in 1385 or 1407. Sir William is believed to have been the first to have anglicized his name to Nugent.

Over time the Nugents became more like a Gaelic sept, acting for instance as patrons of the McCoffeys. the bardic clan of Westmeath. They were and remained Catholic as England was turning Protestant.

In the early 1500’s, the Nugents expanded their landholdings northwards into Cavan. The Black Baron Delvin, the 12th of the line, built Ross Castle and oversaw Fore Abbey.  

But here their hold was more fragile. King Henry VIII dissolved Fore Abbey and Cromwell, a century later, stormed Ross Castle and confiscated Nugent land.  And Robert Nugent of Carlanstown in Westmeath, who took part on the 1641 Rebellion, also had his lands confiscated.

The final tipping point for many Catholic Nugents came with the Battle of the Boyne in 1689 when the Jacobites were defeated and many Nugents fled into exile as Wild Geese. More Nugent land was lost at this time.

Later History.  The Carlanstown Nugents survived and later prospered.  Robert Nugent, who succeded to their lands in 1739, was known as “a jovial and voluptuous Irishman who left popery for the Protestant religion, money and widows.”

A branch of the Nugents continued to live and own land in Cavan, at Farrenconnell, not far from Ross Castle. Its most famous descendant was Major General Sir Oliver Nugent of World War One fame. The last Nugent to live at Farrenconnell died in the 1980’s. 

Other Nugents had moved elsewhere. One branch was to be found at Aghavarten near Carrigaline in county Cork. Nugents that had been loyal to the English crown were granted lands in Galway which they held until 1912. Today Nugents are thinly spread over most of Ireland, with the exception of Connacht.

England.   Christopher Nugent, descended from the Westmeath Nugents, was a Catholic physician who came to Bath and became Governor of the Bath General Hospital in the 1750’s.  His daughter Jane met the Anglo-Irish pholosopher Edmund Burke there and married him in 1757.

Meanwhile Robert Nugent of the Carlanstown Nugents settled in Cornwall where his wife had property and, for his political services in England, was made Baron Nugent in 1776.

Robert’s daughter Mary married the son of George Grenville, the British Prime Minister; while his grandson George distinguished himself in military service and became a Field Marshal in 1846. The family’s military and political connections continued with succeeding generations.

At the other end of the social scale were the Nugent economic migrants in the 19th century, mainly into Lancashire. Their champion may be considered Father James Nugent, the son of an Irish greengrocer, who was a great social reformer of his time.

America. The first Nugent in America was undoubtedly Christopher Nugent who was transported to Virginia on the John and Dorothy in 1635. He later settled in Maryland. However, he left no male descendants.

Matthew Nugent was born about 1724 in Brunswick, North Carolina and was one of the earliest settlers, around 1780, at Natchez when it was still Spanish territory. Later he and his family moved to Rapides parish in present-day Louisiana.  

Caribbean. Walter Nugent after the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne departed for the Caribbean island of Antigua. arriving there around 1718. His grandson Oliver built the family home there, Clare Hall, and the Nugents were to remain in Antigua until the mid 20th century.

Canada. Some early Nugents in Canada had come from America, crossing the border after the Revolutionary War was over. John and Margaret Nugent arrived from Brooklyn around 1800 and settled in Picton, Ontario. His son Thomas lived in their family farm for thirty five years before purchasing a farm in Belmont and later moving to Ontario, California.

From Cavan in Ireland to Hope township, Ontario came Francis Nugent and his wife Mary and their family in 1827. Francis was only to live there eight years. The local paper reported in 1835:  “Francis Nugent of the township of Hope, while assisting at the raising of a barn for John Heaton, was struck in his side by a falling log and died the next morning.”

Australia.  John Nugent from Westmeath was with the British army in the 1830’s and then took up the position of Inspector of Police in Sydney.

Nugent Surname Miscellany

Nogent/Nugent Origins.  Nogent, originally no-gent or “new settlement,” was a name for towns that were situated on the banks of a river, such as Nogent-sur-Seine and Nogent-sur-Marne. Nogent-le-Rotrou was and is a town in northern France located west of Chartres.

The Nogent/Nugent family originally was a branch of the house of Belesme in Normandy, being descended from Wulke de Belsame, Lord of Nogent le Rotrou.  This Rotrou family was a powerful one, ruling an area known as the Perche (the district south of Normandy) from 1000 to 1126.

The Nogents/Nugents who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 may have been illegitimate sons of Rotrou I de Chateaudun, ones who had been left out in the cold in the succession.

Reader Feedback – Gilbert be Nogent in Ireland.  Gilbert de Nogent and brothers did not come to Ireland with Strongbow in 1172.  In fact King Henry sent forces to Ireland in October 1171 under the command of Hugh de Lacy, with the object of stopping Strongbow in his obvious intentions of taking much of Ireland for himself.

Strongbow had been out of favor with the King and Henry sent him to Ireland with a small expeditionary force, with the object of getting him out of the way.  He regretted this decision less than a year later, and so went to Ireland himself to bring Strongbow to heel.  Hugh de Lacy was given the title of Viceroy and proceeded to name Barons and allocate land to his mercenary followers (including Gilbert de Nogent).

So did the family settle in Ireland, with Sir William Nugent taking the name Nugent in about 1415.

Francis Nugent Dixon (

Bishop Nugent’s Crozier from Fore Abbey.  One of the most important properties that the Nugents owned in Westmeath was the Abbey at Fore.  The Abbey was very much a part of Nugent history because each generation was involved in it.  Many Bishops of Meath and Abbots of Fore were in fact Nugents.

The time of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530’s proved to be a very divisive time for the Nugents. The then Baron of Delvin had to depose his own brother who was Bishop William Nugent of Fore Abbey. Those were his orders.  He had to do it, whether he liked it or not.

The Bishop took all his belongings and went to live with his cousin at Farrenconnell. He brought with him the original crozier that had been used in Fore Abbey.  It remained at Farrenconnell until recent times and is now in the National Museum in Dublin.

The crozier is so well used that the bronze crest has been worn away over time on the top where the Bishop’s thumbs had been on it.  The crest was beautifully crafted. There were designs of ram’s heads and tiny little horns on the ram’s head.  It was used in the old days in Farrenconnell as a holy relic and also to get the truth out of people.  It seemed to have been far better than swearing on the Bible.

The Nugent Wild Geese.  Many Nugents fought for King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689. One account of the battle had the Nugents thinking that they had won the day. However, the Orangemen rallied and the Jacobites lost. Sixteen Nugents were said to be slain during the battle.

Nugent property was confiscated after the defeat and Nugents fled, joining the army of “Wild Geese” in the armies of France and Austria.


After the siege of Limerick in 1691 Christopher Nugent took service with the French and commanded what came to be known as Nugent’s regiment.   He took part with James II in the 1715 expedition to Scotland. John Nugent, fifth Earl of Westmeath and the last Catholic holder of the title, also served with distinction in James II’s Irish army and in that of France.


Ignatius Nugent was made a Count in Austria and became the Governor of Prague, but he was killed in the battle for Belgrade.  His son Laval joined the Austrian army in the war against Napoleon and later fought in Italy.  In 1824 he bought a castle at Trsat overlooking Rijeka in what is now Croatia.  That castle remained in Nugent hands for three generations until the line ran out during the Second World War.


Oliver Nugent of Drumcree had had his property confiscated in Westmeath after the defeat.  His son Walter departed Ireland for the Caribbean island of Antigua in 1718.  His descendants were to stay there for over two hundred years.

Walter and Antoinetta Nugent in Antigua.  Walter Nugent made a total of three voyages to Antigua before settling there and marrying the daughter of a wealthy French merchant. After his second visit, this wealthy Frenchman Jacob Le Roux – a Huguenot – had agreed to give his only daughter Antoinetta in marriage.  Asking his fiancée what he should bring her she was said to have replied:  “a handsome doll and a large plum cake.”

They were married at St John’s Church in Antigua in 1721, he being then thirty three and she just twelve and a half.  We must assume, given Antoinetta’s Huguenot upbringing, that Walter had by this time embraced Protestantism.  Surprisingly, given the amount of immigration from Ireland, there has never been a Catholic church in Antigua.

Walter and Antoinetta were the progenitors of the Nugents of Antigua. Their first child, also called Walter, born when Antoinetta was just fourteen, died aged 9 months.  But six of their nine children grew to maturity.

In 1724 Walter and Antoinetta lived at Nugent’s, a few miles east of the capital St John’s.  He died there in 1758, aged about 70.  Antoinetta outlived him by nearly forty years, inheriting twenty sheep, three cows, a coach, chaise and four coach horses, and 52 acres called Dennings and the house thereon. She died in 1794 or 1795. 

Reader Feedback – A Noble Nugent.  Why no commentary on George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham?

Ray Nugent (

Father James Nugent of Liverpool.  Father James Nugent was born in Liverpool in 1822. He was the eldest of nine children born to an Irish greengrocer father.  At that time public educational facilities for Catholics in Liverpool were few.  But he was fortunate in getting an education at a private school.

After he was ordained in 1848, he was tireless in his devotion to the social issues of the day:- working with the prisoners at Walton Prison, establishing a refuge for homeless boys and another one for fallen women, and campaigning all the time for temperance.

He was much loved in his native Liverpool.  In 1897 at a huge public gathering its citizens presented him with his own portrait.  It now hangs in the Liverpool Art Gallery.  After his death a bronze statue was erected near St. George’s Hall commemorating him as:

  • “Apostle of Temperance,
  • Protector of the Orphan Child,
  • Consoler of the Prisoner,
  • Reformer of the Criminal,
  • Savior of Fallen Womanhood,
  • Friend of all in Poverty and Affliction,
  • An Eye to the Blind, a Foot to the Lame, the Father of the Poor.”

Nugent Names

  • Sir Gilbert de Nogent came to Ireland with Strongbow in 1172 and was the forebear of the Nugents of Westmeath.
  • Laval Nugent is remembered as the soldier who evicted the French out of Croatia in the early 19th century and was the founder of the first Croatian museum.
  • Father James Nugent, known in Liverpool, was a 19th century social reformer and temperance advocate.

Nugent Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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