Percy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Percy Meaning
The
Percy
name came from its first bearer in England, William de Percy, who
derived his
name from the fief of Perci or Percy near Villedieu in Normandy where,
it is
thought, he originated.

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Percy Resources on
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Percy Ancestry

England. The
forebear of the Percys in England was the Norman William de Percy
who arrived in 1067
and made his base in Yorkshire. From him
has come a
prominent
early line of
Percys
who became the Earls of Northumberland and a prominent
later line
who became the Dukes of Northumberland.

The Percys owed their rise to power by being the
bulwark against the marauding Scots across the border.
In 1309 Henry Percy bought the barony of Alnwick
in Northumberland. He became at a stroke
the greatest landowner of the north after the King and the owner of one
of its
most powerful fortresses, Alnwick Castle.
His son Henry added to the family holdings by acquiring
Warkworth
castle. And their main source of power
came
from their appointment as the wardens of the east March of Scotland, an
office
which they were to hold for most of the next two centuries.

But as soon as the
Scottish menace faded in the 16th century, the Percys lost their power.
The
Tudors no longer needed a viceroy in the north. The sixth earl was
ruined by
Henry VIII, the seventh executed by Elizabeth, the eighth murdered in
the Tower
and the ninth gave up on politics for chemistry and astronomy. They
were for
much of this time Catholic sympathizers who were involved in the Rising
of the
North of 1569 and, directly and indirectly, in the Gunpowder Plot of
1605.

The
male line ended when Joceline Percy died in 1670. His
daughter Elizabeth would inherit the
estate (although James
Percy, a
trunkmaker in Dublin
, did challenge her claim).
In 1682
Elizabeth married
Charles Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, and they became one of the
wealthiest
couples in England.

The Percy and
Northumberland line then reinvented itself when Elizabeth Percy nee
Seymour
married Sir Hugh Smithson in 1740. She
inherited the barony of Percy ten years later.
Her husband adopted the name of Percy, after much legal
argument, and
was created the Duke of Northumberland.
Their line, encompassing many politicians and military people
over the
years, has continued to this day. Alnwick Castle remains with
them, as does
Northumberland House and Syon House in London.

The Percy family history has been
covered in two books – Gerald Brenan in his 1902 book
A
History of the House of Percy

and Alexander Rose in his 2002 book
Kings in the North.

Percys
Elsewhere
. There was in addition a southern branch of
the Percy family which held the Petworth manor in Sussex from the 12th
century
onwards. Sir William Percy of this
family served as the MP for Sussex in the late 1300’s.
The present Petworth House was built in 1688,
but it passed out of Percy hands in the next century.

The Percy name also cropped up in the west
country:

  • it was to be found in
    Dorset and Devon and Dorset mainly. The
    Percy name
    had appeared in Shaftesbury, Dorset by the late 1400’s.
    Perhaps Percy had different origins here.
  • but
    the Percys of Worcester may have descended
    from the Northumberland Percys. Thomas
    Percy was mayor of Worcester in 1662 and a later Dr.
    Thomas Percy
    , who grew
    up in
    Shropshire, became chaplain to George III and the Bishop of Dromore
    in Ireland.

Percy
in Yorkshire often became Piercy and sometimes Pearce.
The Piercy name, possibly originally
Percehay, was to be found around Malton in east Yorkshire and dated
back to the early 1500’s
.


America.
There
were some early Percys in America, in each case related to the
Northumberland
Percys:

  • George
    Percy came to the
    Jamestown colony in 1607, served as its Governor, and was the author of
    two
    important accounts of the early colony. But
    he
    didn’t stay. He returned to England in
    1612.
  • Richard
    Percy meanwhile came to New England from Bristol on the Lion
    in 1630. He settled in Rhode Island. Some of his descendants migrated north to
    Maine.

But
the best-known Percy line in America arrived some time later. Its progenitor was an Irish Catholic
adventurer named Charles Percy, later Don
Carlos Percy
, who came to British West Florida in 1775 and
prospered
at Natchez under Spanish rule as a plantation owner growing indigo
dye.


There were many
prominent Percys

in this illustrious Southern family. The
line passed from Don Carlos Percy to:

  • his
    son Thomas G. Percy a cotton planter
    at Huntsville in Alabama. His plantation
    abutted that of his friend John Walker, one of Alabama’s first Senators. Thomas had married Maria Pope, the daughter of
    plantation owner Leroy Pope and a distant relative of the English poet
    Alexander Pope.
  • his
    grandson the heroic Colonel William Alexander Percy, the
    “Gray Eagle” of the Civil War. The
    colonel later became a railroad lawyer.
  • and
    three of the colonel’s sons – Leroy,
    William, and Walker – and their families and descendants.
    Their numbers included Leroy Percy, the US
    Senator for Mississippi in 1910, his son the writer and war hero Will
    Percy,
    and a cousin, the novelist Walker Percy.

The
family story was narrated in
Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s 1994 book The House of Percy.

It
is a tale, as the author described it, of honor, melancholy, and
imagination in
a Southern family.


New Zealand. Joseph Percy left Sherborne in Dorset for
New
Zealand in 1847. He met his wife there
and they settled in Lower Hutt near Wellington.
His descendants were still there a hundred years later. Meanwhile
Henry Percy, also from Sherborne,
had arrived there with his family five years earlier on the
Clifton.
He was aged just nine at
the time.
He later married and in 1869 moved to Wairarapa where he purchased
Thornton Park. This farm was to stay
with the Percy family until 1973
.

 

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Percy Miscellany

William de Percy.  The Cartulary of Whitby Abbey stated that William de Percy arrived in England in 1067, one year after the Battle of Hastings.  His
Percy name derived from
the manor of Percy in Normandy and was probably adopted after his
arrival in
England.

His most notable feature was his whiskers.  The
Normans who came to England were
generally clean-shaven.  Not so this
William who was nicknamed aux
gernons
 (bewhiskered).  Later generations of Percys would use the
soubriquet in the form of a first name Algernon.

He
appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a great landowner, holding no
fewer
than 30 knight’s fees.  His estates were
mainly in the North Riding of Yorkshire where he had been granted lands
in the
1070’s.  He built his castle at Topcliffe.

Percy
accompanied Robert Curthose, the Duke of Normandy, on the First Crusade.  He died in 1096 within sight of Jerusalem.
His heart was taken back to England and was buried at Whitby Abbey
where his
brother Serlo was its first abbot.

Prominent Early Percys of the English Line.  William de
Percy who died in 1096 – he came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest and was the first feudal baron of Topcliffe

Agnes
de Percy
(1134-1205)
– she perpetuated the Percy line after marrying Joscelin of Louvain
– their son Richard adopting the Percy name and title.

Richard
de Percy who
died in 1244
– he was one of the feudal barons who signed the Magna Carta in 1216.

Henry
de Percy (1273-1314)
– he was the first feudal baron of Alnwick Castle in
Northumberland.

Sir
Henry Percy (1365-1403), also called Harry Hotspur
– he helped
Henry IV seize the throne in 1399 but later rebelled against him.
– this rebellion
failed and he was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Henry
Percy (1421-1461),
the third Earl of Northumberland
– he was a Lancastrian leader in the Wars of the
Roses.
– he was killed at the Battle of Towton where the Lancastrians were
defeated.

Blessed
Thomas Percy (1528-1572), the seventh Earl of Northumberland – Catholic sympathizer, he led the Rising of the North in 1569 and was subsequently executed.

Henry
Percy (1564-1632), the ninth Earl of
Northumberland
– he was known as the “Wizard Earl” because of his chemistry and
astronomy pursuits.
– a Catholic sympathizer, he was imprisoned in the Tower of
London for seventeen years
(after being accused of complicity in the Gunpowder
Plot).

Algernon
Percy (1602-1668), the tenth Earl of Northumberland
– he was a
prominent Parliamentary supporter during the Civil War.
– his son Joceline who died in 1670 was
the last male of direct Percy lineage to inherit the Earldom.

There
were other Percys, junior members of this
family, who were also prominent – such as Thomas Percy, one of the
participants
in the Gunpowder Plot, and George Percy, an explorer and early governor
of
Virginia.

James Percy’s Claim to the Northumberland Estate.  When James
Percy heard of the death of Jocelyn Percy, the eleventh Earl of
Northumberland,
in Turin in May 1670, he was a trunkmaker in Dublin.
Finding out that Jocelyn’s only daughter
Elizabeth would inherit the estate, he rushed to London to challenge
this
inheritance and press his own case.

He maintained that some of the Percy
children were sent down south to Petworth in hampers at the time of the
Rising
in the North in 1569 and that among those children were his father,
Henry
Percy, a grandson of Sir Ingelram Percy and the younger brother of
Henry
Algernon, the sixth Earl of Northumberland.

The House of Lords
eventually had their say on this case in 1689, concluding that “the
pretensions
of the said James Percy to the Earldom of Northumberland are
groundless, false,
and scandalous” and ordered that his petition be dismissed.

They added to
their judgment this sentence, “That the said James Percy shall be
brought
before the four Courts in Westminster Hall, wearing a paper upon his
breast on
which these words shall be written:

‘THE
FALSE AND IMPUDENT PRETENDER TO THE
EARLDOM OF NORTHUMBERLAND.’

The claimant left three sons, who were respectively merchants in
London,
Dublin, and Norwich, and of whom the second, Anthony, was lord mayor of
Dublin
in 1689, but the claim upon which he wasted so much energy was not
renewed by
any member of his family.

Dr. Thomas Percy and The Reliques.  Dr. Thomas Percy was born at Bridgnorth in Shropshire
in the Severn valley in 1729.  His father, Arthur Lowe Percy, a
grocer, was of
sufficient means to send his son to Oxford in 1746.  Thomas
graduated in 1750 and proceeded to an M.A.
in 1753.  In that year he was appointed
to the vicarage of Easton Maudit in Northamptonshire.  Three
years later came rectory of Wilby in the
same county, benefices which he retained until 1782.

At Easton Maudit most of the literary work for
which he is now remembered — including the Reliques 
was
completed.  The Reliques
of Ancient English Poetry
came out in 1765.
This was based on an old manuscript
collection of poetry, rescued by Percy in Shropshire from the hands of
a house
maid who was about to light the fire with it.

When his name became famous he was made
domestic chaplain to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and was
tempted into
the belief that he belonged to the illustrious house of Percy.  This may have held some truth as recent
research has shown evidence that suggests that he was directly
descended from
Henry Percy, the second Earl of Northumberland.

Through
his patron’s influence he became dean of Carlisle in 1778 and Bishop of
Dromore
in Ireland in 1782.  His wife died before
him in 1806.  The good bishop, blind but
otherwise in sound health, lived until 1811.  Both
were buried in the transept which Percy
added to Dromore Cathedral, ‘The Percy Aisle.

Who Was Don Carlos Percy?  Charles Percy’s early life is sketchy.  He was Irish Catholic and was born in Ireland around the year 1740.  But we do not know where or who his parents
were.   According to legend, the first
Percy of his family was possibly “the disinherited son of the mighty
Percys of
Northumberland.”  Percy in fact claimed
this link but could not or chose not to prove it.

He
first surfaced in 1762 when
he was serving with the British army in Kilkenny in Ireland.  He appears to have been married to a lady
named Margaret and to have had a son named Robert.
Then at some point he absconded to America, abandoning this
family altogether.

He
claimed that he was a plantation owner in North Carolina.
And some reports have him at St. Eustatius in
the Dutch West Indies.  What is known is
that he arrived at Pensacola in British West Florida around 1775.  This was a place where few questions would
have been asked about him or about his past.
As a veteran of the British army, he was entitled to a land
grant.  This he secured and he became one
of the early
Natchez settlers in what is now Mississippi.
There in 1780, at the age of forty, he married for a second
time, the
sixteen year old Susannah Collins.

After
1783 the British agreed to leave West
Florida and Spain gained control of the whole region.
Charles Percy adapted quickly to the new
regime.  He cultivated the friendship of
the Spanish Governor and received the honorary title of Don Carlos.   With Spanish support and subsidies, he
embarked on the growing of indigo, the dye most favored in the making
of 18th
century cloth.  He quickly made his
fortune.

However,
the end of his life was not happy.  He
became depressed and, in 1794, he drowned
himself in a local creek, which has since been named Percy’s Creek.

Prominent Percys of the Southern American Line.  Charles“Don Carlos” Percy (1740-1794), the founder of the Percy
dynasty

– Thomas G. Percy (1786-1841), a wealthy cotton planter and settler in Alabama

— William A. Percy (1835-1888), a distinguished colonel in the
Confederate army (his sister was Sarah Dorsey nee Percy, a noted southern writer)

— Leroy Percy (1860-1929), the US Senator for Mississippi

—- William Alexander Percy (1885-1942), a lawyer and writer

— William Armstrong Percy (1863-1912)

—- William Armstrong Percy II (1906-1971)

—– William Armstrong Percy III (born 1933), historian and gay rights activist

— Walker Percy (1864-1917), a lawyer and state legislator who took his own life

—- Leroy Pratt Percy (1888-1929), who also took his own life

—– Walker Percy (1916-1990), a novelist.

In addition Charles H. Percy (1919-2011), the US Senator for Illinois was also a direct descendant of Charles “Don Carlos” Percy. 

The House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy and Imagination in a Southern Family.  Two centuries
of wealth, literary accomplishment, political leadership, depression,
and
sometimes suicide established a fascinating legacy that lies behind
Walker
Percy’s acclaimed prose and profound insight into the human condition.  In his book The House
of Percy
, Bertram Wyatt-Brown interpreted the life of this
gifted
family, drawing out the twin themes of an inherited inclination to
despondency
and an abiding sense of honor.

The
Percy family roots in Mississippi and
Louisiana went back to “Don Carlos” Percy, an 18th century
soldier of fortune who amassed a large estate but fell victim to mental
disorder and suicide.  Wyatt-Brown traced
the Percys through the slaveholding heyday of antebellum Natchez, the
ravages
of the Civil War (which produced the heroic Colonel William Alexander
Percy,
the “Gray Eagle”), and a return to prominence in the Mississippi
Delta after Reconstruction.

In
addition, the author recovered the tragic lives
and literary achievements of several Percy-related women, including
Sarah
Dorsey, a popular post-Civil War novelist who horrified her relatives
by
befriending Jefferson Davis, a married man, and bequeathing to him her
plantation home and her remaining fortune.

Then
there was Senator LeRoy Percy,
whose climactic re-election loss in 1911 to a racist demagogue deeply
stung the
family pride, but inspired his bold defiance to the Ku Klux Klan in the
1920’s.  There was also the poignant
story of the poet and war hero Will Percy, the Senator’s son.

The
weight of this family narrative found
expression in Will Percy’s memoirs, Lanterns
on the Levee
and in the works of Walker Percy, who was
reared in his
cousin Will’s Greenville home after the suicidal death of Walker’s
father and
his mother’s drowning.  The novels of Walker Percy – The MoviegoerLancelotThe Second Coming,
and The Thanatos Syndrome to name a few – left a
permanent
mark on 20th century Southern fiction.

 



Select
Percy Names

William
de Percy
was
the progenitor of the
Percy family that became the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland.
Sir Henry Percy
, also known as Harry
Hotspur, was the schemer in Shakespeare’s plays who helped Henry IV
seize the
throne and then rebelled against him and was killed in battle.
Charles Percy
, an Irish Catholic
adventurer, was the founder of the Percy family of Louisiana, Alabama,
and
Mississippi.
William Alexander Percy from Mississippi was a
World War one hero,
lawyer, and memoirist, best known for his book Lanterns
on the Levee: Memoirs of a Planter’s Son
.


Select Percy Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Northumberland)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

 

 

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