Riddle/Riddell Surname Meaning, History & Origin
has been the English version of the surname,
Riddell the more common Scottish version – although the two spellings
overlapped in a border county such as Northumberland.
The Riddle spelling has predominated in
America. Overall, Riddle outnumbers Riddell today.
with riddles. Riddle and Riddell have,
most likely, French origins, derived from the
early Ridels who had come to England in the wake of the Norman
were in Scotland by the early 1100’s.
name in England, and also possibly for the Riddell name in Scotland,
was that it was
derived from a place-name – the primary candidate here being Ryedale in
North Riding of Yorkshire.
An early account of
the Riddles/Riddells was to be found in G.F. Ridlon’s 1884 book History of the Ancient Ryedales.
Riddle/Riddell Resources on
The Riddell clan in Scotland.
Riddles in North Carolina and the South.
- Riddle Riddles in
- The Riddle Dynasty The
Riddles and harness racing in Australia.
- Riddle DNA Project
Scotland. Walter de Ridel had received a charter for the
lands at Lilliesleaf in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders
year 1150. The property was to remain in
Riddell hands until 1819. The family
also acquired at an early date land across the border in Northumberland.
Sir William Riddell of Riddell appeared on the Ragman Rolls as swearing
to Edward I of England. These Riddells
later took the title of “Riddells of that Ilk.” Sir John Riddell rose to prominence under Charles I
and was made a baronet in 1628.
The Rev. Archibald Riddell,
the third son of the second baronet, was a staunch Covenanter who was
persecuted for his beliefs. He left
Scotland to preach in New Jersey in 1685 on the infamous Henry
& Francis where thirty-one people died during the journey,
including his wife. On his return four
years later, his ship was taken by a French warship and he was held in
captivity for two years before he was released.
There were other Riddell lines with possible links to
the earlier Ridels:
Riddell line made its home at Kinglass in West Lothian in the 16th
later acquired extensive Highland estates at Ardnamurchan and Sunart in
Argyll. James Riddell of Ardnamurchan
was made a baronet in 1778.
- John Riddel was a prominent Edinburgh merchant of
the 17th century who claimed a descent from the Galfridus de Ridel of
1048. His son acquired lands at Linlithgow
Lothian at the time of Oliver Cromwell.
- while Robert Riddell
of Glenriddell in Dumfriesshire was a friend and patron
of the poet Robert Burns in the late 18th century.
His father claimed a descent from the Gervase de
Ridel of 1116.
By the 19th century many
of the Riddells on the Scottish borders had migrated to Glasgow and the
industrial jobs there.
England. The Norman Ridel family in
England left their
footprint in Northamptonshire and Essex.
But the main presence of the name was further north in
Northumberland and Durham where there has been a strong Scottish
Riddell and Riddle have appeared there
(they were about 50/50 for the two counties in the 1881 census). However, the most prominent of them has been
The Riddells of Tillmouth, a
village near Berwick on Tweed where they held the manor of Twizell,
important family of the 13th and 14th centuries. A
14th century effigy in the chancel of St Cuthbert’s church, Norham is
to be that of Sir William Riddell of Tillmouth, the Sheriff of
and Constable at Norham Castle.
The Riddells had acquired Fenham Hall in
Northumberland by the mid-1500’s and later became merchants
Newcastle. William Riddell prospered by
investing in leases of Tyneside coal mines in the early 1600’s just at
that the coal trade with London was undergoing an expansion. The family
themselves in Gateshead. But these Riddells were Catholic and,
political climate changed, they had their problems.
The Roxburghshire line has
been in Northumberland since Sir John Buchanan Riddle acquired
in Hepple in 1804. A later Sir John was
Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales from 1985 to 1990.
The Riddle spelling came later in Northumberland and
they were from more humble backgrounds:
Riddle, born at Troughend near Otterburn in 1788 to a farm
laborer’s family, became a notable mathematician and astronomer in
- two marriages around 1790 were those between William
and Ann Riiddle at Wooler near Alnwick and Patrick and Margaret Riddle
Pleasant near Haltwhistle.
and Samuel Riddle ran a profitable millwright business in Berwick in
the 1850’s. Samuel’s house on
Riddle spelling cropped up elsewhere, in London and the west country. There were Riddles at Redruth in Cornwall in
the late 1700’s. There were also Riddles
around this time at Mells in Somerset.
The name here later spread to Kilmersdon and Midsomer Norton.
Ireland. The earliest
record of Scots Riddells in Ireland was in the 1630’s in Derry,
Ballymeath or Coleraine parish, where three sons – Hugh, Robert, and
were born to Hugh and Mary Riddell.
Among their descendants were the Riddells who emigrated to
in the 1730’s. Charles Riddell departed
for Pennsylvania in the 1790’s.
In 1803 John Riddel from county Down started a wholesale hardware
business in Belfast, importing the supplies he needed from
It did well. In fact it made the Riddels one of the wealthiest
families in the city. These Riddels were strict Unitarians and
displayed the strong philanthropic inclinations of that tradition. Unusually for the time, only two of the ten
children of John Riddel ever married.
America. The Riddell and Riddle
names both came to
America. The Riddle name, however, has been by far the more numerous, with
spelling having often taking over from Riddell and even from the
name. Many Riddles in America have Scots or Scots Irish origin
and some could have
German roots from names such as Riedel or Riedl.
family in Virginia began with Moses Riddle who had been born in Surry
around 1710. He lived among the Cherokee Indians and his family
intermarried with them:
- his son William
Riddle was a Loyalist during
the Revolutionary War who was captured by patriots and hanged in
sons dispersed. Isaac and Joseph moved
to Kentucky, with Isaac later settling in Texas.
Isaac’s son John converted to the Mormon
faith and left for Utah in 1850.
John Riddle (initially
Riddell) had come to Caroline county from Scotland with his family
the 1710’s. His descendants later
settled in Chatham, North Carolina.
Zachariah Riddle lived in Loudoun county,
Virginia in the late 1700’s and his descendants in Stokes county, North
Carolina a few decades later. Randolph
Riddle departed for Tennessee around 1810.
The family origins were in Maryland where John Riddle and
Bowman had married in 1700.
Pennsylvania. John Riddle, probably
Scots Irish, was born
in Pennsylvania around 1745 and lived most of his life in Mifflin
county. After his death his widow and
in the early 1800’s to Ohio. Another John
Riddle had come to Pennsylvania from Donegal in Ireland around 1810. Nine years later he left for virgin land in
Ohio. His son James later recounted those early pioneering days in Ohio.
James Riddle had arrived in York county from Donegal in
Ireland around the year 1750. His line
extended to William Riddle, a merchant in Martinsburg in West Virginia
early 1800’s, and then to David Hunter Riddle, the President of
Pennsylvania in the 1860’s.
Heading South and West. Charles Riddle, a Primitive Baptist minister, moved his
family from Chatham,
North Carolina to Henderson county, Tennessee in 1817.
His son Nathaniel intended to migrate to
Texas and in fact set off in the 1840’s.
homeplace in Tennessee
and with their young son started a long journey west, supposedly to
Texas. After only a day or two’s journey,
died and his young wife took their son and turned around and returned
their home in Tennessee.”
This son William subsequently moved to Arkansas and enlisted and fought
the Confederate side in the Civil War. He lived
George Riddle meanwhile had
been born in Maryland in 1787 and later moved to Kentucky.
One of his sons Simeon became a farmer in
Bentonville, Arkansas. Another son
Tazewell, better known as Frank, left Kentucky for California at the
the Gold Rush. There he married Toby of
the Modoc Indian tribe, also known as Winema, and got caught up in the
wars of the early 1870’s. After peace
was established, Frank, Toby and their son lived near the Indian
in southern Oregon.
Canada. The main spelling here was
were two notable Riddells from
the Scottish borders that arrived in the 19th century:
Dumfriesshire came in 1833 to farm in Cobourg, Ontario.
His son William, born in 1844, became a
distinguished lawyer, judge, historian and writer.
James Riddell from Jedburgh in
Roxburghshire arrived in 1880 to farm in Manitoba.
He represented his local constituency of
Lorne in the Manitoba Assembly between 1896 and 1903.
Australia. There were
Riddells and Riddles in Australia.
John Carre Riddell from Roxburghshire came to
Melbourne in 1839 and was initially active in sheep and cattle farming. He later involved himself in Victoria
politics. His wife Mary Riddell left
descriptions of the upper middle-class life they lived in Melbourne at
A Riddle family were pioneers of harness racing in Australia. The progenitors were Harry
Riddle and Mary Hogg who had married in Gisborne, Victoria in 1853. Their son Walter farmed in Cowra, NSW and
bought his first horse to race in 1897.
He then divided his time between farming, horse-breeding and
his death in 1933. All five of his sons
took up harness racing, with Peter generally being considered the best
Riddles and Riddells Today
The Early Ridels. The Ridels came from France, originating from the powerful de Blaye family whose land holdings extended from Aquitaine north into Normandy. The first who apparently bore this name was Geoffrey Ridel, born in Aquitaine in 1044.
Ridels had come to England with William the
Conqueror in 1066, their name being found among those inscribed at
Abbey. They were rewarded with much land
in England, including Wittering in Northamptonshire where they made
their base. Geoffrey Ridel was appointed a
Justiciar in 1106. However, he died in
the wreck of the White Ship in 1120
and left no male successor.
It was said
that the Ridel name was first introduced into Scotland by Galfridus
Blaye who was recorded there as early as 1048.
Gervase Ridale, a
witness to a charter of King David I in 1116, was later made the
Roxburghshire. His son Walter received a
charter for the lands of Lilliesleaf in Roxburghshire.
alternative theory for the origin of the Riddell name in Scotland was
family wasfrom Gascony and had come to Scotland via Ryedale
Yorkshire, with Ryedale (meaning “valley of the rye”) then becoming the
for their name. It was said that the
spelling adapted to the way they pronounced the name.
However, this appears a less credible
Robert Riddell and Robert Burns. Robert Riddell had Riddell on both his father’s and
mother’s side in Dumfriesshire. His
father, Walter Riddell of Newhouse, had been taken prisoner by the
1745. He died in 1788.
His mother Anne was
the daughter and heiress of Robert Riddell of Glenriddell, to whose
Much of his life was passed in antiquarian and literary
pursuits at his Friars Carse estate in Dumfriesshire.
He is remembered today chiefly as the friend
of the poet Robert Burns. Friars Carse was within a mile of Burns’s
Ellisland and Riddell gave Burns a key to his grounds.
In the little hermitage
there Burns wrote the Verses in Friars
Carse Hermitage in 1788 and the song The
Day Returns later that year in celebration of the anniversary of
Riddells’ wedding day. In October 1789 a
great drinking bout was held at Friars Carse, with Riddell contesting
historical whistle with Sir Robert Laurie and Alexander Ferguson. Ferguson was the victor, as Burns described
in The Whistle.
When Robert Riddell
died at Friars Carse in 1794, Burns published a sonnet on his late
left most of his property to his widow Elizabeth. Glenriddell
passed to his brother Walter.
Riddell’s library of books on antiquities was sold by Robert Ross the
The Catholic Riddell Family of Gateshead. The Riddell family in Gateshead had their problems as the tide turned against Catholics.
Sir Thomas Riddell,
a colonel of a regiment of foot in the service of Charles I and
Tynemouth Castle, “died a banished man at Antwerp in Brabant after his
estate at Tunstall had been sold off.”
He had “rendered himself so obnoxious to Parliament that £1,000
offered for his apprehension.” He
escaped with difficulty from Berwick in a small fishing vessel.
Riddell, seated at Swinburne Castle, engaged in the Jacobite rising of
was taken prisoner. He managed to escape
from Lancaster Castle and was later included in the general pardon.
the early 18th century the Riddells had built a chapel adjoining their
on Gateshead High Street. But in January
1746, following the Jacobite rising of 1745, it was gutted,
plundered, and set on fire by a Protestant mob. The mansion itself fell
ruins soon afterwards.
William Riddle of Virginia in the Revolutionary War. Until 1991 the Riddle family tradition had been that William Riddle, married to Happy Rogers, was a patriot
soldier in the Revolutionary War. He was
said to have fought with Francis Marion in the South and then been
hung by the British in Georgia.
However, recent research has revealed that
William Riddle had in fact remained loyal to the British Crown during
In the spring of 1781 he had captured Colonel Benjamin
Cleveland of Surry
county, North Carolina who was a particularly vigilant patriot. Cleveland escaped with the help of his
brother Robert Cleveland and others.
Shortly thereafter Riddle was caught and hung by Cleveland
some reports had him being shot and mortally wounded instead). Cleveland and his associates stated that
William Riddle was hung at Wilkesboro in Wilkes county, North Carolina.
James Riddle’s Pioneer Upbringing in Ohio. James Riddle
wrote about his early years in Ohio in a hand-written autobiography
wrote around 1900 when he was an old man.
This is a shortened edited version of his text.
“I was born at Pittsburgh in 1812 and moved with my
parents to Ohio in
1819 into what was then called Hardy township in Coshocton county. The county was very new and thinly
inhabited. Bears and wolves were
plenty. it was very common for hunters
to kill several bears through the hunting season. We
could frequently hear plenty of wolves at
There was not a sawmill nor grist mill within 15 or 20
miles of us. The first wheat we raised my
father cut with
a sickle and dried part of it in the sun.
My father and I took the wheat on horseback up to Jones’s log
in Wayne county 15 miles away. When we
got there the mill was shut down and the miller gone.
But we went to the house and told Mrs Jones
and she came down and worked the mill.
We got home after dark. Mother
baked some cakes for supper which we thought were good as we had lived
on potatoes for more than a week.
Schools were scarce in those days.
My father used to teach in the winter in
some log cabin that they would fix up and the scholars would come from
four miles to school.”
Mary Riddell in Melbourne. John Carre Riddell had married Mary Anne Stephen in Melbourne in 1846.
John later became a politician, although – as one contemporary
it – “he was distinguished for
gentlemanlike bearing and high character rather than for political
demonstrativeness.” From 1866 they lived
in a large house named Cavers Carre
in the suburb of Elsternwick.
Mary was the author
of a twenty-four page rhyming ode, published in 1868, entitled Lay
of the Far South. This gives
an interesting perspective on the colonial settler mindset of the
Of particular interest for the social history of early
Melbourne are the Scribbling Journals, dating from
1885, which were kept for Mary Riddell and her daughters Annie and
outlining the women’s schedules and social visits.
They also contained receipts for fashion and
household and grocery items.
Notably Mary’s diary entry for February 17, 1875
suggested that the Riddell’s domestic staff were predominantly Irish. They described the novelty for the family
for themselves when their cook was granted leave on St. Patrick’s Day.
- Geoffrey Ridel, born in France in 1044, was the first to bear the Ridel name and was probably the
forefather of later Riddells.
- Robert Riddell was an antiquarian in Dumfriesshire and friend and patron of the poet Robert Burns.
Burns made him a collection of his poems which later became
- Edward Riddle was an English mathematician and astronomer, based at the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich
from 1820 to 1850.
Select Riddle/Riddell Numbers Today
- 8,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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