Riddle/Riddell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Riddle/Riddell Meaning
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.
The Riddle name has nothing to do
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
Conquest and
were in Scotland by the early 1100’s.
An alternative explanation for the Riddle
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 Ryedale

Riddle/Riddell Resources on

Riddle/Riddell Ancestry

Scotland. Walter de Ridel had received a charter for the
lands at Lilliesleaf in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders
around the
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.

In 1296
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:

  • one
    Riddell line made its home at Kinglass in West Lothian in the 16th
    century and
    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
    in West
    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
influence. Both
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,
were an
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
the time
that the coal trade with London was undergoing an expansion. The family
themselves in Gateshead. But these Riddells were Catholic and,
as the
political climate changed, they had their problems.

The Roxburghshire line has
been in Northumberland since Sir John Buchanan Riddle acquired
Whitefield House
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:

  • Edward
    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
    at Mount
    Pleasant near Haltwhistle.
  • while
    and Samuel Riddle ran a profitable millwright business in Berwick in
    the 1850’s. Samuel’s house on
    Ravendowne still

Elsewhere. The
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,
possibly in
Ballymeath or Coleraine parish, where three sons – Hugh, Robert, and
James –
were born to Hugh and Mary Riddell.
Among their descendants were the Riddells who emigrated to
Londonderry, New
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
the Riddle
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.

Virginia. One
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
    the Revolutionary War who was captured by patriots and hanged in
  • William’s
    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
sometime in
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
children moved
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
in the
early 1800’s, and then to David Hunter Riddle, the President of
College in
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.

“Nathaniel and his wife Elizabeth left their old
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
back to
their home in Tennessee.”

This son William subsequently moved to Arkansas and enlisted and fought
the Confederate side in the Civil War. He lived
until 1912.

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
time of
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
Klamath reservation
in southern Oregon.

Canada. The main spelling here was
Riddell, not
were two notable Riddells from
the Scottish borders that arrived in the 19th century:

  • Walter
    Riddell from
    Dumfriesshire came in 1833 to farm in Cobourg, Ontario.
    His son William, born in 1844, became a
    distinguished lawyer, judge, historian and writer.
  • and
    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
racing until
his death in 1933. All five of his sons
took up harness racing, with Peter generally being considered the best


Riddle/Riddell Miscellany

Riddles and Riddells Today

Numbers (000’s) Riddle Riddell Total
  England    2    2    4
  Scotland    4    4
America   12    2   14
Elsewhere    1    4    5
Total   15   12   27

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
Ridel de
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
Sheriff of
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
that the
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
Jacobites in
1745.  He died in 1788.
His mother Anne was
the daughter and heiress of Robert Riddell of Glenriddell, to whose
estate he
ultimately succeeded.

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
farm of
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
for an
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
friend. Riddell
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
Governor of
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.

Another Thomas
Riddell, seated at Swinburne Castle, engaged in the Jacobite rising of
1715 and
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
captured and
hung by the British in Georgia.

However, recent research has revealed that
William Riddle had in fact remained loyal to the British Crown during
the War.

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
that he
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
cabin mill
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
one to
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
account put
it – “he was distinguished for
gentlemanlike bearing and high character rather than for political
activity or
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
1872 to
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.


Riddle/Riddell Names

  • 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. 
  • Nelson Riddle was an Oscar-winning composer and arranger, best known for his work with Frank Sinatra in the 1950’s.

Select Riddle/Riddell Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lanarkshire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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