Saville Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Saville Surname Meaning

The Saville surname has Norman origins, derived either from the place-name Sainville in Eure-et-Loire in northern France; or from the Old French saisne, meaning “Saxon,” and ville, “settlement.”  

Saville is the most common surname spelling. But Savile was the name of the Yorkshire gentry family. And Savill was preferred in Essex.

Saville Surname Resources on The Internet

Saville and Savile Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America and Australia

EnglandThe earliest appearance of the Saville name in England appears to have been Jean de Saiville, an adviser to King Stephen in the mid-12th century.

The senior branch of this family continued as royal advisers and based itself in Yorkshire. A Sayvill of this family was recorded at Broxted in northern Essex in 1377; from whom, it appears, may have come the Savilles of Langton Maltravers in Dorset.

Yorkshire.  Early recorded spellings in Yorkshire were Henry de Seyvil in 1225 and Peter de Sayvell in 1286. However, the family name soon became Savile.

The Savile family began to rise in status in the mid-14th century when Sir John Savile fought in the French wars and married the heiress Isabel de Elland. He held the post of Sheriff of Yorkshire on three occasions in the 1380’s. Sir Thomas Savile established the family at Thornhill near Wakefield in the following century. They were Yorkist during the Wars of the Roses but soon jumped ship after Henry Tudor seized the crown in 1485.

The Saviles were Royalist in the 17th century. Thornhill Hall was destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1648 during the Civil War and the family subsequently made their home at Rufford Abbey near Rotherham. Sir George Savile had been created a baronet in 1610 and a later Sir George was made Viscount Halifax in 1668. Savile Row in London was named after his wife Dorothy Savile.

After the Viscount’s death in 1695 the Savile estates passed to distant Savile cousins in Yorkshire and, after the death of the 8th Savile baronet in 1784, to a nephew Richard Lumley. His descendants subsequently adopted the Savile name. Sir John Savile the diplomat, an illegitimate son of this line, was created Baron Savile in 1888. Rufford Abbey was eventually sold by the Saviles in 1938.

An earlier illegitimate line, from Sir Henry Savile of Thornhill, was to be found in Lincolnshire. Sir Robert of Barkston in Lincolnshire was Sheriff of the county in 1573. His son John was its Sheriff in 1590 and created Baron Savile in 1627.

EssexThe Savill name first appeared in Essex in Broxted and Takeley in the northern part of the county in the 16th century. One Savill family has been traced back to William Savill, born in 1714 in Little Dunmow. He married Anne Rost in Barnston in 1739. William Savill was a farmer in Great Dunmow in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Another Savill family was an important wool merchant in Bocking near Braintree.

And then there was Henry Savill who married Elizabeth Swallow in 1652. Their descendants founded a surveyor’s firm, a brewery, and a steamship line. From the surveyor line in Chigwell in the early 19th century came Alfred Savill founder of Savills, one of the UK’s largest estate agents. The story was told in John Watson’s 1977 book Savill: A Family and a Firm.

America.  Samuel and Ann Saville, Quakers from Yorkshire, came to Chester county, Pennsylvania in the 1740’s:

  • their son Abraham Saville moved to Rockbridge county, Virginia in 1795. His farm remained with his descendants until the 1960’s. Mattie Saville lived in the nearby Dillard farm in the 1850’s, but this building burned down in the 1930’s. Jacob Saville migrated west to Iowa in the 1870’s.  
  • another son Joseph made his home in Hampshire county, West Virginia. His line was covered in Frank and Nancy Saville’s 1989 book The Saville Family in America.

John and Araminta Saville came to Baltimore, Maryland from Ulster in Ireland sometime in the late 1700’s.

Australia.  Two Saville arrivals in the 19th century were from Essex:

  • Benjamin Saville was transported for housebreaking in 1832. He eventually settled north of Sydney at Lansdowne on the Manning river where he was the earliest settler.  
  • James Saville meanwhile came to Sydney with his family on the Euphrates in 1855. They joined a bullock wagon train to Gordonbrook, NSW in the outback and later moved into dairy farming at One Tree Farm near Casino.

Saville and Savile Surname Miscellany

Peter de Sayvell in 1286.  In 1286 there was recorded a lunacy inquisition conducted against Peter de Sayvell at York, which contained a list of some of his lands and possessions.

The inquisition opened by stating: “Peter de Sayvell is clearly mad and an idiot and incapable of managing his land.”

The inquisition recorded that Peter de Sayvell held land in Smeaton, Skelebrook, Golcar and Thurleston, all in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Although these lands might have been relatively small, they showed that the Savile family had a significant presence in West Yorkshire by the late 13th century.

The Will of Sir Thomas Savile.  The will of Sir Thomas Savile who died in 1449 suggests he was a pious man, with many grants to religious houses in the vicinity of the Savile estates.  Certainly he was a patron of Thornhill parish church and in 1447 he had paid for an extension to the Church to provide a private family chapel.

The surviving stained glass in the windows of this chapel link it to Sir Thomas, with a Latin inscription that translated:  “Pray for the soul of Thomas Savile, Knight, who caused this chapel to be built, AD 1447.”

The illustration in the glass showed Sir Thomas and his wife, Margaret, at prayer, with the arms of the Savile and Thornhill families quartered on Lady Margaret’s dress and Sir Thomas’s armour.

In this will Savile also bequeathed his best horse and trappings towards the expenses of his funeral and a set of vestments of yellow cloth and a cap for the priest, deacon and sub-deacon of the church at Thornhill.  Since the seat of the family had transferred to the Thornhill estate, Sir Thomas left instructions for his body to be interred with his wife in this church and three marks were left for a tomb to be raised over their bodies.

Most of Sir Thomas’s goods were granted to Sir John, his son and heir, who was also named executor by his father. Apart from Sir John, Sir Thomas Savile left three daughters, all of who married into local families of esquire or knightly status.

Savile Row in London.  Savile Row is a street in Mayfair in London, known principally for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men.  The street has had a varied history that included accommodating the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society and, more recently, the Apple office of the Beatles.

The first house in what would become Savile Row was “a fine house and ground,” built in 1674 and occupied by a series of nobles until it was demolished in 1730 in preparation for the laying out of the houses on the east of Savile Row as part of the Burlington estate.  Savile Row was named after Lady Dorothy Savile, the wife of the 3rd Earl of Burlington.  Initially the street was occupied by military officers and their wives.

The Baron Savile Line.  The 8th Earl of Scarbrough, who built the magnificent entrance gates at Rufford Abbey, was walking one day in Hyde Park and saw a young French girl drowning in the Serpentine.  He rescued the girl, known as Agnes, fell in love with her and brought her back to Rufford where they lived in unmarried bliss for some years, producing six children.

The sons of course could not inherit the earldom but one of them, John, was a distinguished antiquary, diplomat and ambassador to Rome. He was created Baron Savile in 1888.  The title was then remaindered to his nephew, also John, who became the 2nd Baron and the father of the late George, 3rd Lord Savile.

Reader Feedback – Irish Savilles in Baltimore.  I am descended from the line of John Saville and Araminta Savington. They settled in Baltimore, Maryland.

John originally came over from Northern Ireland sometime in the late 1700’s. They had one child John Wesley Saville Sr. that I can prove and possibly a second son William. John married Caroline Sisco and they had five children – Margaret A. Saville, William Oliver Saville, John Wesley Saville, George Washington Saville, and Walter Aquilla Saville.

I am from the line of George Washington Saville.  He married Mary R. Eagle and they had four children – Ada who died very young (can’t find any records on her), John Oliver Saville, Lillian Margaret Saville, and Edith Saville.

George later married Florence Susan Ott. They had two sons – George Walter Saville and Harold Wheeler Saville. George Walter Saville was my grandfather.

George married Frances Mary Pepper and they had two sons – Walter Henry Saville and William Franklin Saville. William died at the age of 12 weeks from whooping cough. Walter married Helen Edith Spevar and they had six children.

Obviously my interest is in the history of this line of Savilles from Ireland. If there is anything else you can tell me about our history it would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely, Paul W. Saville (

The Abraham Saville Monument.  Abraham Saville was a soldier in the Pennsylvania militia during the Revolutionary War.   For enlisting in the militia he was excommunicated by his Quaker community.

He relocated to Rockbridge county, Virginia in 1795.  He built a cabin there and farmed on the land until his death in 1841.  He is remembered by the Abraham Saville monument that was unveiled in 2013 in a ceremony that many of his descendants attended.

Alfred Savill of Savills.  Alfred Savill was the founder of Savills, one of the UK’s largest estate agents.  Born in Chigwell in Essex in 1829, he became a land agent, surveyor and auctioneer, before opening the first office of Savills in the City of London in 1855.

Although located in the City, his practice was largely Essex-related and agricultural.  He did commission the building of Chigwell Hall in 1876 and was retained as professional adviser to a number of Essex lordships.

At the time of his death in 1905, his sons Alfred, Edwin and Norman were already firmly established in partnership and they developed the business in the inter-war years.   By the 1970’s the firm was re-branded as Savills.  Fifty eight partners operated from the head office in London and from fifteen country offices in England and Wales. By the 1990’s Savills had established an international presence in both Europe and Asia.

Saville Names

  • Sir John Savile fought in the French wars in the 1340’s and was the forebear of the Saviles of Yorkshire.
  • Alfred Savill founded Savills, one of the UK’s largest estate agents, in London in 1855.
  • Jimmy Savile was a popular English disc jockey and TV presenter.  After his death in 2011, his reputation sank following the widespread allegations of sexual abuse made against him.

Saville Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Virginia)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Saville 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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