Tempest Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tempest Surname Meaning

The Tempest surname is thought perhaps to reflect behavioral characteristics, a nickname for someone who had a blustery temperament.  Alternatively, the name may be locational.

The surname was appropriated by one family in particular in west Yorkshire, starting with de Tempest soon after the Domesday survey of 1086.

Tempest Surname Resources on The Internet

Tempest Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Durham and Torkshire)
  • to Ireland

England.  The Tempest family origins were in the Bracewell parish of what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire. Roger Tempest was probably born around 1098 and Roger and Richard Tempest descendants alternated there over the next two hundred years.  The family head at the time of Henry V was Sir Piers Tempest who fought at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

At an early period the Tempests were to separate into several distinct branches, of which the main ones were:

  • those of Bracewell, Tong and Broughton in Yorkshire
  • and those of Holmside, Stella and Wynyard in Durham.

Durham.  Many of the Durham Tempests were recusants, adherents to the old Catholic faith after the Reformation.  They were Royalist and it was said in the 17th century: “Tempests resided there in Catholic splendor and loyalty during the reign of four Stuart kings.”

After their religious wobble, the Temples of Old Durham re-established themselves as country gentry in the 18th century and three generations of Tempests served as Durham MP’s during that time.  From this line through Frances Tempest came the Vane-Tempests.

Yorkshire.  The Tempest Yorkshire base shifted from Bracewell in west Yorkshire to Broughton Hall near Skipton in north Yorkshire when they built the present house there in 1597.  Eleanor Blanche Tempest, who married into this family, produced the 600 page document Tempest Pedigrees shortly before her death in 1928.  Her work was followed by M.E. Lancaster’s 1978 book The Tempests of Broughton.

Broughton Hall fell into decay during the 20th century under the eccentric Stephen Tempest.  But after his younger brother Henry took over in 1970, there has been a revival in Broughton Hall fortunes.

Tempests Elsewhere.  There were Tempests elsewhere in England, mostly related to the main family lines.

In 1569 Tempests from Durham had fled the north to escape retribution from the failed Catholic Northern Rebellion. Robert Tempest, the Sheriff of Durham, and his eldest son Michael fled abroad and both died in exile. Another son William ended up in Cambridgeshire and his family held Scalor Manor in Haddon between 1608 and 1661.  William Tempest, born at Shepherds in Cranbrook, Kent in 1682, was a descendant.

Durham Tempests owned the Little Grove estate at East Barnet on the outskirts of London in the late 18th century. But the property was sold on Anne Tempest’s death in 1817.

Marie Tempest, the famous soprano in late Victorian and Edwardian times, took her Tempest stage name from Lady Susan Vane-Tempest whom she referred to as her godmother.

Ireland.  Tempest crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland, the name appearing in county Louth records in 1659.

William Tempest was recorded as a musician owning a lodging house in Rostrevor, county Down in 1815.  His son or grandson William moved to Dundalk in Louth in the 1850’s and soon started a printing and stationary business there. The Tempests became a well-known family in Dundalk and a later William Tempest was a Justice of the Peace in the early 1900’s.

The Tempest Annual, first produced in Dundalk in 1861, was essentially a business directory.  It continued under Temple descendants until 1959 when a Centennary Annual was published.

Tempest Surname Miscellany

Tempest Family Origins.  The book Kin of Mellcene Thurman Smith had the following description of the origins of the Tempest family:

“The parish of Bracewell (in the West Riding of Yorkshire), with the adjoining hamlet of Stoke, was a part of the great fee of Roger of Poitou, who had come with William I in 1066, remaining in his hand at the time of the Domesday survey.

The two great Saxon lords, Ulchil and Archil, had had to give us these lordships to this powerful Norman invader; and it was probably not long after the date of the Domesday survey that these manors were granted to Roger de Tempest.

That this man was a Norman, the name will not permit us to doubt; that he was a dependent of Roger of Poitou is extremely probable; that he was, at all events, possessed of these manors in the reign of Henry I is absolutely certain.

The name Tempest, whatever its origin, seems to have been venerated by the family; as in the two next centuries, when local appellations became almost universal, they never chose to part with it.  It is also alluded to in their armorial bearing.”

Dame Marie Tempest.  Marie Tempest was an English singer and actress known as the “queen of her profession.”  She was the most famous soprano in late Victorian light opera and Edwardian musical comedies. Later she became a leading comic actress and toured widely in North America and elsewhere. She was at times her own theatre manager during a career spanning more than fifty years.  She was also instrumental in the founding of the actors’ union Equity in Britain.

She was born Mary Susan Etherington in London in 1864.  She adopted as her stage name Tempest from Lady Susan Vane-Tempest whom she referred to as her godmother.

Susan had married Lord Alphonsus Vane-Tempest in 1860 several weeks after her 21st birthday.  He held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army, but was allegedly an alcoholic as well as being mentally unstable.  On at least one occasion Susan and her infant son were physically attacked by her unstable husband. He died in 1864.

These Vane-Tempests were originally the Vanes.  Sir Henry Vane-Tempest was the son and heir of the Rev. Sir Henry Vane and his wife, Frances née Tempest. He was the MP for Durham from 1794 to 1800, replacing his uncle John Tempest from whom he had inherited the Tempest estates in Durham upon condition he adopt the name and arms of Tempest.

The Tempests in Dundalk.  A photograph taken at Blackrock in county Louth in the late 1800’s shows a mother and her son filling a bag with sand on a beach.

The boy’s name was Trevor.  His father William Tempest was originally from Rostrevor in county Down which had been started by the Trevor family (which is probably where the boy got his nickname).  In fact his christened name was William Caxton Tempest, his name when he enlisted in the army at the start of World War One.

By that time his father was a Justice of the Peace in Dundalk.  He died there in 1918.

Elaine Blanche Tempest.  Eleanor Blanche Tempest, born in 1853, had married into the Tempest family, being the wife of Arthur Cecil Tempest, the holder of the Tempest estate at Broughton Hall.

She was truly a remarkable woman.  Blind in one eye, she undertook extensive genealogical studies of her husband’s heritage and of other families of Yorkshire. She acquired a large library of genealogical books at Broughton Hall, as well as manuscripts and other documents.  She was evidently in close contact with other antiquaries of the day and other collectors of ancient documents.

One of her major achievements was a 600 page manuscript, Tempest Pedigrees, which she worked on during the first two decades of the 20th century.  It was written in small black script, with citations in red ink and various coats of arms scattered about, in color and tracings of ancient signatures.  The sheets are crammed with information about the early Tempests, with meticulous documentation.

She died in 1928, not long after the completion of the manuscript.

Broughton Hall’s Revival.  Henry Tempest, a second son, unexpectedly inherited Broughton Hall in north Yorkshire in 1970.  His father Roger, a war hero during World War one, had maintained the Hall’s standards during the interwar years, with 22 indoor servants being employed at the house.  But standards slipped markedly after Roger died and his oldest son Stephen took over.  By 1970 the eccentric Stephen died unmarried and without children and the house had a leaking roof, a heap of debt, and death duties of 65 percent were due.

When Stephen inherited Broughton Hall in 1948, Henry Tempest had been encouraged to emigrate to Northern Rhodesia – “banished to the colonies” according to one member of the family. He took various jobs, including selling firewood, acting as a driving instructor, and letting warehouse space, and met his wife Joan there.  By 1961, however, as the winds of change were blowing over Rhodesia, Henry and his family returned to England almost destitute.  Henry was able to find a job as a financial officer at Oxford University.

When Henry took over Broughton Hall, he had to sell some of the family silver, paintings, books, and even the local pub, the Tempest Arms, to keep his head above water. Having restored the estate’s fortunes, Henry then became active in local affairs, serving on North Yorkshire county council from 1973 to 1987 and as deputy lieutenant for the county from 1981 to 1998.

His son Roger took over the running of the estate in 1988.  Henry Tempest died in May 2017.

Tempest Names

  • Roger Tempest, born around 1098 in Yorkshire, was the first recorded of the Tempest family.
  • Pierce Tempest from Yorkshire was an English book and print seller, best known for his series Cries of the City of London published in 1711. 
  • Marie Tempest, born Mary Etherington, was a famous soprano in England in late Victorian and Edwardian times. 
  • Gerard Tempest, born Gerard Tempesta in Italy in 1918, was an American painter who is considered the father of Abstract Spiritualism.

Tempest Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 400 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Tempest and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.






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Written by Colin Shelley

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