Willoughby Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Willoughby Meaning
Willoughby surname has its origin in the
place-name Willoughby found in various counties – Lincolnshire,
Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire – in
the English Midlands
. The root of
the name is the Old English word willig
meaning “willow” plus byr a
settlement or homestead. The name
appeared as Wilgebiin the Domesday
Book of 1086

Willoughby Resources on

Willoughby Ancestry

England. One Willoughby family had its origin in
Lincolnshire. Ralph de Wilebi was
recorded there around the year 1200. His
great grandson Sir William de Willoughby married the heiress to the
Baron of
Eresby and from that union, around 1313, sprang the Barons Willoughby
of Eresby
who distinguished themselves in the French wars. From
this original line came:

  • the Barons
    Willoughby de Broke, first established in Wiltshire in 1491
  • the Barons
    Willoughby of Parham, first established in Suffolk in 1547
  • whilst there were
    other descendants in Kent.

In 1626 the Eresby Barons were made the Earls of
Lindsey. Since that time they have been
associated with the hereditary office of the Lord Great Chamberlain.

Another Willoughby
family can trace their descent back to a Nottingham merchant Ralph
Bugge who had
bought lands in Willoughby-on-the-Wolds in the 13th century. Sir Richard Willoughby, a lawyer, was Chief
of the Common Pleas in the 1330’s.

“In 1332 Sir Richard was kidnapped by the Folville gang
who wanted 1,300
marks for his release. He was able
to raise the money and was compensated by the Government with an annual
of 100 marks.”

These Willoughbys acquired the Wollaton estate
in Nottinghamshire and later the Middleton estate in Warwickshire. Sir Francis Willoughby
built Wollaton
Hall in 1585. His heir Percival then
the family presence at Middleton and his descendants became Barons
Middleton in
1711. They held Wollaton and Middleton
Halls until their sale in the 1920’s.

A subsidiary line, which began in the 14th
century, was the Willoughby family at Risley in Derbyshire. Sir Hugh Willoughby was an early Arctic
explorer who died on his ship off Murmansk in the winter of 1554. Later came Sir Nesbit Willoughby, a British
naval officer who was naval aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria in 1841.

By the 19th
century the Willoughby name had extended south to London and as far
west as
Cornwall. The Willoughbys
in Cornwall
appeared to
have come there in the 1640’s from Essex.
In the latter part of the 18th and the early 19th century many
of them
were involved ln copper and tin mining.
As that industry declined, a number emigrated.

Ireland. Sir
Willoughby from Middleton was a Major General in the army of Charles I
and was
made Governor of Dublin Castle in the early 1600’s.
He had descendants in Ireland, the most
prominent being Dr. Charles Willoughby, an eminent Dublin physician of
the late

Another Willoughby family, supposedly
related to the Eresby Willoughbys, established itself in Monaghan and
in the early 1600’s. Nicholas Willoughby
was High Sheriff of Fermanagh in the 1650’s.
This family later became the Willoughby-Montgomerys.

America. There were early Willoughbys
in New England
and Virginia.

New England. Captain Francis Willoughby, descended
from the Eresby Willoughbys
was a London shipwright and
merchant who immigrated
to Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1638.
He was married three times and served as Deputy Governor of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1665 to 1670.
His story was recounted in Isaac Greenwood’s 1876 booklet The Willoughby Family of New England

One descendant line
via his son Nehemiah in Boston led to Goshen,
Connecticut and then to Herkimer county, New York. Westel
Willoughby was a distinguished medical
practitioner in the early 1800’s after whom the town of Willoughby in
Ohio was
named. His son Westel was a lawyer in
Virginia, his grandsons Westel and William noted academics.
Another line via Nehemiah led to Bennington,
Vermont and then, after the Revolutionary War, across the border into

Virginia. Willoughby Bay was named after an early
settler, Thomas Willoughby, who had arrived in Virginia in 1610.
His descendants became major landowners by the time of the
Revolutionary War. In
1794 Captain William Willoughby built in Norfolk county what is now
known as
the Willoughby-Baylor townhouse.

“When William Willoughby
died in 1800 at the age of 42, his estate included fourteen slaves and
dwellings. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Daughter Eliza married Dr. Baynham Baylor and
the house remained under the Baylor family name until it was sold in

A Thomas Willoughby, believed to have been related to Percival
Willoughby, received a land grant at Elizabeth City in 1628. He
later settled in Lower Norfolk county at
his plantation
Willoughby’s Hope. His descendant Benjamin
Willoughby moved to
Greene county, Tennessee in the 1790’s.

John Willoughby – either
from Virginia or the Caribbean – was to be found in North Carolina
(then called
Albemarle) in the 1650’s. He was a
member of the Albemarle Council in the 1670’s before being involved in

Caribbean. Francis Lord Willoughby of Parham had
commanded the Royal fleet in the Caribbean in 1650. Twelve years
later, after the Restoration, he
established himself as the Governor of Antigua.
Although he died childless, his brother William and son Henry succeeded
him as Governors and accumulated large land holdings there.

Canada. Percival
Willoughby was one of the promoters
in England of the colony in Newfoundland, even sending his son Thomas
out to
the early settlement there in 1612.
Thomas was clearly the black sheep of the family and he stayed out of
favor with his father.

Some Irish
Willoughby immigrants came to Ontario.
Thomas Willoughby from Cavan arrived in Lambton county sometime in the
1840’s. Charles Willoughby and his
family from Wexford settled in Wellington county in the late 1840’s.

and New Zealand
. The family story was
that Richard
Willoughby had been banished
by his family in England and
had come
out to Australia sometime in the 1850’s where he and his wife Catherine
three children.

Frederick Willoughby and his family from Oxfordshire came to
Tasmania in 1857 and moved onto New Zealand a few years later, settling
Hokitiki on the NZ West Coast.


Willoughby Miscellany

Willoughby Locations in the English Midlands.  Four  locations are extant today.

Willoughby is a village in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, some three miles south of the market town of Alford and on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds;

Willoughby Waterleys, formerly known as Willoughby Waterless, a small village in the Harborough district of Leicestershire;

Willoughby on the Wolds a small village in Nottinghamshire on the border with Leicestershire;

while Willoughby is a village about five miles south of Rugby in Warwickshire.

The two main Willoughby family lines came from Willoughby in Lincolnshire and Willoughby in Nottinghamshire.. 

Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton.  Francis’s father,
Sir Henry Willoughby, had inherited Wollaton and other properties at
the death
of his uncle in January 1549.  However, only a few months later
Sir Henry was
slain on Mousehold Heath in the suppression of Kett’s rebellion
landowners in Norfolk.

In 1559 Francis’s
elder brother Thomas died, leaving no issue, and Francis inherited the
family estates.  He
developed coal mines on his estate at Wollaton in the 1560’s and
1570’s. This
enabled him to maintain a lordly lifestyle, maintaining a number of
retainers.  He employed Robert Smythson who had previously worked
at Longleat to
build him a mansion.  Wollaton Hallwas
completed in 1585.

Francis’s latter life was not so happy.  At the age of seventeen, he had married Elizabeth
Littleton.  This proved to be a turbulent marriage and produced
only daughters.  By 1580, when his one male
heir died aged
six, he became separated from his wife.  He
then decided to make Percival Willoughby of Bore Place in Kent who
married his eldest daughter Bridget his principal heir.

Francis had entered into a number
speculative ventures, including growing and processing woad at Wollaton
and a
plantation in Ireland.  These took capital, as did his various
ironworks.  He borrowed.
And he found he was unable to pay his debts as well as providing
dowries for
his daughters.

Francis died under mysterious circumstances in London in
1596.  He left Percival an estate
encumbered with debt.

The Willoughbys in Cornwall.  The forebear of this family was Thomas Willoughby who was
born in Essex.  He seems to have left
that county in something of a hurry and headed for Cornwall, marrying
Nicholas in Wendron in 1647.

The main line descended from his son Thomas, born
in 1649, who was married twice and was the father of eleven children.  Thomas was buried in Ilogan, which was where
both his wives seems to have come.

the latter part of the 18th and the early 19th century many of these
Willoughbys were involved ln copper and tin mining.
As that industry declined, a number emigrated
– notably to the US, Canada and Australia.

Robert Willoughby joined the Texas
militia warring against Mexican border posts in 1842, later settled in
but ended up being killed in New Orleans in 1864 during the Civil War.

Willoughby was a miner who arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1860’s and
migrated west to Raton, New Mexico where he died in 1892.

Charles Willoughby ordained as a
Congregational minister and was sent by the London Missionary Society
Central Africa in 1882.  He remained in
Bechuanaland (now Botswana) until 1918 and then taught in America for a
years before his retirement.

The Ancestry of Francis Willoughby, New England Immigrant.  

Thomas Willoughby, born 1486 in Eresby, Lincolnshire, married Bridget Read

– Christopher Willoughby, born 1513 in Surrey, married Margaret Tottishurst

— Christopher Willoughby, born 1538 in Kent, married Martha

— William Willoughby, born 1588 in Kent, married Elizabeth Locke

—- Francis Willoughby, born 1612 in London, married (first wife) Sarah Taylor

—– Nehemiah Willoughby, born 1644 in Boston, married Susanna Lynde.

Captain Francis Willoughby first arrived in Boston in 1638.  One family relic is the old Wiiloughby chest which was given to Nehemiah Willoughby and Susanna Lynde on their wedding in 1683.

Early Willoughbys in Virginia.  Thomas
Willoughby from Lincolnshire came to Virginia at
the age of twenty-three as early as 1610.
Thanks to a carrot offered by the London Society for Colonizing
Virginia, anyone who imported a person into the colony at their own
received 50 acres of land.  Willoughby
apparently brought four servants, thus qualifying him for a few hundred

Willoughby, a merchant, eventually married and
had a family.  His son Thomas was born in
Virginia in 1632.   He went on to
in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, was a judge in the monthly
system, and became a Justice of the Peace when Lower Norfolk county was
in 1637.  His name is perpetuated by
Willoughby Bay along the Virginia coastline.

The family stayed put and enlarged
its holdings over the years.  By the time
of the Revolutionary War the Willoughby family’s holdings had grown to
acres. Much of this land stayed in family hands until the late 1800’s.

has it that seven generations of Willoughbys were buried at a site that
victim to rising sea waters.  One friend
of the family said that the location of the cemetery was lost and then
rediscovered inadvertently.  Someone
swimming in about twenty feet of water in Willoughby Bay came across
rocks.  With his toe he was able to trace
the indentations.   It was the name
Willoughby, inscribed upon a tombstone.

Richard Willoughby and Catherine Hayes.  Richard Willoughby was born near Bristol in 1832 and raised in a lordly Willoughby family, probably the
Willoughbys de Broke.  It appears that
Richard was found in a compromising position with the Irish scullery
Catherine Hayes.

One story has Catherine
sent packing to Australia on the Pekin
in 1853.  Richard was cut off from the
family and then banished there a few years later.  Richard
and Catherine had three children in
Australia – Hugh born in 1861, Mary born in 1863 and George born in
1865.  Another story had them being sent to


Willoughby Names

  • Sir Richard Willoughby was Chief Justice of the
    Common Pleas in the 1330’s. 
  • Sir Hugh Willoughby was an early Arctic explorer who died on his ship in 1554. 
  • Francis Lord Willoughby of Parham commanded
    the Royal fleet in the Caribbean in 1650 and resurfaced as the Governor of Antigua in 1663. 
  • Westel Willoughby was a prominent physician in New York in the early 1800’s.

Select Willoughby Numbers Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Warwickshire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in Kentucky)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Willoughby and Like Surnames

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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