Select Fortescue Surname Genealogy

The Fortescue surname derived from a martial nickname for a doughty, valiant warrior, coming from the Old French fort, meaning “strong” or “brave” and escu, meaning “shield,” from the Latin scutum.

The English family named Fortescue is traditionally thought to have been descended from a strong Norman warrior who carried a massively heavy shield in the service of William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings

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England.   The Fortescue family was first found in Devon, Radulfus Fortescu being recorded there in the Domesday Book of 1086, before branching out elsewhere in England and then to Ireland and America.

Devon.  The earliest surviving record of the Fortescue family relates to its 12th century holding of the manor of Wimpstone in the parish of Modbury.  Other historic seats of branches of the Fortescue family have been at Weare Giffard, Buckland Filleigh, and Spriddlestone in the parish of Brixton and Fallapit in the parish of East Allington.

These Fortescues rose to national prominence when Sir John Fortescue became Lord Chief Justice and Chancellor to Henry VI in 1442.  He managed to survive Henry VI's deposal by the Yorkists but did not live to see the victory of the Lancastrians in 1485.   His son Martin married the heiress Elizabeth Denzell, thereby bringing the Filleigh estates and Buckland House into their possession.  Buckland House remained a family seat until it burned down in 1790. 

By the 18th century these
Fortescues had become Earls.  They built a new home for themselves at Castle Hill in the 1730's and they have been living there for a subsequent fifteen generations.  The last of the line was Lady Margaret Fortescue who was known for her prowess in hunting. 

"A tiny birdlike figure who invariably rode side-saddle, she was known as a 'thruster,' a member of the field who rides closest to the hounds."

She inherited the estates in 1958 and held them until her death in 2013.

A history of the family entitled A History of the Family of Fortescue was written by Thomas Fortescue, who became Lord Clarmont, in 1869.

Leicestershire.  One line of Fortescues was based at Bosworth Hall in Leicestershire, which had been bought by Lady Grace Fortescue at the time of Henry VIII.  She was a Catholic recusant who refused to join the new Church of England faith.  The Fortescues at Bosworth Hall have remained Catholic to this day.

Sir Adrian Fortescue, a courtier at the court of Henry VIII, also refused to join and was executed for his beliefs in 1539.  He was later beatified as a Roman Catholic martyr.  But this mishap apparently did his family little harm.  His son Sir John Fortescue rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the latter part of Queen Elizabeth's reign.  Later descendants have included the Rev. Edward Fortescue, a well-known High Church Anglican in Victorian times, and his son Adrian a noted Catholic priest.

Faithful Fortescue from Buckland Filleigh in Devon came to Ireland in the early 1600's with his uncle Sir Arthur Chichester on the latter's appointment as Lord Deputy of Ireland.   His position gave him access to much land that the Government was handing out. 

From this adventurer who died in 1666 came the Fortescue landowners and governors in county Louth during the 18th century.  The Fortescue presence at Stephenstown began in 1740 and continued until 1914.

America.  Simon Fortescue was in the early 1620’s the first Fortescue to step ashore in America, but he died at sea on his way back to England.  However, he did leave a wife and at least one child on the eastern shore of Virginia.  The name there became Foscue.  Simon Foscue acquired the family’s first plantation in Northampton county in 1691.

“Simon Foscue purchased the plantation or “divident of land” called Nevilles Neck with a partner for 32, 400 pounds of tobacco.  There is a story that, about 200 years ago, it was lost in a card game played in front of a mirror in which Foscue’s cards were seen.”  

The later Foscue plantation was located outside of New Bern in North Carolina.  The antebellum house there, built in 1824 by another Simon Foscue, has been in the family for eight generations

The Fortescue name did appear in America, although initially it was a fictitious name devised by Teddy Roosevelt's uncle to cover an illicit affair.

Select Fortescue Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Fortescue Names

Sir John Fortescue became Lord Chief Justice and Chancellor to Henry VI in 1442.
Sir Adrian Fortescue was a Catholic martyr who was executed for his beliefs in 1539.

Select Fortescues Today
  • 500 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 200 elsewhere (most numerous in America)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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