Select Willoughby Surname Genealogy

The Willoughby surname has its origin in the place-name Willoughby found in various counties – Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, 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.

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Select Willoughby Ancestry

EnglandOne 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 Justice 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 payment 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 established 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 Francis 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 1600’s.

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

  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 Canada.

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 six 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 1890.”

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 Culpeper’s Rebellion.

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.

Australia 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 raised three children.

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

Select Willoughby Miscellany

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

Select 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 Willoughbys 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)

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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