Fetherstonhaugh Origins

Origins of the name Fetherstonhaugh

Many historians have recorded that our first Fetherstonhaugh ancestor was a Saxon warrior chieftain called Frithelstan, who led his men in c600AD against the Britons of southern England, in defence of the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria1,2,3,4. Frithelstan was then said to be rewarded through the gift of all the lands watered by the Tyne River, as well as the area later known as Alston Moor in Cumberland. He then settled in the South Tyne valley approximately five miles from Hadrian’s Wall and became known as Frithelstan of the Halgh (or valley) or Frithelstan de halgh. Then around the 11th century the name was thought to become Federestan or Fetherston de Halg, under French influence4.

A more recent view, which appears the most likely, is that revealed through research done by Richard Parkinson5. This research shows the Federstans of Featherstone in Yorkshire (see ‘About Our Early Ancestors’ ) acquired the land in the Tyne valley not through Saxon heritage but through the marriage of Sir William Federstan, who was a Norman knight, born c1135. Sir William married Hadawise (Avice) de Tynedale and they settled and built a keep on the then existing manor house on the River Tyne. As haugh refers to “the alluvial plain of a river valley”, haugh was added to Sir William’s name. Their son was then known as Sir Helyas (Elias) de Featherstone of Fetherestanehalg.  Therefore any Saxon heritage would not have passed directly from William, who was a Norman knight, but through his wife Hadawise, who was of the Scottish Royal House of Dunkeld and carried the blood of Uchtred the Bold and Ethelred the Unready. Hadawise’s father is recorded by Parkinson (2012) as “Robert, son of Uchtred fitz Waldeve Lord of Tynedale who married Bethoc the heiress of the deposed and murdered Donald Bane MacDuncan High King of Scots. Uchtred was himself the son of Waldeve Lord of Allerdale the son of Cospatrick Earl of Northumberland, the son of Maldred MacCrinan Prince of the Cumbrians“.5

An excerpt from the Index of a collection of documents prior to the 13th century6 (shown left) illustrates the variations in how the name Fetherston was recorded. This variation could be because the priests who were responsible for writing most records relied on how they heard the names, which may sound different according to dialect and accent. There may also have been a mixing of the Federstan family name with the lands they held in the manor of Featherstone in Yorkshire, and later, Featherstone Castle in Northumbria.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0727, Dúchas © National Folklore Collection, UCD is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Interestingly, even in much more recent times meaning has been sought and ascribed to what has always probably been considered an unusual name, and although not evidence based, these explanations have become local folklore. The Fetherstonhaughs were an influential family in the Irish midlands from the 18th century and the Schools Collection from Raharney illustrates how such folklore regarding the Fetherstonhaugh name has been handed down. One story from 1938 (left) has a 14 year old transcribing an oral history version of how the name “haugh” was aquired as a suffix to Fetherston, as told by a 70 year old female resident of the area. Another story, transcribed by a different child recounting their parent’s oral history, has a very similar, but somewhat more brutal explanation. Instead of ‘hocking’ the tails of cattle as in the first story, they describe how a ‘bad agent’ from the Fetherston estate would instead ‘haugh’ the sinews of cattle’s back legs (below).

Below: “The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0730, Page 009” authored by Francis Mulligan (aged 14) from a story told by his mother. Dúchas © National Folklore Collection, UCD is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

A large range of spellings of the name have been used by modern authors when documenting the ancestry of the Fetherstonhaughs. For example Featherstone and Featherstonehaugh are names now routinely applied by some authors when referring to anyone from that lineage, sometimes making tracking of a family line in secondary sources confusing. Wherever possible I have used the name stated by the earliest document or reference I’ve have been able to source, otherwise I refer to Fetherstonhaugh if it’s Dick’s family’s direct line, or Featherstone/Featherstonehaugh if it’s for example, a member of the Featherstone Castle line (after the 14th century).

Origins of the name Cuthbert

Cuthbert is a christian name that runs through many of our Fetherstonhaugh generations. In the decade or so from 666 to 678AD (during the time of the Saxon chief Frithlestan) a young Celtic missionary named Cuthbert became the Prior of Lindisfarne and was known for his piety, his miracles and for his role in spreading Christianity in the North of England (for which he was canonised and later known as the Patron Saint of the North)7.

Image by Lawrence OP (2010 CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

During St Cuthbert’s time, a church was built in 674AD at Hexham on the Tyne River, on the land that was to become the de Tyndales. It was one of the earliest seats of Christianity in England. In 681 it became a cathedral and Cuthbert was elected Bishop of Hexham in 684. In 875 the cathedral was destroyed by Viking raiders but in the 12th century it was rebuilt, although it continued to suffer many assaults during centuries of turmoil. However, as of 2014 is has been fully restored.

Our ancestors have over time, from as early as Ralph Grammaticus (c1050), granted lands and money to the churches that honour St Cuthbert. It is likely that St Cuthbert is the reason the name runs so strongly through the Fetherstonhaugh family.  The name Cuthbert means bright, brilliant, famous.

Origins of the Fetherstonhaugh Family Seat

The land on the Tyne River that became the seat of the Fetherstonhaugh/ Featherstones is in Northumberland, close to Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border4. The Romans occupied Britain from the middle of the 1st century to the beginning of the 5th century and for much of this time Northumberland was at the edge of their empire. It was in 122AD that the emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a wall across the country from the Tyne to the Solway to separate the land of the Britons from the land of the Picts. Although now disputed by Parkinson (2012)5, De Aurago (2000)4 records it was then that the Saxon Chief founder of the Fetherstonhaugh line first built a settlement very close to Hadrian’s Wall on a hill above the present (Featherstone) castle. The occupiers, now shown by Parkinson5 to likely be ancestors of the Tynedales, later abandoned their wooden house on the hill and built a stone hall-house on the haugh (valley) below. It is this hall and land that was believed to be gifted (c1150) to Sir William Federstan and his wife Hadawise by her father, and where William settled and built a keep (Featherstone castle) and became Sir William Federstan (or Featherstone) of Fetherstonhaugh, first steward of the Baron of Langley.

The building of Featherstone Castle was commenced in the latter part of the 12th century, probably under Sir William’s brother-in-law Adam de Tindale Baron of Langley and his brother-in-law, William Federston /Fetherstone. Scots builders and craftsman designed and built the initial castle, which played an important part in the following centuries of border wars with the Scots. According to De Araugo4, Adam’s nephew Helias Fetherston de halgh (c1012), now a wealthy aristocratic baron, made a prudent decision (due to the threat from the ruthless King John) to support the nearby Hexham Monastry (through the gift of some of his inherited lands). The lands were given in exchange for the security of himself and his heir. This gift of land to the monastery was repeated by Helias’s son Thomas, under King Henry III.

By 1327 Thomas Fetherstonhaugh and his son were given responsibility for preserving the truce between Scotland and England, also in exchange for lands. However, peace was short-lived as Edward III was soon again at war with Scotland and then with France. De Araugo4 describes how the Fetherstonhaugh banner (left) would have been held aloft in battle around this time, displaying their emblem as they led between 10,000 to 30,000 men into battle. In 1338 the 100 Year War commenced and in 1349 a quarter of England’s population died from the Black Death (Bubonic Plague). De Araugo4 has a more detailed description of the political backdrop relevant to the lands and families of the Fetherstonhaughs in both Northumbria and Ireland in Part I of her book (pp.1-97)

The Fetherstonhaugh Coat of Arms

The Family Coat of Arms is described by Burke’s General Armory8 as: Red, which represents “fortitude and creative power,” with a Silver Chevron representing “serenity and nobility,” with 3 Silver Ostrich Feathers and 3 Sable Annulets, which represent “Repentance or Vengeance.” This “Protection” [Chevron] is one of the earliest known, and indicates the bearers achieved notable feats.

Left is the coat of arms of Ralph Fetherstonhaugh (c1250) which formed the basis for other arms adopted by siblings and other subsequent branches of the Fetherstonhaugh line.

For instance Ralph’s brother Thomas, our family ancestor, who was Seneschal of the Barony of Langley for Baron Nicholas De Bolteby, was differentiated from his brother by a ‘chevron argent’. These arms were still held 400 years later (below left) in the coat of arms of Ralph Fetherstonhaugh of Stanhope Hall, presented as evidence to the Court of Chivalry in the case of ‘Kings of Arms v Henry Fetherstone of Blackfriars’, London, 16349 (for full story see: see ‘About Our Early Ancestors’); and (below right) in the Visitation pedigrees of 1575, 1615 & 16663.

Similarly, after Ralph’s son Cuthbert fled Northumbria to Ireland in 1651 they carried their coat of arms with them as recorded in Burkes General Armoury, p3488 (exerpt right), which was then adopted by the Irish Fetherstonhaugh branches at Bracklyn, Carrick, Ardagh, and Mosstown – the latter being Dick’s branch. At this stage the crest for Dick’s branch evolved to be an antelope statant armed Or. with the motto Valens et Volens, which means ‘ready and willing’.

A comprehensive description of the various Irish Fetherstonhaugh coats of arms and their evolution has been compiled by Donal Burke.

This engraved crest with motto (left) also appears on a number of family items, including a seal ring, inherited by Dick from Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh (b1837), to be passed down through the male line.


  1. Debrett J, Courthope W. Debrett’s Baronetage of England. 7th ed. J.G. & F. Rivington London; 1835:173. Accessed June 21, 2021 https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.3179/page/n249/mode/2up?q=Featherston
  2. Hodgson J, Rev. A History of Northumberland, in three parts. Newcastle Upon Tyne: E Walker. 1820;Pt 2 Vol 3:353-6. Accessed July 21, 2023. https://archive.org/details/ahistorynorthum01tynegoog/page/352/mode/2up?q=Featherstonhaugh
  3. Foster J. Pedigrees Recorded at the Visitations of the County Palatine of Durham made by William Flower, Norroy King-of-arms, in 1575, by Richard St. George, Norroy King-of-arms, in 1615, and by William Dugdale, Norroy King-of-arms, in 1666. London, Priv. Print for J Foster. 1887:119. Accessed July 21 2023, https://archive.org/details/pedigreesrecorde00lond/page/118/mode/2up?q=Fetherstonhaugh
  4. De Araugo T. Dear Fethers: An historical saga Pre 1066 – 1992. Rose Publishing House. Vic Aust. 2000.
  5. Parkinson R. The Origins of Elias de Featherstone of Fetherstonhaugh. The Featherstone Family News, 2012;6 (11):1-28. Accessed June 21, 2023. https://featherstone.one-name.net/members_data/0003aa/documents/issue60-2011-4.pdf
  6. Farrer W. Early Yorkshire Charters; being a collection of documents anterior to the thirteenth century made from the public records, monastic chartularies, Roger Dodsworth’s manuscripts and other available sources. Edinburgh: Printed for the editor by Ballantyne, Hanson. 1914-1916. Accessed June 20, 2023. https://archive.org/details/earlyyorkshirech03farruoft/page/138/mode/2up
  7. Durham World Heritage Site. St Cuthbert. 2010-2023. Accessed 21st June 2023. https://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/learn/history/st-cuthbert
  8. Burke B, Sir. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, London: Harris & Sons;1842. Accessed July 21, 2023. https://archive.org/details/generalarmoryofe00burk/page/348/mode/2up?q=Fetherstonhaugh
  9. Richard C , Hopper, A. (Eds) ‘346 Kings Of Arms v Fetherstone’, in The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640. British History Online. Accessed June 16, 2023. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/court-of-chivalry/346-kings-of-arms-fetherstone
  10. Fetherstonhaugh, A J. A History of the Fetherstonhaugh Family (with pedigree of the Irish branches). Dublin 1879.

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