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Roberts Family History
A name which has many spelling variations, including Robert and Robart, Roberts has pre-7th century Germanic origins. It derives from the same root as the names Rupert, Rubke and Ruppertz of Germany, and Rops and Rubbens of Flanders.
Its roots lie in the male given name 'Hrodbeorht', made up of 'hrod', meaning renown, and 'beorht', bright or famous. This type of personal name,was very popular throughout Europe for many centuries, and remains so today. It was 'adopted' by the Norsemen as they swept through Northern Europe on their march of conquest which took them to Normandy in the 10th century.
Roberts (variants – Robers, Robberds, Robarts, Robberts, Robards, Roberds) is an English, Welsh and Scottish patronymic surname which developed originally from the personal name Robert.
This surname is widespread in the UK and is frequently found in Wales and West Central England.
In England, the surname became common during the time of Edward the Confessor. Only a short twenty years after the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings in 1066, it was first found in Kent in 1086, where a Willelmus filius Roberti was listed in the Domesday Book.
The Domesday Book also includes a reference to a Sheriff of Worcestershire, Robert the Bursar, who held a castle at Tamworth, Staffordshire and had holdings in Gloucester, Leicester, Lincoln and Warwick. The same source states that a Robert (son of Fafiton) had holdings in Bedford, Cambridge, Huntingdon, and Middlesex.
A Scottish connection comes via the 'Roberts of Glassenbury’ family, extinct baronets from Kent who, according to a genealogy in Harl. MSS., were descended from a Scotchman, William Rookherst who settled in Kent in the third year of Henry I. He purchased lands at Goudhurst, which he called after his own name. He later changed the name to Roobertes and then Roberts. Although the term herst is scarcely known in Scotland, it makes many appearances in Kent where the surname was first found.
In Wales the Roberts surname is patronymic in origin and would originally have referred back to a male ancestor who had the given name Robert. This personal name would have developed into a settled, hereditary surname between the 16th and 19th centuries, depending on where in Wales the family lived (families in certain parts of the country adopted fixed surnames later than others).
A Cornish example of the surname comes in the form of a convict, a William John Roberts (b. 1756), who, aged 31, was on 14 August 1786 found guilty in Bodmin, Cornwall of stealing yarn valued at 9 shillings. He was transported to New South Wales, Australia aboard the ship 'Scarborough' on 13 May 1787.
In 1891, the frequency of the surname throughout the whole of England and Wales was 112,694, with fewer occurrences in Scotland at 1,377. In 1881, in Kent there were 1,963 occurrences of the surname. At this time, the top jobs for individuals named Roberts in the UK included farmer (8% reported), labourer and coal miner, while there were fewer agricultural labourers .
The occupational term ‘Bobbies’ was derived from a personal name – Sir Robert Peel, who founded the London's Metropolitan police force in 1829. Constables were first called the ‘Peelers’ until Sir Robert became Chief Secretary in Ireland, when the term 'Bobbies' was adopted and which is still sometimes used today.
1881, 1891 Census
1881 Census in Kent
Dictionary of American Family Homes, P Hanks OUP 2003
Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, H.B. Guppy, London 1890
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, P.Hanks, Coats, McClure OUP 2016
1860 Lower, Mark A Patronymica Britannica: a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom, London: J.R Smith. Public Domain
1857 Arthur, William An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman. Public Domain
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