Percy


Select Percy Surname Genealogy

The Percy name came from its first bearer in England, William de Percy, who derived his name from the fief of Perci or Percy near Villedieu in Normandy where, it is thought, he originated. 

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England.  The forebear of the Percys in England was the Norman William de Percy who arrived in 1067 and made his base in Yorkshire.  From him has come a prominent early line of Percys who became the Earls of Northumberland and a prominent later line who became the Dukes of Northumberland.

The Percys owed their rise to power by being the bulwark against the marauding Scots across the border.  In 1309 Henry Percy bought the barony of Alnwick in Northumberland.  He became at a stroke the greatest landowner of the north after the King and the owner of one of its most powerful fortresses, Alnwick Castle.  His son Henry added to the family holdings by acquiring Warkworth castle.  And their main source of power came from their appointment as the wardens of the east March of Scotland, an office which they were to hold for most of the next two centuries.

But as soon as the Scottish menace faded in the 16th century, the Percys lost their power. The Tudors no longer needed a viceroy in the north. The sixth earl was ruined by Henry VIII, the seventh executed by Elizabeth, the eighth murdered in the Tower and the ninth gave up on politics for chemistry and astronomy. They were for much of this time Catholic sympathizers who were involved in the Rising of the North of 1569 and, directly and indirectly, in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The male line ended when Joceline Percy died in 1670.  His daughter Elizabeth would inherit the estate (although James Percy, a trunkmaker in Dublin, did challenge her claim).  In 1682
Elizabeth married Charles Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, and they became one of the wealthiest couples in England. 

The Percy and Northumberland line then reinvented itself when Elizabeth Percy nee Seymour married Sir Hugh Smithson in 1740.  She inherited the barony of Percy ten years later.  Her husband adopted the name of Percy, after much legal argument, and was created the Duke of Northumberland.  Their line, encompassing many politicians and military people over the years, has continued to this day.  Alnwick Castle remains with them, as does Northumberland House and Syon House in London. 

The Percy family history has been covered in two books - Gerald Brenan in his 1902 book A History of the House of Percy and Alexander Rose in his 2002 book Kings in the North.


Percys Elsewhere.  There was in addition a southern branch of the Percy family which held the Petworth manor in Sussex from the 12th century onwards.  Sir William Percy of this family served as the MP for Sussex in the late 1300’s.  The present Petworth House was built in 1688, but it passed out of Percy hands in the next century.  

The Percy name also cropped up in the west country:
  • it was to be found in Dorset and Devon and Dorset mainly.  The Percy name had appeared in Shaftesbury, Dorset by the late 1400’s.  Perhaps Percy had different origins here. 
  • but the Percys of Worcester may have descended from the Northumberland Percys.  Thomas Percy was mayor of Worcester in 1662 and a later Dr. Thomas Percy, who grew up in Shropshire, became chaplain to George III and the Bishop of Dromore in Ireland.
Percy in Yorkshire often became Piercy and sometimes Pearce.  The Piercy name, possibly originally Percehay, was to be found around Malton in east Yorkshire and dated back to the early 1500’s

America. 
There were some early Percys in America, in each case related to the Northumberland Percys: 
  • George Percy came to the Jamestown colony in 1607, served as its Governor, and was the author of two important accounts of the early colony.  But he didn’t stay.  He returned to England in 1612.
  • Richard Percy meanwhile came to New England from Bristol on the Lion in 1630.  He settled in Rhode Island.  Some of his descendants migrated north to Maine.
But the best-known Percy line in America arrived some time later.  Its progenitor was an Irish Catholic adventurer named Charles Percy, later Don Carlos Percy, who came to British West Florida in 1775 and prospered at Natchez under Spanish rule as a plantation owner growing indigo dye.

There were many prominent Percys in this illustrious Southern family.  The line passed from Don Carlos Percy to:
  • his son Thomas G. Percy a cotton planter at Huntsville in Alabama.  His plantation abutted that of his friend John Walker, one of Alabama’s first Senators.  Thomas had married Maria Pope, the daughter of plantation owner Leroy Pope and a distant relative of the English poet Alexander Pope.
  • his grandson the heroic Colonel William Alexander Percy, the “Gray Eagle” of the Civil War.  The colonel later became a railroad lawyer.
  • and three of the colonel’s sons – Leroy, William, and Walker - and their families and descendants.  Their numbers included Leroy Percy, the US Senator for Mississippi in 1910, his son the writer and war hero Will Percy, and a cousin, the novelist Walker Percy.
The family story was narrated in Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s 1994 book The House of Percy It is a tale, as the author described it, of honor, melancholy, and imagination in a Southern family.

New Zealand.  Joseph Percy left Sherborne in Dorset for New Zealand in 1847.  He met his wife there and they settled in Lower Hutt near Wellington.  His descendants were still there a hundred years later.  Meanwhile Henry Percy, also from Sherborne, had arrived there with his family five years earlier on the Clifton.  He was aged just nine at the time.  He later married and in 1869 moved to Wairarapa where he purchased Thornton Park.  This farm was to stay with the Percy family until 1973
.

Select Percy Miscellany

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


Select Percy Names

William de Percy was the progenitor of the Percy family that became the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland.
Sir Henry Percy
, also known as Harry Hotspur, was the schemer in Shakespeare’s plays who helped Henry IV seize the throne and then rebelled against him and was killed in battle.
Charles Percy
, an Irish Catholic adventurer, was the founder of the Percy family of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. 
William Alexander Percy from Mississippi was a World War one hero, lawyer, and memoirist, best known for his book Lanterns on the Levee: Memoirs of a Planter’s Son
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Select Percys Today
  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northumberland)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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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