History of Howell Surname

From the beautiful Welsh mountain ranges comes the distinguished surname of Howell. Wales is a land of soft- spoken, music-loving poets, a people famous for their bards, Eisteddfods (Music Festivals) and their choral groups. After the Romans vacated the British Isles at the end of the 3rd. century the Welsh or Ancient Britons were left in sole possession of all of England, all the way north to the banks of the Clyde. Their most distinguished leaders were Ambrosious and later in the 5th. century, King Arthur of the Round Table. The Saxons forced them westward into the mountains of what is now Wales, north to Cumberland and southern Scotland, and to Cornwall to the south. The first recorded King of Wales was Rhodri Mawr, or Roderick the Great who ruled from his seat in Anglesey. He died in 893. On his death he gave Wales to his three sons. Anarawd became King of North Wales, Cadalh became King of South Wales and Mervyn became King of Powys, or mid Wales.

The ancient history of the name Howell, also emerged from these same Welsh chronicles, woven into the prosaic tapestry of the ancient Welsh tradition. It was first found in Monmouthshire where they were seated from very ancient times, some say well before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of Duke William at Hastings in 1066 A.D.

Researchers reviewed manuscripts such as the Domesday Book, the Pipes Rolls, Hearth Rolls, the Black Book of Execequer, the Curia Regis Rolls and the family name Howell, was found in many different forms. Although the name Howell occurred in many references, from time to time the surname was spelt Howell, Howel, Howels, Howells, Hovell, Hovels and many of these versions are still in use today. These changes in spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. It was not uncommon for a person in his or her own lifetime, to be born with one spelling, marry with another, and have still another on the headstone in his or her resting place.

The Norman Conquest of Wales was a disaster. A testimony to the indomitable Welsh fighting spirit is that there were more castles, or ruins of castles to the square mile in Wales than anywhere else in the world. Border warfare against the Normans and their successors continued unabated until the end of the 14th, century.

The Welsh tactic was to thrust then retire to their bleak mountain homes to plan their next attack. As peace gradually returned to this picturesque country, the Welsh, attracted  by the economic opportunities, moved eastward in to the English cities. Hence, we now find Welch surnames such as Jones, Price, Edwards, Phillips, Evans, Prichard, Morgan, Williams, Roberts, and so on, to be amongst the highest population names in England at this time.

Despite this background of mountain greenery the Welsh family name Howell emerged as a notable family name in Monmouthshire where they were recorded as a family of great antiquity seated with manor and estates in that shire. The first on record of the family was a Welsh Prince Howel who was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Howel was a son of Oeni and they became known as the Princes of Caerleon upon-Uske in Monmouthshire. By early 1300's the name had become firmly established in Monmouth and they acquired many estates on the English Welsh border in Gloucestershire, Hereford, Montgomery and Warwickshire. David and Phillip Howel were Lords and Prince of the manor in Monmouth in 1313. Prominent amongst the family name during the late middle ages was Prince of Caerleon.

For the next two or three centuries the surname Howell flourished and played an important role in local county politics and in the affairs of Briton in General. During the 16th, 17th and 18th. centuries England was ravaged by religious conflict. The newly found passionate fervor of Cromwellianism swept the nation. The power of the church, and the Crown, their assessments, tithes, and demands imposed a heavy burden on rich and poor alike. They looked to the New World for their salvation. Many became pirates who roamed the West Indies such as Captain Morgan.

Some were shipped to Ireland where they were known as the ‘Adventurers for land in Ireland’. They acquired land for an old song. Essentially, they contracted to keep the protestant faith, being granted lands previously owned by the Catholic Irish. There is no evidence that the family name migrated to Ireland, but this does not preclude the possibility of their scattered migration to that country. 

The migration or banishment to the New World also continued, some voluntarily from Ireland, but mostly directly from Wales or England.

They sailed to the New World across the stormy Atlantic in the tiny sailing ships which were to become known as the "White Sails". These overcrowded ships, built for 100 but crammed with 400 to 500 people, sometimes spending two months at sea, were wracked with disease, sometimes landing with only 60 to 70% of the original passenger list.

In North America, migrants which could be considered a kinsman of the Howell family included Owen Howel who settled in Virginia in 1635; David Howel settled in Barbados in 1654; Humphrey Howel settled in Virginia in 1698; Morgan Howel settled in Virginia in 1653; Thomas Howel settled in New England in 1654 and William Howel settled in Barbados in 1654.

Meanwhile, here in Britian, the family name was active in the social stream. The Who’s Who of the U.K., United States, Australia, and Canada, produced many 20th century notables; David Howell, British Journalist; Dennis Howell, Politician; Francis Howell, Paleoanthropologist; Maxwell Howell, Australian Educator; Roger Howell, American Historian; Gwynn Howells, Australian Physicist; Herbert Howell, British Composer; William Howells, Anthropologist.

The family name Coat of Arms has been traced to the most ancient recording and grant of Arms.

The most ancient grant of a Coat of Arms found was;
Three silver towers on a red background.
The Crest is;
A griffin holding a broken spear.
The ancient family motto for this distinguished name is;
“Virus In Ardue”