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The Bowles of Canada and their Roots in Ireland and Great Britain

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A Middle English Origin of the Bowles Name

The Origin of The Name for One Bowles Line in Kent


Back to The Origins of the Bowles Name

See also A Norman Origin of the Bowles Name

Just how much does the spelling of the family name matter when trying to follow a family line?  In my opinion the farther back you go the less it meant and it really only had an important significance in modern times with our computer based records.  When the story of one Bowles line started in Kent in the 1200's family names where not in common use. 

The invasion of England by the Normans brought about the first adoption of the concept of a surname.  When William the Conqueror successfully invaded England in 1066 even the leading families in England and Normandy used relational (ex. Ivo Son of Simon), descriptive (Gilbert The Fair), occupational  (Osbert the Miller) or geographical  (John of Well) references for their names.  William of Normandy defeated the Saxon King Harold Godwinson (the son of Godwin) and his wife Gytha Thorkelsdottir (Thorkel's daughter) of Denmark.  At the commoner level, a person might just have a single name such as Wulferic which was sufficient if he was the only one with that name in his immediate neighbourhood.  If there were more than one he might become known as Wulferic son of Thorstein, or Wulferic the Stableman or possibly Wulferic the Bull ('le Bole' to the Normans) if he was a large powerful man.  However his son John might not carry any of those names.  If that John was the only red-headed John in the village, he might well have been called John the Red and was therefore recorded in legal documents by Latin-writing clerks as John Ruffus.  So while the thousands of legal documents from the 12th to the 15th century which are available for study in the various archives give us a fascinating picture of those days, they seldom give us much help with family history.  In fact they can be quite misleading. 

As an example, a 13th century land grant for one particular plot of land to Robert de Molendino when compared to a grant for that same land 20 years later to an Ivo de Molendino might imply that Ivo was Robert's son.  In this particular case though, further study revealed that Robert the Miller (Molendino being the Latin form of Miller) had left his mill and land to his daughter Mabel who married Ivo de Wootton who became the new town miller and was known as Ivo the Miller or, using the Latin spelling common in legal documents, as Ivo de Molendino in a transcription of a grant which he signed to hold the land Mabel had inherited.  Robert's other daughter Emma married John de Cliffesend whose son Gilbert also became a miller and was recorded as Gilbert de Molendino.  In two generations there were three male lines called Molendino but the only one which carried the original family DNA had became extinct.  The two Molendino lines which survived were Wootton and Cliffesend originally.  An apparently unrelated miller across the river, Simon son of Osbert the Miller, also adopted the name Molendino which doesn't help us sort out the local records.

However, the Bowles name also developed in this environment and in this time so while the roots cannot be expected to be known with any confidence and the family lines cannot be followed with any certainty, these early land grants do document one of the origins of the Bole surname which became Boles and Bowles and likely other variations eventually.  In fact one of Simon son of Osbert's neighbours in the Ickham holding in Kent was a Simon Boles, sometimes written as Simon Bole.  From further grants from the 1200's we know his son was Ivo son of Simon who was later known as Ivo Boles.  Ivo's son seems to have been John Bolle.  John's either son or brother was Richard le Bole.  John, Stephan and William de Boles were the sons of Richard le Bole who sold off the land they inherited in Ickham and moved to Chartham.  That's five variations on the Boles name in four generations.  However, the Boles line continued in Ickham; William Boles, the son of Richard le Boles still occupied Ivo Boles land sixty years later.  See The Boles of Ickham

But how did they get that surname?  All of the above variations are as clerks interpreted the name as they recorded land grants in either Latin or French, many of which are preserved at the Cathedral of Canterbury Archives.  In this early Norman period, Simon Boles, would have stated his name to the clerk which he quite possibly had never seen written down himself and which would then probably have been written Simon Bolus in the document by a church cleric (clerk) in Latin.  A Norman would probably translate that writing as 'le Bole' or 'Bolle' and Simon's family would be recorded as Boles or Bolles.  So modern research is affected by the interpretations of clerks both ancient and modern.  Whether the family name is spelt Bole or Bolle in these catalogue references  they cannot be counted on to indicate specific separate family lines or any clear relationship between any two Boles unless there is other evidence which we can often learn about from the records.

By the 15th century, the area where Simon farmed was known as 'The Bolles' and the lane past the farm was known as Bolestrete.  'Le Bole', Bolus or Bolles could have several roots.  The Cathedral Archives note that 'Bole' was based on the Saxon for bull which would imply that 'Richard le Bole' was Norman for 'Richard the Bull'.  That could be a descriptive term for a family of large, broad shouldered men over several generations.  Note: a document dated between 1442 and 1486 involving land near West Malling (south of Chatham) refers to an Inn called 'Le Bole' with the sign of a Bull.  ref. 

Also, while most farm land in Kent was used as open pasture land once the annual crop was taken off, Ivo Boles farm was in the field of 'teghe' which means an enclosure or a 'tie'.  That would imply livestock which had to be contained.  Maybe bulls?

But, as shown in the above definition and in the Patent Roll entry to the right, lumps of ore slag called 'boles' which were left over from the lead, tin or iron refining process were often found throughout several regions of England including in Kent.  The Romans introduced the process in Britain and the Saxons carried it on right through into medieval times.  This indenture summary shows that 'bolles' were still sought after for re-refining as late as the 1400's.  The area that Ivo farmed could have been called Boles if the slag remains were found in that field and the family name could have come from that.  So Bole could have been an occupational, physical or geographic name.  The proof could yet be found in one of those original documents in the archives.

This site was last updated 10/19/18