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This page is an extract from "The Estes Family" by Stewart Estes, (c) 2009



Mariners from Southern England:

English, Huguenot, or Italian Ancestry?

The following explores the possible origins of the Eastes-Estes surname. It is based substantially on the David Powell article1 on this topic. Four main theories have been proposed to explain the origins of name. Others lack even basic support and are not discussed.

1. The d'Este connection. There is the persistent and widespread family story about this family originating from Italian royalty. But Francesco d'Este left Italy and dwelt in Burgundy for some time and later Holland before, supposedly, moving to England, probably around 1480. There is no evidence he went to England. And even if he did, it would be remarkable that within 50 years he had strewn descendents from Cornwall to Lincolnshire, descendents who did not exhibit any obvious sign of belonging to the nobility. Colorful, but unlikely.

2. Eustace. The name is simply a variation of the common English surname “Eustace.” And, the earliest variations of the family surname are similar to Eustace (Ewstas).

3. East. The name is simply a variation of the common English surname “East.” However, the earliest versions of the name would suggest otherwise.

4. Huguenot. The family may have been descended from Huguenot refugees (or strictly speaking, Fleming or Walloon refugees who preceded the Huguenots). However, the bulk of the Huguenot, Fleming and Walloon arrivals were not until well after the family had already been widely established in England. Further, family tales claiming Huguenot origin could well refer instead to that of Eastes wives, quite a few of whom did have Huguenot origins.

Given the lack of evidence for any particular theory, the issue remains one of speculation. The family may have some exotic continental origin, or originate from down-to-earth peasant or middle-class beginnings. There is simply no way of knowing.


David Powell has written: “The origin of the Eastes family prior to Nicholas Eastes (1495) is uncertain. The Eastes of Kent were frequently associated with the maritime trade, so it is not surprising that almost all of the earliest mentions of the surname and its variations can be found in the coastal English counties. With only a few exceptions, all the early mentions of Eastes can be found in an arc stretching from Cornwall in the far west of England to Kent in the south-east, and north along the east coast to Lincolnshire.2

These earliest versions of the surname used in Kent suggest another possible origin. Nicholas' surname was given as "Ewstas" and his son, Sylvester, was variously given as "Eustas" and "Eastye". This has led one researcher to suggest that Eastes was a variation of the ancient English surname "Eustace". There is an early mention of the surname with the will of Richard Eustace, who died in 1506 at Dover, Kent, leaving a wife, Alice, and an unborn child, both of whom were provided for in the will. Thomas Eustace was the witness and was likely Richard's brother.

Outside of Kent, the earliest mentions of the name (or variations) were at St Columb, Cornwall (1551), Ellough, Suffolk (1562), Epping, Essex (1569), London (1579), Southease, Sussex (1601), Threekingham, Lincolnshire (1627), Bristol, Gloucestershire (1638), Norwich, Norfolk (1655) and St Sidwell, Devon (1674). Again, the earliest variations all bear a marked similarity to Eustace. Note that the dates given for the first known appearance of the name outside Kent should not be taken to mean the surname did not exist in those areas until long after the first appearance in Kent. The earlier dates for Kent may simply be an artifact - extensive research has been done on the family within Kent, utilizing many pre-1600 sources including wills, whilst outside Kent only a relatively cursory examination of parish registrars has been made (and these generally only date back to c.1600).

It has also been suggested that the name Eastes may be a variation of East, a not uncommon English name. However, the earliest variations of the name would suggest this is a less likely origin than Eustace. For example, Will of John Est of Tunbridge, 10 January 1457; Will of William Este of Canterbury December 1526; Will of Christian East of Kent 24 November 1610; Will of Thomas Este of Brenset, 1627.3


Another theory is that the original Eastes were amongst the Huguenot refugee's from the Spanish Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries, as many such refugees settled in Kent during this time frame.4

The fact that most of the Eastes/Estes lived in Kent strengthens the Huguenot origin theory since the Huguenot first settled in the coastal areas in the south-east of England. Of course, if the Eastes arrived in England from Holland in the mid to late 1400's, they would not have been Huguenots, since that term was used for those who arrived during the Catholic persecution of Protestants in the 1600's. These would instead have been Walloons or Flemings (1400's & 1500's), although today all three groups are lumped under the label of "Huguenot".

Thus, the main Huguenot arrivals were not until after the Eastes family was already known to have been in England. Even if the family were not Huguenot refugees, a Huguenot origin cannot be ruled out: immigrants from the mainland were arriving in the 14th century (indeed even earlier), bringing with them their non-English surnames - while the Huguenot's were protestants escaping Catholic persecution in the 16th century, there were earlier groups who fled from the same area from the Inquisition.”


Again from Powell, “The Eastes/Estes family has long held that the family was ultimately of noble birth, specifically the d'Este family of Ferrara, Italy (who in turn were linked to most, if not all, European royal families). The most obvious source of this legend is the similarity of the written forms of the two names: d'Este and Estes (the connection is less obvious with Eastes, which is usually pronounced "EAST-ease" while d'Este is pronounced "de-ES-tay").5

The belief that the Eastes family was descended from the d'Este's is an old one and not just limited to the Eastes family itself. King James I of England and Scotland (reigned from 1603 to 1625) was convinced that a gentleman in his service by the name of East was in fact a descendent of the d'Este family and suggested he change his name to Este. One did not gainsay a suggestion from the king in those days. Even earlier, the English printer Thomas East (1540-1608) used the names East, Est, Este and Easte and hinted at a connection with the d'Este family, although his motivations were much more obvious - he made his fame publishing Italian music in England and suggesting a connection to the d'Este's would certainly not have adversely affected his sales. Thomas' son, Michael (1580-1680), who was a composer in his own right, also used the names East, Est, Este and Easte.

Somewhat more recent was the case of Sir Augustus d'Este (1794-1848), who despite the surname was pure English. Augustus was son of the Duke of Sussex and the daughter of the Earl of Dunmore. The marriage of his parents was without the King's consent and he (George III) subsequently annulled the marriage, thus making Augustus illegitimate after his birth. After the annulment, Augustus and his sister were given the name d'Este by their father, a name that was "anciently belonging to the House of Brunswick". There were several other instances where English aristocrats named Este or East changed their name to d'Este, including one family in the 1800's that changed their name from East and claimed the non-existent title "Baron d'Este".

Whether any of these people left descendants (Augustus had no children) is only of academic interest for Eastes since all were born well after Nicholas (c.1495), from whom it has been established that the Eastes family descends. However, the point of these examples (and others) is simply to show that there are confirmed cases of individuals and families bearing names similar to Eastes yet having noble ancestry and, in some cases, claiming a link to the d'Este's (although in these cases the claim is unsupported). It is then quite possible that stories of a d'Este connection in the Eastes family were simply "borrowed" from these cases.

At this point we depart from the realms of genealogy and enter that of family lore and the claimed connections with royalty and the d'Este family. The legend that the Eastes and Estes have some connection with the d'Este family of Italy is a very widespread one, a tale that in all likelihood appears in one form or another everywhere that Eastes or Eastes descendants may be found.

Most published Eastes and Estes genealogies have one or more versions of the d'Este story. Just what are those stories and what do they have in common?” The letter from Dr. Taylor, the foundation for this story, is partially quoted by Powell, set forth in full in Charles Estes’ 1894 book, and in Leroy Eastes’ more recent work.6

Richard Taylor, M.D.

"About the year 1097, Albert Azzo II, Marquis of Liquria was born (actually 996- 1097) and his history is commensurate with the lapse of the 11th century. He was the acknowledged founder of the houses of both Este and Brunswick the former were conspicuous in Italy as late as the middle of the18th century when their direct line failed with the death of Hercules III, he being the twenty-second generation from Azzo II; the latter (House of Brunswick) after centuries of time, emerge from their quiet stations as Dukes of Brunswick and Hanover, and occupy the most prominent positions in Europe as British Kings."

"One branch however, of the Italian family exists in America. The Marquis Aldobrandino, about the middle of the 14th century, in order to procure means for prosecuting a war against the Auconites, hypothecated [pledged] his younger brother to the usurers [money lenders] of Florence. The untimely death of the Marquis put an end to the war but left his brother unredeemed. These were the sons of Azzo VI. The younger brother did not return to his ancestral home on the accession of the seventh Azzo [another older brother] but proceeded to France, thence to England, where he became acquainted with the family of Lord Bacon, then moved from England to Wales, always maintaining a position of influence and respectability, inheriting the distinguishing traits of character and talents possessed by their ancestors. From Wales they immigrated to Virginia. "

"The name Este is derived from a colony planted in the seventh century of Rome, about fifteen miles to the south of the City of Pudau, and called Ateste, or Este a name known in history 136 years B.C. This is the surname the Marquises of Liquria assumed in the beginning of the fourteenth century, namely Marquises of Este, and their descendents, have ever since assumed the surname, Este. The name written Estes is plural, and was used to represent the whole family; thus Byron, in his Parisina speaks of the Estes:

"And if she sets in Este's bower,

"Tis not for the sake of its full bloom flower:"

- or is meant to convey, belonging to the family. The name is more frequently written Estes than as it should be, Este."

Powell writes of this: “This story was originally published in the New York Watchman. Aldobrandino was actually the son of Obizzo II and, along with his brothers Azzo VIII and Francesco (the un-named brother above) contested for the rule of the house. Upon the death of Azzo VIII, Aldobrandino was appointed as the Marquis by the pope. Whether or not Francesco fled to England, as the story claims, there has certainly been no evidence found in England to support his presence there, nor of any descendants of "position of influence". In the USA the registration of births (or baptisms), marriages and deaths did not become formalized and widespread until around 1900. What is often not realized in the US is that in England, registration began around 1600 and while the records today are not complete for the lower classes, it is a different matter for those in "positions of influence", so it can be definitively stated that if Francesco fled to England, he did not leave any descendants there by that name. The Eastes never got to Wales and it was not until the late 1700's that any of the English Eastes had risen in station far enough to even call themselves "gentleman", still a far cry from a "position of influence".

The above story is quite likely a distortion of another family tale: "...Francesco of Este, who was the son of Marquis Leonello [1407-1450], left Ferrara [1471] to go and live in Burgundy, by the will of Duke Ercole [Francesco's uncle, who succeeded Leonello] .. and, in order that he should go at once, he gave him horses and clothes and 500 ducats more; and this was done because His Excellency had some suspicions of him .. 'Francesco ... went to Burgundy and afterward to England'. These were the words written on the back of the picture of Francesco found in a collection of paintings near Ferrara."

Many of the details are similar to the earlier story. But why would Francesco flee Italy? In 1471 Francesco's brother, Ericolo, led a revolt in an attempt to overthrow Duke Ercole. The attempt was unsuccessful and in typical royal tradition, Ericolo lost his head and Francesco exiled, if only because he was Ericolo's brother. Did Francesco really travel to England? The only evidence for this is the writing in the back of the painting, the existence of which is unconfirmed. Essentially the same story is told by Charles Estes in his book [Estes Genealogies]:

"Francesco Esteuse (born c.1440), the illegitimate son of Leonnello d'Este. Francesco was living in Burgundy. In the time of Duke Borso he came to Ferrara, and at Borso's death was declared rebellious by Ercole because of efforts made by his brother, Ericolo, to seize power. Francesco returned to Burgundy and was heard of no more from that time (1471). As the time coincided with that when Edward conquered [sic] England with the aid of Burgundy, it was possible that Francesco followed Edward and after Edward's victory made England his home."

Charles Estes proposed that Robert Este of London (died 1606) was a descendent of Francesco and that Robert Este was, in turn, the ancestor of the American Estes. No link was established between Francesco and Robert or, for that matter, between Robert and the American Estes. Whether Robert Este is related to Francesco or not is irrelevant since he is clearly not an ancestor of the Eastes since they can be traced back to Nicholas of Deal, Kent. However, it is not as easy to dismiss a possible connection between Francesco and Nicholas Ewstas (c.1495). If Francesco did travel to England, it would have been around 1480, leaving sufficient time for him to have fathered Nicholas and possibly also Richard and Thomas Eustace of Dover. Indeed, Francesco's father was Niccola, or, in English, Nicholas.

This version of the story is repeated in another text:

"[I]t is said by antiquarians that Albert Azo, II, Marquis of Liguria, born about A.D. 1097 was founder of the houses of Este and Brunswick. The former was conspicuous in Italy as late as the middle of the 18th century about which time its direct line failed in the death of Hercules III, he being of the 22nd generation from Azo II. Such is the foundation of this ancient house. The name Este is said to have been derived from a colony planted in the 7th century of Rome, about fifteen miles south of the city of Padua, and called Ateste, or Este, which latter name the marquises of Liguria assumed in the early part of the 14th century. The name Este is plural and is used to represent the whole family. Tradition has it that the name was brought into England by one Francesco, natural son of marquis Leonnello, and who went first to Burgundy and escaped thence into England, and afterward made his home in that country. The period of his life lay between 1434 and 1444. The immigrant Estes family here about to be considered begins with Robert and Dorothy Estes, of Dover, England, whose ancestry has not been clearly settled, but concerning whose descendants there is no uncertain tradition…." 7

Powell writes “On the other hand, while this would explain Nicholas' ancestry, it would not explain the presence of Eastes all along the south-east English coast during the 1500's and 1600's - there would just not be enough time for one person to have produced such a widespread and sizeable population of descendants. Additionally, one would have to explain why the grandson of a Marquis (and the son of a Duke's nephew) was a mariner. A courtier, yes. Even a merchant, but a fisherman? That does stretch credibility. As for which King Edward the quote refers to, there were two King Edward's in the late 1400's, Edward IV who reigned from 1461-1483 and Edward V who reigned for less than a year, in 1483. Edward V was imprisoned in the Tower of London soon after his accession upon his father's death and was executed at the age of 13. His father, Edward IV, fought several battles during his reign, including one in 1471 against Warwick Neville, the "king maker" - possibly this is the incident the quote refers to, however this battle was in April and Francesco was exiled from Ferrara in September. Subsequent to this battle, Edward IV was secure on his throne until his death.

It should be noted that while stories about a possible link between the Eastes family and the d'Este's date back many centuries, the link via Francesco first surfaced with the work of Charles Estes. While Dr. Estes was a careful researcher on his own "home patch" (the descendents of Matthew and Richard Estes), the quality of his work further afield has been questioned, with numerous mistakes in his "Southern Estes" section and as for the English research he reports, one has to wonder how genuine was the "genealogist" he contracted to search for the family's origins back in England.

There are, of course, many other stories about the origins of the family, many of which are even more improbable that the d'Este claim. One story popular in the US holds that the family were descended from French nobility and were amongst the many Huguenots who arrived in the America's in the early 1700's and that “Estes is de Este in French”. This entirely bypasses England as a home for the family (rather disconcerting news to the English Eastes and their descendents) and is somewhat at odds with Abraham Estes arriving before 1682, as an assisted passenger. Other equally fanciful stories have the family coming from many different parts of Europe including Spain and the Basque region in France. In England the story of Francesco is given an additional twist in that he, or a descendent, was a general serving in Holland, had the title of baron and was living at Este Castle. "Baron Este" moved to England following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. This was, however, almost 200 years after the family first appeared in Kent. Still, it is known that Francesco lived in Holland and most likely had a chateau there and he, along with any children, may have fled to England following one of the earlier waves of protestant persecution - although why an Italian nobleman would have become a protestant is another matter.”

1 David Powell, Origin of the Eastes-Estes Surname (2001)

2 Niel Gunson, The English Ancestry of the American Estes, Estes Trails, 1992, volume 11, No. 3; Estes Trails, 1993, volume 12, Nos. 1-2, and 3; and, Niel Gunson, Reminiscences of the Eastes Family in Kent and Australia (Canberra, A.C.T., 1998).

3 Charles Estes, Estes Genealogies, 1097-1893 (Eden Putnam Publ’g, Salem, MA. 1894, Reprinted Higginson Book Co., Salem, MA), at xi.

4 See Notes 2-4. See also, International Genealogical Index.

5 See Notes 4 and 5. See also, The Snow-Estes Ancestry, Volume II; Nora Snow & Myrtle Jillson, The Estes Family, (Reprinted Higginson Book Co., Salem, MA, 1939.); Charles Estes, Estes Genealogies; Dictionary of National Biography, Leslie Stephen & Sidney Lee (editors) (Smith, Elder & Co, pub. 1908) Volumes V & VI; May Folk Webb & Patrick Mann Estes, Cary-Estes Genealogy (Tuttle Pub. Co., Rutland, VT; 1939, Reprinted Higginson Book Co., Salem, MA); The Pictorial Encylopaedia of British History, Collins Book Depot (pub); The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia (Colourgravure Pub., 1954); and the Edict of Nantes (issued in 1598 by Henry IV of France to grant the Calvinist Protestants of France, “Huguenots,” substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic).

6 Estes Genealogies, at vi-x; and, Eastes, The Estes/Eastes Families of America, Note 1, at 5-9 (quoting letter of Richard Taylor, M.D. to Rev. Charles F. Deems as reprinted in the Watchman).

7 Everett S. Stackpole, The History of Durham, Maine (1899).