Surname Name Meaning, Origin, and Etymology
This Anglo-Saxon name is a local surname meaning “of Shirley” which was the name of numerous parishes throughout England in counties Derbyshire, Hants, Kent, Surrey, Worcestershire, and West Midlands. The family tree can be traced all the way back to Sewallis (or Sasuualo) who was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD as a mesne lord of Eatington in county Warwick under Henry de Ferrers. This knightly family lived there until the reign of King Edward III of England who reigned from (1216-1272) and in the 1100s AD they adopted the surname Shirley, which was the name of their manor/estate in Derbyshire. The Sherleys of Wiston, Preston, and Sussex are a younger branch of the Warwickshire family and the Shurleys of Isfield were conntected to the Sherleys through marriage, but were of a different stock. This surname derives from the Old English words scir (brought) and leah (wood or clearing), and hence it literally translates to the bright clearing in the woods. The Domesday Book lists a location of Sirelei in England. One source claims the surname was first found in Derbyshire.
Some spelling variants include Sherley, Sherle, Scherlay, Shyrlye,Shurley, and Shirleigh.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name ranks Montgomery ranks 1,176th in popularity in terms in the United Status as of the 2000 Census The name is highest rank in the following eight states: Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. In England, the name ranks 1,675th, where it ranks highest in the following counties: Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Surrey. The last name is also common in other English speaking countries: Australia (1,975th), New Zealand (426th), Canada (3,241st), South Africa (3,905th), and Jamaica (305th).
The 1890 book Homes of Family Names by H.B. Guppy states “A family of Shirley possessed large estates in Hanbury, Staffordshire, in the 16th century . The Shirleys of Eatington, Warwickshire, have an ancient pedigree . There were also old distinguished families of the name in Leicestershire. There are parishes and villages thus called in Warwickshire, Derbyshire, etc”.
Early Bearers of the Surname
The first known bearer of this last name was William de Schirle, who was documented in the Assize Court Rolls of Yorkshire of 1219 AD. A one Ralph de Shirleye was recorded in the Feet of Fines of Watwickshire in 1318. The Poll Tax of Yorkshire in 1379 AD lists two bearers of this last name: Johannes Scherlay and Willelmus de Scherlay. A one George Shyrlye was recorded in county Leicestershire in the Register of the University of Oxford in 1573 AD. The Register of the University of Oxford also lists Anthony Sherlye in county Sussex in 1579 and John Shurley in county Sussex in 1582.
History, Genealogy, and Ancestry
The lineage traces back to Fulcher de Eatington who was born in 1020 AD. He has a son named Sewallis de Eatington who was born in 1058 AD in Eatington, Warwickshire, England. He had a son named Fulcher Eatington who was born in 1096 AD. He in turn had a son named Sewllis Eatington who was born in 1128 AD. He married Martha Ridel and had two issue with her: Sewallis and Henry. His son Sewallis Fitzhenry or Shirley was born in 1167 in Derbsyshire. He married Isabella Meinill and had four children with her: Henry, James, Elizabeth, and Isabel. His son James Shirley was born in 1215 in Shirley, Ashbourne. He married Agnes Walton and had a son named Ralph who was born in 1245. Ralph married Margaret Waldesched and had a son named James. Ralph was born in 1300 and had a son named Thomas. Sir Thomas was born in 1330 and married Isabel Meinhill (and/or Isabella Basset and had a son named Hugh Shirley who was born in 1362. He married Beatrix Braose and had three issue with her: Joan (Newmarch), Isabella, and Ralph. Ralph was born in 1391 and married Joan Basset. He had two childnre: Beatrix (Brome) and Ralph. His son Ralph Shirley, Esq. (Constanble of Melbourne Castle & Castle Peak) was born in 1410 in Lower Ettington, Warwickshire. He married Elizabeth Blount and later Margaret Staunton. He had three children: Alice, John, and Ralph III.
Sir Robert Shirley, 1st Earl Ferrers, Viscount Tamworth (1650-1717)
credit: National Trust Images
The famous genealogist Bernard Burke’s book “The Landed Gentry” discusses one branch of this family: Shirley of Ettington and Lough Fear. It begins with a mention of Philip Evelyn Shirley, Esquire who born in 1812 and was of Ettinton Park, and Hounshill in Warwick and Worcester and Lough Dea in county Monaghan. He was a Member of Parliament for South Warwickshire and county Monaghan. In 1842, he married Mary Clara Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Edmund Hungerford Lechemere 2nd Baronet, and had three children with her: Sewallis Evelyn (1844, Member of Parliament), Selina, and Mary Clara (married Reverend W.K.W Chafy Chafy if Rouse Lench Court in 1872). Burke states this Anglo-Saxon family of Nether Etindton Warwick, Shirley county Derby, Staunton Harold and Rakedale in county Leicester, Astwel of Northampton, Wiston, Prestom, Ote Hall in Sussex, and of Chartley in Stafford descended from Sewallis of de Etington. Burke states, “the Conquest, the Lordship of Ettington was granted to Henry de Ferrariis, one of the principal adventurers under Duke William, and was held under him by this Sewallis, in whose posterity it has ever since continued.”. His 18th descendant was Sir Robert Shirley, the 1st Earl of Ferrers and Viscount of Tamworth and Lord Ferrers of Charley. His second wife was Selina, daughter of George Finch, with whom he had issue including his heir: George Shirley of Esq. of Ettington. George was twice married but died without children. He was succeeded by his brother,Evelyn Shirley who in 1781, married Phillis Byam, daughter of Charlton Wollaston, and had six sons and two daughters with her” Evelyn John (his heir), Charles (1792), William (1794), James (1802), Sir Horatio (1805), Arthur George Sewallis (18190), Selina, Mary (married George Morant), and Emily Harriet (married Edward, 3rd Lord Suffield). His son Evelyn John was born in 1788 and served in Parliament for Monaghan and South Warwickshire. In 1810, he married Eliza, daughter of Arthur Stanhope, and has children with her: Evelyn Phillip (discussed at the beginning of this paragraph), Arthur (born 1813, Major General in the army of the Turkish-Contigent who married Christine Wardrop), Walter Devereux (born 1829 and was a Major of the Monaghan Militia), Selina (married Sir William Heathcote in 1841), and Louisa (married Neil Malcom, Esq. of Poltalloch).The family bore a coat of arms (or “family crest”) blazoned as follows: Paly of six or and azure, a quarter ermine, quartered with the arms of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of Edward III. Their ancient arms had the following blazon: Paly of six or and sable with a crest that is a head of a Saracen couped at the neck proper wreathed about the temples or and azure on a torse of the same color.
Robert Shirley was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1735. He married Suzannah and had several issue with her: Ephraim, Mary, John M., Jane, Thomas, Robert R. Elizabeth (Wimmer), Joseph, and Ann. A one John Shirley was born in 1738 in Fauquier, Virginia and married Elizabeth Barmore. He had a son named Moses. Moses was born in 1769 in South Carolina and married Judah Malissa Meeks and had a son with her named Riley. Riley was born in 1803 and married Rutha Boatright. They had a son named David Alexander Shirley who was born in 1828 in Campbellton, Georgia. He married Susanna Brock and had a son named Henry Beauregard. Henry was born in 1860 and married Sarah Frances Busbee in 1883. He had a daughter named Susan Dora Shirley, who was born in 1885 and married Allen Turner in 1906.
Early American and New World Settlers
Early settlers in colonial America bearing this name include James and John Shirley (New England 1739), William Shirley New England 1731), and William Shirley (Boston, MA 1740). A one William Shirley was buried in 1678 in the parish of St. Michael’s in Barbados. Two of the earliest settlers in Canada with this surname were Ralph and William Shirley who came to Nova Scotia in 1749.
George Rufus Shirley was born in 1873 in New York City and was a Naval Cadet and a First Lieutenant of Company H, 9th Regiment N.G.N.Y. He bore a coat of arms with the following blazon: Paly of six or and azure, a canton ermine with a crest that is a Saracen’s head couped proper wreather about the temples or and azure. He was the only son of William Fearclo Shirley (1833-1903) and Caroline Chester Sidell. The book Matthew’s American Armory gives a more detailed pedigree and lineage of this family.
The Shirley family motto is 1) Honor virtutia præmium, meaning “Honor (or esteem) is the reward for virtue”, 2) Abstinete, sustinete, meaning “Forebear, bear”, and 3) Loyal suis je, meaning “Loyal am I”.
We have 14 coats of arms for the Shirley surname depicted here. These 14 blazons are from Bernard Burke’s book The General Armory of England, Ireland, and Scotland, which was published in 1848. The bottom of this page contains the blazons, and in many instances contains some historical, geographical, and genealogical about where coat of arms was found and who bore it. Later grantees of arms bearing this last name include: 1) Lord Ferrers. [Sir Robert Shirley, 7th Bart., cr. Baron Ferrers, 1677, mar. Elizabeth, only daughter and heir of Laurence Washington.] Supporters and quarterings. Escutcheon of pretence, Wasuingtox, [1677 :-], 2 Earl [? Robert Shirley, 6th Earl], , and 3) Baroness. Match [3 Mar. 171§] with [James Compton, afterwards 5th] Earl of Northampton, [1715 ? Vol. VI].
Famous people with this last name include: 1) James Shirley or Sherley (1596-1666) who was an English dramatist, 2) William Shirley (1694-1771) wo was the British governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, 3) Robert Charles Shirley (1954) who was a professional baseball pitcher in the 1970s and 1980s, and 4) Donald Walbridge Shirley (1927-2013) who was an American-Jamaican composer and jazz pianist.
Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers (1720-1770)
Sir Robert Shirley, 1st Earl Ferrers, Viscount Tamworth (1650-1717)
credit: National Trust Images
William Shirley (1694-1771), Governor of Massachusetts, Governor of the Bahamas
General Sir Thomas Shirley (1727-1800)
Lough Fea House
Dorothy Shirley, 1567
credit: Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum
Lady Selina Shirley
credit: Westminster College, Cambridge
James Shirley (1596–1666)
credit: Bodleian Libraries
Sir Anthony Shirley (1624–1683)
credit: Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries