Spencer Surname Name Meaning, Origin, History, & Etymology
This is an occupational surname denoting a person who was employed in the kitchen or pantry of a great house (of nobles, royals, or artistorcrats) or a religious monastery during medieval times or the Middle Ages in Europe, deriving from the Middle English word spense, meaning larder, a word that referrers to a cool area where good is stored prior to use, the predecessor of the modern refrigerator. This person was a house-steward who was in charge of the buttery or spence. This position involved being responsible for procuring and distributing good for all members within the household. This was a very important position within the household, and was second only to the title of steward, with Butler (handled household staffing and bottles) and Marshal (handled horses) being the other two of the four most positions in a royal/noble household in the Middles Ages. Another author asserts the this title of office derives from the Old French word despense, meaning to weigh, a word which was likely introduced into England and the British Isles during and after the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. The Old French word in turn derives from the Latin word dispensator.
A man named Robertus Dispensator, also known as Le Despencer, was the high steward to King William the Conqueror in the eleventh century AD. He lived in Leicestershire. During the reign of King Henry I of England. He held land grants in county Bedford, England and held a high position in William’s Court. He was also named Robert d’Abbetot. History records Thurston Dispencer and William le Despencer, but it is not known if they descended from Robertus of merely succeeded him in office. The former may have been his illegitimate son. The family also held land and titles at Loughborough. The book A Topographical Dictionary of England by Lewis Samuel states “The noble family of Despencer, anciently possessors of the manor, obtained the grant of a market and fairs for the town”. The family later established a branch at Yarnton in Oxfordshire, where a church with a tower was built by Sir. Thomas Spencer in 1612 AD. Due to the fact that this surname is occupational, it is widespread in a range of different locates, and possession of this surname does not necessarily indicate a genealogical link.
In the early 1200s AD, a family that were stewards to the Earls of Chester became eminent. Hugh le Despenser (died 1238) became High Sheriff of Berkshire, England and his son, also named Hugh, became Justiciar of England and was summoned in 1264 AD to the Parliament of Simon de Montfort as Lord Despencer. The English aristocratic Spencer family has resided at their ancestral home at Althorp, Northamptonshire, since the early 16th century.
Some spelling variants or names with similar etymologies include Spensor, Spenser, Spencers, Spens, and Spender.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name Spencer ranks 189rd in popularity in the United Status as of the 2000 Census. The name ranks particularly high in the following five states: Utah, Michigan, Idaho, Hawaii, and West Virginia.
The surname Spencer frequency/commonness ranks as follows in the British Isles: England (118th), Scotland (477th), Wales (148th), Ireland (1,326th) and Northern Ireland (952nd). In England, it ranks highest in counties Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In Scotland, the surname ranks highest in Aberdeenshire. In Wales, it ranks highest in Flintshire. In Ireland, it ranks highest in county Wexford. In Northern Ireland, it ranks highest in county Down.
The name is also present throughout the remainder English speaking world: Canada (323rd), New Zealand (277th), Australia (184th), and South Africa (1,043rd).
The 1890 book Homes of Family Names by H.B. Guppy, states the following in regard to this surname: “Absent or rare in the north and south of England. Most numerous in the midlands, especially Warwickshire, and afterwards in Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, and Notts”.
Early Bearers of the Surname
The earliest known bearer of this surname was Henry le Despender who was documented in the Curia Regis Rolls of Warwock n 1214 AD. The famous Sir Hugh le Despencer (born 1256 AD) fought in the Battle of Falkirk (in Scotland) in 1308 AD. The Hundred Rolls of 1273 AD, a census of Wales and England, known in Latin as Rotuli Hundredorum lists two bearers of this surname: John le Spencer (Southampton) and Henry le Spenser (Cambridge). Henry del Spens was documented in 1292 AD according to the History of Northumberland by Reverend John Hodgson. Thomas del Sepns was recorded in the Patent Rolls in 1330 AD. Nicholas de la Despense was recorded in the Close Rolls in 1330 AD. The Poll Tax of Yorkshire in 1379 AD lists two bearers of this last name: Thomas Spenser and Agnes Spenser.
Spencer Family Tree & Spencer Genealogy
Albert Edward John Spencer, or The Earl Spencer, as well Baron Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and Viscount Spencer was of Althorp, county Northampton, England was born in 1892 and succeeded his father as the 7th Earl in 1922. He was educated at Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge. He was a Captain of the Life Guards and served in World War I where he was wounded. In 1919, he married Lady Cynthia Ellinor Beatrix Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Abercorn, and had issue with her as follows: Edward John (Viscount Althorp, Captain of The Royal Scots Greys, served in World War II, Governor of South Australia) and Anne (married Lieutenant Christopher Baldwin Hughes Wake-Walker, had issue). This branch of the Spencer family tree begins with the Honorable John Spencer of Althorp, a Member of Parliament for Woodstock and Ranger of the Great Park, Windor, who was the son of the 3rd Earl of Sunderland and Anne Churchill. He was born in 1708 and succeeded the Sunderstanld estates, and some portions of the wealth of his grandmother, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. In 1733, he married Georgina Carolina, daughter and co-heir or John Carteret, Earl Granville, and he had a son with her named John Spencer. His son John Spencer was the 1st Earl of Spencer, High Steward of St. Albans, who was born in 1734. He was created Baron Spencer of Althorp, county Northampton and Viscount Spencer in April of 1761 and advanced to the Earldom of Spencer in 1765. In 1755, he married Georgiana, daughter of Stephen Poyntz, of Midgham, and had three children with her as follows: George John (2nd Baronet), Georgiana (married the 5th Duke of Deonshire), and Henrietta Frances (married the 3rd Earl of Bessborough). He died in 1783 and was succeeded by his only son, George John, 2nd Earl Spencer. George John was born in 1748 and in 1781 he married Lavinia, daughter of the 1st Earl of Lucan, and had issue with her as follows: John Charles (3rd Earl), Sir Robert Cavendish, Frederick (4th Earl), Revered George (clergyman of the Church of Rome), Sarah (married 3rd Baron Lyttelton), and Georgiana Charlotte (married Lord George Quin). The Spencer Coat of Arms (often mistakenly called the Spencer Family Crest) is blazoned in heraldry as follows: Quarterly, argent and gules, in the 2nd and 3rd quarters a fret or, over all on a bend sable three escallops of the 1st. Crest: Out of a ducal coronet or, a griffin’s head argent, gorged with a bar gemelle gules, between two wings expanded of the second. Supporters: Dexter, a griffin per fesse ermine and erminois, gorged with a collar sable, the edges flory-counterflory, and chained of the last, on the collar, three escallops argent; sinister, a wyvern erect on his tail ermine, collared and chained as the griffin.
John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783)
George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer, Viscount Althrop (1758-1834
Other Spencer Pedigree & Family Trees
A one Nicholas Spencer was born in Defford, Worcestershire England in 1340 AD. He married Joan Pollard and had two sons with her: Thomas and William. The former son was born in Defford around 1335 AD and he married Dorothy and had two sons with her: Thomas and Henry. His son Thomas was born in 1378 and he had a son named Robert. This Robert Spencer was born in Colmworth, Bedfordshire, England in 1406 AD. He married Anna Focke Smyth and Ann Empson and had two sons: John and Henry. His son John was born in South Mills, Bedfordshire and he had a son, also named John. This son John Spencer was born in 1462.
Gerard Spencer, the son of Michael, was born prior to 1576 AD in Stotfold, England. He married Alice Whitebread, and had numerous issue with her including: William, Sergeant Thomas, Richard, Henry, Elizabeth (Tomlins), John, Henry, Michael, Gerard, Alice, Timothy, and Haddam. Michael Spencer was born in Stotfold, Bedforfshire, England in 1611 and he went to colonial America. He married Isabel Robbins and had several issue with her: John, Susannah, Michael Jr, and William. His son John Spencer was born in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts in around 1640. He married Susannah Griffin and he had the following issue with her: Susanna (Reynolds), John, Michael, Benjamin, William, Captain Robert, Abner, Thomas, Susannah (Briggs), and Susannah. His son William was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island in 1672. He married Elizabeth Burlingame and had the following issue with her: Susannah (Trip_, John, Mary (Coggshall), Elizabeth (Herendeen), Jonathan, William, Sarah, Christopher, and Henry. His son Christopher was born in Rhode Island in 1710. He in turn had a son named John. John Spencer was born in 1737 and died in 1824 at the age of 87.
Early American and New World Settlers
Thomas Spencer was recorded as living in Virginia (at Warwick Squeake) in February 1623.
A one William Spencer, along with his wife Allice and daughter Allice came aboard the Sarah to Virginia areound 1624.
Francis Spencer, age 23, came to Virginia aboard the Bonaventure in January 1634.
William Spencer, age 17, came to Virginia aboard the Speedwell in May 1635.
Robert Spencer, age 21, came to Virginia aboard the Thomas & John in June 1635.
William Spencer, age 16, came to Virginia aboard the Merchant’s Hope in July 1635.
Peter Spencer, age 15, came to Barbados aboard the Expedition in November 1635.
John Spencer, age 19, came to Barbados aboard the Expedition in November 1635.
James Spencer, age 25, came to Barbados aboard the Falcon in December 1635.
John Spencer and his wife, along with two children, three servants, and three slaves were documented in the town or parish of St. Michael’s, Barbados in 1680.
Other settlers in colonial America bearing this surname include: Kathren Spencer (Virginia 1623), Thomas Spencer (Maine 1630), Gerard Spencer (New England 1632), Mary Hilles Spencer (Virginia 1701), William Spencer (Virginia 1701), Mottrom Spencer (Virginia 1703), Eliza Spencer (Virginia 1711), and Peter Spencer (Virginia 1714).
In Canada, one of the earliest settlers bearing this last name was Mathew Spencer, who came to Bay de Verde, Newfoundland in 1709. In Australia, one of the earliest bearers of this surname was Joseph Spencer, a convict from Lancaster, England who came to New South Wales (then a penal colony) in May of 1828 aboard the Albion. In New Zealand, a one J. Spencer came to Bluff Harbour in 1824.
Early Americans Bearing the Spencer Family Crest
Charles Bolton’s American Armory (1927) contains one entry for this surname:
1) Argent on a chief or 3 spears erect Crest: a demi-lion ramp gules holding a crown. Motto: Nil desperandum Bookplate Ambrose Spencer.
2) Quarterly argent and gules on 2 and 3 a fret or. Over all on a bend sable 3 fleurs-de-lis. Ex libris Katharine Vosburgh Spencer. W[eston]-S[mith] del. 1900 ( R. D. Weston).
3) Quarterly 1 and 4: Argent and in chief a crescent for diff; 2 and 3: Gules a fret or. Over all a bend sable charged with 3 mullets argent. Crest: out of a ducal coronet a griffin's head gorged bet 2 wings spread or Supporters: A griffin and a dragon. Motto: Dieu defend le droit Bookplate O. M. Spencer, Penn.
Crozier’s General Armory (1904) contains one entry for this name:
1) Nicholas Spencer, Westmoreland, Virginia, 1659, from London. Quarterly or and gules, in the second and third a fret of the first, on a bend sable three fleur-de-lis argent.
Matthew’s American Armoury (1907) and Bluebook contains two entries for this name:
1) Horatio Nelson Spencer who was born at Port Gibson, Mississipi in 1842. He was a professor of Otology at Washington University. In 1897, he married Anna, daughter of Isaac B. Kirtland and later Elizabeth, daughter of Isaax M. Dwight of South Carolina. He had five issue: Selden (1873), Horatio N. (1875), Laura (married Bernard C. Edmund), alandina (married Reverend William H. DuBose), and Anna (married W.S. Hancock). Arms: Quarterly, argent and gules, in 2 and 3 a fret or, over all on a bend sable three escallops of the first. Crest: Out of a ducal coronet or, a griffin’s head argent gorged with a bar gemella gules between two wings expanded of the second. He lived in St. Louis, Missouri and was the son of Horatio Neslon Spencer (1798-1876) and Sarah Marshall. He descended from Gerard Spencer who was born in England in 1614.
2) Selden Palmer Spencer of St. Louis, Missouri who was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1862. He lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and was a Member of the Legislature of said state, as well as a Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, and a graduate of Yale University. In 1886, he married Susan Brookes, and had four children with her: James Brookes, Selden Marvin, Oliver McLean, Selden Marvin, and Susan Palmer. Arms: Quarterly, argent and gules, in 2 and 3 a fret or over all on a bend sable three escallops of the first. Crest: Out of a ducal coronet or, a griffin’s head argent, gorged with a bar gemella gules between two wings expanded of the second. He was the son of Samuel Selden Spencer and Eliza D. Palmer. He descended from Gerard Spencer who was born in England in 1614.
Dr. Horatio Nelson Spencer Jr. (1842-1915)
Selden Palmer Spencer (1682-1925), US Senator from Missouri
The Spencer family motto is Dieu défend le droit, which means “God defends the right”. Another motto for this family is Nil desperandum, which means “Never despair”.
We have 42 coats of arms for the Spencer surname depicted here. These 42 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. People with this last name that bore an Spencer Coat of Arms (or mistakenly called the Spencer Family Crest)
1) Viscount Spencer, Supporters, 1761
2) of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, county Northumberland
3) Spencer before Phillips, Reverend William (?) of Great Bardfield, county Essex, 1809
4) Major-General Sir Brent Spencer, 1808, 1810
5) Reverend Charles Spencer of London, Match with Greensill, 1811
6) Spencer-Stanhope to Collingwood (Edward), of county Northumberland, England and York, 1816
7) Stanhope to Roddam, Lieutenant, Royal Navy, of Roddam, county Northumberland, and Cannon Hall, county York, 1818
8) Spencer before Churchill, 26 May 1817, George, 5th, Duke of Marlborough, Quarterly Arms and Supports, 1817
9) Spencer after Hammond, of London, 1817
10) Spencer, Captain, Royal Navy, C.B., of Lyme Regis, county Dorset, Honourable distinctions, 1818
11) Spencer, late Shield, Henry, of county Durham, England, 1842
12) Frederick Spencer, son of John P., of Oakhill, Bath, county Somerset
There are hundreds of notable people with the Spencer surname. This page will mention a handful. Famous people with this last name include: 1) Robert Bruce Spencer (1962) who is an American author and blogger who is a prominent figure in the counter-jihad movement, 2) Anna Garlin Spencer (1851-1931) who was an American feminist, educator, and Unitarian minister born in Attleboro, MA, 3) Anne Spencer (1882-1975) who was an African-American poet from Henry County, Virginia whose birth name was Annie Bathel Bannister, 4) Winston Baldwin Spencer (1948) who was the 3rd Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda from 2004-2014, 5) Brian Roy “Spinner” Spencer (1949=1988) who was an Canadian Hockey player who played in the NHL from 1969-1980 for four different teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6) Carlos James Spencer (1975) who is a retired New Zealand rugby player and current head coach of the Eastern Province Kings who was born in Levin, New Zealand, 7) Cynthia Ellinor Beatrix Spencer (1897-1972) who was Countess Spencer, a British peeress, who was the grandmother of Prince Diana of Wales, 8) Diana Frances Spencer (1961-1997) who was Princess Diana of Wales, the wife of Charles and eldest child of Queen Elizabeth, 9) George Eliphaz Spencer (1836-1893) who was an American politician who was an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a Senator from Alabama from 1868-1879, and 10) Henry Evans Spencer (1807-1882) who was the Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio from 1843-1851.
Boston Manor House, home of Sir Edward Spencer (1494-1656)
wiki: P.g.champion, SA2.0
Lady Henrietta Frances Spencer (1761-1821)
Captain Sir Richard Spencer KCH (9 December 1779 – 24 July 1839), settled in Australia
Sir Richard Spencer (circa 1553-1624), Ambassador to Holland
credit: National Portrait Gallery, London
Francis Almeric Spencer, 1st Baron Churchill (1779-1845)
wiki: Karl and Ali, SA2.0
wiki: Chris Holifield, SA2.0
credit: picturesheffield.com, G Tweedale