Authored by Jo Fitz-Henry. Jo Fitz-Henry is the co-ordinator of the Fitz(-)henry One Name Study at the Guild of One Names Studies, and the Fitz(-)henry DNA Study, trying to link the various Fitz(-)henry families around the world when the paper records run out. If you have any enquiries about the surname, or the DNA study, she would love to hear from you at email@example.com or you can follow the blog at fitz-henry.blogspot.co.uk
The surname Fitzhenry
Figure 1 – “The medieval Macmine Castle in County Wexford, held by the Fitzhenry (later Fitzharris) family until the time of Cromwell.”
The surname Fitzhenry first arrived in Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066, with the introduction of Norman-French as the language of the new lords. “Fitz” was the Norman word for “son”, and so Fitzhenry (or Fitzhenri) was the son of Henry.
When surnames became more common among the conquered Saxons (who were the greater majority of the British population and still used their own language), they used Harrison – literally “the son of Harry”, the English version of Henry. Later on still, the native Welsh used the surname “Ap Harry” (“of Harry”) which has become shortened to Parry.
There is a romantic notion that all Fitzhenrys are descended from Henry Fitz-Henry, one of the illegitimate sons of Henry I, but there is evidence from medieval documents that men were given the surname Fitzhenry simply because their father was called Henry. The use of “Fitz” does not mean that the son was illegitimate. The first Lord Mayor of London, Henry FitzAlwyn (from 1189-1213) had four sons, all of whom were given the surname FitzHenry.
In the 12th century, Norman knights (including Meiler and Robert Fitzhenry, the sons of Henry FitzHenry, son of Henry I of England) invaded and occupied Ireland for Henry II. As both Robert and Meiler died without male heirs, it is likely that there were other knights and their household members with the name Fitzhenry in the invading army. The name flourished in South East Ireland, especially Wexford. Some Fitzhenry families in Ireland also called themselves Fitzharris. However, the Fitzhenry name virtually died out in England.
From the late 1700s onwards, Fitzhenrys and Fitzharrises from Ireland started to settle in what is now the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The emigration speeded up after the Potato Famines of the 1840s and 50s. Irish Fitzhenrys also “emigrated” back to England in the 19th century where they reintroduced the name to the industrial areas of the country (mainly London, Liverpool and Manchester). The surname Fitzhenry was also seen in India (mainly soldiers), South Africa (farmers and missionaries) and South America (traders and miners).
Today, the surname is most commonly spelled Fitzhenry without the hyphen. Older spellings are Fitz Henry, Fitz-Henry and Fitshenry. As well as the variant Fitzharris, the Irish also used the variant McHenry and O’Henry. A Fitzhenry family in Iowa changed the spelling to Fitzsenry in the 1890s. At least one Fitzhenry family that we know of in the US dropped the Fitz and became plain Henry.
Jo Fitz-Henry is the co-ordinator of the Fitz(-)henry One Name Study at the Guild of One Names Studies, and the Fitz(-)henry DNA Study, trying to link the various Fitz(-)henry families around the world when the paper records run out. If you have any enquiries about the surname, or the DNA study, she would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow the blog at fitz-henry.blogspot.co.uk
Emma Pulman is a Social Media and digital Marketing Executive for Ancestry.co.uk. Based in Ancestry's London office in Hammersmith, Emma regularly tweets and posts on Ancestry's Facebook page.