Levett

Levett

Levett is an Anglo-Norman territorial surname deriving from the village of Livet-en-Ouche, now Jonquerets-de-Livet, in Eure, Normandy. Ancestors of the the earliest Levett family in England, the de Livets were lords of the village of Livet, and undertenants of the de Ferrers, among the most powerful of William the Conqueror's Norman lords.

One branch of the de Livet family came to England during the Norman Conquest, nearly a thousand years ago, and were prominent in Derbyshire, Chester, and Sussex, where they held many manors, including the lordship of Firle. The name is Celtic, 'livet' meaning a swampy place traversed by water. But like most Anglo-Normans, the family's origins are probably mostly Viking.

Although the date of the family's arrival in England is unknown, the family name appears in the records of William the Conqueror. Ancient English deeds subsequently refer to many lands across Sussex as 'Levetts,' indicating family possession of broad swaths of Sussex countryside.

Like most medieval Norman families, the Levetts were dependent on the web of feudal hierarchy. They held their lands of overlords in return for knights service (commonly called Knight's fees). As their feudal overlords thrived, so did they; conversely, their fate was tied to the unpredictable fortunes of those same overlords.

The Levetts and their descendants eventually held land in Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Kent, Bedfordshire and later in Ireland and in Staffordshire. The Anglicisation of this Norman French surname took many forms, including Levett, Levet, Lyvet, Livett, Delivett, Leavett, Leavitt and others.

Levett family members were early knights and Crusaders -- many members of both English and French branches of the family were Knights Hospitallers -- and they occupied a place in the English landed gentry for centuries. (Unlike the French branch of the family, no members of the English branch were enobled, although they intermarried with nobility and served as courtiers.)

A branch of the Levett family still occupies Milford Hall, a family home in Staffordshire, England, where a Levett descendant is nominated for High Sheriff of Staffordshire for 2009. Members of the family formerly occupied Wychnor Park (or Hall) and Packington Hall, two country mansions in the same county, where English artist James Ward (artist) painted three Levett children playing in 1811.

As with many families of Anglo-Norman extraction, some branches thrived, while others fell on hard times. The vicissitudes of character -- and the collapsing feudal order -- played havoc with the fortunes of some family members. The lordship of Firle, East Sussex, for instance, passed from the family in 1440 on the indebtedness of then-lord Thomas Levett. The bankrupt Levett also forfeited his inherited lordship of Catsfield, East Sussex.

Others fared just as poorly. John Levett, a guard on the London to Brighton coach, was convicted of petty theft and expelled to Australia in the nineteenth century. English records reveal Levetts embroiled in bastardy cases or relegated to poorhouses. As with Thomas Hardy's hapless d'Urbervilles, noble Norman lineage was no guarantor of rectitude, ability or fate.

Some Levetts moved abroad in search of opportunity. A Levett relation, a British clerk in India, was friend to Rudyard Kipling and a minor Victorian novelist. Another was an English factor living in Livorno, Italy, shuttling back and forth to Constantinople for the Levant Company. (Francis Levett later moved to British East Florida, became a planter and the first to grow Sea Island cotton in America.) The family became part of the British Empire's expanding grasp. In the eighteenth century John Levett, born in Turkey to an English merchant father and brother of planter Francis, became alderman and Mayor of Calcutta, India.

Over the generations, Levett descendants spanned the social ranks: one family relation, an English clergyman, is memorialized in Westminster Abbey where he dropped dead reading the Ninth Commandment; another, an assistant pantry steward aboard an ocean liner, perished when the RMS Titanic sank.

One family member was a unschooled Yorkshireman who, having worked as a Parisian waiter, then trained as an apothecary. Robert Levet returned to England, where he treated denizens of London's seedier neighborhoods. Having married an apparent grifter and prostitute, Levet was taken in by the poet Samuel Johnson, who eulogized him as "officious, innocent, sincere, Of every friendless name the friend. (While Samuel Johnson adopted one Levet as boarder, he was apologizing to another better-placed Levett who held the mortgage on Johnson's mother's home in Lichfield.)

In a few cases Levetts were forced by religious belief to flee England for the colonies. Among these were John Leavitt and Thomas Leavitt, early English Puritan immigrants to Massachusetts and New Hampshire, respectively, whose names first appear in seventeenth-century New England records as Levet or Levett (No paternal family relationship existed between the two men).

Today there are many Levetts living outside England, including in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland, where the first 'de Livet' ventured in the thirteenth century as part of the Norman invasion, becoming one of Dublin's earliest mayors. The spelling of the name varies from place to place.

Members of the original de Livet family continue to reside in France. The Normandy branch traces its descent to Jean de Livet, chevalier and banneret in 1216 to King Philip II of France, builder of the first Louvre fortress in Paris. Chevalier Thomas de Livet, noted Crusader and son of Jean, was knighted by King Philip II's successor, King Louis IX of France in 1258.

The de Livet family was among the ancient noble families of France, or noblesse d'epee. (The French revolution stripped the hereditary French nobility of its feudal privileges.) The English branch of the de Livet (Levett) family claims descent from Jean de Livet, seigneur of Livet (now Jonquerets-de-Livet) in 1040, prior to the Norman Conquest.

People

Members of the Levett family include-

Towns

Three towns were named after the Levett family-

Places associated with the Levett family

These places were associated with the Levett family-

External links

Further reading

  • "Sons of the Conqueror: Descendants of Norman Ancestry," Leslie Pine, London, 1973
  • "The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families," Lewis C. Loyd, David C. Douglas, John Whitehead & Son Ltd., London, 1951
  • "The Normans," David C. Douglas, The Folio Society, London, 2002
  • "Regesta Regum Anglo Normannorum, 1066-1154," Henry William Davis, Robert J. Shotwell (eds.), 4 volume, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1913
  • "The Levetts of Staffordshire," Dyonese Levett Haszard, privately printed

Trivia

  • Levett was the name given by Alfred Hitchcock to the villain in his first film, The Pleasure Garden, a 1925 silent movie
  • One branch of the family spell their name Livett, and produced five mayors of Hastings in the sixteenth century. These Livetts shared a coat-of-arms with the Sussex Levetts, except they changed their motto to read (in Latin): "Cruce Non Leone Fides" -- "I put my faith in the Cross and not in the Lion." One wonders what prompted the editorial comment.
  • The family name was carried into other English families through intermarriage, yielding the double-barreled names Levett-Scrivener, Levett-Prinsep and Levett-Yeats
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a vicar's son, put it best:

"Howe'er it be, it seems to me
'Tis only noble to be good;
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood."

References

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