STEWART

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 20th August 2001, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called STEWART or STUART?

Contrary to a general belief, "Stewart" or "Stuart" is not exclusive to Scotland. It is an occupational name, held by officials known as "stewards" and who were found all over Britain, from as far south as Devon (Roger Stiward - 1100) to Roxburgh in Scotland, (Phelippe Styward 1237). When the name became identified with the Royal House of Scotland, James I delivered a sharp reminder to all those families called "Stewart" and who were claiming descent that there were "stewarts and stewards" and used words which have become proverbial that "All Stewarts are not sib to the King" ("Sib" is old English for relationship).

The designation "steward" is still around but its original meaning is preserved only in a few archaic survivals, such as "The Royal Steward of the Household". The modern equivalent is "Estate Manager". It was first recorded in 995 AD and it is now probably as well-known in the context of "shop steward" as in anything. (First used about 1904). Our own "Steward" of the High Peak is recorded in 1853 and confirmed by statute in 1851.

It was an office of considerable standing. Stewards were appointed in the households of every earl and bishop and all powerful and important people. References to the job are found long before the Invasion, but the Norman attempt to substitute their word, "seneschal" was not successful and the Old English term has prevailed.

Because holders of the office were in regular contact with their employers and were called upon to mingle with members of the royal courts, they were chosen from good families which enabled them to move easily in medieval high society. They were men of learning. Because it fell to them to preside over manorial courts they had to have a grasp of law. They needed to be well informed in most aspects of rural economics and to be able to secure the best returns from the estates they supervised. They appointed bailiffs, reeves etc, and so had to be able to discuss intelligently matters relating to agriculture, animal husbandry, woods and forests, mines and quarries and fisheries. They had to be good judges of their appointees and be able to entrust them to carry out their work independently and not be always asking for directions. Above all a steward had to be a good horse-man because he could, at any time, be summoned to the royal court (which in those days was migratory) or dispatched to other places at the behest of his lord.

The office was of more significance in Scotland where the Lord High Steward stood first in the royal household. He not only controlled it but wielded considerable authority and enjoyed the privilege of standing at the head of the King's warriors and of leading them into battle. It had an extended meaning in that kingdom: the country was divided into districts each called a "stewartry" over which presided a "steward" - a role akin to magistrates of later date. (The designation is still used for Kirkcudbright).

The royal surname originated in 1158 when King David of Scotland (1124-1153) made a certain Walter his steward. From then on the office was held in succession by his descendants who assumed the surname "Stewart". The sixth was Walter Stewart who fought at Bannockburn (1314) and negotiated the Declaration of Independence of Scotland from England in 1320. His son became Robert II (1371-1390) and from then on the Scottish monarchs were identified as the "House of Stewart".

The authentic spelling is, therefore, "Stewart". The form "Stuart" is merely a variation. It was already in local use as far back as 1429, but came to the fore with Mary, Queen of Scots around 1542. She had spent most of her young life in France and since there is no "w" in the French language, preferred the French adaptation of "Stuart". The romantic incidents of her life and those of Bonnie Prince Charlie (who was also influenced by his French connections and preferred that spelling) led to its being adopted. It confers absolutely no distinction otherwise. In fact King James I used the spelling "Stewart".

There was once a notion that "steward" meant "sty-herd" or "pig-keeper" but this is an example of false etymology. The use of the word "sty" as a place for animals did not come into use until the 13th century whereas "Steward" had been in regular use for at least 300 years previously, It is based on the word "stig" which means "house" or "dwelling" and so "steward" means "the, guardian of the home". Where the word "stig" originated is not certain. Perhaps it might be related to the Greek "stoa" which signifies "a portico" or a "roofed colonnade".

All the foregoing is also applicable to the surname "Steward".

It is recorded that a branch of Oliver Cromwell's family was called "Styward" and claimed that they were related to Charles I!

The name is widely distributed across the British Isles and all English speaking communities. There are about 80 "Stewards" in the local directory as well as about 50 under "Stuart".

The name is frequently conferred as a first name, particularly spelled "Stuart" although the popular film actors "Stewart Granger" and "James Stewart" preferred the original form.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 20th August 2001.

URL of this page: http://names.gukutils.org.uk/Stewart.shtml
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