This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 3rd February 1999, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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 MARSHALL?

This is among the oldest surnames in these islands. As early as 1084 a certain "Goisfridus Marescal" is listed as a Land-Tax Payer in Wiltshire. Today it is strongly identified with military rank and the similarity of spelling and pronunciation of both "Marshall" and "Martial" is most misleading. Whereas "martial" is based upon the name "Mars", the Roman God of War, "marshal" only indirectly took on a military connotation and its origins are quite separate.

It is an occupational name and if a present-day equivalent had to be found probably "farrier" or even "horse-doctor" would be acceptable. All this can be better understood if the two units of the name - "mar-" and "shall" are analysed. The first is ultimately derived from an old Nordic word "marho" which eventually appeared in Anglo-Saxon as "mearh". This describes "horse" in the masculine sense and has a corresponding feminine counter part by way of "mere" - now modern English "mare". The second unit ("-shal") has evolved from "schall" and this is also an extremely old Germanic expression which signifies "servant". It has survived in the archaic word "seneschal" which is still occasionally encountered - e.g. the Administration of the Island of Sark. In Germany today the word "schalk" has gone through changes of meaning and now means "rogue" or "trickster". An indication that "marshal" was Germanic and very old is revealed in that it had no classical Latin counterpart and so medieval scholars were obliged to concoct a bit of pseudo-Latin - "mariscalcus" when it had to be mentioned in their writings. This disposes of the misconception that the word is derived from Latin.

In medieval society the only form of transport for most people and purposes was by horse. Therefore their care and well-being were of paramount importance. In every great household as well as inns and other places for the reception of travellers, there were always large numbers of servants employed in or around the stables. They were universally called "marshals" - that is, "horse-servants".

It is worth noting that the word "groom" originally meant "a young lad", and, in some areas "a shepherd-boy". It was not until about 1650 that it began to take on the meaning as we would now give it. The same happened with compound words such as "stable-boy" and "stable-hand". Neither appeared in print until the early 1700's. Consequently our medieval ancestors had to make the one word "marshal" cover a great many occupations: from the mucking-out of a stable to taking command of mounted forces. In 1250 King Henry III issued a Proclamation referring to "ye Eorl of Northfolke" as "ye Marescal of Engleneloand" yet in 1330 the word was still deemed appropriate in a much less elevated context where, in the records of a noblewoman's household, mention is made of "Her mistress's marshals who assembled steeds".

It is not easy to trace the successive stages through which the word progressed, eventually to end up as "a farrier". In 1474 Caxton, the Printer, listed a "marchallis" among "werkmen" such as "smythes of alle forges" and in fact the word "farrier" does not appear until 1562 where it is equated with a blacksmith. The fact that "marshal" had already begun to acquire its military connotation is revealed in the clumsy compromise in 1492 for Jacobus Laurence and Richard Henryson of York where both are designated "horsemarshall". Its first appearance alongside "marshall" dates from 1618 with the publication of a book entitled "The Parfait Mareschal, or, Compleat Farrier" but apparently it still lacked status, especially in Scotland, where in 1670 references are made to "unskild mediciners and horse-marshals". The most that can be suggested is that both "marshal" and "farrier" must have run alongside for a very long time and both bore much the same meaning. When "marshal" fell out of use is not certain but in 1720 a book called "The Farrier's Guide" implies that it was becoming old-fashioned. It is significant that when the Veterinary College (London) was established in 1791, among its objectives was "The Improvement of Farriery" and no mention is made of "marshal".

It is curious to note that in modern French the word "marechal" is still used to describe a farrier: so also in Italy, as "maniscalo".

So it follows that most families in Britain called "Marshall" can take it that they derived their surname from an ancestor who followed the lowly calling of a horse-servant or groom. In Scotland we find "Maledoni Marescal" witnessing a gift of land to the Church of Glasgow in 1136 while at much the same time, in Lincolnshire, we encounter "Rainald le mareschall" (1140). Its wide distribution at any time is clearly shown in the Census taken in 1273. In that are registered William le Marechal (Cambridge), Gunnilda le Marescall (Somerset) and Robert Marescallus (Oxford).

Although the name is well-distributed, it is curious that it is borne by no outstanding personality. The Standard Biographies certainly contain about 50 entries but although many are very worthy persons indeed, none is exactly a "head-liner". Older readers might possibly recall Arthur Marshall (1910-1989) an extremely popular broadcaster. Otherwise there are about 400 names listed in the local directory which, no doubt, reflects the distribution across the country. Here in Bakewell the name is known to many of us on account of our own Ian Marshall of "L & M Motors" up at Station Yard.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 3rd February 1999.

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