The surname Jewell is common in Cornwall and Devon, and our branch of the Jewell Family certainly came from the Wendron - St Ithians area in Cornwall. (See the chapter - History Jewell Family in Cornwall for more information on Cornwall). Cornwall’s origins are Celtic, and therefore the "Jewell" family have Celtic origins. It is thought that the name "Jewell", is derived from the Celtic words "jud & Hael". Jud (sometimes written lud) meant "lord of chief", and hael meant "generous" in old Breton. This was the personal name of Judhael de Totnes, from Brittany a prominent supporter of William the Conqueror during the successful invasion of England.

Judhael de Totnes (who later became a Baron) had a large amount of land in Devon, and a smaller holding in Cornwall. Folio 10 of Domesday Book, which covers Cornwall lists "Terra Judhael De Totenais" (The land of Judhael of Totnes). Chapter 17 of the Devon Volume of the Domesday Book, is headed "XVII TERRA JVDHEL DE TOTENAIS" (Land of Judhael of Totnes), and begins "Judhael holds from King Totnes, a borough which King Edward held in Lordship. Within the borough are 100 burgesses, less 5 and 5 outside the borough who work the land. A burgess was a citizen of a borough with full municipal rights. Then follows more than a hundred entries listing lands as "Judhael holds......from the King", or "so and so holds......from Judhael" or "from the Honor of Totnes".

From this entry, it is clear that Judhael took the title "of Totnes" when he was granted authority over the borough by King William after the conquest. After Baldwin the Sheriff, Judhael was the largest land owner in Devon, and Totnes was the chief seat of his fief in Devon. The town/Borough of Totnes still exists in Devon today, with the spelling unchanged from it’s appearance on maps from the time of King William 1.

Notes in the Devon Domesday Book say Judhael was expelled from Totnes in 1087, and the Barony granted by William II (son of William the Conqueror) to Roger de Nonant, although Judhael was granted the barony of Barnstaple sometime between 1095 and 1100. He was dead by 1130, when his son Alfred appears as paying relief on his fathers lands. Further notes on the Domesday Book from Devon state the he was sometimes referred to as Judhael, son of Alfred, and was also styled "Judhael of Barnstaple" from his holding of that Barony. As such, he witnessed a charter of Henry 1 in 1123.

It is thought that the name "Judhael" survives as Joel, Jewell, Jowle, Jule and in other places Jeckyl. "A Dictionary of First Names" (Hanks and Hodges - Oxford) mentions that a name, which is apparently a variant of Judhael - "Judicael" is still used in Brittany.

In "Penguin Dictionary of Surnames" (by Basil Cottle - 2nd Edition 1978) "Judhael or Judicael" is listed as the origin of the surnames "Joel" and "Jewell", and gives the derivation as "lord/chief - generous". It goes on to describe "Iudhael" as a Breton saint and hermot of Pothieu (now St Josse)". It seems I and J were alternative letter forms.

The listing of "Judhael" as a Saint in these times often meant a local holy man or woman rather the a church approved, invested and cannonised Saint as the term is used today. It is also possible that "Generous Lord" was used in a religious sense, in much the same way that the common forename John means "gift of God". On the other hand, a feudal lord might well fancy being known as "Generous Lord" - and the peasants under his control would be in no position to argue.

So it seems likely that the original "Jewells " were Celts, either Bretons who came to England with William the Conqueror and his army in 1066, or perhaps Cornish who were already there from earlier Celtic migrations, and had come under the authority of Judhael de Totnes after the conquest. If this were the case, they should have had little trouble adopting a Breton name, as the Cornish and Breton languages were so closely related.

The other explanation suggested - that Jewell was an occupational name, from a person who worked with or dealt in jewels (in similar manner to Smith, Baker, Tailor, etc.) seem less likely to me, although the Old French word "jouel" (meaning a gemstone) has reached the English language as the first name "jewel".

The surname "Jewell" appears several times in history books. Here are some examples;

Jewell Family CrestDuring my research I came across a Jewell family crest belonging to the Jewell family of Devon. Unfortunately I can not be 100% sure that our "Jewell" family can claim this crest as its own. Shortly I will include a picture of the crest

Thank you to "Cousin" Don Jewell for providing most of this information.

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© Jewell Family History Centre
Last Updated 17th August 1996