Bowles DNA Project
Bowles Of Great Britain
It isn't possible to trace the Bowles in Great Britain to any one source. I haven't found any Bowles that originated in Scotland or Wales yet but in England some form of the Bowles name appears in nearly every county in even the very earliest records. There was no single ethnic origin either. While the Bowles surname is often stated to be of Norman origin that appears to have been largely based on the wishful thinking of Bowles family historians of the 1800's who considered a Norman origin to be more noble than an Old English origin.
For anyone that finds that distinction unclear here is a very simplified history of the settlement of Great Britain.
Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, Britain had a history of Celtic settlement (the Britons), followed by a Roman occupation and then settlement by several Germanic tribes (the Saxons, Angles, Frisians and Jutes).
The Saxon tribes dominated forming the kingdoms of Essex, Middlesex, Sussex and Wessex. North and East of these was the Viking settlement of Danelaw which was established by treaty with the Saxons in 880. This balance of power is what is called Old or Early England today. However, the Vikings in England gradually dominated until 1066 when England was under the rule of a Viking, King Edward (the Confessor), who was also the grandson of the Duke of Normandy. When Edward died without an heir that year, a powerful English noble Harald Godwinson tried to claim the throne but was challenged by both the Viking King Harald of Norway and by William, the Duke of Normandy.
The English Harald successfully defeated the invading Viking force in York but then his army was too weak to defeat William the Conqueror’s invading force three weeks later at the Battle of Hastings. This Norman Conquest led to a division of English lands to Norman Lords and eventually to the England we know today.
Fortunately for family historians, the Normans also brought thorough
record keeping to England and as the English adopted the Norman custom
of inherited family names we were provided with a first chance to
identify some possible origins of our modern family lines.
These records are very incomplete and tend to mention only the
higher levels of society so while it is seldom possible to document a
definite family tree, they may give us some possible origins of our
modern surnames and tell us something about the world our early
ancestors lived in.
Undoubtedly, some of our modern Bowles/Boles are descendants of the pre-conquest Viking/Anglo/Saxon people of England and others are descended from the Normans who settled there after 1066. Our sources of information are so incomplete though that perhaps the only way we will ever sort that out will be through DNA testing.
I have only found two pre-conquest Anglo-Saxons with Bowles-like names. Bolla the Priest, is on record as a landholder prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066 although many unrecorded others would have been on the land. Bolla managed to hold onto his landholdings into the Norman period and in later years his name began to be recorded as Bolle.
The other was one of two pre-conquest Lords termed ‘Bernac and Bole’ who had been permitted by the new King of England, William I, to hold three manors in Lincolnshire which had previously been held as part of the Viking settlement in England, the Danelaw.
See Possible Bolles Ancestors in the Domesday Survey of 1086 for further details on ‘Bolla the priest’ and ‘Bole of The Danelaw’.
On the Norman side, one Lord, Ernold de Builli, brother of one of the largest Norman landholders Roger de Busli, is my candidate as the ancestor of the Bowles of Norman descent in England. Variations such as le Bole, Bolle, Bolles, de Bole and Boles were common in these early records and were often used interchangeably within the same family but don’t give us any indication of a Saxon or Norman origin on their own.
See Origin of the Bowles Name, Notes on the Norman Origin of the Name and Notes on A Middle English Origin of the Name in Kent.