Early History of the Tillotson Family in England

Origin of the Tillotson Name

The name TILLOTSON in my ancestry dates from about 1550 when Thomas TILSTON of Wookliffe, Carleton Parish, in Craven, Yorkshire, England changed the spelling of his name from Tilston to Tillotson upon moving from Huxley in Cheshire to Wookliffe. His ancestors spelled the name Tilston and, earlier, de Tilston. The name of Tilston was associated with the town of Tilston in Cheshire, England. Why Thomas Tilston changed his name to Tillotson is unknown. Perhaps he did so because there were so many Tillotsons in Yorkshire and people there confused the name Tilston with Tillotson.

William Leslie Tillotson (1876-1920) researched the question of the origin of the Tilston name in England and France. He suggested that a knight of William the Conqueror, a Norman named Honfroi de Tilliol or de Tibol, was given the estate of Tilston in Cheshire as a reward for his efforts in the wars against the Welsh. Tilston is located in the southwest corner of Cheshire near the Welsh border (see map).

The name "Tilston" then possibly originated in a contraction of "Tilli's Tun" where "tun" is Anglo-Saxon for a hedge, enclosure, or village. The Tillotson family crest supports the idea of a military career for the Tilston ancestors.

Other Tillotson researchers such as E. Ward Tillotson started with a later, better-attested ancestry. They relate that the manor of Tilston was given to a Norman knight named Eynion (b. abt 1126), son of Richard de Tilston (b. abt 1096), who thus became Sir Eynion de Tilston. Eynion married Beatrix de Gernons, daughter of Ranulph de Gernons, the Earl of Chester. Beatrix was sister to Hugh of Kevelioc, who succeeded his father as the Earl of Chester.

Whether Richard de Tilston was in fact related to Honfroi de Tilliol is unknown. In any case, Sir Eynion's descendants continued to live in Tilston, acting to repel incursions from Wales, which was finally subdued in 1283. Part of the Tilston family manor, where the head of the family resided, still survives.

Another, probably independent, source of the name "Tillotson" is "Till's son" or "Tillot's son." Till was a common nickname both for William and Matilda, popular names in England after the Norman conquest. The earliest known use of the surname "Tillotson" appears in 1379 in the village of Cowling in the parish of Kildwick, embracing seven townships in southwestern Yorkshire, in Airedale. The tax rolls for that year include a Tillot de Northwod together with John and William Tillotson. Since neither of Tillot's sons was married at the time of this tax, this tax roll of 1379 may document the origin of the Tillotson surname. These Tillotsons were most likely unrelated to the Tilstons of Cheshire.

Many families bearing the name Tillotson later lived within a few miles of Bradford in that section of Yorkshire. A character named Tillotson in a play is said to be instantly recognized as being a Yorkshireman. Other forms of the name in England include Tillerston, Tillistan, Tilletson, Tillitson, Tiletston, Tileston, and Tilliol.

Thomas Tilston alias Thomas Tillotson was the son of Richard Tilston of Shropshire and Elizabeth Leighton. She was the second daughter of William Leighton, the second son of Sir Thomas Leighton of Wattsborough, Shropshire. Thomas Tillotson is said to have been the great-grandfather both of John Tillotson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of John Tillotson, the emigrant to Massachusetts.

The members of the Tilston family who remained in Cheshire fell on hard times during the Commonwealth period of Cromwell, from 1650 to 1658. Apparently the head of the family in Cheshire was hanged because of his desperate resistance in the cause of the Stewarts. Charles I was executed in 1649. His son Charles lived in exile abroad until he was invited back to England in 1660 after the Commonwealth dissolved. Charles II arrived in London to claim the throne on this thirtieth birthday, May 29, 1660. During this time there was still a Nicholas de Tilston at Tilston Castle, but with greatly diminished resources.

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Last modified by pib on July 6, 2003.