Sunday, 7 July 2013



The first recorded Boterel was Nicholas. Where did he come from?

It is possible that he was the son of Geoffrey Boterel I, Count of Penthievre, but there is no definite proof other than that his father was called Boterel, Nicholas was Boterel, and his progeny were Boterels. Since surnames were not common in those days, the name suggests a family connection. Nicholas was not a common name, although William the Conqueror's cousin was a Nicholas, as was his uncle, the cousin of Eudes, our Nicholas' grandfather.

In England, we have a Nicholas in Cornwall born around 1070, according to Maclean, one of the great Victorian genealogists, with a son, William, born 1095. There was indeed a William born then, and Henry I's charter says he was the son of Nicholas. And here lies the problem. This Nicholas is recorded by Maclean as Nicholas Boteler and his son as William Boteler. But

a. Maclean is unreliable. For example, he says the fourth son of Eudes was Alan Fergant, when the name was in fact Alan Niger a different man. And he says that this Alan Fergant was happily married to Princess Constance for 15 years. It was actually 25 years, and they hated each other - he eventually poisoned her! Maybe Maclean was sucking up to the nobility - he wouldn't have wanted to say anything nasty. His history was published in 1873, two years after Countess Loudun had successfully claimed the Bottreaux title for herself! He probably knew her.

b. Boterel is an anagram of Boteler - an easy confusion for a scribe in those days (or perhaps for later genealogists).

c. This would account for why there were Botelers and also Boterels in Cornwall - so perhaps Boterel was the original spelling.

d. Boteler means 'little bottle'. The name 'Butler' may be derived from it - the servant who looked after the bottles. But there were no glass bottles in those days, and wine was only carried in leather ones for immediate use. So it's unlikely that the Botelers were butlers to a fomer Saxon thegn. Maybe it was a nickname for a family that was bottle-shaped.

e. Boterel also means 'little bottle' or 'little toad' - toads were called little bottles after the shape of leather bottles. ('Bota' is Latin for bottle). Again, this may have been a nickname for a family that was toad-shaped.

f. Wikipedia says the Barons Botreaux got their name from Les Botereaux

g. None of this tells us where we came from. In Brittany, all Geoffreys in the family were called Boterel, though not always their siblings or progeny. Why? In Cornwall, perhaps the Boteler and Boterel families resulted from an original spelling mistake. Were there even subsequent errors so that some of the early generations might have been misspelt and confused? This would be a whole project for research in itself.

 But the genealogy of the Botelers published on Wikitree shows Botelers all over the place, but not Cornwall. And the late 11th and 12th centuries saw the Breton Boterels and their progeny active in England. So perhaps the confusion arose not in 11th century but with Maclean himself!
So we still don't know for sure where Nicholas came from, but the balance of the evidence seems to favour the Breton connection.

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