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About the study
All Britnells seem to be related, those we know of today all seem to trace back to Harry Bryttenell who died in Long Marston, Tring, Hertfordshire in 1552; his grandson Christopher is commonly cited as the earliest known Britnell but that is to ignore Harry's will and that of his daughter Joan, wife of Roger and father of Christopher. The Britnell family extends in to Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and subsequently Oxfordshire and these are clearly all related to one another. There are records of Britnells as early as the 16th century in Exeter and Devon but any relationship has yet to be found; similarly a link with the Britnells in the USA remains elusive, although the Canadian and Australian families are known to be related to the main Britnell family from Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
There is speculation that the Bricknells of north Oxfordshire are a branch of the family which sprung off before Parish records and there are other families with similar names which may or may not be related but where the relationship is unknown, for example the Bretnells of the east Midlands, Until some relationship is proven these are not within the ambit of this study. During the 17th century in Oxfordshire the Britnells are variously Bretnells, Brutnells, Bricknolls, Brudnells and Brudenells but these are known to be variants of the Britnell name as they fit within the family tree. Finally in the 18th century the Britnells stabilise as Britnell on the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire border, principally in the Parishes of Chinnor, Crowell, Aston Rowant and Bledlow but also in adjoining parishes.
Joan Wake in her 1953 book 'The Brudenells of Deene' records the earliest known Britnells as William Bridenel in Aynhoe, Oxfordshire in 1366 and then in 1384 as William Bretenel, followed by William Brudenel in 1388/9; 1391/2 has a Henry Bretenelle in Aynhoe as well as a Richard Bretonel and a William Bretenelle. Although Joan attributes these as the earliest known Brudenells it seems pretty clear that they are Britnells and this suggests that the Britnells and Brudenells are of the same line originally; interestingly in the 16th century Britnells and Brudenells are found in the same Buckinghamshire parishes and in 17th century Oxfordshire the names seem to be interchangeable. If the name does indeed derive from these 14th century origins it rather suggests that the original Britnell was a Bretonell, a derivative name from Breton, so perhaps a small Breton or son of a Breton immigrant?
History of the name
From the mid 16th century the presence of the Britnells (and of the Brudenells) can be traced through Parish records and wills in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire and there the fortunes of the two names diverges; the Brudenells become armigerous and appear in the Heralds Visitations, eventually becoming the Earls of Cardigan, (think Charge of the Light Brigade), in Northamptonshire whereas the Britnells remain yeoman farmers in Buckinghamshire, owning their own land. Harry who died in 1552 had some 50 acres of land in his will as well as a 'shop' with two apprentices, presumably a blacksmiths shop as Roger his son was a blacksmith. Subsequently one or other of the descendants left a will until in to the 19th century in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire, when we pick them up as farmers, blacksmiths, publicans, Sunday school teachers and Parish clerks in Bledlow and the surrounding area. In the 18th and 19th century the Britnells are well represented in Chinnor, Crowell and Aston Rowant in Oxfordshire and in Bledlow and then Radnage in Buckinghamshire, from here they spread to London and the midlands and eventually to Canada and Australia. The origins of the Britnells in the USA is currently unknown as the earliest American Britnells remain unknown and until they are known they cannot be linked to the tree, of couse they may be Devonshire Britnells whose connection to the family tree is also unknown. It may well be that the Britnells of Exeter are actually Brudenells as the social status of the Brudenells would fit well with the position of a 16th century Mayor of Exeter.
Distribution of the name
The name Britnell is located almost exclusively in a small arc around south Oxfordshire, through Buckinghamshire to west Hertfordshire. Bricknells or Bretnells elsewhere may be related but their concentration is small and suggests that if related they are offshoots from the main family concentration. There is no major concentration of the name elewhere in the country, only the tantalising glimpse of the name in small quantities in the west country, particularly Devon.
I hold a considerable amount of Britnell information from parish registers and benefit from membership of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire FHS with access to their records. I also hold other published information such as the Bledow Charity Books from the 19th century which reveal those in receipt of charitable relief who were not in receipt of Poor Law relief. My contact with other Britnell researchers is quite widespread and much of what I have has been arrived at collaboratively working with others, two or more brains being better than one!