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About the study

ATTENTION: ALL BRITTONS, BRITTAINS, BRETTONS, ETC. IN ENGLAND: Since Britton is an English surname, the Britton DNA Project is offering free Y-DNA tests to qualifying participants from England with proof of descent from a Britton or Bretton male (all variants) born in England c 1837 or before. Y-DNA will tell us quickly and easily whether you are related to any of the other Britton men already tested by the Britton project.  The test is quick and painless, consisting  of two swabs which are rubbed gently along the inside of the cheek and returned to the lab in a special, protective envelope. Results include a list of DNA matches and contact information for each match.>>
The Britton One-Name Study is a companion to the Britton International DNA Project which was established at Family Tree DNA in 2004.  Since Britton is a multi-founder surname, most Brittons/Brettons are not related to each other, and distinguishing one family from another can be difficult or impossible during the period before parish registration or in areas like Bristol, Colchester, and Birmingham where the name is common and unrelated families may have lived next to each other for centuries.  Successive waves of migration from county to town which began in the early modern period and continue unabated today only compound the difficulty.>>

For more information, write to Dr. Lindsey Britton at or visit our DNA project at

Variant names

Briton, Brittain, Britain, Brittaine, Britayne, Brytane, Brytan, Britten, Brittan, Brittin, Bretton, Breton, Bretun, Le Breton, Bruton, Britt, Brett, etc.

Name origin

Britton is usually said to be an ethnic name (from OF *Bret*) brought to England by Breton followers of the Conqueror. These Bretons lived in southern and southwestern England until driven to the coast of France by Germanic invaders of the fifth century. The area where they settled took its name from them and was thereafter called Brittany. Their leader at the time of the Conquest was Alan Rufus (the Red), a cadet of the Ducal House of Brittainy and Earl of Richmond after William rewarded his loyal service with 400 rich manors in eleven shires, including Essex, Suffolk, Cambridge, Lincoln, and North Yorkshire. Richmond Castle, built in 1071 on the banks of the Swale, was the first and one of the greatest stone castles of Norman England.

An alternative origin has been proposed from OE *brec* (broken or newly-ploughed ground) and *tun* (enclosure or settlement) or perhaps Brettatun (settlement of Bretons) and is considered to be the origin of West Bretton and Monk Bretton in the West Riding and Breton in Derby. The surname Bretton (or Britton) is still common in the vicinity of Leeds and Barnsley.

Breton may also have been a place name in Essex (from Layer Breton) and in Suffolk from either the village of Brettenham or the River Brett (Bretton) which rises from streams near Brettenham and Lavenham before flowing south past Hadleigh to join the Stour at Higham.

Historical occurrences of the name

The earliest form of the name is Brito which is found nine times in Domesday (1086): Alured Brito-- 22 Lordships in Devon; Gozeline or Jocelyn Brito—tenant in capite Gloucestershire, with other lands in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire; Oger Brito--Lincolnshire and Leicestershire; Rainald Brito-- Somerset; Tihel Brito--Essex and Norfolk and under tenant of Judhael de Totnes at Cary & Medland, Devonshire; Manno Brito-- Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire; Roger Brito--mesne Lord Somerset; William Brito--mesne lord in Huntingdonshire.

Brett of Sampford Brett (Somerset): This ancient family claims descent from Auvrai le Breton or Ansger le Brett to whom the Conqueror granted, along with other holdings, manors at Stamford Bridge, Essex and Sampford Brett in Somerset. Ansger was the second great-grandfather of Sir Richard Le Brett who with four others assassinated Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. After Beckett's death Richard fled to the Holy Land where tradition says that he is buried. Male-line descendants of his brother Sir Simon le Brett, Lord of Sampford, can be traced in the male line to Richard Henry Brett who died in 1933.

Breton of Jersey: The family descends from Reginald le Brett, kinsman of Richard le Brett (above). Emilie Charlotte le Breton, best known as Lillie Langtry, actress and mistress of Edward VII, was a descendant of Reginald le Brett.

Breton of Lawford Hall, Essex: Line begins with Radulfus Brito, itinerant Justice under Henry II who died in 1189; direct line extinct in 1246 with death of his great-grandson William Breton who left three daughters. Arms depicted on two shields at Lawford Hall: *azure two chevrons or in chief two mullets argent*

Breton of Layer Breton: Lewis Brito, for whom Layer Breton was probably named, is said to be the brother of Radulfus Brito (above); granted a capital messuage at Herchestade in Suffolk to St. John's Church, Colchester where his son Ralph and Ralph’s wife Adeliza were later buried. Their son Robert le Breton or de Breton was benefactor of St. Botolph's Priory at Colchester. After 1420 the manor of Layer Breton passed out of the Breton family which removed to Colchester. The connected line begins with Nicholas Breton, who was buried at St. John's Church in Colchester and was the great-great grandfather of Henry Breton of Monkton Farley (Visitation of Wiltshire) and third great- grandfather of the Elizabethan poet Nicholas Breton and his elder brother Richard Breton, ancestor of Breton of Barwell (Visitation of Leicestershire) and Breton of Kent.

Breton of Barwell: Pedigree begins with William Breton of London who married Elizabeth Dacon or Bacon and continues to the children of his grandson Robert Breton and wife Alicia. Arms: *azure a bend between six mullets or*.

Breton of Kent: Richard Breton m Anne, d/o Matthew Babbington, Esq. of Temple Rothley, Leicestershire 1671; son Robert b 1673 m Mary Moyle, d/o John Moyle of Buckwell, Kent; lived at the Elms; d 1701; buried at Boughton-Aluph where his tombstone identifies him as a descendant of Breton of Barwell. Son Moyle was the ancestor of John Whitfield Breton b 1815, Sussex, who married Emma Cooper at Brighton in 1857; he died August, 1874 with issue. Arms: *azure a bend between six mullets or*.

Rando or Ranulph Brito, canon of St. Paul’s and Treasurer for Henry III, held lands at Blatherwick and Doddington, Northants., d 1247, and had a son Sir Ralph le Breton who enfeoffed his brother William of lands at Sporle, Norfolk. William died in 1261, leaving a son Sir John Breton, Dominus de Sporle, who sealed the King’s letter to the Pope in 1301 with *quarterly or and gules a bordure azure*. These arms are usually attributed to Layer Breton and were borne by Breton of Monkton Farley, although there was a shield at Layer Breton Church which showed *azure two chevrons or in chief two mullets argent as the Breton arms*. Layer Breton’s branch at Barwell bore *azure a bend between six mullets or* as did the branch at Kent.

Bretton of Hadleigh, Suffolk: John Bretton married Elizabeth Strutt at Hadleigh, 1579 (she died 1621/2) and had 9 children born at Hadleigh; he married 2nd Elizabeth_______, and was buried at Hadleigh in 1636. Family origin unknown but possibly Lavenham; Mother Frost (mother of John Britten) was buried at Hadleigh in 1605. John Britten served as Chief Collector for the Market in 1583, 1593, and 1601, Churchwarden in 1589 and 1599, Mayor in 1621, and Alderman. Direct male line apparently extinct with the death of son Lawrence Britton in 1657. PCC 1637 will mentions Sister Driver but no brothers.

Breton of Wichingham & Felmingham, Norfolk: Breton Manor is said to have taken its name from Robert le Breton living in the reign of Richard I; Thorald le Breton lived at Wichingham 31 Henry III & married Aveline d/o Ralph de Vilechen of Holkam. Pedigree begins with Edmund de Breton and wife Ermentrude (temp. Edward I) and continues for nine generations to Henry Breton Gent. of Felmingham who married Martha d/o Ralph Symonds of Clay by Holt in Norfolk and held his first court on 3 Elizabeth at the death of his mother. Arms: *Quarterly per fess indented argent and gules, in 1st quarter a mullet sable*.

Dullingham, Cambridgeshire: In 1231 William le Breton was granted 8 acres in Burrough by Alice de Burgh; 33-34 Edward I—John le Breton v William de Warewyk & Alicia his wife in Burgo & Dullingham; Edmund le Breton v John le Breton in Burgh, Weste, Wilingham, Brinkele, & Dulingham; 1353—Thomas le Breton held land at Burrough; 1389—a tenement at Burrough called Bretons was held by Robert (a clerk) who granted it in 1392 to William Bateman. William Breton, Yeoman of Dullingham--Will proved, PCC 1495—bequeathed over 60 sheep and owned over 100 acres; his son William Breton (Vicar 1488-1534) was for a time Master of St. Katherine’s College by the Tower. At Borough Green ( 2.5 miles southeast of Dullingham), a 15th century John Breton supplied fuel to King’s College Cambridge. In 1683 John Breton held a copyhold on the windmill which belonged to the manor in 1279.

Breton of Teeton, Northamptonshire: Pedigree begins with John Breton of Teeton who married Elizabeth, d/o St. Germayne of London, Gent. and bore *argent a fess dancettee gules in chief three bears heads couped sable*. The family remained seated at Teeton until 1714 when the male line failed with the death of Robert Breton, Esq.

Breton of Tamworth, Staffordshire: William Breton m Johanna, d/o Hug. Bysschop of Tamworth and had a son Johannes living 15 Edward II whose 10th generation descendant Capt. Nicholas Breton m Anna, d/o Edward Legne of Rushall, Stafford and was buried at All Saints Church at Norton, Northamptonshire in 1624. Arms: *azure a bend between six mullets or*.

Breton of Norton: Descendants of Capt. Nicholas Breton remained at Norton Manor until 1800 when the property was sold by trustees of Michael Harvey Breton. Esq. Arms: *azure a bend between six mullets or*.

Breton of Walton, Derbyshire: Robert Brito was Lord of Walton temp. Henry I. Sir Roger Breton obtained a license for a Chantry at Walton, temp Henry III. Walton remained in the Breton family for five more generations until Isabel Breton conveyed the manor to her husband Sir John Loudham. Sir Robert Breton d 1279 bore *per pale gules and azure, a fess between two chevrons argent*; his grandson Sir Robert le Breton d 1350 bore variously *per pale gules and azure a fess between two chevrons argent* and *azure a bend between six mullets or*.

Breton of Cobburne, Yorkshire: Sir John Breton, held knight’s fees at York and died in 1281, leaving a son Sir Philip Breton who had L40 land in York, a knight’s fee at Halyngham in Lincolnshire, and a fee (with others) in Gayton, Lincolnshire; witnessed a charter of John, Earl of Richmond on 28 October 1281; summoned to serve against the Scots 24 June 1301; died by 12 February 1304, leaving a widow Cassandra and son John, age 12—Arms: *argent fretty a chief sable*.

Bruton of Havitree, Devonshire: The Visitation pedigree begins with Thomas Bruton al Breton of Borough in the parish of Morthowe whose son William Breton is buried in the cathedral church at St. Peters. Arms: *per pale gules and azure a fess between two chevrons argent*. Arden and St. George Rolls show that a 13th century Robert de Breton bore the same arms.

Name frequency

In 1890, Henry Brougham Guppy published the first study of surname distribution and frequency in Britain. Starting with the assumption that farmers were the most stay-at-home class in the country' and thus the best proxy for the population as a whole, Guppy used Kelley’s Postal Directories to compile lists of farmers in each county whose surnames exceeded a rate of 7/10,000 for the county. Only the forms Britton and Britten appear in Guppy’s index--Britten at a ratio of 30/10,000 in Northamptonshire and Britton at a ratio of 8/10,000 in Essex.

In 1881, 1042 Brittons (all variants) were born in Gloucestershire—frequency per 10,000 (FP10K) 39.21 and 1 Britton per 1.1669sq. miles; 413 in Lancashire, FP10K 17.33, 1 per 4.552 sq.mi; 296 in Northamptonshire, FP10K 15.49, 1 per 3.08sq.mi; Wiltshire 208 FP10K 14.35, 1 per 6.4663sq.mi; Essex 526, FP10K 9.87, 1 per 2.6939 sq.mi; West Riding 713, FP10K 8.92, 1 per 3.882 sq.mi.; Somerset 278, FP10K 7.92, 1 per 5.791 sq.mi; Staffordshire 299, FP10K 7.69, 1 per 3.501 sq.mi; Devonshire 290, FP10K 7.50, 1 per 8.917 sq. mi.

The Archer Surname Atlas provides the most recent attempt to determine surname frequency in the UK, with statistics based on the 1881 census and the Poor Law Union (PLU): Census: Gloucestershire 968 individuals or 170/100K; West Riding 502 or 87/100K; North Riding 46/100k; Essex 330 or 57/100k; Rutland 51/100k Poor Law Union: Barton Regis (Gloucestershire) 542 individuals or 326/100k; Keynsham (Somerset ) 331 or 1327/100k; Leeds (W. Riding) 196 individuals ; York (N. Riding) 93 individuals; Easingwold (N. Riding) 283/100k; Richmond (N.Riding)) 260/100k; Tendring (Essex) 86 individuals or 257/100k.

Surname distribution and frequency for the mediaeval or early modern periods, however, is more difficult to gauge partly because national records are incomplete but also because of the distorting effects of migration from county to city which had already begun by the 16th century and quickened in pace with the rise of industry. Thus, of the nine English counties where the Britton name was most common in the 19th century, five experienced population growth of 100% or more between 1761 and 1841: Gloucester 100-150%; Lancashire 250-450%; Northampton 100-150%; West Riding 200-250%; Staffordshire 200-250% while Devonshire and Somerset had growth rates of 75 to 100%. Only Essex (50-75%) and Wiltshire (35-50%) had population growth of less than 75%.

Distribution of the name

The surname Britton is primarily an English surname found throughout the British Isles and in former British colonies, France, and the Channel Islands.

In 1841, there were 10, 458 Brittons in England (includes all variants) 23.32% lived in Yorkshire; 14.46% in London; 7% in Gloucestershire; 5.316% in Lancashire; and 2.17% in Essex. Top variants in 1841: Britton 29.383%; Bretton 16.427%; Brittain 14.496%; Britain 11.08%; Briton 8.978%.

In 1891 there were 11,080 Brittons in England, 12.88% lived in London; 12.226% in Yorkshire; 10.117% in Gloucestershire; 5.78% in Essex; and 5.78% in Lancashire. Top spellings: Britton 548.835%; Brittain 21.055%; Britten 10.694%; Brittan 6.049%; and Bretton 3.754%.

By 1998, the number had grown to 13,203 (all variants) in England: Britton 6677, top postal towns: Bristol and Colchester; Brittain 3206, top postal towns Birmingham; Britten 1586, top postal town Northampton ; Brittan 447 top postal town Bristol

Worldwide Distribution: Survey includes Britton, Bretton, Brittain, and Britten
By variant: Britton 704 per million (pm); Breton 424 pm; Brittain 270 pm ; Britton 135 pm
By country: France 347 pm, top variant Breton at 341 pm; United Kingdom, 315 pm, top variant Britton at 205 pm; Australia, 297 pm, top variant Britton at 173 pm; United States 151 pm, top variant Britton at 102 pm; Canada 145 pm, top variant Breton at 66 pm; New Zealand 134 pm, top variant Britton at 73 pm; Ireland 111 pm, top variant Britton at 99 pm