Durell and Le Vavasseur

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Durell family page

This family is often found as Le Vavasseur dit Durell


Henry Edward Le Vavasseur dit Durell, born in Jersey in 1845

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Origin of Surname

This is an old Normandy (specifically Manche) surname derived from dur for hard or strong, probably signifying a man of strong character.

Vavasseur was a vassal of a vassal, a man who held land, not directly from a Seigneur, but from one of the Seigneur's vassals. However Payne's Armorial (see below) suggests that the name was applied to someone altogether grander.

Early records

The name, which was originally Le Vavasseur, then Le Vavasseur dit Durell, and ultimately simply Durell, is found in the Assize Roll of 1309 and the Jersey Chantry Certificate of 1550 contains one Le Vavasseur.

Two families

There are two distinct families of the same name in Jersey. The second family originated with a 16th century French immigrant named Durel, and subsequently changed the spelling to Durell.

Payne's Armorial of Jersey

Among others, the name of this family presents relics of a custom peculiar to the Channel Islands — that of having an additional surname affixed to the original patronymic. From notes appended to a pedigree of the family compiled in 1765, it appears that the ancient name was Le Vavasseur only, which is an old word of feudal jurisprudence, of which the derivation is far from certain. Camden states that in England it was a dignity ranking immediately after Barons ; and it is classed by Bracton, before Knights. Some derive the word 'a ralvis—quasi obligatus sit adstare ad ralvas domini, rel dignus sit eas intrare'. Menage, quoting Cujas, says that the word comes from the Latin vasstts—formed from 'gesse,' an ancient Gallic word signifying a companion-at-arms. Du Cange remarks that there are two kinds of Vavassours; the greater, called Valvassores, created by the King, as Earls and Barons; and the lesser, called Valvassini, created by these last."

"The family of Vavassour of England came into that country with the Conqueror and those settled in Jersey have been located there nearly as long a time, for the name appears in the Extente of 1331. It appears that about the commencement of the sixteenth century, the name of Durell was added to that of Le Vavasseur, possibly for distinction, as the family had at that time several branches, and undoubtedly on account of some alliance with that of Durell, and which is of French origin."

The family of Le Vavasseur-dit-Durell, as from that time it was called, and which in some branches still bears both names, ordinarily used but the last, until Thomas Durell, of the eldest branch of the family, having omitted by error to style himself Le Vavasseur in his first patent of Vicomte (High-Sheriff) of Jersey in 1742, his family has since entirely discontinued the use of the former.

Among the many eminent members of this family, Dr John Durell, or Durel, as he spelt his name, stands very prominent.

Of this family, also, was Dr David Durell, who was born in 1728.

Several of the family distinguished themselves in the profession of arms. Among them may be noticed Captain Thomas Durell, RN, who died in 1741; Captain John Durell, RN, who died in 1748; Captain George Durell; and Rear-Admiral Philip Durell, who assisted in Wolfe's glorious capture of Quebec in the Princess Amelia, 80, and who died at Halifax in 1766.

Solomon Durell was Gentleman of the Horse and Equerry to the Princess of Wales in 1743. He appears also as one of the esquires, and has his arms recorded as such, of the Earl of Leicester, created KB in 1725.

Prominent among the talented Jerseymen of the present century, stands the Rev Edward Durell, MA, sometime Rector of St Saviour.

Vice-Admiral Philip Durell
Philip Durell

Alternative view

From G R Balleine's Biographical Dictionary of Jersey

"The Durells are not, as the Armorial states, part of the old Jersey family of Le Vavasseur dit Durell. In 1531 a French slater, named Juin Durel, was working on repairs to Mont Orgueil. He settled in St Saviour. His eldest son Juin carried on his father's trade as a slater, but his second son Nicolas rapidly came to the front. Difficulties were raised when he was elected Centenier of St Helier, because he was son of an alien: but testimony was produced to his character and loyalty, and he was allowed to take the oath. In 1597 he became Constable of St Helier and in 1602 Treasurer of the States
His son Jean bought the Fief Collette des Augres (the land around the present Upper Halkett Place) in 1617, and the Fief es Payn (which included the present Halkett Place, King Street and Hilgrove Street) in 1622. He became an Advocate in 1616, Greffier in 1625 and a Jurat in 1631.
Jean's son Thomas was Greffier under Lydcot and was imprisoned by Sir George Carteret, and only regained freedom by paying a fine of 8,000 livres tournois. He had three sons, Thomas, who became Constable of St Helier (1667-69), Jean, who became Jurat in 1682, and Lieut-Bailiff (1694-1708), and Nicolas, who was Secretary to Lord Lansdowne, British Ambassador in Spain, and became Solicitor-General in 1684. This latter office remained in the family for four generations."


Payne's assertion that Captain Thomas Durell, Captain George Charles Durell and Vice-Admiral Philip Durell were members of the Le Vavasseur dit Durell family is incorrect. They were descendants of Juin Durel, as identified by George Balleine. Captain John Durell, the fourth naval officer mentioned by Payne as being related to these three, was probably the Captain Durell who was commander of HMS Centurion in 1736, but there is no further information to connect him to either of Jersey's Durell families.

There are suggestions from some family research that Juin Durel was not the first member of the family to arrive in Jersey. Art historian Charles Harrison-Wallace, who has written extensively about the Durell family, suggests that references in the early Extentes to Durels in the 13th century are of the same family.

He refers to Raoul Durel, unjustly imprisoned; Mathieu Durel, killed in a raid; and Nicholas (probably Nicolas) Durel, a priest, all in 1272, and to Richard Durel, made Provost of Sark; and William (probably Guillaume) Durel, acquitted of theft, both in 1298.


  • Le Vavasseur, 1331
  • Le Vavasseur dit Durell, 1577
  • dit du Boys
  • dit Noel, 1668
  • dit Martinier 1668
  • Vavassor 1349
  • Le Vavasour
  • Vassal 1309
  • Vavasser
  • Vavasseur
  • Durel
  • Durell

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