Stewart is an ancient and famous Scottish surname, but it is also popular in Ireland. Many people around the world with the surname Stewart could have Irish as well as Scottish ancestry.
The story of the surname and the family also has roots in both England and France.
Stuart is a common variation of the name and both Stewart and Stuart are also common first names given to boys.
Stewards of Scotland
It is likely that the word ‘Stewart’ actually originated in England sometime before the 7th century. It is thought to have come from the word ‘stigweard’. Stigweard was made up of two Old English words, ‘stig’ which meant household and ‘weard’ which meant guardian.
So a stigweard was a guardian of the household. It was the title given to the person who was in charge of the daily running of a royal or noble household. The word stigweard later developed into ‘steward’.
In Scotland the name held great importance. By the 12th century stigweards weren’t just in charge of a household, they were ‘stewards of Scotland’.
The stewards of Scotland were the most important people in the kingdom aside from the king. The Stewarts were hereditary stewards of Scotland for centuries. The Stewart family took their name from the position they held.
While the family took their name from their important position, they originally had a different surname. The family that took the position of Stewards of Scotland were French and had arrived in Britain in 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated the English in the Battle of Hastings.
Their surname was Dapifer and they came from Brittany in northern France. After arriving in Britain they became a powerful family in Scotland and took the name Stewart to reflect their high position.
Royal House of Stewart
Walter Stewart, who was a hereditary steward, married the daughter of King Robert the Bruce and established the Royal House of Stewart. The Stewarts went on to become the longest serving royal dynasty in Scotland.Over the centuries there was a lot of emigration across the Irish Sea in both directions between Ireland and Scotland. Many Stewarts would have travelled to Ireland and settled there. The name is particularly popular in the Ulster province today.
The name would have also travelled to England and become popular south of the border. There were many English invasions of Ireland over the centuries as English monarchs tried to take control of their neighbours.
Many of the English soldiers who invaded Ireland ended up settling there and eventually integrated with the locals. Within a few generations they were often said to have become ‘more Irish than the Irish’, much to the horror of the English rulers.
The Stewarts arrived in Ireland from both Scotland and England and one of the biggest influxes came in the 17th century when the British finally took control over Ireland. Oliver Cromwell’s men brutally swept through the country and once they had taken control they looked to eradicate the Irish culture. English became the language of Ireland and people’s names were anglicised as they were written down by English clerks for tax purposes.
The Scottish had arrived in droves in the ‘Plantation of Ulster’ even before Cromwell had taken over Ireland. Land in Ulster was taken from Irish lords and given to Scottish settlers in the early 17th century. Several more Scottish and English Stewarts settled in Ireland around this time.
Many Stewarts left Ireland in search of a new life in the mid-19th century. Millions of Irish people left to escape the potato famine which had devastated the country.
Millions died of starvation or disease that was caused by malnutrition as a result of a lack of food. Millions more left the country and headed for Britain, the USA, Canada and Australia. The surname Stewart and Stuart are popular in all of these countries to this day.
Many people thrived in their new countries and there have been several famous Stewarts around the world.
Rod Stewart is an English-Scottish singer and musician. He first found fame in the 1960s as singer for the band, the Faces. He went on to have a hugely successful solo career. He has sold over 100 million albums and is one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Sir Patrick Stewart is an English actor. He has had great success and acclaim on the stage, small screen and in Hollywood. He is a hero to millions as Captain Pickard in the cult TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation. He has also appeared in several successful movies including the X-Men series.
Gloria Stuart was an American actress. She had a long on and off career that went from the 1930s to the 2000s, although with some big gaps in between. She appeared in several successful movies such as The Invisible Man, The Three Musketeers and The Whistler. She was the oldest person to be nominated for an Oscar for her role as the old Rose Dawson in the 1997 movie Titanic.
Kristen Stewart is an American actress. She is famous for playing the part of Bella in the hugely successful Twilight saga. She has also appeared in other movies such as The Runaways, Snow White and the Huntsman and What Just Happened.
Jon Stewart is an American satirical comedian. He has written and hosted award winning TV shows such as The Daily Show and the Jon Stewart Show.