Recorded in many forms as shown below, this is a very interesting and unusual surname. It is pre medieval French and English, and either a metonymic occupational name for a banker or money lender, one who dealt in gold coins, or manufactured them or was a nickname for a rich man! It derives from the Old French word 'besan', in Middle English 'besant', meaning a gold coin, and so called because the original gold coins known as Byzaneius were minted at Byzantium. It is probable that the both the word and the subsequent surname received considerable impetus from the famous Crusades of the 12th century. The besant is also a prominent charge in heraldry, and often appears on coats of arms which claim some association with the Crusades. In the modern idiom the spellings include Beszant, Besant, Bessant, Bessent, Bezzant (English), and Besan, Besant, Besantie (French). Robert Besant is recorded in the 'Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London', and is known to have held the office of Sheriff of London in 1194. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Lefwin Bessant. This was dated 1168, at St. Batholomews Rolls, also city of London, during the reign of King Henry 11nd, known as the Church Builder, 1154 - 1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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