This famous aristocratic surname appears to be the archetypal English name, but is in fact French! It derives from the village of La Riviere in Calvados, Normandy, the original nameholders being companions of William, Duke of Normandy, in his 1066 conquest of England. The name does actually mean 'river', and its use after the conquest was such as to subordinate the former 'broc' and 'ea', the Olde English words for rivers and streams. In the early days the surname was always preceded by the preposition 'de', although this very French appearance generally went out of use in the 15th century. There are no less than nine coats of arms granted to the family, the earliest being to Sir John de Rivers of Ongar, Essex, who was recorded as being present at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, and who was knighted at the siege of Calais in 1299. His blazon was the unusual charge of masculy, gold and red, in the pattern of three, two and one. Through the Middle Ages there was hardly a time when a 'Rivers' did not hold high office in England. Amongst the many examples being another Sir John Rivers, Lord Mayor of London in 1589, in the reign of Elizabeth 1st. Early examples of the surname recordings include Walter de la Riviere, in the rolls of Rievaux Abbey, Yorkshire in 1150, and John de Ryvaris of Essex in 1286. One of the earliest settlers in the New World was a John Rivers who owned land in the 'Sommer Islands' in 1684. This was the early name for Bermuda. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Gozelinus de Lariuera, which was dated 1084, the Geld Rolls of Warwickshire, during the reign of King William 1st, known as 'The Conqueror', 1066 - 1087. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was 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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