Latest update 10 24 12
The gathering place for Woulfes seeking information on our ancestors.
Edited by Michael Woulfe, Plantation, Florida, USA
The Woulfe Family in
First...credit where credit is due...Most of the information on our history on this page is based on the work of Genealogist Paul MacCotter. Notes included with a * are my commentary with additional information from other Woulfe/Wolf contributors.
Credit also goes to...
John P.Woulfe of Australia
Sean deBhulbh of Limerick, Ireland
Carol (Wolfe) Taggart of Canada
Kathy Struck Wolfe of Iowa
... And many, many others.
The Woulfe name in Ireland By Paul MacCotter
Counterpoints and analysis marked with *
In the modern era the surname has a wide distribution within Ireland, but is principally found in West Limerick and West Cork. The Woulfes of West Limerick and North Kerry descend from the Anglo-Norman le Lou family of West Limerick, while those of Cork are descended from 17th century English settlers.
Despite the wonderful history of the Woulfe surname in Kildare, dating back to the 12th century, most, *see below* if not all, modern Woulfes in that county appear to be associated with the later English Woulfe family, who settled in Kildare in the mid-17th century.
Tipperary Woulfes also appear to be connected with this English family. The Woulfes in East Limerick and Limerick City are descended from the Anglo-Norman* Ulf family, as well as the distinct West Limerick line.
The Woulfes of Co. Clare are also true Ulfs.
There are also some Woulfe families in Dublin and Meath, but it is difficult to say whom they descend from.
*This is very important. While modern Woulfes in Kildare may be descended from later English Wolfe arrivals, there was an older "Norman Irish" Woulfe family already there. R. Wolfe's book, "The Wolfes of Forenaghts" also indicates that these later arrivng Wolfes found an older Irish Woulfe family already living in the area. And more than one source indicates that they claimed a link to the Limerick Woulfes. Is it possible the early "Old Norman Irish Woulfes" already in Kildare were related to the Limerick Woulfes in the employ of the Geraldines? I believe they are. We find the earliest Limerick Woulfes in the service of the Geraldine Earls. The Geraldines had been granted property in Limerick AND Kildare.
*Paul will get some argument here. Others say the ULF name is more likely Viking, as Vikings were the originators of Limerick City. More in this below.
This surname originated in Normandy, arrived in England in 1066, and came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1170 and again later, during the English plantations in Ireland during the 17th century.**
**Here's the big question. Were these later English arrivals descended from the same Le Lou family that came to Limerick and Kildare from England in the late 1100's or early 1200's? You'll see later that MacCotter believes that any Norman Le Lou's who remained in England later became Lowes. Some Woulfes believe that they are the same family.
And - Is this Le Lou linked to an ancestor? It’s especially intriguing because of the De Spencer connection. Robert Le Lou was born about 1208 in Carlton House, Carlton, Lincolnshire, England. He was married about 1234 in Castle Carlton, Lincolnshire, England. His daughter Joan le Lou born about 1235 in Carlton House. She died before 1266. She married John Le Despencer about 1255 in Defford,Worcestershire,England. John Le Despencer was a descendant of Robert Le Despencer, steward to William the Conqueror.
And more on Robert above...The main part of Winemar's estate in Ashton ( in Northampton) was held by Robert son of Anketil (probably Anketil le Lou or Lupus) at the time of the Northamptonshire Survey, when it was assessed at one hide and two small virgates. (fn. 8) Hugh Lupus held half a fee in Ashton in 1167. (fn. 9) Their descendant, Robert le Lou, was lord of Ashton in 1224 and 1230, (fn. 10) and held half a fee in Ashton and Easton Maudit in 1242. (fn. 11) He appears to have been succeeded by Philip le Lou, who, also in the reign of Henry III, settled the manor of Ashton on Robert le Lou, and John his son and Emma his wife, with remainders first to John's son Philip in tail male and second to Philip's sister Agnes. (fn. 12) Robert le Lou died in 1262, holding Ashton by the service of two thirds of a knight's fee. (fn. 13) His son and heir John was returned as lord of Ashton in 1284 (fn. 14) and 1297, (fn. 15) and granted a virgate of land in Ashton to his daughter Joan in 1296. (fn. 16) He was succeeded on his death the next year by his son Philip, when John's widow Amice claimed dower. (fn. 17) Philip, summoned to serve in Scotand in 1301, (fn. 18) was still lord in 1315. (fn. 19) He and his wife Margery made a settlement of Ashton in 1325 to the use of themselves and Philip's heirs; if he left none, the manor was to remain to Robert le Lou and his heirs. (fn. 20) Philip was dead by 1329, when John de Paveley, son and heir of his sister Agnes, successfully claimed the manor against John de Hartshill, Philip de Hartshill and Philip le Lou's widow Margery, and sold it the same year to Philip de Hartshill. (fn. 21) In 1330 Robert, the son of John le Lou and probably the remainderman in the settlement of 1325, quitclaimed any right he had in the estate to Philip. From: 'Ashton', A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 5: The Hundred of Cleley (2002), pp. 59-76. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22780 Date accessed: 09 March 2010.
Or, is there a connection to Humphrey Vis de Lou? According to an inquisition taken in the reign of Henry III, probably about the year 1250, Humphrey Vis de Lou came over with the Conqueror and received from him the manor of Benham, but having slain a certain knight the manor was taken from him by Henry II. Further it is stated that on account of this forfeiture his son Walkelin did not inherit the manor, but the king granted it to Robert of London, who had married Isabel, Walkelin's only daughter, both of whom died without issue, when the manor returned to the king. (fn. 168) The account thus given cannot be correct, since if Humphrey accompanied the Conqueror he could not have lived to commit a murder in the reign of Henry II. Moreover, it appears that Walkelin did inherit, for between 1100 and 1135 he had a dispute with the abbey of Abingdon as to the vill of Westbrook, (fn. 169) then, as since, a part of the manor of Benham. It was perhaps Walkelin who was the murderer, or the crime may have escaped punishment until the reign of Henry II. At all events, before 1158–9 the manor had become forfeit to the Crown, for in that year the sheriff rendered account of 20s. from the land of William Francis at Benham. (fn. 170) Till 1164–5 the rent of this manor is yearly accounted for by the sheriff, (fn. 171) but in 1166–7 it is entered as from Richard of London,
From: 'Parishes: Speen', A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4 (1924), pp. 97-110. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=62688 Date accessed: 09 March 2010.
Early records in both England and Ireland indicate that there were at least two distinct origins for the surname***, from the personal name Ulf and from the nickname or cognomen, expressed in the various languages then spoken.
Most later Woulfes (I use the more usual form throughout this work) must descend from the latter category, first recorded as "le Lu" (or Lou), from the Norman French "The Wolf" and latinized as "Lupus", that language being the principal legal language of the period. By the late 13th early 14th century we begin to find the change from le Lu to Wolf, mirroring the decrease in spoken French in place of the English of the lower orders, although this change is a little slower to occur in England, where some le Lu's never made the change and are the ancestors to the modern English surname Low or Lowe. Those Woulfes who were originally Ulfs were much rarer in this early period.
***Sean deBhulbh of Limerick has some thoughts on this as well. " I think that there is no doubt that the Limerick Woulfes were Anglo-Normans, with the proviso that the city people might be Norsemen. As for Ulf, Hodges & Hanks ignore it but Reaney (Dictionary of British Surnames) accepts Ulf as existing in Suffolk England in 1095. Obviously very Anglo-Saxon." SdeB.
The earliest period from which very complete records survive is the 14th century. In the records of that century we find Wolfe or le Lu families of substance - freeholders of some decent quantity of land - in eight English counties and in at least six Irish ones, with lessor families in many other English shires and in several additional Irish counties. This sheer volume of such families at so early a period indicates that le Lu was originally used as a common nickname by many individuals, several of whom must collectively be ancestors to the later Woulfes of Britain and Ireland, and the surname does not derive from a common ancestor. There are many other examples of such surnames, such as Savage, Fox and Dollard to name a few.
****It should be pointed out that there are also older Irish versions of the name Woulfe. (which MacCotter will also cover later) Sean deBhulbh of Limerick contributed this... "In the Dictionary of Surnames" by Hanks & Hodges (1996) which is not quoted by MacCotter but is a very fine work, we have under the entry "Wolf": Irish, translation of Gaelic O Faoláin. Now this is a very common surname from Waterford, which anglicises Phelan and Whelan, and Faolán is an old Irish first name meaning "little wolf". Fr. Pat Woulfe (Sloinnte Gael is Gall) mentions another native name O Mactíre from East Cork. Mac Tíre is another Irish word for "wolf", the animal." This means there may be some older Irish Woulfes in Ireland who Anglicised their name from an Irish language name translating as Wolf. mw
In England the cognomen occurs as early as the 11th century when one of the sons of Richard d'Avranche, an early Norman magnate, was nicknamed Hugh le Lu, although he had no descendants and so cannot be the ancestor to any later Woulfes. The use of the wolf in the business of surnames is not alone confined to Britain and Ireland: witness the common Spanish surname Lopez. We find landed branches of the le Lu family established by 1300 in Kildare, Dublin, Meath, Louth, Kilkenny, Wexford and Limerick with lessor families of the name found in counties Cork,Waterford and Tipperary.
In addition to these there was a Wolfe family established in what is today Co. Down who appear to descend from a man bearing the nickname "Pel de Lu", i.e. wolf-skin.
In Limerick we have the interesting situation of a le Lu family established in the western part of the county while in the east and in Limerick City a family of Ulf were prominent; these latter would also become Woulfe at a later stage.