Le Couteur

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Le Couteur family page
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Mary Le Couteur in 1850

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Origin of Surname

Le Couteur is French for the Church Sacristan.

Early records

Early genealogical records of the Le Couteur family on Jersey are rather fragmented, but with occasional references in the Extentes and Assize Rolls. George Balleine, in A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey, gives a summary as follows:

"The Le Couteurs are found established at St Mary's as soon as our Records begin. The Assize Roll of 1309 shows Colin Le Costour as one of the Principaux of the Parish, and in 1324 his son Robert was one of the Electores. In 1534 Jean Le Couteur was Centenier of St Mary’s and he was succeeded by his son Philippe. Philippe's son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson were Constables of St Mary's, and no less than eight members of the family have filled that office. From this branch sprang Dean Philippe Le Couteur, Dean Clement Le Couteur, and Francois Le Couteur, the militant Rector of St. Martin’s. In the 15th century two younger sons of Thomas Le Couteur of St Mary's moved to other parishes, and established branches there, which survive to the present day (1863). Nicolas settled in St Peter's and Thomas in St John's. From the latter branch came Lieut-General John Le Couteur and Sir John Le Couteur."

Evidence for the father of a Thomas and Nicolas being Thomas of St Mary is not presented in the biography. However, records of the family suggest that an elder brother was Bernabey (1460-1534) of St Mary, and that his younger brothers would have been Thomas and Nicolas, who respectively headed branches in St John and St Peter. Another brother, Macy Le Couteur, had descendants in St Mary who appear to have died out in the 17th century. Le Couteur descendants of Bernabey live into the 21st century, as do those of Thomas and Nicolas.

A recent authority on Le Couteur history was Philip Edgar Le Couteur (1919-2007) of St Brelade. He was Judicial Greffier from 1950 to 1969 and Advocate of the Royal Court. He once recounted that during the German Occupation he spent much time in the Jersey archives researching his family ancestry ‘because there was nothing better to do’.

Philip had no knowledge of the source of the information from Balleine, (who was a relative of Philip’s wife), regarding the father of Thomas being also named Thomas. Thomas le Couteur (1460- ) of St John was Philip’s direct ancestor, and DNA evidence is consistent with a common male ancestor for this Thomas and Bernabey of St Mary. Philip’s notes do not contradict the possibility that their father was also a Thomas, and suggest that Guilleaume Le Couteur (mentioned in ABSJ Vol 10 p 313) may have been their grandfather. (Source: Martin Courtier)

Variant Spelling

  • Le Couteur, 1515
  • Le Cousteur, 1499
  • Le Coustieur
  • Le Coustor 1331
  • Le Costour 1509
  • Le Costur 1299

Payne's Armorial of Jersey

Deriving its descent from a Norman source, this family has held a most respectable position in Jersey for centuries. By the Extente of 1331, it appears that Robert Le Couteur, of the parish of St Brelade, owed to the King eight sols for a houvee, or ox gate, of land. However, from the non-existence of parochial records and the want of family archives, a connected pedigree of the family can only be traced to the sixteenth century. And although from these causes the precise connection between Julian Le Couteur, living in 1598, and Jacques Le Couteur, living in 1604, and the founder of the branch of St John, La Hougue Boete, cannot be ascertained; yet there are no sufficient grounds for doubting the common origin of both families.

From the testimony of the late Sir Isambard-Kingdom Brunel, himself born on the patrimonial estate of the family, it seems that those of Jersey are an offshoot from the house of Le Couteur of Gisors, Department de I'Eure, where the parent stock still exists, represented by a Colonel in the French army.

Unresolved question

Martin Courtier has offered the following comment on Payne's reference to Sir Isambard-Kingdom Brunel:

"The comment by J Bertand Payne on Page 199 of 'An Armorial of Jersey' quoting a testimony by Sir Isambard-Kingdom Brunel regarding his birth on the Patrimonial Estate of a branch of the Le Couteur family does not fully stand up to scrutiny.
"Firstly, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) was born on 25 April 1769 at Hacqueville, near Gisors, Normandy, France where members of his family had farmed land for generations. However his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), was born on 9 April 1806 in Portsmouth, England, and was not knighted.
"This raises questions regarding the authenticity of the quotation, as well as showing confusion by the author between son and father. The quotation presumably originated from around 1800, so the statement that 'the parent stock' was living on the patrimonial estate of the (Le Couteur) family in Hacqueville at the time is also open to question, although very relevant to possible common origins for the surname. It is known that the ancestors of the Le Couteur families, (including those mentioned for General John Le Couteur (1760-1835) and the earlier Jacques Le Couteur (1586-1638) in Jersey, who was from a different branch), had been living in Jersey since before 1450.
"The question is therefore whether the Le Couteurs of Hacqueville, living in the 18th century had been there even longer than those on Jersey, were descended from a sub-branch that originated in Jersey during the previous three hundred years, or were completely unrelated. The content of the quotation by J B Payne has to be treated as unsubstantiated without further research. One definitive conclusion could result from study of male Y-chromosome DNA studies of living 'French' Le Couteurs, as a sound knowledge base for those from Jersey already exists. So far, and in spite of a number of potential French candidates, no-one has volunteered unfortunately, so the question of a single ancestry for the Le Couteur surname still remains unanswered.

Payne continued

In the parish church of St Brelade exist tablets to the memory of General Le Couteur, and to that of his wife, the eldest daughter of Sir John Dumaresq; her memory is deservedly respected, not only from her private virtues, but also from the fact of her having been the foundress of the Jersey branch of the Ladies' Bible Society. The epitaph of the former contains so succinct an account of his long and honourable career, together with so favourable an insight into his private character, as to deserve perpetuation here.

The original estate of this family was Les Buttes, which, curiously enough, was exchanged by its owner for its present residence, in a friendly controversy, as to their relative value, with a member of the De Carteret family, to whom the latter previously belonged. The name of Les Buttes or the Butts (which also occurs in other parishes), proves archery to have been cultivated with assiduity by Jerseymen; and, undoubtedly had the necessary records descended to our day, we should find that, as feudal retainers, they had worthily laid the foundation of that fame which they have so gloriously earned since their incorporation into a regular Militia.

The present representative of the family, Colonel John Le Couteur, Vicomte of Jersey and Adjutant-General, Royal Jersey Militia, has, with much concern for the welfare of his native island, turned his attention to its improved agriculture; and is the author of an erudite work on the cultivation and varieties of wheat, which, with one on Rifle-Drill, is well and favourably known; while another, now in preparation, on the "History of the Royal Jersey Militia," will, doubtless, throw much light on this interesting subject, and will be looked for with the more interest, since the corps is indebted for much of its efficiency to the family of its historian.

Arms

As borne by Colonel John Le Couteur: Argent, three bends, azure. Quartering: Or, on a mount, vert, a holly-bush, ppr. ; a bordure, sable, entoyre of eight mullets, of sixpoints, pierced, of the first, for Bisson ;

Gules, four fusils in fesse, argent, a fleur-de-lis for difference, for De Carteret.

Impaling: Azure, a chevron, argent, between two bezants in chief, and a fleur-de-lis, of the second, in base, for Janvrin.

Crests: 1. A dove, holding in its beak an olive branch, all ppr., for Le Couteur (ancient). 2. A sword and a sprig of laurel, in saltire, ppr., for Le Couteur. 3. A blackbird, ppr., for Bisson.

Motto : Toujours prest.

Le Couteur of St John's Manor House, La Hougue Boete

At what period the founder of the family of Le Couteur settled in the island is not known, but the fact of the name being found in the Extente of 1331, proves it to have existed here from an early Norman period.

The first of this branch, of whom records are preserved in family documents, was a clergyman, living in the time of Elizabeth, who had the honour (no inconsiderable one in those days) of preaching before the Queen. The original manuscript of this sermon was until recently in the possession of his descendants, together with very interesting memoirs of Jacques Le Couteur, the Receiver of the King's Dues.

The family numbers among its members two Deans of Jersey, besides others who have held high positions in the local Church and State. The Very Rev Philip Le Couteur enjoyed a wide reputation as a divine and a man of letters; a very valuable collection of autograph letters written between the years 1659-62 exists at the Manor, addressed to him by several eminent ladies of the Court of Louis XIV, the Marechalle de Turenne, the Princess de Bouillon de la Tour d'Auvergne, with many others. These letters are couched in terms of the warmest friendship, and esteem for his talents and character.


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Canadian memorial stone to John Arthur Le Couteur
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