The surname of GILBERT originally a Norman personal name composed of the elements GISIL (hostage, noble youth) and BERHT (bright, famous). The name meant 'the son of Giselbert'. Early records of the name mention Gislebertus (without surname) listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. This given name enjoyed considerable popularity in England in the Middle Ages, partly as a result of the fame of St. Gilbert of Sempringham (1085-1189) the founder of the only native monastic order. This at one time had over twenty houses, but became extinct on the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Many of the early names recorded in medieval documents denote noble families but many also indicate migration from the continent during, and in the wake of, the Norman invasion of 1066. There was a constant stream of merchants, workmen and others arriving in England during this time. In 1086 the Record of Great Inquisition of lands of England, their extent, value, ownership and liabilities was made by order of William The Conqueror. It is known as the Domesday book. Other records of the name mention Gilbertus Presbiter who was documented in 1150 in London, and Robert Gylebert was recorded in County Norfolk in the year 1235. Johannes Gilberd of Yorkshire was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
A notable bearer of the name was Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-83) the English navigator and discoverer; founded (1583) in Newfoundland the first British Colony in North America. Sir William Schwenck GILBERT (1836-1911) Librettist of light satiric operas for which Arthur Sullivan composed the music. The Devon family of Gilbert can be traced to Geoffrey Gilbert (died 1349) who represented Totnes in Parliament in 1326. His descendants included Sir Humphrey Gilbert (died 1583) who discovered Newfoundland. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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