The surname of PRINCE was a nickname 'one with the appearance of a prince - one who played the part in a pageant or play'. The name was originally in the Latin form of PRIMUS, meaning 'first', presumably denoting someone who behaved in a regal manner or had won the title in some contest of skill. During the Middle Ages, when people were unable to read or write, signs were needed for all visual identification. For several centuries city streets in Britain were filled with signs of all kinds, public houses, tradesmen and even private householders found them necessary. This was an age when there were no numbered houses, and an address was a descriptive phrase that made use of a convenient landmark. At this time, coats of arms came into being, for the practical reason that 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. The name is also spelt PRINS, LE PRINCE, PRINCIPE. Early records of the name mention Robert Prince who was documented in the year 1177 in County Cumberland. Edward Prince of County Somerset, was recorded during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). Willemus Prynce of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. John Prince, priest, at St. Michael's Church, Norwich in 1418. Elizabeth Prince was baptised at St. Mary Aldermary, London in 1690. An interesting member of the name was Henry James Prince (1811-99) the English clergyman and eccentric, founder of the notorious 'Agapemone' in Somerset. He was born in Bath, studied medicine, but took Anglican orders, and in 1849, at Spaxton near Bridgwater, he founded what he called the Agapemone ( Abode of Love) a community of religious visionaries who shared all their property, and it was believed, their womenfolk. In many parts of central and western Europe, hereditary surnames began to become fixed at around the 12th century, and have developed and changed slowly over the years. As society became more complex, and such matters as the management of tenure, and in particular the collection of taxes were delegated to special functionaries, it became imperative to distinguish a more complex system of nomenclature to differentiate one individual from another.
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