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Van Cleef Coat of Arms / Van Cleef Family Crest

The Dutch surname of VAN CLEEF was a Dutch locational name for one who came from the city or duchy of CLEVE (cliff) in Holland and Germany. The name is also spelt Van CLEAVE, Van CLEVE, Van CLEEFE and Van CLIEF. Surnames derived from placenames are divided into two broad categories; topographic names and habitation names. Topographic names are derived from general descriptive references to someone who lived near a physical feature such as an oak tree, a hill, a stream or a church. Habitation names are derived from pre-existing names denoting towns, villages and farmsteads. Other classes of local names include those derived from the names of rivers, individual houses with signs on them, regions and whole countries. The Dutch language is most closely related to Low German, and its surnames have been influenced both by German and French naming practices. The preposition 'van' is found especially with habitation names, and the 'de' mainly with nicknames. A notable member of the name was JOOS van de Beke CLEVE (c.1480-1540) the Flemish painter, born in Antwerp. Most of his work was done there, although he also worked in Cologne and was invited to Paris to paint portraits of Francis I and his family. He is best known for his religious pictures and is sometimes called 'The Master of the Death of the Virgin' from two triptychs of that subject at Munich and Cologne. During the 17th century surnames were brought to Britain, North America and southern Africa by French Huguenot exiles. The Huguenots were French Protestants, and in 1572 large numbers of them were massacred in Paris on the orders of Queen Catherine de'Medici. Many of the survivors sought refuge in England and elsewhere. Although the Edict of Nantes (1598) officially guaranteed religious toleration, persecution continued, and the Edict was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685. It was then the trickle of emigration became a flood. Many migrated to England, while others joined groups of Dutch Protestants settling around the Cape of Good Hope. Others sailed across the Atlantic to establish themselves in North America.

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Last Updated: May 9, 2020

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