c.1345:  Henxmen-related Surnames
An Overview of Surnames Derived from the Henxmen

This page provides an overview of the origin of HINXMAN and other names derived from the Henxmen, drawn from a long-term study of original mediaeval and later sources.

Job Title
The surname of HINXMAN and related names is derived from the occupation of Henxman (plural: Henxmen), who were trusted bodyguards and personal servants of the English monarchs.  Evidence indicates the post was first created by Edward III (illustrated below) in circa 1345.  The post existed until 1565 AD, when it was abolished by Elizabeth I.  It was not hereditary, but was awarded on ability and merit - so the Henxmen were not normally related to each other (although sometimes, some were).

Various numbers of Henxmen were employed at different times, but there were typically 6 Royal Henxmen serving the monarch at once, plus sometimes an additional Sergeant or Master of Henxmen in charge.

Henxmen were also sometimes retained by other members of the royal family - such as Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376); by other great lords - such as Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (1367-1413); and even by some Lord Mayors of London.  However, these positions were intermittent and few in number, compared with the royal troop of Henxmen which appears to have been maintained continuously for a span of 220 years.

Name Origin

The title of Henxman is derived from the Old English 'hengst' + 'man', meaning 'stallion man'
, reflecting their ceremonial function.  Here is how their job title came about:

Few people could read in mediaeval times, so imagery and symbolism were of much greater importance then.  This made it necessary for the monarch to ride only a stallion (i.e. a non-castrated male horse) in public, to communicate the mastery, power and even fertility of a strong and confident leader.  But this in turn created a problem during state processions. 

The monarch and officers of state naturally rode during processions, emphasising their high and mighty position compared with the more numerous, lowly participants on foot. 

This left the monarch with the difficult and dangerous task of keeping a strong, high-spirited and potentially aggressive stallion walking at a sedate human pace, between shouting, waving crowds.  There was potential for real political embarrassment, and even personal danger, if the monarch lost control. 

The solution was so simple, neat, and effective that it remained in use for 220 years.

Strong and trustworthy young men were selected, to ride or walk close beside the stallion and assist the monarch if needed.  If necessary, those might be given an additional rein to the stallion's bridle.  It was found that 3 men each side, making 6 in total, was the ideal number to obtain a strong grip close to the stallion's head, capable of preventing him from rearing or bolting.  Together they kept the stallion under control, and the monarch safe. 

Illustration 1:  King Edward III.  Engraved 1688.  It was this King who first created the post of Henxman, in circa 1345.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Thus the key ceremonial duty of the 6 Henxmen, and the origin of their job title - the 'stallion men' - was to control the monarch's stallion during public processions.  This position of great trust, close around the monarch, also made them ideally suited for additional roles, which were part of the Henxmen's duties from an early date.

The Henxmen enjoyed high status, and were entrusted with special powers as part of their work.  For instance,
as the innermost trusted bodyguards they were the only people allowed to routinely carry weapons in the royal presence.

Being at the heart of state processions, and part of the Royal Household, the Henxmen naturally wore rich and expensive uniforms.  These were often made especially for the event, to contribute to the great spectacle of these state occasions.  But the Henxmen were unique (apart from Heralds) in having specific permission to wear the colours normally reserved for the royal family.   This signalled they had the authority of the sovereign in carrying out their duties, and that to threaten a Henxman would be interpreted as an attack upon the monarch himself - which implied an awful retribution, and strengthened their role in protecting the monarch.

It was important to prevent any misuse of this powerful authority, so as long as the post existed it appears that Henxmen were only allowed to use the title on active duty.  Throughout this long period, there are no clear records of the name being used by off-duty or former Henxmen, nor as a surname by their descendants. 

Carefully selected, and trained to act both independently and as a team, the Henxmen became synonymous with their key qualities of capability, confidentiality, loyalty, trustworthiness, and dedication to duty.  They were regarded with awe by writers of that period, and their impressive reputation lasted long after their post was abolished.

Job Title to Surnames
The Henxman word is used throughout these websites to indicate the original job title.  This particular spelling was common during the Henxmen era; was never subsequently adopted as a family surname; and became extinct soon after the Henxman era - so it remains a good choice to indicate solely the ancient meaning of the original job title.

However, during the Henxman era this job title was spelt in many different ways.  Spelling was far from standardised, and sometimes the same word was spelt several different ways even on the same page.  There was no 'right' way to spell a word; it was a matter of individual choice how to represent a sound.  Thus if two different spellings sounded the same, they were effectively the same word - and this remains a good test for recognising ancient word variants.

Remarkably, over 70 different spellings of the Henxman word have been discovered so far, and some of these have survived as surnames.  A brief explanation of some is given below, and further surviving surname variants may yet be confirmed.

The job title of Henxman was sometimes spelt as Henchman in early times, and this spelling survives as the modern noun of henchman.  But the meaning of Henchman, originally very specific, has changed over the centuries and now holds additional, different connotations - so it is not used here in relation to the mediaeval job title. 

There is also a family name of HENCHMAN, which has a related but slightly different origin.  The HENCHMAN surname was granted to their ancestor, originally Thomas CROSBOROUGH (1480-1533) of Northamptonshire, by King Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509).  This grant was not made for services as an actual Henxman, but rather as a compliment to Thomas, indicating that in his close and reliable support of the King he had acted very like one - which itself provides an interesting reflection upon the Henxmen's positive reputation.
  This is the only known occasion, during well over 200 years of the job's existence, when someone who was not a Henxman was allowed to use the title as a family surname.

The family name of HINCHMAN also appears to arise from this same ancestor, via an early spelling variant of his HENCHMAN name.  The HINCHMAN family is therefore effectively a branch of the HENCHMAN family.  Thus the HENCHMAN & HINCHMAN families, while sharing their own common origin and genetic links, have no ancestral relationship either to the original Henxmen or to the modern descendants of the Henxmen.


The post of Henxman in the English Royal Household was abolished by Elizabeth I in 1565. 

Following abolition, it seems to have become acceptable for former Henxmen to retain their occupational title as a personal name.  There was therefore a relatively brief period (less than a lifetime) when the job title could become a surname, although (since there were usually only 6 Henxmen employed at any time) there were few people who could claim it.  This explains why it has always been such a rare surname.

At least two (and maybe more) former Henxmen apparently adopted the name, and founded lasting families bearing versions of that surname.  Fortunately for family history research, the two families tended to spell their surnames in consistently different ways, and they settled in different regions of England.
  Both families have survived about 450 years since the abolition of the Henxmen to modern times.

Both of these families appear to be the genetic descendants of separate original Henxmen, but almost certainly not genetically related to each other.  Modern DNA testing offers the possibility of checking this.  So if you're a Henxman descendant and willing to provide a saliva sample for this purpose, do get in touch.  But whether related or not, the two families share the same distinguished heritage.

One founding father appears to have settled near the middle of the Welsh Marches, the border between England and Wales, and his descendants have generally spelt their name as HINKSMAN.

Another founding father seems to have settled in Hampshire, England - probably in or near the towns of Andover or Fareham - and his descendants typically spell their name as HINXMAN.  He is the originator of the family that is the main focus of this website.

But there is also much information contained here for everyone named after the original Mediaeval and Renaissance Henxmen.

Illustration 2:  Queen Elizabeth I.  Circa 1575.  The post of Henxman was abolished by Queen Elizabeth I, on about 01 Dec 1565. 
For picture details, see footnotes.

Case Study: HINSMAN Surname
Finding sufficient evidence for the origin of a particular surname variant is far from easy. 

The Henxmen-related surnames seem to have originated about 450 years ago, and reliable data from so long ago is very limited.  The highly variable spelling of that time means spelling by itself is very unreliable evidence.  And there are many routes by which a family may have adopted a particular spelling of their name.

The HINSMAN surname provides a case study of the difficulties in ascertaining the origin and meaning of a Henxman surname variant.  The HINSMAN name may be derived from the Henxmen, or may not: its true origin is quite uncertain.  There currently appear to be 4 main potential origins, numbered 1-4 below:

Early spelling was an attempt to imitate the spoken word.  If we consider the spelling of the HINSMAN surname, it could have represented either of 2 different pronunciations, each with different meanings: 

(1)  The first syllable may have sounded like 'hins'.  In this case, HINSMAN was perhaps derived from HENSMAN.  The latter name might be a spelling variant of Henxman, or could be derived from ('hens' + 'man'): suggesting neither this surname, nor the HINSMAN family, are related to the Henxmen at all. 

(2)  Alternatively, the first syllable may have sounded like 'hence', as a softened version of ('hengst' + 'man').  In that case, it is clearly a variant of the Henxman name, which implies that the family was founded by a Henxman ancestor.

Instances of this spelling, as a deviant form of Henxman, survive in contemporary documents from 1392, 1450, 1463, 1488 and 1490 in the Henxman Era.  But no indication has yet been found of this rare spelling (about 2% of contemporary mentions of the Henxmen) being transformed into the inherited surname of a Henxman.

It is also possible that the HINSMAN surname arose as a spelling variant in more modern times, since the end of the Henxman era.  Two main possibilities arise in this category:

(3)  The HINSMAN surname may be a variant derived from the surname of HINCHMAN (see above).  This latter surname is a proven variant of the HENCHMAN surname, the other major variant of the original Henxman word.  But this surname originated from a compliment, not from a Henxman founding father.

(4)  The sound of HINSMAN is close to that of HINKSMAN/HINXMAN, so it could alternatively be a spelling variant of these (suggesting genetic descent from an original Henxman). 

A final complication is that any of these possibilities may have occurred separately, or even repeatedly, as cases of convergent evolution.  This could have resulted in a number of families bearing a surname with the same spelling, but with no ancestral links.  At present the true origin(s) of this surname remain unclear.  Further documentary or genetic research may one day reveal the answer.

These 2 surnames certainly they come from the same Henxman origin.  But the origins of the HINCKESMAN and HINCKSMAN families themselves are currently less clear. 

They may descend from other founding fathers, formerly Henxmen, who would have most probably adopted the name soon after 1565.  Alternatively, these families may be offshoots (now differently spelt) of the HINKSMAN or HINXMAN families.  It is hoped that further research will resolve this question. 

It has occasionally been claimed that the HITCHMAN surname is also derived from Henxman.  It is just possible that this has occurred, through another sequence of variants and mis-spellings.  However the difference in sound, and the lack of documentary evidence, makes this origin seem unlikely.

Henxmen Heritage
Overall the picture of Henxman-related surnames is complex, reflecting the widespread reknown and lengthy existence of the original Henxmen.  Their name, originally spelt in many inventive ways, was in its time a byword for trustworthiness, faithfulness and dedication.  The Henxmen caught people's imagination, and their name became very widely known. 

One variant of their name survives today as the common noun of henchman, now overlaid with additional modern meanings (a separate webpage is planned to explore these changes).  Other variants survive as a group of surnames: of a family granted the name as a compliment; and
families apparently descended from founding fathers who were actual Henxmen.

The fascinating history of the Henxmen reaches back over 200 years before the founding of our family surnames, and is entwined with royal patronage and many great state events.  The employment of the Henxmen in the Royal Household means they were unusually well documented, and many interesting details about them have survived.
  The title of Henxman and its surname variants carries a rare and special heritage, and these webpages aim to preserve and disseminate its story.

This page draws on content from a range of original sources, which for the sake of simplicity are not listed here.  However, all of them are in the process of being published in detail on a companion website, Henxmen Sources.

Webpage version 2020.1.  First version 2015.
Webpage c
opyright © Richard HINXMAN, 2015.

1.  King Edward III
Founder of the Henxmen in circa 1345.

Detail from a monochrome engraving.  Found in:  Joshua BARNES (1654-1712).  1688.  The History of that Most Victorious Monarch Edward III, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland and First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter: Being a Full and Exact Account of the Life and Death of the said King, Together with That of his Most renowned Son Edward, Prince of Wales and of Aquitain, sirnamed the Black Prince, Faithfully and carefully Collected from the Best and most Antient Authors Domestick and Foreign, Printed Books, Manuscripts and Records.  Frontispiece, facing title page.  John HAYES. Cambridge, England.  Public domain.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  See Terms of Use.

Queen Elizabeth I
Her abolition of the Henxmen probably arose from a cost-saving review of her household accounts.  It allowed the title to be adopted as a surname - the origin of HINXMAN.

Original:  Unknown artist.  Oil on panel.  Circa 1575.  Queen Elizabeth I.  44
½" x 31" (1130 x 787mm).  Purchased 1925.  National Portrait Gallery.  London, England.  Primary Collection.  NPG 2082.  Source:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADarnley_stage_3.jpg.
  Licence:  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0.