Where did the Devases originate ?

Introductory remarks by Esmond Devas

The origin of the family name DEVAS has long been a matter of speculation within the family. Many have backed a Huguenot origin for the name, and this is given some support by the fact that there are records of Huguenot Devases in London in the early 18thC., together with a number of Devas names listed today in the Luxembourg phone book as well as an Edmond Devas in the Paris phone book ( 1999). These may well be the same family as those Devases found ( database search of the Church of Latter Day Saints) in and around Alsace Lorraine starting in the late 1700s.

The earliest firm record of our own line of Devases is however Richard Devas/Devers and his wife Alice (d. 1713), who lived at Cawood in Yorkshire. Recent research suggests persuasively that the true origin of our particular Devas line is more straightforward if less glamorous than Huguenot refugees, and that they are an old English family with roots in Yorkshire. Stephen Devas (1740) of Cawood, near York, was also described in legal documents of the time as Stephen Devers and Stephen Devars, and the family name today is quite simply a variant phonetic spelling originating around that time, when the accent was firmly on the first syllable, rather than on the second as we pronounce it today. This was an age where most people could not read and write and where spelling was more to do with phonetics than any agreed standard, and where a range of name spellings within a single legal document was by no means unusual.

Those who still favour a Huguenot origin for modern Devases should consider that we now know that there were families in Yorkshire with variant spellings of Devas dating from before the Huguenots ever came to England.

The following is a an edited version of the presentation made by Lady Monson ( Emma Devas) at a meeting of the wider Devas family held in London in 1995.


At the present time, the Devas family tree begins with Richard Devas/Devers and his wife Alice (d. 1713), who lived at Cawood, beside the River Ouse, and south of Selby, in Yorkshire, as did the following two generations. Their son Henry Devas/Devers, “Yeoman”, and their grandson Stephen Devas/Devers/Defars/Devars/Davis/Davies. All these variants on “Devas” are to be found in contemporary registers and/or documents against the name of the Devas in question, either written down by that Devas or by a clerk.

The use in particular of DAVIS and DAVIES convinces me that our surname was originally at that time pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Consistent spelling of surnames was a rarity until the 18th century. Before that, the name was written down as it sounded, and in this case, it must have sounded like DAY-vass. A local historian told me that “the regional accent accounts for the variation in spelling”.

My guess in that Stephen Devas was responsible for shifting the stress to the second syllable. In 1740, he married in York Sarah Wildbore, the daughter of a yeoman, from an ancient family of North Lincolnshire. He described himself on the marriage certificate as “Stephen Davies, Gent.”, which was a trifle optimistic. The children Sarah bore him are in the Cawood registers as the son (or daughter) of Stephen Devars, who now describes himself as a shopkeeper, but a few years later he had moved south to Southwark, where in a document (selling land) he describes himself as a “Dancing Master”. What more fashionable – and profitable – in such a profession than to have a French-sounding name?

Ultimately he settled at Cookham, with his eldest son Thomas, the Mayor of Maidenhead. Thomas and his partner and son-in-law Francis Cossum had a shop in Maidenhead. An engraved receipt of 1800 declares Devas and Cossum, Linen and Woollen Drapers, Hatters and Hosiers, and in the top left hand corner, on a shield placed in front of an urn on a pedestal and flanked by two classical female figures Funerals completely Furnish’d. The large family tomb is in Cookham churchyard, in reasonably good condition, although the inscriptions are now very faint.

At the time I was researching the early Devases, I happened to be in correspondence with a biographer of the artist Arthur Devis, who was an exact contemporary of Stephen Devas. Arthur Devis’ background remains obscure for want of records due to the ravages of the Civil War when many records were destroyed in the northern part of England. However the Devis family have also been traced to an area south of Cawood near the Ouse. It has been suggested to me by my local historian that Devas (and all the variants) and Devis (Deavis and Davies) could both stem from the ancient family of Deyvas, “a family existing at least as early as c. 1340, to whom there are numerous references”. There was in 1470, one “Thomas Deyvas”, generosus”,, member of the Corpus Christi Guild at York.

There is at this time no evidence to support the theory that the Devas family in Cawood was of French Huguenot origin. All that was found in the Huguenot Society records was one refugee couple, Jacques, “a foreign weaver”, and his wife Anne, who fled to England in 1696, staying in London long enough for their son, also Jacques, to marry another Huguenot, and produce three daughters. After 1745, no more is heard of them, and one can assume they returned to France, as did many descendants of refugees at that time. It does remain a possibility that our family originally came from the Low Countries, either as one of hundreds of Flemish merchants who traded with England – and who are recorded in York, for instance, or as refugees in the 16th century: one Peter de Vas is recorded at the Dutch church, Colchester in 1573, and in 1602, a Peter Devas buries an infant at Leeds Parish Church. And there is evidence of a Devis, and a Divers, at Rothwell near Leeds in the 1620’s and 30’s, but they are more likely to connect up with Arthur Devis.

Updated family tree of the Devas family in the UK


The updated and computerised version of the Devas family tree assembled by Esmond Devas is based on a number of sources:

1) The family tree put together by Guy Devas ( b. 1912], formed the starting point for the updated version. His tree begins with Stephen Devas ( b. 1715). Guy Devas’ tree closely follows

2) Burke’ s Landed Gentry (BLG) : the present tree has been cross checked against this. Note that BLG contains a few errors, which have been corrected.

3) Research by Emma Monson, in particular on the Yorkshire origins of the family. Her research enabled the tree to be taken back two generations from Stephen, to his grandfather Richard ( born c. 1670), and was based in particular on inputs from the Borthwick Institute in York.

4) A considerable quantity of new information was trawled by Esmond Devas out of the Church of the Latter Day Saints internet databases, known as IGI. Searches were undertaken under the names Devas, de Vas, DeUas, Devers, and Devars, and this information incorporated where possible. The information on IGI covers

4a. Christenings, which include full names of fathers, and christian names of mothers

4b. Marriages, which include full names of wives, but not of parents

4c. The IGI databases do not normally cover births and deaths.

Missing data: Dates of birth can be inferred fairly reliably from christening dates, and marriage dates can be inferred from birth/christening dates of children. Spouses’ dates of birth can be inferred from those of their partners. For all individuals in the updated database, best estimates of birth dates have been included, for instance ‘about 1670’, since this greatly assists management of the data.

Treatment of unrelated individuals: all Devases on the IGI databases have been recorded in this new update, but some are either unrelated, or cannot at present be related. They do not appear on printouts of the family tree unless they are related, but they are in the database for the record and to facilitate future connection, if warranted. The largest group are the Devas/de Vas/DeUas huguenots in London in the late 17c. and early 18c. They seem either to have returned to France or to have died out around the middle of the 18c., and no connection to the main branch of the Devases has been made. The origins of the latter are very firmly in and around Cawood, in Yorkshire, moving in the early 18c. to London. The IGI database contains quite a few Devers and Devars in and around Cawood, often variant spellings of known indidivuals previously recorded as Devas. Additional data and new individuals have been recorded under the name Devas. Individuals named Devars and Devers from IGI whose relationship to the Devas line is unclear have also been recorded in the database as unrelated individuals, pending further research. They do not appear on printouts of the Devas tree, but are in the database.

Format of updated database: the database is set up on the computer programmme ‘Family Tree Maker’ version 6 which is widely available at a cost of about £15 upwards. It can export to other databases in a number of formats, in particular the common genealogical data format known as GEDCOM.