Whistler Family Name


A History of the Whistler Name

Medieval England

The Whistler name is from the Old English word hwistle meaning a pipe or a flute. One who played these instruments was a hwistlere. Osbert le Wistler was named in the Somerset Assize Rolls of 1243. In 1247 a William Wystle was recorded in the Bedfordshire Assize Rolls. Richard Whistel appears in 1297. In the 1279 Somerset Assize Rolls the scribe changed William le Wyzelere to le Vylur, ‘fiddler’ (1).

Subsidy Rolls (Poll Tax) for Yorkshire in the year 1379 reveal the names: (2)

Rawmarsh, Yorkshire     Ricardus [Richard] Whisteler & Johanna uxor ejus [his wife]        
Ricardus Wysteler & uxor [wife]
Johannes [John] Wysteler, senior & uxor
Johannes Wysteler, junior & uxor

In 1378 John Whisteler was an archer under Captain Sir John Arundel in a naval expedition led by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (3).

It should be noted that a variety of spelling variations of names may be entered in historical records, depending on the whim of the record keeper (also, if relying on a transcribed copy of original documents, old handwriting can be difficult to decipher leading to deceptive transcriptions).

The Thames Valley of Berkshire and Oxfordshire

At the time of King Edward I (1272–1307) John le Wistler was living at West Hanney, a short distance north of Wantage. In 1375 a Richard Whysteler and his wife Joan had connections to both West Hanney and nearby West Lockinge (4). Nicholao Whistler was recorded as a resident of Wantage in the 1381 Poll Tax (5).

It appears that the family prospered and, in the sixteenth century, Whistlers were established in the area around Wantage. The link to the villages of West Hanney and East and West Lockinge endured as parish registers reveal that Margaret Whistler was baptised at West Hanney in September 1585 and, a few years later, on 24 November 1588 Jane Whistler was baptised at East Lockinge (6).

Early surviving Whistler family wills, proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Berkshire, were made by John Whistler of Stanford in the Vale (1559), Ralph Whistler of Fulscot, South Moreton (1559), and James Whistler of Kingston Bagpuize (1565).

From the early 1600s to the late 1800s Chaddleworth, south of Wantage, was the home to successive generations of the Whistler family. One of these Whistlers wrote a ‘History of Chaddleworth’ (7). Unfortunately, the whereabouts of this manuscript is not known.

In the seventeenth century the Thames Valley that tracks the River Thames from Oxford to Reading was the base for a network of Whistler cousins. The Protestation Returns for Berkshire and Oxfordshire of the 1640s, a survey of those who promised to defend the Protestant religion, a requirement for holding office, included the names (8):

Goring Edward Whistler, gentleman  
    [Lord of the Manor of Gatehampton]
Robert Whistler, gentleman
Henry Whistler, yeoman
James Whistler
Merton College, Oxford [Dr Daniel] Whistler   [later a founding member of the Royal  
    Society and president of the Royal College of Physicians]
Trinity College, Oxford Mr [John] Whistler, absent   [recorder and MP]
Stroud (a tything of
    Cumnor parish)
John Whistler, Esq.
Fyfield Ralph Whistler
East and West Hagbourne   John Whistler
Ralph Whistler
South Moreton William Whistler   [manors of Fulscot and Adresham]
Moulsford Mr John Whistler, gentleman   [brother of Thomas Whistler,
    rector of Silchester, Hampshire]
Steventon William Whistler
Streatley William Whistler, overseer   [brother of Ralph Whistler,
    Lord of the Manor of Whitchurch-on-Thames]
Little Wittenham Henry Whistler, rector
    [also rector of Whitchurch-on-Thames]
Leckhampstead [Edward?] Whistler

East Anglia

In the 1550s the will of John Whistler of King’s Lynn was proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Norwich. In 1565 a man named Flanders married Joan Whistler at a wedding in the village of Bradwell (previously in Suffolk, now in Norfolk near the town of Great Yarmouth). On 2 December 1576 Frances, the daughter of John Whistler, was baptised at the Suffolk village of Groton, a short distance from Little Waldingfield (9).

From the 17th century onwards Whistlers continued to flourish in Norfolk and Suffolk. The hearth tax, a property tax to support the Royal Household of King Charles II, was levied on some Whistler households (10).

Norfolk Hearth Tax, 1664   Number of  
Catton Roger Whistler 10
Roger Whisler [junior?] 5
Hockwold cum Wilton     John Whistler 1
Necton Mathew [Martha] Whisler  
  [widow of William]
Suffolk Hearth Tax, 1674 Number of
Lavenham Nathaniel Whisler 2
Little Waldingfield John Whiseller 5

Whistler family members were active in the town life of seventeenth century Norwich. In 1651 and 1652 Roger Whistler was elected sheriff of Norwich (11).

The church of St John Baptist of Timberhill, in Norwich city centre, has a memorial installed in the nave with the inscription: (12)

Here lyeth the body of Simon Whistler late of the City of Norwich Alderman who departed this life the 12 day of August Anno Domini 1682. Here lyeth also the body of Simon his son who departed this life the 2 of April 1673.


In 1458 ‘John Whysteler, father of John Whysteler’, also known as Taylor, had property in Chiddingstone, near Edenbridge (13). The will of ‘William Taylor alias Whisler, husbandman of Chiddingstone, Kent’, proved in 1658, is in the National Archives.

William Whysteler of Edenbridge left a will probated in 1549 (14). It appears that the Whistler family made an impression in the Edenbridge area as a house named Whistler’s Farmhouse is on the English Heritage list of historic buildings.

    Whistlers Farm and Oast House near Hever, Kent.
Photograph © Nigel Chadwick taken 27 June 2010, The Geograph Britain and Ireland project .
A description of the Grade II listed house is at the webpage Images of England , and
the webpage British Listed Buildings .


The burial of John Whisler, on 17 April 1586, was entered in the parish register for Morden, a village north-west of Poole, Dorset.

John Whistler was named in the Protestation Returns made at the Dorset village of East Stour in 1641 (15). A parish register entry records that John Whistler was buried at East Stour on 25 March 1644.

    Extract from the parish register of East Stour, Dorset.
Source: Dorset Parish Registers, Dorset History Centre available online as an Ancestry database:
Dorset, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538–1812.

Continental Europe

It would be interesting to know the story of ‘Garret Whistler, a Dutch man’ who was living in London at the time of the coronation of King James I on 25 July 1603. Two weeks earlier, on July 10th, the wedding of Garret Whistler had taken place at the London church of St Katherine Coleman (16). Less than two months later he was dead – on 28 August 1603 he was buried at All Hallows London Wall.

    Burial record 1603: ‘Garret Whistler a Dutch man   28 of Aug’.
    Extract from the parish register of All Hallows London Wall, London.
Source: London Metropolitan Archives, All Hallows London Wall, Composite register:
baptisms 1585/6–1595, 1596/7–1604, marriages 1570–1604/5, burials 1569/70–1604,
(images online at the Ancestry database: London Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538–1812).

There is a record of a family in Switzerland and Germany: (17)

Wisler, a Mennonite family, found in the Emmental, Switzerland. Some immigrated to the Palatinate, Germany, where Heinrich Wissler was a preacher of the Erpolzheim-Friedelsheim congregation 1762–ca.1790, and Johann Wissler (Wiesler) preacher of the Ruchheim congregation from 1775. From Switzerland or the Palatinate the family came to America.

A connection to the English Whistlers is unknown.

In the First World War, Otto Ludwig Hans Wisseler was interned at a prisoner of war camp for German officers located at Colsterdale by Healey, North Yorkshire, where he died, aged 32, in August 1918 (18).

The Whistler Name in Fiction

The leading character in the film Hot Enough for June, made in 1964, was Nicolas Whistler played by the actor Dirk Bogarde. The plot was inspired by the 1960 novel The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson. In the novel, Nicolas Whistler, a ‘witty wastrel’ living in London, has an Uncle Bela in Vancouver (see The Night of Wenceslas at Wikipedia online).

Whistler Mountain, Canada

In British Columbia / Alberta there are two mountains named Whistler Mountain:

  • the ski resort, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, near Vancouver, and
  • a wilderness recreation area in the Rocky Mountains near Jasper.
The Whistler name comes from the marmot, an animal looking like a large squirrel, found in alpine areas throughout British Columbia.

A British Columbia Outdoor Wilderness Guide describes that: ‘when in danger this animal gives off a shrill, piercing Eeeeeee alarm hence the nickname "whistler"’.

Marmot, the Whistler

photograph from the
Whistler Blackcomb website
where it is stated that one of Whistler’s ‘most famous residents is the Whistling Marmot . . .
the inspiration for the Mountain’s name’.


(1) Percy Hide Reaney and Richard Middlewood Wilson, A Dictionary of British Surnames, second revised edition, Routledge, 1976; and J. R. Dolan, English Ancestral Names: The Evolution of the Surname from Medieval Occupations, New York, 1972, pp. 287–90.

(2) Yorkshire: Some of the Subsidy Rolls (Poll Tax) for the year 1379 (transcribed from The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journals).

(3) The Soldier in Later Medieval England online database.

(4) Rose Fuller Whistler family tree; and V.C.H. Berkshire, Vol. 4, p. 308.

(5) The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381: Part 1: Bedfordshire-Leicestershire, edited by Carolyn Fenwick, 1998, p. 56 (Google Book online).

(6) IGI.

(7) ‘Chaddleworth’ in V.C.H. Berkshire, Vol. 4, p. 163, footnote 3.

(8) Oxfordshire and North Berkshire Protestation Returns and Tax Assessments 1641–42,
edited by Jeremy Gibson, The Oxfordshire Record Society, Volume 59, 1994; ‘The Protestation Returns of 1641–42’, Berkshire Family Historian, September 2009; Tony Hadland webpage: Oxfordshire and North Berkshire Protestation Returns; and Walter Money, The First and Second Battles of Newbury and the Siege of Donnington Castle During the Civil War, 1884, p. 114, available at Google Books online.

(9) Norfolk Record Office online catalogue; Boyd’s Marriage Index; and the IGI.

(10) Suffolk in 1674: Hearth Tax Returns (text online) ;
Norfolk Hearth Tax Assessment, Michaelmas 1664, transcribed for the Norfolk & Norwich Genealogical Society (FamilySearch Catalog digital version online). In the Norfolk hearth tax returns the two largest houses in Catton belonged to Roger Whistler and Mrs Susan Copland.

(11) John T. Evans, Seventeenth-Century Norwich, Oxford, 1979, p. 203.
In 1618 Roger Whistler and Frances Bradforth were married at St Peter Parmentergate Church. Roger Whistler was a master dyer of Norwich (Norwich Apprentices, Norfolk Record Society, Vol. 29).

(12) ‘City of Norwich, chapter 42: Berstreet ward’, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: volume 4: The History of the City and County of Norwich, part II (1806), pp. 120–145 (accessed at British History Online ).
A transcription of the Simon Whistler memorial was given in: The Academy, A Weekly Review of Literature, Science and Art, Sept 22, 1883, No. 594, p. 203 (Google Books online). The note, about the church of St John Baptist of Timberhill, written in 1883, commented: "This church has been recently restored, and we gladly note that the memorials of the dead apparently remain in situ - a praiseworthy example in these iconoclastic days".

(13) Kent Archives and Local History Service online catalogue , FindingNo U908/T52/16.

(14) Rochester Consistory Court Wills: Edenbridge Wills summary online; and Kent Archaeological Society online Wills index .

(15) Webpage: Dorset Online Parish Clerks .

(16) London Parish Records, Ancestry website.
For an essay on Dutch immigrants in London in the sixteenth century see the webpage: London Aliens .

(17) Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online .

(18) Otto Ludwig Hans Wisseler was buried at St Paul, Healey, North Yorkshire on 13 August 1918 (National Burial Index 3rd Edition CD, Federation of Family History Societies).

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Revision date: 2016