Family lore maintains that the first Gosnold was Arnold, a knight of Lanfranc. Lanfranc was an Italian priest and advisor to William the Conqueror, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, from which position of power he dispensed land to his knights, including, supposedly, our Arnold who was given the house of a Saxon named Gosa. This house was in Ash, Kent.
In any event, a Ranulph de Gosenhale is found in 1230 living in Goss Hall in Kent and for several generations therafter the family is associated with the estate although most references spell the name as "de Gosehale". In 1404 we find a sailor named John Gosnale in Kent, which shows how the surname began evolving into its modern form.
There are early references to the Gosnold surname in four other counties: Suffolk, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire although only those in Suffolk and Shropshire have been traced through to the modern era. We have only a single reference to a Gamel Gosenoll in Yorkshire in 1219 and to a Robert Gosenol in Cambridgeshire in 1275.
In Shropshire, the earliest reference is in the Hundred Rolls of Condover (1275) which mention a Roger Gosenhul. In 1339 we find a reference in Shrewsbury to a Richard de Gosenhull. It is interesting to note that this is the earlier form of the name, including the territorial "de". In the 1400s, a Roland Gosenhul was sent to run the priory at Much Wenlock. The Shropshire Gosnell's have a coat of arms that is very similar to that of the Suffolk Gosnold's - identifying them as sure relatives, but the Shropshire arms are simpler and presumed to be the earlier. The arms are described as "per pale arg. & az. (Wood)" and "per pale arg. & sa. (Wood)". Edward Gosnell who was the mayor of Shrewsbury in 1682 bore the arms "per pale indented or & az." The earliest mentions of Gosnells in Shropshire parish registers is of a Robert Gosenell, who baptised five children in Bridgnorth between 1557 and 1571 and a Henry Gosnell who married Ursulowe Bromley in Condover in 1586, and Gosnells can be traced in the county until the present day.
It was in Suffolk, however, that the Gosnold's became the most established and indications have been found of a Gosnold presence in north-east Suffolk as early as the mid-12th century. In a compilation entitled "Pleas Before the King and His Justices, 1198-1212" Volume IV, a record is found concerning a dispute between Stephen de Freton and "William, son of Adam" concerning a "plea of land". The book records essoigns made by de Freton. This essoign is an excuse for not appearing in court on a set day, and is presented to the court by an essoigner. Three essoigns are found concerning de Freton's case, one made by "David Gosinal" (#3137), one by David "filius Daniellis" (#3988) and one by David "Parvus" (#3966). Parvus means "the Young one". It seems very likely that these all refer to the same person, the differing references being fairly common in that era. This leads us to conclude that David Gosinal, the son of Daniel lived in Freton (Freton is now called Fritton, a village in Lothingland Hundred in northeast Suffolk). Other essoigns involving David Parvus as early as 1199 date Daniel to the mid-1100's.
In 1228, the Curia Rolls record a Henry de Gosenhal' as a resident of northeast Suffolk and the Potuli Hundredorum (Hundred Rolls) of Suffolk in 1275 contains a William Gosenol holding land in Lowestoft jointly with a Henry Molend. In the Hundred Rolls we also find an Alan de Gosenhale and his son Henry who hold land at Sotterley. The son, Henry, is said to have been the clerk of the bailiff of Wangford Hundred, John de Gatesden and is noted to have a daughter named Theophania. Another reference at Sotterley is found in 1327, in the Subsidy Lists of Suffolk, which mention a William de Gosenhale in Sotterley, as well as a John Gosenol in Chediston in Blything Hundred. Two more early references have been found; an Agnes de Gosenhale holds properties in Ringsfield in Wangford Hundred in 1346 and in 1390 a Simon Gosnoll is found in Huntingfield, in Blything Hundred.
From this point on, references to the Suffolk Gosnolds in English documents occur in the areas of Clopton and Otley, about 8 miles north of Ipswich. The will of a Thomas Gosenell of Clopton, dated 20 December 1464, was probated on 9 February 1465. This mentions his wife, Isabell, and his son William. The man at the head of the known Suffolk pedigree, however, was a John Gosnold who was living at Otley Hall in 1430 according to E. Farrer in his Old Suffolk Houses vol 6. This John owned property both in Otley and in Clopton. His son, also John, is referred to in 1491 as "John Gosenoll fil. John Gosenoll de Ottley" (he is the holder of the sinecure office of Steward at Framsden, to the north of Otley). The arms of these Gosnolds is the same as that of the Shropshire Gosnells except that they are quartered with those of the Person family (quartered with argent, a fleur-de-lis sable charged with three bezants) indicating that a Person heiress married into the Gosnold family near this time. A full list of the descendents of John Gosnold has been traced in the research of Warner F. Gookin, published in Ancestry of Bartholomew Gosnold, New England Historic Genealogical Register vol 105 pp5-22 and J. Henry Lee in Genealogical Gleanings Among the English Archives, New England Historic Genealogical Register vol 56 pp 402.
The family built themselves up through a series of advantageous marriages into a noble family based in Otley Hall Two of the most notable were that of a Robert Gosnold to Ursula Naunton, and their son John Gosnold to Winifred Windsor. Through the Nauntons, the Gosnolds were connected to the de Veres (Earls of Oxford), the Wingfields and the Berties (Lords of Willoughby). Winifred Windsor was the sister of Edward, Lord Windsor. This was the heyday of the family and lasted until the Civil War in the 17th century when the alliance with the Royalist cause undid the family and eventually they sold Otley Hall.
The most famed Gosnold in this period was Bartholomew, an early adventurer to the New World, landing at Cape Cod in 1602, some twenty years before the Pilgrims (and responsible for its prosaic name, as well as that of the more playful Martha's Vineyard, after his daughter), and one of the founders of the first permanent colonial settlement in Jamestown, Virginia where he died.
Much of this material was obtained from Chris Gosnell who in turn took most from a manuscript prepared by Don Carney, the Carney Genealogy which has not, to my knowledge, been published. Chris also used some material from a pamphlet entitled "The House of Gosnell" written by the late Mae Barrett, and a brochure "Through the Fragrant Years, A History of the house of Gosnell 1677-1947", produced by John Gosnell & Co. Ltd. Chris Bailey assisted him with the American lineages.