Little is known of the origin of the William Peverell the Elder. Of his immediate family, only the name of a brother, Robert, is known. J. R. Planché derives the surname from the Latin puerulus, the diminutive form of puer (a boy), thus "a small boy", or from the Latin noun piper, meaning "pepper".
William Peverel was a favourite of William the Conqueror. He was greatly honoured after the Norman Conquest, and received as his reward over a hundred manors in central England from the king. In 1086, the Domesday Book records William as holding the substantial number of 162 manors, forming collectively the Honour of Peverel, in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, including Nottingham Castle. He also built Peveril Castle, Castleton, Derbyshire. William Peverel is amongst the people explicitly recorded in the Domesday Book as having built castles.
William married Adeline, who bore him four children: two sons both named William, one dying without issue, the other often called William Peverel the Younger, born circa 1080, and two daughters, Maud and Adeliza, who married Richard de Redvers.