So today we get to talk about the second theme for each month–only I haven’t quite decided what to call it. Every other theme has a nice tidy gerund for a title (like yesterday’s “Reading”), but this one is proving elusive. Reminiscing? Revisiting? It will come to me. In the meantime, I can tell you that once a month I’ll be posting an entry about ancestors behaving badly–my ancestors, to be specific.
My family is crazy into genealogy. We’ve always had stories passed along, but things didn’t really get cooking until ROOTS. After that my parents made a point of chasing down the lineage on both sides. Luckily, we had cousins who were similarly afflicted, and I had my Colonial Dames and DAR pedigrees handed to me, complete. (I’ve since left both organizations. I’m also eligible for Daughters of the Republic of Texas and Daughters of the Confederacy but will not pursue membership in either.)
One of the interesting things to turn up in the research was the presence of what’s known as a ‘gateway’ ancestor. Simply put, this is an ancestor who opens up a documented lineage, usually to someone famous. Our gateway ancestor is a Revolutionary War colonel who is descended from the Plantagenets–not the later, Wars of the Roses, York v. Lancaster types, but the early ones. Our last royal is King Edward I, my 21st-great-grandfather. (The line comes down through his son Thomas of Brotherton.)
The lovely thing is that having Edward I in the chart means we can map out the lineage FAR beyond since his family is very well known. For some lines this takes us back to the 700s–an utterly bizarre notion when you think about it. To know who your family was for the past 1300 years is stunning. (This is where I should also point out that MILLIONS of people are descended from Edward I. The descent itself is not what’s remarkable, it’s the knowledge of it that is a privilege.)
And what sort of ancestor was Edward I? Depends on whom you ask. To an Englishman, he was “Longshanks”, the tall, intimidating soldier-king who reformed medieval administration and attempted to stamp out the rising power of the barons. To those north of the border, he was the Hammer of the Scots, a tyrant who interfered with their autonomy and stole the Stone of Scone. (And don’t even ask the Welsh…) Like most effective medieval kings, he was ruthless when it served him and capable of brutality he justified in the name of security.
But I’m more interested in Edward as a gateway to the ancestors–particularly the women–who came before. There were saints and concubines, queens and heiresses. Some were crowned, some were canonized, and some were executed. There are those who conjured crowns almost out of thin air, and those who slaughtered their enemies as easily as they changed their petticoats. Some met death in their beds after long and tumultuous lives while others encountered far more painful and dramatic fates. One burned her enemies alive in a church, another was the first recorded female prisoner in the Tower of London. Some eventually took the veil, some died in childbed, and some went on Crusade. An interesting crew, don’t you think? (I also have a few ancestors who were not famous but inclined to murder, bank robbery, horse thievery, and general mayhem. We’ll eventually get to them as well.)
But let’s circle back briefly to Edward I. He was born 729 years before me–to the day. He is buried at Westminster Abbey, and I realized that when I visit this summer, for the first time I won’t be just standing in front of a historic royal tomb. I’ll be paying my respects at a family grave.