Sunday 16 September 2012

A Ramble Round The Shire

Long ago there were a couple of times when a visit to the Leicestershire County Council offices were required.  Going round the back to park, it was no more than an ordinary building in an ordinary street of a drab midlands town. 

The name “Greyfriars” should have meant something but it did not apart from wondering why the County Education Department should call itself after Billy Bunter’s comic school.  It was much later that I realised the history.

If the local archaeologists are right it is possible that I, along with thousands of others, have walked over the grave of King Richard III, who died at the Battle of Bosworth, known to me as a cycle ride to a town with a couple of decent pubs.

In the press coverage of the discovery of human remains which are consistent with what is known about Richard there have been some to say that he should be remembered as “the last English King”.  Which has me puzzled. 

The genealogy of the royal and associated families of the 15th Century and earlier is far too complex for a shortish post but it depends on what you mean by “English”.  English by residence, maybe, and by territorial possessions and title, also; but by descent and caste of mind, perhaps not?

A great deal of it and the Wars of the Roses, turn on the fact that Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence (not the one who finished in the wine tub), the second son of King Edward III left an only daughter as heiress, whose claim so the throne was simply ignored when King Richard II was overthrown and died.

If you track back from the King Richard III of a century later you find his ancestry on both paternal and maternal sides in the royal and high magnate families in England.  They were clearly part of and intermarried amongst the elite of Europe and could be regarded as a Norman Plantagenet caste that had held power since 1066.

Apart from King Richard II the norm was for the royal arms to have the Fleurs de Lys of France in the first quarter suggesting not just affiliation but a latent claim to that thrown.  The three lions in the second quarter derive from the Arms of Anjou and this is in France.  King Richard II made the mistake of putting the arms of King Edward the Confessor into his which provided his rivals with useful propaganda.

This elite spoke as much French or more than English, it courts and houses had decorations, music and literature from France and indeed many of its notions about manners and chivalry came from that source. 

The religion was that of Rome and centred on the Pope and for much of the 14th Century the Pope was at Avignon, theoretically independent but in effect relying on the King of France for guidance and protection. 

The spiritual home of faith was Jerusalem, at least in the mind.  Moreover, The Church in that period in its power, land holdings, economic and financial influence was very much the public sector of the period.

To return to family, when the Tudor (Welsh) King Henry VII assumed power after the death of King Richard III his wife was in theory English as well has his Beaufort mother, albeit both being members of the same group of families.  All of King Henry VIII’s six wives were descended from King Edward I, including Ann Boleyn.

Of any of them, probably Ann had more English based ancestors than most.  These were notably from the families of Welles, Bullen, Hoo and further back the Waterton’s.  So when Queen Elizabeth I was claiming to be “English”, certainly in her female line she had a better case that any of her predecessors.

If you are looking for one of the Stuart most notable ancestors, you could try the very English St. Margaret of Scotland.  Alas you can no longer find her remains, the Scots wrecked her shrine at Dunfermline and scattered them to be lost forever.

Things are not always what they appear to be in families.

1 comment:

  1. Another car park is being excavated here in Scotland.

    For the EU THING Project

    Taxpayers cash is being wasted while the infrastructure of the Highlands rots