I’m afraid I am going to be insufferable from now on. And you may have to curtsey next time you meet me. After a little rummaging around in our ancestor closet, it turns out that via my mother’s beloved grandmother we can travel back through a long line of Earls to King Edward the 1st of England (1272-1307). And before you ask. No. We didn’t start out on ‘the wrong side of the blanket’. The cheek.
But more interesting than the crabby old Plantagenet King Eddy the 1st (a bad tempered man who tried to destroy the Scots – he is the baddy in the movie Braveheart), we’ve discovered a whole host of colorful courtiers along the way including a few feisty women. My favorites include Joan Plantagenet aka The Fair Maid of Kent (1328-1385) who eloped with her boyfriend age 12 against her parents wishes and became Princess of Aquitaine and the mother of King Richard 2. And another daredevil woman called Lettice Knollys (1543-1634), Countess of Essex and Leicester, who was Queen Elizabeth 1st’s lady-in waiting. In defiance of the queen’s wishes, Letty married Earl Robert Dudley, the man everyone thought the queen had the hots for. After Dudley’s death, Letty married a poor soldier 12 years her junior. It was a happy marriage until Queen Elizabeth 1 executed him and Letty’s son in quick succession (revenge – anyone?).
Why am I telling you all this, other than its fun to brag about having some blue blood coursing in my veins? Well, what struck me most looking back through this list is that it includes so many fighting knights and earls. If you have been following my past life adventures on this blog, you’ll know I’ve had quite a few swashbuckling experiences in my past lives. They took me completely by surprise. I had expected to be a solitary, quiet figure – sort of reclusive monk. But in one life I saw myself as a man in an Elizabethan doublet with a sword in my hand lying wounded in a puddle. In another I was a big barrel chested merchant drowning at sea after being sucked out of my own big wooden boat. I thought I was seeing myself in previous incarnations. But looking at this ancestor list, I am wondering were these memories of my relatives? Are our ancestors lives encoded in our DNA? Certainly more gets handed down than we think. If you read my recent post ‘Memories’, about the family’s visit to Longtown in the North of England (in pursuit of information about this same great grandmother), you’ll recall we found a lovely lady Pat Kirkup who is connected to us about 200 years back. Eerily and quite magically, Pat and her bother Billy have some of the same facial features as our family, and even stranger some of the same gestural tics too.
10 days later …
Back to old clothes and porridge. Turns out we are commoners after all. My 90 year old dad, with the nose of a blood hound retraced the line and found there is a glitch in the thread. Instead of royals, we are a family of artisans, poets, architects, engineers and farmers. Nevertheless it has been a profound and eye opening experience. After the delirium of thinking our ancestors danced at court and birthed royals, a slight unease settled over us. I began to wonder about my own values. Did these new found relatives matter more because of their social status? At first they did. But on closer inspection some were fairly repugnant people. Especially King Edward 1. A man so terrifying that one of his courtiers died of a heart attack in his presence. Mum and I chatted about what really mattered. And we decided the person we liked most of our new relatives was Pat, the sister of a butcher in Longtown. A woman who showed extraordinary kindness when we turned up on her doorstep unexpectedly. Salt of the earth as the saying goes. So the books on Lettice Knollys, the Plantagenets and the Fair Maid of Kent have all been sent back. Nevertheless my dad is still burrowing away trying to find if we are related to a Scottish queen. Someone admirable. Someone who marries grace and goodness with a seat at the top.