When I started my journey into my family’s past I never expected to find riches and grand families. Indeed, what I love about genealogy is that it enables us to home in on the ‘little’ people, and to find the extraordinary in their seemingly ordinary lives. I soon realised that this ‘bottom up’ focus was the difference between Genealogy and the History I studied to ‘A’ Level at school. Yet we cannot really understand our ancestors’ lives without knowing something of that social and political backdrop which is the stuff of formalised history studies: the local history, the manorial system, changing governments and their legislation and increasingly, as we travel back further in time, the whims, decisions, abuses and power of the monarch.
Today, as the coronation of Charles III as King of the United Kingdom takes place at Westminster Abbey, I thought it would be interesting to focus on the kings and queens of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and to see how that history merges with and indeed shaped the world our ancestors knew.
Let’s start with a YouTube video from UsefulCharts about the British Monarchy Family Tree: Medieval Kings of England & Scotland to Charles III. This deals with the succession of the monarchy from Anglo-Saxon times right through to present day.
At 30 minutes long, the video requires a little investment of time, but the family tree chart is absolutely brilliant, allowing the narrator to whizz up and down and from side to side as he explains very clearly the sometimes complex events and reasons leading to the passing of the throne from one king or queen to the next. Even if your grasp of all this is quite sketchy, you’re sure to meet people whose names you know, and you’ll start to see how they all fit together. In my case, studying heraldry and pedigrees, and getting to grips with the cataloguing of official documents according to the regnal years dating system forced me to familiarise myself with some of the medieval monarchs. However, in this chart you’ll also meet Macbeth, ‘Lady Macbeth’ and Duncan, as well as Alfred the Great; and you’ll be able to untangle the relationship between Aethelred the Unready and King Canute, and the events that led from them to the invasion of William the Conqueror. There were also some female monarchs about whom I knew very little: Lady Jane Grey, Queen Anne and – for shame – I am one of those people who thought Mary Queen of Scots and Mary I of England (the older sister of Elizabeth I, also known as ‘Bloody Mary’) were the same person. If you never really understood how William of Orange came to be next in line to the English throne, or how George I came to be king (he is in fact descended from the Stuarts and the Plantagenets, but not on the direct male line), this video will clarify everything. Finally, I hadn’t previously realised that it was the accession of Henry VIII to the throne that brought an end to the War of the Roses, since he was of both the House of York via his mother and that of Lancaster via his father. This also explains why the Tudor Rose, or Rose of England combines the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of Yorkshire at its heart.
Other monarchs feature in events more personal to my own family research. For example Edward ‘The Black Prince’ has a special place at the heart of my home town, Leeds – although no one really knows why! A large bronze statue of the Prince in City Square was unveiled in 1903 to mark Leeds’s new city status. Then there’s Henry of Lancaster who, via a circuitous route, had inherited the Manor of Leeds. Consequently, in 1399 when he was crowned Henry IV, Leeds became a royal manor, remaining so until 1629. Watching the video I see that Edward The Black Prince is the older brother of Henry IV’s father – John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster – who, as mentioned above, had by chance become lords of the Manor of Leeds… and that seems to be as close a connection as we’ll ever find. Nevertheless, the statue is much-loved, and on a personal note I’m pleased to have done my part in clearing that up…
My knowledge of the Jacobite Uprising has largely been informed by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (it turns out I’m not as high brow as you might have imagined), and I already knew of a tenuous link from this to my own ancestry: on 24th September 1745, my 7x great grandfather, the Reverend Lister Simondson, was one of the Association at York Castle who pledged funds to raise a militia against the Jacobite Threat.
I wonder if this video sparks off any connections, tenuous or otherwise, to your own ancestry?
If you enjoyed the above video I also found a couple of shorter ones. The first focuses on the more recent connections: the descendants of Queen Victoria, who feature in the royal families of all of the European monarchies and kingdoms. You’ll see footage of George V and Tsar Nicholas: first cousins, and looking uncannily alike, as well as lookalikes Edward VII and his nephew Kaiser Wilhelm II (also therefore George V’s first cousin, as well as third cousin to Nicholas II).
And finally, a little more information about the descent of House names, and specifically Charles III’s technical connection via his father to the House of Glücksburg, although he will maintain the Windsor name. In both these videos you’ll see how marriages were far from love matches, but a means of building empires and wealth. In this they are simply grander and more pan-European examples of the kind of pedigree charts we have in this country.
You simply can’t do advanced genealogical research without having an understanding of the importance of this historical backdrop, and at least knowing where you can go to look it up, so if any of this is new to you, I hope you’ve found this little selection of videos useful and interesting. Preparing it has certainly clarified some things for me.
On an unrelated matter…
If any of you are in Leeds, and might be free for an hour next Thursday 11th May 2023, at lunchtime, I’ll be giving a talk about my research on one of my own ancestral lines, the kinds of records I used, and what I learned about seventeenth century Leeds and Woodhouse in the process.
If you’re interested, please see all the information and reserve a (free) ticket [here].