In this time of national unrest and general horror, I have immersed myself in studying my ancestry. Losing yourself in what grandpa and grandma were doing 800 years ago does wonders for not having to think about what's going on in Washington DC right this minute.
That has been a very strange experience. I thought I was descended from farmers and laborers, salt of the earth plodders, pioneers, good German stock, some Scotch-Irish, maybe a little English, and some French on my father's side. Oh, baby, I wasn't even close. Generally, maybe, but when you get back in antiquity, my ancestors were not, for the most part, farmers and laborers. Eight hundred years ago, they were quite literally running the world.
My father used to tell me, "Remember who you are. We are descended from the dukes of Normandy." Yeah, right. My father was not famous for sticking to reality when telling family stories. I figured he extrapolated that from the family name, Lovier, which was originally de Louviers, and Louviers is a town in Normandy. On his father's side. Grandma kind of got swept under the rug except for having pioneer stock. No glitter and glamour there. He had no clue. Imagine my surprise when I began digging and found that on her side, we really were descended from "the dukes of Normandy" -- William the Conqueror was our ancestral grandfather -- and then some. I got very far back because there are excellent records of all of them. It was a snap to find out enormous amounts of information. All I had to do was Google them and there they were, in Wikipedia and Burke's Peerage and Britannica and the records of the British Parliament. They are there running France and England and Norway and Scotland and Wales and Ireland as kings and queens, as Archbishops of Canterbury, Earls, Dukes, Barons, even saints. I was floored.
Some of them provided fodder for playwrights. Macbeth was my first cousin. Duncan and Malcolm, my great-grandfathers. Shakespeare's story is not historically accurate because Duncan, though killed by his nephew Macbeth, died in war, not murdered as a houseguest. Macbeth ruled for twenty years as a very good king with a record of peace and prosperity. Twenty years later, he, too, was murdered out of revenge, by Duncan's son Malcolm, who thought it was he who should be king. And so he was. Remember the play/film, A Lion in Winter? My great grandparents. Not only Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane, but also their horrible son John. (In order to contain the overreach of John, several of my ancestral grandfathers not only produced the Magna Carta, but knowing John had no intention of actually following it, formed a group called the surety and enforced it.) Henry II's illegitimate son with his ward, Ida de Toeny, Willam Longespee, was also my great-grandfather. I'm a direct descendant of the Plantagenets from Geoffrey of Anjou down through Edward I.
Two of King John's offspring are my direct ancestors -- Henry III, and John's illegitimate daughter, Joan, who married Llewellyn ap Iowerth, prince of Wales. Joan had an affair with another of my great-grandfathers, William de Braose, who Llewellyn hanged because of it. De Braose was married to Eva Marshal, whose father, William Marshal, served 5 kings and was also regent of England twice -- once during my uncle Richard the Lionheart's absence on crusade and again when John died and Henry III, at 9, was too young to actually do the job of king. He was the polar opposite of John -- a man of deep morality and integrity. When he died, the Archbishop of Canterbury eulogized him as "The Greatest Knight" who ever lived. He's one of my favorites. His wonderfully gutsy wife, Isabelle de Clare, ties me to the high kings of Ireland, my great grandfathers.
Did I tell you about my great-grandfater Fulk FitzWarin? He was so mad at King John he became an outlaw -- he was the real person on whom the story of Robin Hood was based. My great-grandmother Maud le Vavaseur, who went with him, was the model for Maid Marian. I have some powerful women grandmothers in that line.
A couple of the grandfathers I am particularly proud of were prison inmates: Dr. Thomas John Bonham, who was a member of parliament, was sent to Newgate prison for insisting that surgeons (he was one) were also physicians, but sued and won and ever after, surgeons are known to also be physicians; and The Rev. John Lothropp, who went to prison (The Clink, no less) for insisting that church and state must be separate, and was finally deported to the colonies where he had a part in ensuring that separation of church and state was the law in the newly forming country. Maybe that's why that one has always been so important to me.
As you can see, my branch of the family left Europe for America. Several of them, the Fullers, sailed on the Mayflower. Edward Fuller, my grandfather, did not survive more than a few weeks after landing, and his wife died even faster. That was a hard voyage and there were illnesses here they had not encountered before. Their son, Samuel, went to live with his uncle Samuel, who was the first physician in the new colony -- he had managed to get medical training before sailing because he knew they would need a doctor. The younger Samuel, who is my direct ancestor, grew up to marry Jane Lothropp, daughter of the Rev. John. Many other ancestors arrived within the next few years. They fought in the revolutionary war. They founded the country, shaped the constitution. They fought on both sides of the civil war. They made their way west via Tennessee and Kentucky and Indiana and settled in California, where I was born five generations later. It went downhill from there.
And yes, way back there in antiquity, Attila the Hun really was my ancestral great-grandpa. Who knew?
Attila image: Google images