Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Happy Christmas Foula

The Shetland island of Foula has continued to follow the Julian calendar, going back to the Romans, long after the rest of the country gave it up. 

The residents of Great Britain’s remotest inhabited island will celebrate Christmas on January 6, nearly a fortnight after the rest of the UK and much of the world in accordance with a centuries-old tradition.

The 30 or so people who live on the island of Foula in Shetland celebrate their winter festivals according to the Julian calendar, which was abandoned by the rest of Scotland in 1600 and was last observed in 1752 in England and Ireland when the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

Foula adhered to the Julian calendar by keeping 1800 as a leap year, but it did not observe a leap year in 1900. As a result, Foula is now one day ahead of the Julian calendar and 12 days behind the Gregorian, celebrating Christmas on January 6 and New Year on January 13.

Every Christmas Day, all the islanders congregate in one house where they exchange gifts and sing songs. The group includes ten children.

Inhabitants of the island, which is situated 200 miles north of John O’Groats in Scotland, and twenty miles west south west of the other Shetland islands, preserve a strong Norse cultural tradition of music, festive foods and folklore tales. Their ancestors spoke Norn, an ancient form of the Old Norse language, until the start of the 19th century.

The northern isles were acquired by the Scottish Crown in 1469-72 as part of the marriage settlement of King James III and his Queen Margaret of Denmark. Foula itself remained under Norse udal law till the late 16th century (when Scottish laird Robert Cheyne acquired Foula from the last Norse owner, Gorvel Fadersdatter), the Old Norse language was commonly spoken until the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The island’s Old Norse (ON) name is Fugla-ey – ‘bird island’; Noup is gnípr – a steep mountain with overhanging top; and Kame is kambr – a comb or crested ridge of hills. The last person to speak Norn was thought to be Jeannie Ratter (née Manson), who died in 1926.

Jacob Jacobsen, the Faroese linguist, visited Foula in 1894. He "found the folk lively, intelligent and of excellent memory" and corresponded with Robert Gear for many years. At the end of the 19th century, the island supported over 250 people.

Adapted by the Clever Boy from an article on the website of The Independent, from Wikipedia and from the website shetlandvisitor.com

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Bishop Barron on "The Two Popes"

I do not watch Netflix- it looks to be a very dubious outfit - though I hope to make an exception for their recent production of "The King" as a retelling of Shakespeare’s account of the career of King Henry V.

On the basis of the article on Zenit yesterday by Bishop Robert Barron I am most definitely not inclined to want to watch, let alone actually do so, Netflix’s "The Two Popes". I am only posting this to draw attention to the Bbishop’s critique of what would appear to be a dreadful travesty of Papal personalities and politics. You might do better (sic) with the recent saga on that much maligned Papal family the Borgias...

Bishop Barron’s article can be read at https://zenit.org/articles/bishop-barron-the-one-pope/?

Friday, 3 January 2020

A Duchess called Gladys...

Today’s Mail Online has an article based on the new version or edition of Hugo Vickers’ biography of Gladys ( pronounced Glaydus by her husband ) the second wife and Duchess of the ninth Duke of Marlborough. 

The American-born Duchess was responsible for the parterre and water garden on the west side of Blenheim Palace, which is decorated with sphinxes bearing her famous profile, and for the painting of her famously blue eyes and those of the Duke on the coffering of the portico on the north, entrance side of the Palace.

I skim-read the earlier version of the biography when it first came out and this new account looks a tempting read for the future. I wonder if the shop at Blenheim will stock it.

The online article “Socialite Gladys Deacon plotted for 15 years to wed married Duke” can be viewed at https://mol.im/a/7850041

Medieval Clothing

By chance last night I came across this post and its attendant links on Pinterest and I think they are worth sharing with others.

In one sense old clothes are always a bit dismal to look at being, of their essence, past their best, but in another, and much more important sense these are wonderful. That they have survived at all is amazing, given the fragility of their nature. In most cases they are from the wardrobes of the social elites of their respective eras, but that fact has enabled their survival and gives a glimpse of the past. Some I had seen before (and in the case of Emperor Louis IV’s dalmatic featured on this blog) but others were a revelation - not least the Empress Matilda’s tunic with its Imperial eagles.

Above all they are a reminder of the richness of the material culture of medieval Europe. Too easily we forget this due to the scarcity of surviving evidence, and the contemporary tendency to underestimate the achievements of previous eras. 

As the saying goes, enjoy....


Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Queen’s Ancestry

The question and answer site Quora has this piece which makes rather interesting reading, so I have copied and pasted it, with occasional minor typographical emendations:

"Who were the ancestors of the current British Queen, the French or the Germans?"

Michael Ruby, a researcher in the field answered on November 18th last year:

Before considering the ethnic background of her ancestors, I want to explain an aspect of Her Majesty’s genealogy that may surprise you. She is mostly non-Royal. If we group her 2,048 11th generation ancestors, as William Addams Reitwiesner has, we find 1,254 non-royals (~61.23%) and only 794 royals.[1]

I’ll discuss the royals shortly. For right now, suffice it to say that it is very difficult to devise a consistent way to assign an ethnicity or nation to historical royals. They moved around a lot. Borders moved around a lot. Also, their known ancestry long predates the concept of the nation-state, so even a consistent method will be wrong.

It is therefore useful to work backwards in time, looking first at how non-royals became ancestors of royals in the 20th century, then following the same trend back for many centuries.

The nationalisation of the Firm:

794 out of Elizabeth II’s 2,048 11th generation ancestors were English, including quite a few from English background who lived in the North American colonies. 160 were Irish, including Anglo-Irish. Also some Scots.

These ancestors come entirely from her mother’s side. Before she was HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, she was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Her marriage to the then Duke of York was reflective of an understandable post-World War mood in Britain--to stem the "foreignness" of the Royal Family.

The plan basically worked, and while there are still people who irritatingly point out "Actually, They’re Germans!", it’s not nearly as bad as it would have been had the royal houses of Europe kept on marrying each other for another hundred years. Imagine a Brexit-like vote in a world where the Queen spoke German natively and there had just been a royal wedding between the young British heir and a Romanian princess. "Leave" might have been a republican movement.

As it stands, Prince George and siblings are about 78% British, as the ancestry from Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Duchess of Cambridge are nearly 100% British. Diana had some Armenian, though, and perhaps Gujarati.[2]

Wealth, fame, sex, alliance: Royals have always married non-royals

Now to the non-British, non-royal ancestry.

Here are the complete ancestry percentages for Elizabeth II, according to Reitwiesner:

38.769 531 25 % English
38.769 531 25 % Royal
6.25 % Anglo-Irish
6.25 % Hungarian
3.759 765 625 % French
2.880 859 375 % German
1.562 5 % Irish
0.439 453 125 % Dutch
0.439 453 125 % Scottish
0.292 968 75 % Danish
0.244 140 625 % Belgian
0.244 140 625 % Swedish
0.097 656 25 % Bohemian

See any surprises?

128 were Hungarian, ancestors of Claudine Rhédey von Kis-Rhéde, paternal grandmother of Queen Mary--George V’s consort. All of Claudine’s known ancestors were from the Hungarian nobility, primarily in Transylvania.

77 out of the 2,048 were French and 59 were German–all various wives and mistresses of royals, all with mostly non-royal ancestry.

So is the Queen really only ~3.76% French and ~2.88% German? Again, it depends on how we interpret the royals. These are specifically the non-royal French and non-royal German.

A lot of the French consists of the repeated ancestors of Eleanor Desmier d'Olbreuse, a minor noble who married the heir to Brunswick-Lüneburg and became the maternal grandmother of George II. The German ancestors have parallel stories--as do the Dutch, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish, and Bohemian commoners in her ancestry--basically minor noble women or army officers with little to no royal ancestry, who became associated with royals in much the way that non-royals do today, with wealth, fame, and sex.

Is "Royal" an ethnic group?:

Reitwiesner argues that "Royal", while not an ethnic group precisely, should be treated like one genealogically,

The only way they differ from other ethnic groups is that they are not geographically discrete, but in other respects they meet all the qualifications of an ethnic group: their shared rituals, their shared language(s), etc., and (most significant from a genealogical / genetic perspective) their mating habits. Until fairly recently, the only acceptable mate for a Royal, male or female, was another Royal. Royal = non-Royal matings which resulted in Royal offspring are notable primarily for their scarcity. For this reason, I have described someone whose ancestry is exclusively or primarily from this Royal caste to be of the "Royal" ethnic group. [3]

He goes on to say that if you don’t accept this notion, you can lump them in with the Germans. That would make Elizabeth II ~41.6% German, so, barely more than she is English, and not a majority.

I don’t agree that it can be called German, for two main reasons.

First, note that Reitwiesner’s numbers stop after Generation 11. That was, admittedly, enough work already. He showed that the 17th - 20th centuries all had a small steady influx of non-royal ancestry into royal families through major noble intermediaries. But there’s no evidence that this began in the 17th century. In fact, for a few regions of Europe, we know this was more common before the 17th century. Notably, in Britain itself.

While the Hanoverian Georges were quite German, Queen Anne and Queen Mary II had an English commoner mother, the Stuart/Tudor-allied maternal lines go primarily to Scottish and Welsh families of minor importance, and the Wars of the Roses saw the need for internal political alliances overwhelm any need for Continental relatives. Similar phenomena struck most European regions at various periods of internal strife--and it was always dominant in areas like Scandinavia and Poland where monarchs tended to be elected.

Reitwiesner lists George I of Great Britain as entirely Royal, which is not quite right. He was descended from Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had some royal ancestry but was primarily Scottish nobility. George was also descended from
Jacqueline de Longwy, of French noble (but not royal) abstraction. Also those Welsh Tudors, and some Czech commoners, long before his own 11th generation.

So Reitwiesner’s ~38% Royal number for the Queen is a bit of a high estimate. More non-royals come in the further we go back in time. Of course, some of those commoners in her mother’s ancestry wind up having a minor amount of lines (a millionth or so) coalescing back into royals, but not nearly as fast as royals accumulate non-royal ancestors.

Like Mary Towneley [Warner], ancestor of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (and George Washington) who is descended from William I The Lion of Scotland.[4] The Queen is descended from previous British royals through royal lines of course, but also through non-royal lines.

So the idea that a 19th century Western European royal descends only from 9th century Franks--essentially, all lines back to Charlemagne--is preposterous. Royal percentage fluctuates over time, but probably rarely approaches 100% in an individual.

Of course, 19th century royals did descend overwhelmingly from various early medieval kingdoms in and surrounding Charlemagne’s empire--including the Franks themselves and in marks from Spain to Italy to Lusatia. That idea does support a "Royal" ethnicity or caste. I don’t think it works to call the group "German". The people involved didn’t have that national identity, and were not limited to the bounds of what Germany is today. Post-Roman Germanic, including Franks, Saxons, Visigoths, and Lombards? Maybe.

But the exceptions make it quite likely that Elizabeth’s "German" proportion is well below her "English" proportion.

One last note. The reason you probably assumed French or German:


You’re likely thinking of the small but politically significant 1536870912 of her ancestry that is her direct royal line from William the Conqueror--or perhaps of the medieval period where French and English crowns intermarried frequently. While that line is one of the two reasons she has her crown (the other being Parliament), it is not more genealogically significant than the 536,870,911 other lines of that generation, or than the 1,000,000 or so known other lines from Elizabeth II to William I.

German? You may be confusing ancestry with patrilineage. While the House of Windsor was once the House of Wettin (via Saxe-Goburg and Gotha), the route of one’s father’s Y chromosome is hardly the only thing in ancestry.

It’s neither of these.

A person’s ancestry consists of the complete set of individuals to whom the person may be connected, tracing backward in time, by a series of 1 or more child-parent relationships.

As we see above, that’s way more complicated. And way more fun.

[1] The Ethnic ancestry of Prince William
[2] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mace-lab/g...
[3] The Ethnic ancestry of Prince William
[4] Ancestors of American Presidents: Gary Boyd Roberts: 9780936124148: Amazon.com: Books

Monday, 31 July 2017

Jacobite Exhibition in Edinburgh

The Daily Telegraph website has a feature about an exhibition of Jacobite relics and memorabilia that is on show in Edinburgh. The display Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites is the biggest exhibition on the subject in 70 years and is at the national Museum of Scotland until November 12th.

One of the highlights of what looks to be a wonderful display is what is believed to be a tartan coat worn by Prince Charles Edward in 1745. The illustrated article can be viewed here

The coat is made of silk velvet, linen and wool, and needed 160 hours of conservation work

The coat of Prince Charles Edward.
It is made of silk velvet, linen and wool, and needed 160 hours of conservation work
Image: National Museum of Scotland / Daily Telegraph


Sunday, 30 July 2017

Diaconal Ordination at Blackfriars

At lunchtime today I attended a Diaconal Ordination of three Dominican friars and two Franciscan  Conventuals at Blackfriars here in Oxford. The Archbishop of Liverpool, himself, of course, a Dominican, was the officiating prelate. it is always good to go and support young men as the embark on their life of ministry and this occasion was well attended.