Me From The Mists of Time

Jan 15, 2018 by Brenda Wilbee, in Family History

I EMERGE FROM THE MISTS OF TIME, dating back to 5th and 6th centuries, for I come from the very first kings and queens of England, Scotland, and France. But it's from John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roet that my heritage seems to revolve, ironically the first English generation not royalty. Yet these 18th great-grandparents of mine have become, for me, the centerpiece of a complicated family tree firmly rooted in the United Kingdom with numerous graftings from France and much of Northern Europe. But here it is from the beginning.
King CerdicI DESCEND FROM THE VERY FIRST kings and queens going back 38 and 42 generations. My first English great-grandfather is King Cerdic of Wessex, and from his monarchy comes all the kings and queens today.

My most important French great-grandfather is Charlemagne who, before his death, united by hook or by crook most all of Europe, creating the Carolingian Empire—and enforcing Christianity onto all his subjects. Simultaneously, though, he seeded the Carolingian Renaissance, a cultural and intellectual revival, bringing Europe out of the Dark Ages. 

My Scottish grandfather, King Kenneth I, increased King Alpin's fiefdom and founded Scotia (ancient Scotland) in and is regarded as Scotland’s very first king. Still, the Scottish timeline begins with Alpin and so from both the French King Charlemnagne, the Engish King Cerdic, and the Scottish King Alpin, I hopscotch down through the centuries: In France for about 800 years through the royal houses of Charlemagne, Robert, and Capet, in England for about 600 years via the royal Houses of Wessex, Norman, Angevin, and Plantaganet; in Scotland some 500 years via Clans Dunkeld, Canmore, Balliol, and Bruce. Robert the Bruce was my last royal great-grandfather. 
 
King Albert the Great
Some of my more illustrious English grandfathers are Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, John Lackland (who’s cruelty and bad behavior prompted the Magna Carta), and Richard the Lionheart. A notorious grandmother was Isabella of France, married to my grandfather King Edward II. She did not like him much (and who can blame her?). Under guise of diplomatic mission she returned to France, took a lover (exiled for bad behavior), and together they crossed the channel with an army so large it scared off all the King’s men. She immediately deposed her husband and later had him barbarically and brutally murdered in the Tower so that she and Roger Mortimer could act as regents for her fourteen-year-old son, King Edward III. King Edward III's son, John of Guant, is where I tumble out of British royalty:
 
Robert the BruceOn the Scottish side I’d already fallen into obscurity 100 years before that. King Robert the Bruce is my last Scottish royal grandfather. A man Netflix has undertaken to showcase in their upcoming Outlaw King, which they're billing as a "true David v Goliath story of how the great 14th century Scottish ‘Outlaw King’ Robert The Bruce used cunning and bravery to defeat and repel the much larger and better equipped occupying English army.” What isn't said here is that Grandfather Robert the Bruce was up against Grandfather Edward II—aeventually murdered by his own wife, the "She Wolf" Queen Maragaret of France.
(More on the movie can be found at Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/80190859

Edward II's son, Edward III, my last English royal grandfather, however, was the opposite of his dad. He and Robert the Bruce were regarded as heroes and both were dearly loved. Probably the most adored kings in their time. I'm glad to leave the royal family trees on a good note.

Still, I didn't fall far from either tree. On both sides I remain cousins to royalty, and my dual ancestry is reinforced because they intermittently intermarried—English royalty with Scottish, Scottish with English—with a lot of French and virtually every Europeans thrown in. The two crowns of England and Scotland finally merged in 1603 when my British cousins ran out of heirs. We’re all fairly familiar with the basic precepts of this particular story. My cousin, King Henry VIII, went through his six wives and a break from the Catholic Church in order to begat a promising male heir. This never happened. Upon his death, his young and sickly son Edward VI, then Mary, and finally the “Virgin” Queen Elizabeth succeeded him. All three died without issue, leaving England without a royal heir.

King James VI and IThe crown was forced, then, in 1603 to slide sideways from Queen Elizabeth I to her Scottish cousin—also my half cousin, King James VI. The crown slid his direction for two reasons: he descended from two of John of Gaunt and Katherine’s grandchildren. 1) On the English side, through their grandson John. 2) On the Scottish side, from their granddaughter Joan. Though the two countries hated each other, their thrones were united in 1603 under Mary Queen of Scot's son, renamed King James VI of Scotland, I of England—and from him come every king and queen since. (NOTE: Not a fan. While he had the Bible translated into the King James version, he burned as many as 3,000 women at the stake for being witches. He was obssessed with this.)

So what actually happened to me? My fall from the French line happened because I descend from King Philip's daughter, none other than the She Wolf of France who took a bad-ass lover and murdered her hubby King Edward II. I fell out of the Scots royal line because I descend from Robert the Bruce's daughter Matilda. I dropped out of English royalty because I descend from John of Gaunt, third son of King Edward III rather than his first. I was, however, grafted back in three times to keep my cousin thing going.
 
King James I
First Grafting: The first grafting was when John and Katherine’s granddaughter Joan (my cousin) married King James Stewart I of Scotland in 1424. He was brutally assassinated. She was injured trying to protect him but survived and married Scotland’s Black Knight, Sir James Stewart—my grandfather. Hang on, this gets confusing. By marrying The Black Knight, Joan, my cousin, became my grandmother.

Second Grafting: The second grafting came about when and Katherine’s great-great grandson ended the War of Roses and crowned himself King Henry IV. The throne until then had been held by John of Gaunt’s first wife’s children, but was now held by John’s offspring with Katherine, my kin.

 
Joan of Kent
Third Grafting: Three: The third grafting happened when my 19th great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Holland, died. His beautiful wife, my grandmother Joan of Kent—known as the Fair Maiden of Kent—remarried John of Gaunt's brother, heir to the throne. He died before his time and so was mother to the boy King Richard II, John of Guant, his uncle, his regent. Joan of Kent, originally my grandmother, became my grandfather's sister-in-law. And we're right back to John of Gaunt and his beautiful mistress and wife, Catherine deRoet Sywnford Beaufort—and all kings and queens since. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip both descend from them, making us cousins.

As to my other family, I have always been frustrated by the lack of story in these less recognizable forebears. For instance, what of my 4th great-grandfather George Wilbee, born in 1763? He was grocery store owner. What else? The sketchy storyline of Isabella Pettigrew Goodfellow has always driven me crazy. She weeded turnips at the Big House in Denholm, Scotland, in her bare feet when she was sixteen years old, this I know. Her stepbrother raped her. Or was it consensual? See? So little detail to the drama! But when I bumped into royalty and out rolled the stories in all their brutality and treachery, their inspiration and innovative.

My lineage may stem back to the kings and queens of Europe but my heritage is largely that of hard-working peasants, clerks, business men and womnen, farmers, carpenters, and scholars. 

These are the stories I now seek!