I’ll start this lengthy column with a quote from G. Andrews Moriarty’s Alice Freeman article for the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, writtten in 1925:
“… in spite of the fact that ‘all men are created equal’ and in spite of the good old American contempt for royalty and the ‘effete nobility of Europe,’ the American genelaogical public have an exceedingly strong desire to deduce their descent by hook or by crook from the same ‘effete’ royal and noble houses of Europe. Furthermore, an investigation of these claims usually shows that not one in twenty of such pedigrees can stand up under the searching test of modern scientific investigation.”
The focus of this column is a consumer alert to a noxious form of genealogical literature and practice aimed squarely at middle America’s desire for illustrious ancestry. The publisher’s support for it is based upon how much money the books earn, not upon their reliability as references. The more lines, the wider the audience, which translates directly into more sales—and in many cases, the lines contain one or more illegitimate generations. By making an informed decision, you can avoid lining the pockets of genealogical predators.
Slater, Stephen. (2002). The Complete Book Of Heraldry An international history of heraldry and its contemporary uses. London: Lorenz Books.
It’s appropriate to begin a study of genealogical hocus pocus with some remarks about heraldry: the artistic expression of one’s family using a combination of various elements that distinguish it from other families. Heraldry is popular today, though as one of my relatives discovered during a search in the 18th century for the Chipman arms, we have none.
There are those who do, and among them are the illegitimate sons of kings and nobles. I advise people who descend from royal bastards such as Robert of Caen, Earl of Gloucester (ca. 1090–1147), alleged son of King Henry I, to view them as founders of their own families, and not focus on their dubious paternity. Robert of Caen was a very important figure in the turbulent reign of King Stephen.
How did people in Medieval Europe view bastard children of kings? It depends upon the period. Between Charlemagne (ca. 747–814), who, though illegitimate, was not commonly referred to as “Charles the Bastard,” and William the Conqueror (ca. 1027–1087), who was often called “William the Bastard,” the church had managed to elevate marriage to a sacrament—a sacrament with profound implications in matters of inheritance. To people who, unlike the great mass of people, had something to pass on to their heirs, it was an attractive concept.
According to Slater:
“What, then, is the position of those children born out of wedlock—the illegitimate? The matter is ambiguous at best. [I]n previous ages he or she was considered to be without parentage, without name and unable to inherit titles and estates. Although on these terms such children may seem not to have occupied a very enviable position, in truth, in many noble houses, more affection was given to them by their father than his legitimate issue, who, having an automatic right to succession, might be more prepared to rebel against parental control.
“No hard and fast rule existed in most nations as to what marks the illegitimate should bear [on their arms], so long as they were sufficiently distinct from the normal cadency marks of legitimate sons.
“In 1397, the children born to John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford (whom he married in that year) were declared legitimate by an act unique in English history. Soon afterwards the children, the Beauforts, were permitted to bear the quartered arms of France and England within a bordure compony (a border divided into segments) of John of Gaunt’s own livery, white and blue. Curiously, the bordure compony placed around the arms of the Beauforts after their legitimization came to be used as a mark to denote bastardy, the baton sinister being used more often for royal illegitimates.”
Parliament had a precedent: in April 1226, Pope Honorius III legitimated Joan, Lady of Wales, illegitimate daughter of King John of England and Clemence. The pope cited the fact that neither John nor Clemence were married to others at the time. However, the decree barred Joan from the throne of England.
[Arms of Sir Charles Somerset, d. 1526, alleged illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset. In this example, one can see the border of blue and white (the bordure) adopted by the Beauforts, and passing through the middle shield is the white "bend sinister," a common heraldic device denoting illegitimacy.]
To put into perspective Medieval attitudes regarding illegitimacy, it was also an issue in the Ancient World. According to Synesius, a Roman writing ca. 400 AD:
“The mother has been clearly revealed to those thus born [outside of marriage]; it is only the other parent who is doubtful. All the care that is due to parents from those born in wedlock should be bestowed by the fatherless on the mother alone.”
When a medieval king or noble acknowledged an illegitimate child, we should view it more as adoption, rather than expression of certainty of the child’s paternity. If the illegitimate child was a daughter, the reputed royal or noble father often felt obligated to seek a good marriage for her, and many men would have regarded marriage to such a woman as an honor. Illegitimate daughters had value as political pawns.
The most striking feature of Royal Descents by Gary Boyd Roberts, discussed in depth below, is his arrangement of children of kings according to descent from the most recent king, even if that descent is through an illegitimate child. The actual practice, as signified by heraldic customs, is the opposite: legitimate offspring of earlier kings are preferred to illegitimate children of any king. Roberts has raised medieval royal and noble bastards to a status they never enjoyed in their own time, and who are not accorded that status in Europe. It’s an American invention to sell books.
The social stigma attached to illegitimate children was due to their dubious paternity. Modern DNA technology has virtually erased that stigma. The terms “bastard” and “illegitimate” are declining in use as the definition of what constitutes a “family” changes. The discussion in this column isn’t about the worth of children born out of wedlock—it’s about misuse of genealogical evidence.
In the case of some later Medieval royal and noble bastards, there may be enough existing remains to establish family affiliation or even paternity. Such an endeavor, even where possible, might be highly sensitive. Unfortunately, the English Reformation, the English Civil War, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed many important tombs, including those of monarchs. The Great Fire destroyed Old St. Paul’s, and with it the tomb of John of Gaunt, which survives only in a drawing. And DNA tests, unless it’s an actual paternity test, might not prove as much as one might think: the kings and peers of the Medieval period were notorious philanderers. Doubtless some “accepted” royal bastards weren’t children of the putative father, and some of those that were have been lost in the general population.
(Tomb of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, Old St. Paul’s.)
1. Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
2. Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jersusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (Order of Malta)
3. The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jersusalem
What do these three orders have in common? Very little.
Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1997. It’s the official order of knighthood in the United Kingdom (Great Britain). Legally, he can use the “title” Sir, as in Sir Paul McCartney. Knighthood isn’t a hereditary title. When Paul McCartney exits stage left, the title goes with him. The United Kingdom occasionally grants Honorary Knighthoods to prominent people around the world. Colin Powell received an Honorary Knighthood, but he can’t use the title “Sir.” That’s reserved for Knight Commanders.
No. 2, Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order, etc., is a Roman Catholic organization with headquarters in Rome. It has no official ties to No. 3, The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John, etc., which is a largely Protestant group. Until recently, applicants to the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order, etc. had to show proof of an aristocratic pedigree. Its Grand Master has the precedence of a cardinal in the Roman Catholic church. The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order, etc. has established three official associations in the United States: New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The New York City association was founded in 1927.
Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant orders of Hospitallers perform good works, and the comments that follow aren’t intended to cast aspersions upon their reputations. Both claim descent from the medieval Hospitallers, who were contemporaries of the Knights Templar, but avoided the Templar’s tragic fate at the hands of King Philip IV of France (whose daughter Isabella married King Edward II of England). There are also rogue groups of “Hospitallers” that capitalize on the name.
The present day The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John, etc. (the organization discussed below) was incorporated under a royal charter granted in 1888 by Queen Victoria. The British sovereign still maintains a role in the organization.
Whew! Got all that?
The Harvard Law Record’s website reports that in 2007, during a couple’s dinner sponsored by Thomas R. Moore (Harvard Law School 1957), “After being formally introduced, Moore shared a few minutes’ remarks with the guests. Attendees learned that he was knighted Sir Thomas by Queen Elizabeth II after researching and writing Plantagenet Descent 31 Generations from William the Conqueror to Today, which details the royal lineage to which he belongs.”
Plantagenet Descent is currently offered for sale on Amazon.com for $49.50. A review of the book on Amazon.com has this to say: “Thomas R. Moore, the distinquished New York lawyer, author and connoisseur … was recently granted a coat of arms and created a Knight of St. John by Queen Elizabeth II and inherited his ancestral title of Lord Bridestowe.”
There are two problems here: (1) members of The Most Venerable Order of the Hosptial of St. John, etc. aren’t permitted to call themselves “Sir,” if a man, or “Dame,” if a woman. It’s an offcially recognized order of chivalry in the United Kingdom, and I don’t doubt Moore attended a ceremony where Queen Elizabeth II was present, or that Moore is a knight of the Order. But legally, he isn’t entitled to call himself “Sir.” (2) As far as I can determine, there is no Barony of Bridestowe. If Bridestowe was an ancestral barony, it would be covered in The Complete Peerage, which is the authoritative reference on British peerages—and Bridestowe isn’t in it.
Moore is a philanthropist who has made generous donations to worthy causes. I didn’t enjoy writing this. But I’m not selling books.
Stuart, Roderick W. (2002). Royalty for Commoners The Complete Known Lineage of John of Gaunt, Son of Edward III, King of England, and Queen Philippa Fourth Edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.
There’s a sleazy side to American genealogy. The side everyone knows is there, but tries to ignore.
How bad is it?
Let’s look at this book, which is quite unique: Royalty for Commoners by Roderick W. Stuart, published by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., of Baltimore. They’re the largest publisher of genealogical books in America. Some of them are excellent. And some aren’t—like this one. The publisher’s blurb for Royalty for Commoners has this to say:
“Typically, the American descendant has several colonial ancestors, one or more of whom can be traced to European beginnings. Using over 2,000 published sources, as well as the spectacular resources of the Internet, Mr. Stuart here offers the researcher a multitude of possibilities, pointing the reader to numerous descents of which he may be completely unaware.”
Many readers are completely unaware of these descents, and for good reason.
Here’s how the author describes his brain child:
“Royalty for Commoners, in print since 1988, has been the only work in any language comprising the complete known genealogy of John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III and Queen Philippa of England.
“The importance of this work is that for the past fourteen years any commoner who can connect his or her family lineage to that of John of Gaunt (or, of course, his siblings) can share the same basic royal heritage as the most noble knight—the complete heritage—not just the Plantagenet ascent. This is the only lineage through which a commoner can enter the domain of European royalty, though one might enter the lineage at any number of points. Even Queen Elizabeth (by no means a commoner!) has this descent.”
Right away I’m in trouble—I’m not a descendant of King Edward III. But King Edward III’s children do share some of my ancestors, so maybe I can “enter the lineage” at some point. It’s unfortunate that the publisher allowed Stuart to attach Queen Elizabeth II to this project. So who does Stuart count among the ancestors of, as he puts it, “the most noble knight”?
There are so many fascinating people in Stuart’s book, I don’t know where to begin: should it be with Abraham (the biblical Abraham), or one-man stud farm Rameses II?
LINE 413 (pp. 217–218) encapsulates Stuart’s unique brand of scholarship:
Line begins with 93. Karanos (late 9th/early 8th centry BC) > 92. Koinos (mid 8th century BC) > 91. Tyrimmus (late 8th/early 9th century BC) > 90. to 84. Various kings of Macedonia > 83. Amyntas of Persia > 82. Balakros > 81. Meleagros > 80. Lagos a Macedinian noble m. Antigona (dau. of Kassandros)
We now come to the meat of the line, the Ptolemaic Pharaohs of Egypt:
79. Ptolemy I Soter m. Eurodike > 78. Ptolemy II Philadelpios m. Arsinoe II his sister > 77. Ptolemy III Euergates m. Bernice II and Apama > 76. Ptolemy IV Philopater m. Arsinoe III his sister > 75. Ptolemy V Epiphanes m. Cleopatra I > 74. Ptolemy VI m. Cleopatra II his sister > 73. Cleopatra Theo m. Demetrius II Nicator king of Syria.
Wow! After Alexander the Great died, his generals carved up his empire. Ptolemy I Soter established a dynasty in Egypt. A lot of people collect ancestors (“I have 2 of those and 3 of these”), but this is a rare addition to any collection. What bowled me over are the several instances of incest. These are Cleopatra’s ancestors: the Cleopatra who bedded Caesar and Antony. She charmed a snake and checked out before Octavian could parade her in a Roman triumph.
How can a smelly Plantagenet king match this splendor?
It’s no secret: there isn’t even one proved descent from antiquity. Antiquity being “BC.” Not one. The oldest lineage known to me is from Cerdic the Saxon, who booted the Celts out of part of England. It dates to the 6th century (more or less) and is thought to be generally true (in outline if not detail). According to Christian Settipani, one of the most respected researchers of descents from antiquity: “We are reduced to using guesses based on surviving indications. The most convincing of these guesses are founded on onomastics [naming patterns], although it is necessary to exercise caution.”
So what is Royalty for Commoners? It’s garbage. In some generations the author can’t even supply a name. The irony is that there must be many today who actually do descend from ancestors like the Ptolemies. But we don’t know who they are and there’s no proof of it. The lines have been lost to history. If you want a general history of ancient figures, Royalty for Commoners is useless.
What I find most objectionable is that Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., publishes many excellent genealogical references. You’ll find them in libraries and I’ve often used them. When someone sees this publisher’s imprint on Royalty for Commoners, the publisher’s reputation is behind it, and readers may accept the fantasies within as truth.
It’s flagrant pandering.
We start off with Stuart’s shameless appeal to the snob in all of us, and wind up in the Twilight Zone with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Xerxes I of Persia. What happened to Conan the Barbarian?
Ellis, Peter Berresford. (2002). Erin’s Blood Royal The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland. New York: Palgrave.
Stratton, Eugene Aubrey. (1988). Applied Genealogy. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Incorporated.
Pedigree peddling is the world’s second oldest profession, and like the first, it involves screwing people.
Since ancient times, pedigree peddlers—fabricators of prestigious ancestry—have plied their trade. The family of Julius Caesar claimed descent from the goddess Venus. The Anglo-Saxon kings of England boasted the Norse god Woden (Odin) among their ancestors.
Genealogical fraud is quite common. Peter Berresford Ellis recounts the tale of Terence McCarthy, who passed himself off as the “MacCarthy Mor,” Prince of Desmond and Lord of Kerslawny. Among his victims was Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. “The sale of ‘lordships,’ especially to Americans, was a major money maker.”
The son of a poor Belfast, Ireland working class family, Terence McCarthy submitted fake documents to the Irish Genealogical Office, and was granted a “courtesy recognition” as head of Clan MacCarthy in 1992. But in 1999, after a two year investigation by the Genealogical Office, McCarthy was declared a charlatan and stripped of his title.
Many people lost money. “These were mainly the people throughout the world who confidently gave money to receive the titles and honors from the soi-disant ‘Prince of Desmond’ and his ‘Hereditary Chamberlain.’ There has been some discussion of a possible police investigation in the United States following a complaint to the authorities concerning the sale of bogus feudal titles, one of which may have involved the inclusion of real estate.”
The field of royal and noble genealogy is rife with deceptive practice. On one Internet message board frequented by “professional” genealogists, I’ve seen lying about the existence of evidence, concealing the nature of evidence, lying about the meaning of evidence, fabricating quotes from “authorities,” and lying to cover up the fraudulent activity and lying of others.
An Internet message board isn’t a good place to hire a genealogist. Some so-called professional genealogists using Internet message boards like “soc.genealogy.medieval” to troll for clients ply their trade at the expense of the inexperienced. They’re parasites who pretend to have high standards in order to keep the commission money flowing. Usually, it’s a sideline business. If you do hire (to borrow Ellis’s term) a soi-disant professional genealogist through an Internet message board, you’ll probably have no recourse if you’re ripped off. It’s not like buying something from Amazon.com or Ebay, which has the company behind it.
Unless the genealogist lives near a major research library, such as the LDS Library in Salt Lake City, there’s probably little they can do that you can’t do yourself. If the genealogist is merely using online records collections available through companies like Ancestry.com, subscribe to the service yourself. As more and more records are made available for downloading in PDF format from repositories such as the UK’s National Archives, genealogical middlemen will find demand for their services diminished.
Applied Genealogy is especially useful for those with British colonial ancestry, but its discussion of genealogical deception is of value to any genealogist. The desire for illustrious ancestry pushes some genealogists across the line. Genealogical fraud isn’t victimless, though in many cases the aim isn’t monetary, but emotional and social. The need to feel “special” is so pervasive, that stretching or inventing the “truth” is almost forgiveable.
In my view, a genealogist who knowingly deceives a client or reader into believing the client or reader possesses illustrious ancestry, with the intent of deriving material gain, is committing fraud. That includes using sources the genealogist knows are not proof of the relationship, even though the sources may be contemporary with events.
If you do hire a genealogist, hire one through a certifying organization like the Board For Certification Of Genealogists. You’ll increase the odds that the genealogist is honest and won’t milk your commission. Unless a professional genealogist or author belongs to an umbrella organization like BCG, you’ll have little recourse if you’re scammed—and scammers are out there, pandering to the desire for illustrious ancestry.
Given-Wilson, Chris; Curteis, Alice. (1995). The Royal Bastards Of Medieval England. New York: Barnes & Noble Books.
There is no acceptable genetic evidence that any medieval royal or noble bastard was actually the child of the alleged father. Genealogists claiming descents from medieval kings or nobles through illegitimate children rely on evidence such as charters and chronicles. These sources merely indicate reputed paternity and are not sufficient proof of the relationship.
ALL claims of paternity in cases of illegitimacy that have not been verified with scientific paternity testing should be considered unproved. The assertion that a medieval king or noble could more accurately identify illegitimate children as their own has no scientific basis. People in the Middle Ages lacked even rudimentary technology to determine paternity.
Behind any claim of paternity for a royal bastard is the implicit assumption that the royal mistress is so devoted to her lover that she wouldn’t sleep with other men. That’s quite an assumption.
According to British scholars Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis:
“In such circumstances it is quite impossible for a modern historian to be completely sure of any supposed royal bastard’s true paternity.” (p. 57)
In cases of disputed paternity, modern DNA tests prove the alleged father is not the biological father in about 30% of the cases. Legitimate generations have about a 1.5% error rate. One might expect correct attribution of paternity to be considerably less in the superstitious Middle Ages, because there is an almost complete lack of testimony indicating why a king or noble accepted a bastard child.
More than one third of the lines in Gary Boyd Roberts’s 2008 edition of Royal Descents contain one or more illegitimate generations. Apart from statistical unreliability, a major problem with such descents is that family “characteristics” can be found in a wider genetic pool, so basing paternity upon the physical appearance of the child is also unreliable. Lines based upon illegitimate generations are “broken.”
To demonstrate his complete lack of understanding of the subject, Roberts rates as “superior” lines stemming from illegitimate children of more recent kings over legitimate children of earlier kings, when actual practice is the opposite: legitimate offspring of earlier kings are preferred over bastard children of later kings.
I’ll cite two very simple cases which perfectly illustrate the attitude of medieval monarchs towards bastardy:
1. King Henry I of England had two legitimate sons: William (the eldest and Henry I’s heir) and Richard (some authorities say Richard was illegitimate). On 25 Nov 1120, while attempting to cross over to England from Normandy, William and Richard’s ship sank and both drowned. Henry I’s only other surviving legitimate child was a daughter called Matilda. Henry I had a surviving illegitimate son named Robert of Caen, who became Earl of Gloucester. Robert was an able soldier, but when Henry I lay dying, he ignored Robert and pressed his barons to accept Matilda as queen, even though he must have known his barons would not want to serve a woman—and they didn’t.
2. King Edward III’s son John of Gaunt carried on a long-term affair with Katherine (de Roet) Swynford, and by her had four surviving illegitimate children, who were surnamed Beaufort. In 1399, Henry, John of Gaunt’s legitimate son by Blanche of Lancaster, displaced the rightful King Richard II, and ruled as King Henry IV. Although Parliament “legitimated” John of Gaunt’s Beaufort offspring, King Henry IV barred them from the royal sucession.
Henry I and Henry IV were prepared to grant a relationship between themselves and these illegitimate children, but that didn’t mean there was a relationship, and they were intelligent enough to understand that. After the death of William the Conqueror, not one illegitimate child ruled as a monarch in England. King Richard III’s claim to the throne was based upon “bastardizing” his brother’s children.
Charlemagne and St. Vladimir were both illegitimate, but by the time of William the Conqueror, the church had largely succeeded in elevating marriage to a sacred bond. Royalty and nobility embraced the concept because it ensured the orderly transmission of their estates and honors. In the later kingdom of Castile a bastard became king, but it was an notable exception.
Evidently Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Gary Boyd Roberts’s publisher, doesn’t care if Royal Descents is accurate or not. In April 2010, GPC published a two-volumes-in-one paperback reprint of the 2008 edition of Royal Descents. The first editions of Douglas Richardson’s Plantagenet Ancestry and Magna Carta Ancestry, also Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. publications, are somewhat better references because his style of documentation is better and he includes biographical information about each generation in the pedigree. Richardson’s interpretation of evidence is occasionally faulty and, like Roberts, his books are loaded with illegitimate descents. In 2011 Richardson published paperback second editions of Plantagenet Ancestry and and Magna Carta Ancestry through CreateSpace, the self-publishing unit of Amazon.com. The original GPC hardbound first editions are collector’s items. Richardson recently published Royal Ancestry, also through CreateSpace, which appears to be genuinely useful, but carries over errors from his previous publications.
I don’t like lobbying authors to gain “approval” of a line (and it happens a lot). All of the lines on ACME NUKLEAR BLIMP are accurate. The approval of any author is neither sought nor necessary.
The lineage society Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain (The Royal Bastards) is currently headed by Anthony Glenn Hoskins, a former librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago. It was formed in 1950 as a joke society to promote sound standards of genealogical evidence in reaction to what it saw as the lax standards of other lineage societies. Applicants are charged a non-refundable application fee of $300.00.
The Royal Bastards website has this admonition:
“Please note that most lineages for admission to other hereditary associations will not qualify for admission to this Society. This is not a matter of accuracy, but of accuracy and substantiation: only lineages supported by evidence that meets the standards of this Society can qualify an applicant for admission.”
According to the society’s application instructions: “The list of royal bastards in the Society’s lineage book or on our web site is not proof of such relationship, although where there is no qualifying adjective printed with the reputed bastard the Society usually accepts such relationship.”
The Royal Bastards will take your $300.00 and you’ll receive nothing for it. Every line they approve is a “broken” line. It’s an absolute fact that no bastard line stemming from the medieval period is proven. If there’s more than one bastard generation in the line, then the line is “broken” in more than one place. Approval by this society’s Herald-Genealogist, currently attorney Neil Daniel Thompson, is worthless. By conservative estimate, illegitimate descents have a 3 in 10 chance of being incorrect, or about a 30% error rate. Illegitimate descents are 20 times more likely to be incorrect than legitimate descents.
The Harvard educated Thompson, a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, fully understands there’s no acceptable proof of paternity for medieval bastards. That’s not genealogy—it’s an ego trip. Thompson also accepts clients through Ancestry.com’s professional genealogical research service.
The joke is on The Royal Bastards: they accept evidence that is rejected by other lineage societies. If The Royal Bastards really care about “accuracy and substantiation,” they should change their name to Descendants of the Alleged Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain. They apparently have never heard of DNA, which didn’t exist in 1950 when The Royal Bastards were formed.
For about $100.00 you can purchase a CD-Rom of The Complete Peerage. If, as sometimes happens, your line to the supposed royal bastard also has a legitimate connection to a medieval king, there are better places to submit it than The Royal Bastards.
And if you’re fond of black humor, consider this: The Royal Bastards don’t accept Gary Boyd Roberts’s Royal Descents.
Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. author Gary Boyd Roberts claims royal lines which pass through Col. Thomas Ligon of Henrico Co., VA, and Jeremiah Clarke of RI. But are they proved? No, and both claims have something in common: they begin with an entry in an English parish register.
Let’s look at Col. Thomas Ligon first (I’ll use the “Ligon” spelling as it’s interchangeable with “Lygon”):
It’s a fact that a Thomas Ligon, son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Pratt) Ligon, was baptized at Sowe, Warwickshire, England on 11 Jan 1623/4. And a Thomas Ligon did emigrate to the colony of Virginia, where he died in 1675. He was burgess, and held other colonial posts.
But there’s no proof that the Col. Thomas Ligon who died in Virginia in 1675 is the same Thomas baptized at Sowe in 1623/4. It’s chronologically possible, and that’s all.
Not all burgesses had royal descents. My ancestor Edward Dale was a burgess, and as far is presently known, he has no royal descent. Not all branches of English gentry families had royal descents.
Here’s where it gets interesting:
Much is made of the fact that a certain Richard Ligon, author of A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes, died in 1662 in Barbadoes. One of the next of kin of Richard Ligon was a Thomas Ligon, who did not make a claim upon his estate. Roberts’ argument is that Col. Thomas Ligon “left” Barbadoes for Virginia, and therefore was unaware that Richard Ligon had died, and that’s why he didn’t make a claim upon Richard Ligon’s estate. Since Richard Ligon of Barbadoes seems to be of the royally descended Ligon family, Col. Thomas Ligon of Virginia must be of that family, too.
There are other circumstantial details involving Col. Thomas Ligon, but the baptismal record and the Richard Ligon estate matter are the only actual “proof” offered for this line: There was a Thomas Ligon baptized at Sowe, and a Thomas Ligon who was a “next of kin” of Richard Ligon of Barbadoes.
The problem here is that the argument is flawed. There was regular shipping traffic between Virginia and Barbadoes within the time frame of Richard Ligon’s death in 1662. In fact, Barbadoes was a trans-shipping point for slaves into Virginia. And because so much land in Barbadoes was devoted to sugar cultivation, the colony imported most of its necessities, and some of the imports came from Virginia. Some Virginia families had relatives in Barbadoes, and there was contact between them.
If Col. Thomas Ligon was a relative of Richard Ligon, he would have learned of the death and granted someone power of attorney to collect his legacy. So the fact that Col. Thomas Ligon didn’t get his legacy from the Richard Ligon estate casts serious doubt in placing him as a son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Pratt) Ligon. The notion that Col. Thomas Ligon would have lived for 13 more years in Virginia oblivious to the death of this supposed “uncle” is absurd.
We have a baptismal record and a record of a legacy, but no proof that Col. Thomas Ligon of Henrico Co., Virginia is that Thomas. I think Col. Thomas Ligon is just a chronological contemporary of the family of Thomas and Elizabeth (Pratt) Ligon. That Col. Thomas Ligon didn’t make a claim upon the estate of Richard Ligon of Barbados proves that Col. Thomas Ligon wasn’t the next of kin of Richard Ligon. I’ve seen this before: there’s a piece of evidence that’s given a “spin” to make it seem as though it doesn’t mean what it obviously does mean. There’s no evidence known to me that indicates the parentage of Col. Thomas Ligon.
Now let’s take a look at Jeremiah Clarke of RI, who was sometime acting governor of that colony.
“Jerum Clerk” was baptized at East Farleigh, Kent, England on 1 Dec 1605. “Jerum Clerk” was the son of William and Mary (Weston) Clerke. If Jeremiah Clarke of RI was their “Jerum” (Jerome), he would have been a first cousin of the 2nd Earl of Portland. Jeremiah Clarke married Frances (Latham) Dungan.
So what’s the proof that “Jerum Clerk” and Jeremiah Clarke are the same person?
Jeremiah Clarke had a son named “Weston.” And that’s about it. There are a few circumstantial hints, but nothing concrete. The argument is because Jeremiah Clarke had a son named “Weston,” Jeremiah Clarke had to be a son of William and Mary (Weston) Clerke. It’s been noted that “Jerome” could also be called “Jeremy” or “Jeremiah.” But that isn’t proof that Jeremiah Clarke is “Jerum Clerk.” There’s no hard evidence linking “Jerum Clerk” to Jeremiah Clarke of RI. You have to be careful with names found in English documents. The same name can have different spellings within the same document.
Onomastic evidence, as I’ve found in one of my own families, doesn’t necessarily mean what it appears to mean. In this instance, in the century before the probable birth of Jeremiah Clarke of RI (1500–1600), hundreds of wills of those named Clarke/Clerke, etc., and 30 wills of those named “Weston” were probated in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) alone, which covered the south of England. Not everyone made a will, and there may have been individuals of those names whose wills were probated in other courts.
There were several prominent branches of the Weston family. Eleanor of Castile, first queen of King Edward I, died at the home of Sir Richard Weston. William Weston, died 1540, was the last resident grand prior of the Hospitallers in England. Other Westons weren’t so distinguished: Richard Weston, an employee of brothel owner Mrs. Anne Turner, was hanged at Tyburn in 1615 for his role in Lady Frances Howard’s murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. “Weston” isn’t an uncommon surname—I see it frequently in the course of research.
There are too many Clerke/Clarkes and Westons to assume that because Jeremiah Clarke named a son “Weston,” he had to be the son of William and Mary (Weston) Clerke . Service in colonial government doesn’t mean the individual had a royal line. Anytime you’re working with an ancestor in this period who shows up in RI, you should check records in MA, because MA ejected religious dissenters into RI.
Gentry families could and sometimes did intermarry more than once. That Jeremiah Clarke had a son named “Weston” of itself doesn’t indicate a specific relationship. There could have been Weston ancestry anywhere in his background. Onomastic evidence should never be used as sole proof of a generation, and is not enough to “cross the pond’ and link together these families. It’s always possible that Jeremiah Clarke just liked the name “Weston.”
Of Roberts’s two claimed royal descents, Clarke has the better chance of being right, and Ligon is almost certainly wrong. Neither are proved. Both began with a baptismal record ascribed to an immigrant. It may come as quite a surprise to writers like Roberts that two people may share the same surname yet be completely unrelated, or that an American colonist might be of an obscure branch of the family which has no royal or noble descent.
In Applied Genealogy, Eugene A. Stratton discusses the style of documentation Roberts uses:
“Beware of today’s writer who does not document, and be wary of the writer who generalizes documentation. One [form] is to write a long chapter full of genealogical assertions and follow it with an impressive bibliography, hinting, but not demonstrating that every assertion in the chapter is fully backed up by one or more of the impressive grouped references. Another is to toss around phrases of vague meaning such as ‘several wills and deeds in Soandso County prove that John was the son of Joe.’ We want the wills and deeds identified, and we want pertinent parts given verbatim so that we may judge for ourselves if they really prove the relationship. Some writers (not all) generalize deliberately to obscure the fact that their works are not as well documented as they are trying to make them appear.”
My estimate is that more than 50% of Gary Boyd Roberts’s Royal Descents consists of lines that aren’t adequately proved, either because there’s no genetic evidence (as in the case of illegitimate generations, including Beaufort lines), or because the evidence to support the line is insufficient—but the reader doesn’t know that, because Roberts generalizes his documentation.
Anthony Glenn Hoskins, president of The Royal Bastards, once remarked that if your line is in Royal Descents, you might have a legitimate royal line. What neither Hoskins nor Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., is willing to acknowledge is: If Royal Descents was properly documented, its sales would be fewer, because the number of lines in the book would be fewer, which means fewer “descendants” to buy books.
Roberts and GPC are leading people on. GPC’s excuse is that they assume their authors know what they’re doing. Roberts’s excuse is that he receives most of his material from others, and he assumes they know what they’re doing. So nobody connected with the actual publication of Royal Descents knows or cares if it’s accurate. According to the publisher and author, it’s not their job: If something in the book is wrong, send Roberts the correction.
If you look at the acknowledgements in Royal Descents, you’ll find many of Roberts’s cronies are denizens of the Internet message board “soc.genealogy.medieval”: like Todd A. Farmerie and Nathaniel Lane Taylor, who occasionally team up to author articles.
Taylor considers himself to be a self-appointed “Gatekeeper.” He’s a part time genealogist-for-hire, like many posters to “soc.genealogy.medieval.” When I challenged Roberts’s Jeremiah Clarke line, Taylor claimed Jeremiah Clarke just had to be the son of William and Mary (Weston) Clerke due to the scarcity of the Weston surname. When I pointed out to him that 30 Weston wills had been probated in the PCC alone from 1500 to 1600, Taylor promptly disappeared.
Nathaniel Lane Taylor, now a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, operates a website at:
He claims eleven royal lines for his children, but offers the caveat that: “I do not regard each of these as equally supported, let alone ‘proven.’ I would not necessarily endorse each line, for example, in the context of a lineage-society application.”
Let’s take a look at his lines (comments in parentheses are mine):
1. Alexander Magruder to Robert II, King of Scotland (broken—Gen. 3 is illegitimate); 2. Anne (Derehaugh) Stratton to King John of England (broken—Gen. 3 is illegitimate); 3. William Wentworth to Henri I, King of France (broken—Gen. 2 is illegitimate); 4. Marie (Lawrence) Burnham & Jane (Lawrence) Giddings to Louis IV, King of France (broken; the line runs through Adelaide of Normandy, illegitimate daughter of Robert I, Duke of Normandy; Adelaide married three times, and it’s uncertain if her daughter Judith was issue of her second marriage to Lambert, Count of Lens, the descendant of Louis IV); 5. Thomas Wingfield to Edward III, King of England (broken—no proof Gen. 14 is son of Gen. 13); 6. Gov. Thomas Dudley to King John of England (broken—Gen. 2 is illegitimate); 7. Edward Raynsford to Henry III, King of England (broken—disputed in a “TAG” article); 8. Jane (Haviland) Torrey to Edward III, King of England (disputed; link from Gen. 8 to Gen. 9 relies on an ambiguous entry in a Herald’s Visitation; see below a); 9. Thomas Trowbridge to Hugh Capet, King of France (uncertain; not investigated by Taylor); 10. Rose (Stoughton) Otis to Henri I, King of France (listed as “reported,” so evidently not investigated by Taylor; originally this line was claimed to be a descent from Henry III, King of England, see below b); 11. Arthur Mackworth to William the Lion, King of Scotland (broken—descent from illegitimate daughter of William the Lion).
(a) This line fascinates me because of the misinterpretation of evidence. Here’s the image from the Herald’s Visitation of Gloucester 1623, which is the primary evidence for this line:
It’s claimed that Tary or Tacy (the crucial link in the line) who married ca. 1510 (according to Douglas Richardson) John Gyse was the daughter of Edmund Grey, 9th Lord Grey of Wilton. But that’s not how the Visitation reads. As footnote 2 indicates, at some point “corrections” were inserted into the brackets according to a record in the Herald’s office, but there’s no indication as to the nature of the record, and her father remained unnamed. The original Visitation said only: “Tary d. to the lord Gray of Ruthen.” Roger Grey, 1st Lord Grey of Ruthin (d. ca. 1352/3), was the son of John Grey, Lord Grey of Wilton (d. 1323). Roger Grey’s brother Henry (d. 1342) was heir to the barony of Grey of Wilton. Therefore, the original Visitation is actually showing Tary or Tacy as the daughter of an unnamed Lord Gray of Ruthen, who should be a descendant of Roger Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin, not of Henry Grey, Lord Grey of Wilton. In 1465, Edmund Grey, 4th Lord Grey of Ruthin (d. 1490), was created Earl of Kent, and the line continued with a union of the titles. It’s extremely unlikely that a legitimate daughter of an Earl of Kent, whether by Edmund, or a son, would not have her father noted in this Visitation. Reynold Grey, 7th Lord Grey of Wilton (d. ca. 1493/4) had married Thomasine or Tacine, the illegitimate daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. The name “Tacy” may be derived from “Thomasine” or “Tacine,” but it doesn’t prove that Tacy was a descendant of the Greys of Wilton. Reynold Grey’s son John, 8th Lord Grey of Wilton (d. 1499), married Anne, daughter of Edmund Grey, aforementioned Earl of Kent, of the Ruthin branch of the family. John Grey named his son Edmund, 9th Lord Grey of Wilton (d. 1511), after his father-in-law. There appears to be no hard evidence of Tacy’s paternity. It’s probable Tacy was illegitimate. Without further evidence, given this confusing mix of bloodlines, one can only speculate as to the identity of her father. The reader can understand why working with this sort of material is fraught with peril. Reviewing recent (2008) opinions, it’s clear there’s been no credible advance in identifying her parentage. Why Taylor chose to exhibit this line on his website is a mystery.
(b) This is another interesting saga: I don’t know if the line from Henri I, King of France is valid, but Royal Descents p. 376 shows a line purporting to be a descent of Rose (Stoughton) Otis from Henry III, King of England. For Gen. 7, Reynold West, 6th Baron de la Warre, Roberts lists three wives: Margaret Thorley, Eleanor Percy (with a ?), and Elizabeth Greyndour. Complete Peerage only acknowledges Margaret Thorley and Elizabeth Greyndour. Gen. 8 is as follows: “(probably by 1st or 2nd wife) Mary (or Anne) West = Roger Lewknor, son of Sir Roger Lewknor and Eleanor Camoys.” Why did Taylor replace the Plantagenet line with an early Capetian?
If you look at the lower right hand corner of this chart, taken from The Visitation of Sussex, you’ll understand why: Roger, son of Ellianor Camoys and Sir Roger Lewknor, died “s.p.” (abbreviation for the Latin phrase “sine prole”), which means “without children.” That part of the line is broken. Richardson, who is generally more reliable than Roberts, makes Anne West, daughter of Reynold West, 6th Baron de la Warre, the wife of Sir Maurice Berkeley, and Mary West the wife of Sir Roger Lewknor. For “Lewknor” he cites the above Visitation, apparently never having seen it. The pedigree of the Lords de la Warre in The Visitation of Hampshire cited by Richardson only lists Reynold West’s heir, Richard West, 7th Baron de la Warre. No daughters are mentioned. Complete Peerage in its Berkeley section states that Elizabeth West married William Berkeley, Marquess of Berkeley, etc., but they divorced without issue. According to Complete Peerage, Reynold West had no children by Elizabeth Greyndour. Even if Mary West was a daughter of Reynold West and married the above Roger Lewknor, the couple had no children. If, as Roberts suggests is possible, she wasn’t a daughter of Margaret Thorley, then she was illegitimate, but the point appears moot.
Of these eleven lines, 9 and 10 from early medieval kings might be right (although 9 & 10 Taylor didn’t bother to verify), and five are broken due to illegitimate generations. The remaining four are insufficiently proved for various reasons. I give Taylor credit for being honest enough to admit the lines are unproved, but if lines 9 and 10 are valid, he should give evidence to show it. The problem here is that for the most part, he doesn’t indicate the weak parts of the pedigrees.
Todd A. Farmarie, a biologist, and “co-owner” of the message board “soc.genealogy.medieval,” claims one royal line stemming from Robert Abell of Weymouth and Rehoboth, MA. Robert Abell was a legitimate descendant of King Edward I of England. It’s known that he had 7 children, but only a daughter Mary Abell and perhaps a son Preserved Abell are proved to be his. The case for the other 5, including Farmarie’s ancestor Experience Abell, is purely circumstantial, involving the presence of Abell’s widow Joanna at Norwich, CT, and the marriages of her presumed children there. The vital records of Norwich record that Experience Abell married John Bauldwen in 1680, but there’s no indication of her parentage. Farmarie’s website has this to say regarding Experience Abell:
“In identifying the father of William Wibber, we are a little farther than we were in 1879, but more work is required. His first wife Lois Baldwin, however, can be traced on her father’s side to Experience Abell, wife of John2 Baldwin. She was daughter of colonist Robert Abell, descendant by at least ten different lines from King Edward I of England, and hence from monarchs and nobles from every corner of Europe, including such as William the Conquerer, Charlemagne, and Alfred the Great.”
That’s deceptive: in fact, there’s no record proving the parentage of Experience Abell. She could have been related to Robert Abell in another way than as his daughter, or completely unrelated. Early New England Puritans were fond of unusual given names like Preserved, Desire, and Experience, and some, such as Hope, have survived as modern names. The use of those names among those of the same surname doesn’t necessarily indicate a family relationship. Farmarie, who often chastises others on “soc.genealogy.medieval” for sloppy standards, is concealing the weakness in his own line.
Another, particularly obnoxious contributor to “soc.genealogy.medieval” is Brad Verity, operator of the blog “Royal Descent,” which focusses on the medieval descendants of King Edward I of England. As he cheerfully admits, he has no medieval ancestry of his own, and therefore isn’t a descendant of the object of his study—but he is a fan. He regularly castigates those unfortunate enough to cross his path. You’d better have a photo showing a medieval queen ejecting a bun from the burner—or else.
If you see a pattern here, you’re right: these people are disingenuous about their own ancestry, or have no personal connection to the people they write about—and they screw up the ancestry of others. How did so-called scholars, with no proven medieval ancestry of their own manage to proclaim themselves experts in the genre? There’s a politics of genealogy, and guys like Taylor, Farmarie, and Verity are in it—but along with Gary Boyd Roberts, Nat Taylor has yet to prove a royal line of his own, Farmarie’s royal line is unproved, and Verity is just along for the ride. Royal Descents is a franchise and medieval pedigrees have become a commodity.
The most important thing to understand about Royal Descents is what it isn’t: Queen Victoria (1819–1901) had a large family, of whom there are many descendants. Only one of her descendants appears in Royal Descents—and it’s the first line, though such a descent is implied in a very few other lines. And yet there must be a number of her descendants living in the United States. So Royal Descents isn’t a “Social Register,” though looking at the names of some socialites, you’d think it was. Royal Descents is aimed at middle class yearning for illustrious ancestry. Lines belonging to celebrities like Brooke Shields and Catherine Oxenberg are merely bait.
Here’s the Brooke Shields line in Royal Descents (note: these comments aren’t intended to represent the opinions of the Shields family);
In Generation 1, we already have an error: Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia didn’t die in 1730: he abdicated in 1730, and died in 1732. But who are the people in Generations 2 through 8? If the line had been presented as it should have been, the reader might understand this family. Generation 2 should be flipped to read:
“2. Victor Amadeus of Savoy, Prince of Carignan = Victoria Francesca of Savoy (alleged illegitimate daughter of Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia)”
Traced backwards from Victor Amadeus of Savoy, we find that his great-grandparents were Charles Emanuel I, Duke of Savoy, and Catherine of Spain, daughter of King Philip II of Spain. Philip II was at one time the husband of Mary Tudor, Queen of England; he launched the famous Spanish Armada against Mary’s Protestant sister, Elizabeth I. Marina Torlonia’s family was actually an off-shoot of the powerful ducal House of Savoy. The princes of Carignan were based in the Italian Piedmont, and were important enough that kings of France had to deal with them. Victor Amadeus of Savoy was also a descendant of the Valois kings of France and the Medici family. In some areas of Europe as in this instance, the term “prince” isn’t used to denote the son of a monarch, but is a title below that of “duke.”
That’s the real story of this family.
Why did Roberts trace this line from an illegitimate daughter of a minor king? It’s saying: “If Brooke Shields has an illegitimate generation in her pedigree, it must be OK.” That’s not scholarship—it’s marketing.
Royalty for Commoners can be appreciated on one level as humor, but Royal Descents is nothing but cynical exploitation. The Tacy Grey and Edmund Lewknor lines discussed in connection with Nathaniel Lane Taylor appear in Royal Descents with no caveats as to their validity. Royal Descents is the landfill of American Genealogy, the descent into layers of garbage by a once-gifted man.
I have been contacted privately by several individuals who post on “soc.genealogy.medieval.” Their emails appear to be attempts to rope me into some form of exchange that involves money. They also claim to know Gary Boyd Roberts. I urge readers to not post to “soc.genealogy.medieval.” Reading the posts and searching the archives can be useful, but posting to the board may expose the poster to unwelcome attention, not to mention the occasional solicitation for porn.
I’m not the Harry Houdini of royal genealogy, out to expose every genealogical poseur. If it seems I’m too hard on these people, remember they’re all in one way or another making money from their services. Some of these genealogists are better than others, but they choose to ply their trade in the same environment with others who are outright frauds with no standards of personal integrity. It’s a very serious matter when respectable publishing houses like Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. issue books of dubious scholarship. It creates generations of victims.