I have always loved history and coming from a large family we were brought up on stories from the war. My grandmother’s both came from grand families and took the trouble to tell me about the foreboding characters hanging from dusty gilt frames on the walls.
Today my children also enjoy the large family gatherings and the stories from the past as much as I did. History provides a sense of who you are and where you have come from, even if the big houses are no longer in the family one can still enjoy and imagine what it was like to live there. The odd ancestral connection with a historical figure provides an interesting personal connection that encourages you to find out more.
So when I found out that a cousin was to be featured on the BBC’s “Who Do you think you are?” I wondered if they would pursue my side of the family at all; and if they did it would just be fun to see some familiar people and places on TV.
Much to my delight the trail led him through our mutual grandparent and a picture of my mother’s childhood home. There is probably enough material here to fill a documentary here with a few family feuds to boot, but the producers had obviously found something even juicier. I was now viewing off-piste and what followed was an amazing revelation going back 27 generations, introducing some fairly colourful characters,underhand dealings, and skulduggery.
Alexander led us from Northern Ireland through Shropshire and heading west to Badminton and the Duke’s of Beaufort. By this stage we are in the midst of the English Civil War with our ancestor bankrolling the Kings war effort against the parliamentarians. As a teenager I spent many summers in South Wales near Abergavenny, but I had no idea of the personal connection with Raglan Castle; sacked by the roundheads in 1649 it had been the seat of the Beaufort’s. I must have walked around there dozens of times oblivious of where I was, and eaten several meals in the Beaufort Arms.
Up to this point I always thought my Grandmother’s family history was interesting, with a large estate in Cornwall and kin of Sir Walter Raleigh. The Edgecumbe’s dynasty starts with the Black Prince whose flag still flies from the Edgecumbe rooftop on special occasions.Sir Richard Edgecumbe was knighted at the Battle of Bosworth. The Spanish Armada was signalled from Edgecumbe land. All fascinating stuff that brings the history books alive for yours truly as a school boy. No wonder history was my favourite subject.
Halfway through the programme the Edgecumbe’s were being overhauled by my grand-father’s ancestors as Alexander uncovered more fascinating facts and delving further into our mutual history. The children were as fascinated as I was by this stage. Of course once you tap into a noble family such as the House of Beaufort you are at the centre of medieval history and the struggle for power. Henry VII claimed his crown from his descent from John of Gaunt, the first duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III. Even I remembered John of Gaunt from my school days. By this stage I was on the edge of my seat and the kids were crowding the screen. Before I could say “Willie,willie, Harry, Stee…” the genealogist was unfolding a old parchment confirming the connection with William the Conqueror. At this point the children were jumping up and down and my wife was shouting aloud…..it really was a surreal moment. I thought Alexander was very composed on the screen, and I was glad that none of his family were there to embarrass him. Sadly the schedule keepers ensured that the final revelation was unveiled with undue haste. We could have done with another ten minutes, but I expect that is on the cutting room floor.
Within minutes of the programme ending the phone was ringing, and then the mobile too. Whilst Angelique spoke with excited friends and in-laws I reflected on what we had just learned. Of course it doesn’t change anything, I still have to get up and go to work the next morning, but it does shift the family politics in favour of my maternal grandfather and I am sure even my father could smile about that.
So thanks Alexander for finding this treasure trove of history for us to explore.