￼GENTREK: Myths in British Genealogy by Walter Lee Shepherd, Jr. Edited and revised by Dae Powell Presented by Jayne McCormick .
A true student of genealogy learns to respect facts, to assess them, to combine them and to draw conclusions from them. He further knows that when direct evidence is not available, reasonable conclusions can be reached from the weight of indirect evidence. To reach such a conclusion not only must there be sufficient, indirect evidence pointing to that conclusion, but there can be none that leads in the reverse direction. .
Perhaps casualness with facts and with the assessment of their values and meanings and haste in reaching unsupported conclusions is to be expected of the inexperienced, but it can never be condoned. Too many researchers seem to feel that a few minutes exposure to records and to some carelessly assembled genealogy is all the training they require, and they then embalm their horrors for all time in print and proudly circulate them. And even those who are experienced and careful in their work, once they carry the line on which they are working across the Atlantic often ignore their own basic rules in tracking the line back into and beyond the middle ages, accepting as gospel statements that the most casual scrutiny would serve to disprove. .
Prior to the Norman Conquest we find basically three kinds of medieval and dark-age pedigrees:
1~ Pedigrees handed down by oral tradition from bard to bard, and at some time in the past rendered into manuscript.
2~ Pedigrees grafted onto bardic pedigrees by historians, based on what they considered reasonable presumptive evidence.
3~ Downright forgeries, by those who sought to glorify the subject of the pedigree. . Of course forgeries are not unknown, either.
There are unscrupulous genealogists who are not above fabricating a pedigree, and perhaps supporting it with a forged Bible reference or other document.
The court record of the multi-million dollar estate of Henrietta Garrett is packed with false relationship claims which were sifted by the courts, and in many cases the courts have proceeded against false claimants who offered faked evidence.
This sort of thing occurs sometimes when a genealogist is employed to prove a descent sought for membership in an hereditary society, and when the genealogist knows that the evidence does not exist, or will be very difficult to obtain.
Such falsification is more often found in lineages supporting claims in pre-Colonial societies, than in those with smaller numbers of generations. . In the Middle Ages there were other reasons for this sort of thing.
An important man might become a king by force of arms, and would find less resistance to his rule if he could display a blood claim -- membership in the Royal family.
A king would be more willing to give his daughter in marriage to a nobleman related to the Royal house. And of course, there was the sheer snobbery of complimenting a self-made man of obscure lineage. .
The greatest mass of medieval and dark-age pedigrees are worked into the Norse sagas, and into the early records of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Saxon peoples.
Errors undoubtedly occur in many of these, though probably fewer errors are attributable to the oral tradition when the bards had phenomenal memories, than to the clerical errors and mistaken editing of the later written versions.
These ancient records have recently been under study by experienced scholars, who by careful comparison of records from several different sources and traditions, and with known historical events can determine with a fair degree of accuracy which pedigrees can be considered reliable, and to what generation in the pedigree.
Major Francis Jones has done a careful study of Welsh records.
The House of Cerdic was studied by H. Trelawney Reed, and a careful study of the early generations appears in his The Rise of Wessex.
See also Harold R. Smith's Saxon England, though he starts his known pedigree only with Ecgbert.
H. Pirie Gordon's articles in The Armorial on the Kingdom of Strathclyde constitute a superb study of dark age Scottish lineages and connections with the Pictish Royal House.
There have been a number of important studies of Norse lines, printed in The Saga Book of the Viking Society and in the various papers in the Swedish Historical Series.
And David Kelley did a painstaking work on the early Irish pedigrees. .
Unfortunately there has been a wide-spread tendency among the less careful and more snobbish to accept out of the whole cloth some of the poorest of the bardic pedigrees, and even to start their family genealogies with them.
A favorite ancestor established in this manner is "Old King Cole" who may or may not have been a merry old soul, but if he was the British Tribal Ruler Coel Hen ("The Old"), he was a bloodthirsty pagan who was unacquainted with fiddles. Little is known about these tribal chiefs but their names, and one can find little real reason for incorporating a questionable pedigree to so shadowy a figure into a family genealogy. .
One is reminded of that sonnet of Percy Bysshe Shelly which reads I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed; And on the pedistal these words appear: My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings: Look on my works ye Mighty and despair!" Nothing besides remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away. .
There is yet another and unnoted problem.
We do not know for certain the methods these ancients employed in selecting their successors. For example, in the past decade, the ancient tablet libraries of the Hittites in Asia have been translated and from them we have obtained a pedigree the ancient Hittite kings.
But we have also learned that these kings were so concerned with a strong and stable government and an uncontested succession, that if their own children were not considered capable of successful rule, the king would adopt into his family an heir in whom he felt he could rely.
And this adopted son became the next king rather than the former king's own children.
To be sure the adopted son was usually of the blood of the royal house, but not by any means always.
Thus the list of monarchs cannot be considered a true pedigree.
And we have no way of knowing whether a similar break may exist somewhere in these bardic pedigrees. .
Two examples of American usage of these ancient lines may be of interest, the first to show what may be (or may not) a reasonable graft to an old pedigree.
The second is an outright forgery. . In the 1680s one John ap Thomas ap Hugh of Merionethshire (Wales), the first "John Cadwalader," ancestor of the Pennsylvania family of Cadwalader, emigrated to Pennsylvania.
With him he brought an ancient pedigree showing his descent from Marchweithian, the traditional founder of one of the 15 ancient tribes of Wales - reputed to have lived about 1050 AD.
As in the pedigrees of this period this one is written as a series of circles or coins, each bearing the name of a man, and joined with a line, or string to the proceeding and following generations.
Also, typically, the most recent generation heads the table, his father below him, and so on.
Here is the pedigree as it is reproduced in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography vol. iv pages 471-483. .
John ap Thomas of Llaithgwm in the county of Merioneth, gentleman, 1682.
Thomas ap Hugh Hugh ap Evan Evan ap Rees Goch Rees Goch ap Tyder (variant of Tudor, or Twdr)
Tudor ap Rees Evan ap Coch of Bryammer in Cerrig y druidion and county Denbigh
Evan ddu David ap Eiynion (variant of Einon)
Eiynion ap Kynrig Kynrig ap Llowarch HeHin Tyfid Tagno Ysdrwyth Marchwystt Marchweithian .
The article calls this pedigree "authentic" and states that it was presumably "constructed from family sources." . Note the absence of dates.
For the three latest generations it would be normally accepted beyond question on the theory that most men know who their fathers are and have first hand knowledge of their father's father.
The pedigree appears sound, probably back to Tudor ap Rees (5 generations), and here is where we find the first difficulty.
Tudor's father must be Rees, but the next name in the pedigree is not Rees but Evan ap Coch.
This is obviously also incorrect, for Coch or Goch is not a name but an adjective, so probably part of Evan's father's name is omitted.
He is probably not the man named next in the table - Evan ddu -- for here a different adjective ddu appears. .
Another break in the pedigree appears in the 11th generation, since the father of Kyrig ap Llowarch (probably Llywarch is meant) would be Llowarch and not Heilin. . The final test of the pedigree is its chronology
The head of the pedigree would be born say 1650.
The 17th generation, Marchweithian, is said to have lived circa 1150AD, 500 years earlier, a spread of more than 35 years to the generation, which is unlikely. .
Finally, the cited paper continues the pedigree backward through 101 further generations, through Noah, Lamech, Enos, Seth, and Adam to God; a real curiosity tying together Biblical pedigrees, historic and mythological persons, without regard to chronology. .
The following Ridgway Pedigree
has been published rather widely, most printed versions citing as source a James Ridgway Manuscript Genealogy, dated about 1897, and preserved in the collections of the Long Island (N. Y.) Historical Society. .
Leofric I, b. ab. 680, 1st Earl of Leicester, of Lincoln, & of Chester. A member of the Royal Family of Mercia.
Algar I, living 633, 2nd Earl of Leicester, Lincoln & Chester.
Algar II, killed 870, 3rd Earl of Leicester, Lincoln & Chester.
Leofric II, Earl of Leicester, Lincoln and Chester.
Leofwine, 5th Earl of Leicester, Lincoln, Chester & Hereford, created Duke of Mercia,
mar. Alware, grand daughter of Aethelstan, 1st King of all England.
He was living AD 1000.
Leofric III, d. 1057, 6th Earl of Leicester. He mar. Godiva, Countess of Coventry.
Algar III [Alfgar] 7th Earl of Leicester.
He mar. Aelgifu, daughter of William Mallet.
Edwin, slain ca. 1071, 8th Earl of Leicester.
Asser, or Asceur of Edmonghale.
(Geo. C. Ridgeway adds that his wife was a daughter of William the Conqueror). Asser Geun.
William Geun, assumed name of Rydeware, mar. a dau. of William de Thanet.
Sir William de Rydeware, knt., by 1182.
Sir Walter de Rydeware
mar. Matilde dau. of Sir Nicholas de Peche.
Walter de Rydeware
mar. Ellen dau. Sir William fitz Herbert.
Sir Thomas de Rydeware de Rydeware, ward, on father's death, (1296) of Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster,
mar. (1) Margareta, m. (2) Isabella.
Robert de Rydeware b. ca. 1318, d. 1378.
Richard de Rydeware b. ca. 1350, d. 1410.
John de Rydeware, b. ca. 1380, d. ca. 1440, first to be called Ridgway.
Richard de Ridgway b. ca. 1410, d. ca. 1470.
Stephen de Ridgway b. ca. 1435, d. ca. 1500.
John de Ridgway b. ca. 1470, d. ca. 1556, of Torre Grange, Devon.
Thomas de Ridgway of Tor Mohun, Devon.
Sir Thomas Ridgway, 1st Earl of Londonderry, b. ca. 1565 d. 1631.
Sir Robert Ridgway 2nd Earl of Londonderry d.19
Mar. 1640/1 had two sons with other children: 1. Weston, 3rd Earl, 2. Robert bp. 1631.
Robert Ridgway bp. 24 Aug. 1631 at Torre Church, Devon.
Richard Ridgway, who came to America in 1679, bringing son Thomas b. 1677. .
We can add to the above the following from any of the Peerage compilations:
Weston Ridgeway, b. 25 Mar. bp. April 4 1620, d. 1672, 3rd Earl, left 2 sons, Robert and Thomas:
Robert Ridgway, 4th Earl, died 1713/14 leaving only two daughters; his brother Thomas having predeceased him, s.p., the title became extinct. .
Anyone who knows peerage law would recognize from this that the Earldom would have then devolved back upon Robert, son of Sir Robert the 2nd Earl.
On his death it would have passed to his son.
If this Robert had predeceased the two sons of Weston, then the title would have been vested in his son Richard, who was, according to this pedigree, the 1679 colonist.
Yet Richard the colonist did not
(1) use a coat of arms or seal on any document,
(2) is not found to have made any claim for this Earldom on the death of these reputed cousins.
In fact he was a poor man, and a tailor, a trade most unlikely for the grandson of a rich Earl, even an illegitimate grandson.
This pedigree was passed on to Sir Anthony Richard Wagner, now Garter Principal King of Arms of the College of Arms for his comments, which read as follows: . "The first impossibility is the attachment of the Ridgways of Devon to the Rydewares of Staffordshire, but I must add to this the derivation of the Rydewares of Staffordshire from the Earls of Mercia is a fearful and wonderful invention. When we add to this your dictum that the American Ridgways cannot come from the Earls of Londonderry there does not seem to be much left."
Actually, the grandfather of the first Earl of Londonderry is unknown.
There are other major errors in the pedigree.
The title of Earl of Leicester is Norman, and was not used until the Conquest.
The pedigree back of Leofwine is sheer fabrication, since his ancestry is unknown, and there is certainly no ground for identifying his wife with a granddaughter of Aethelstane, nor has Alfgar's wife been accurately identified, and there is no ground for calling her a daughter of William Mallet.
William the Conqueror of course had no daughter, legitimate or otherwise, married to one Asser or Asceur. .
With these two examples behind us, let us pass on to a consideration of the place in the early pedigrees allotted to King Arthur. .
Arthur is first noted in history by Nennius (end of the 8th century) as leader of the Roman party in Britain, against the Saxons, and is there credited with twelve victories.
Legends, heroic tales, and bardic poems about King Arthur and his chieftains apparently were current very early in the Dark Ages, though the oldest of the written versions of them date from about the eleventh century.
These early manuscripts appear to be copies of older and lost works and therefore it has been difficult, perhaps impossible, to identify the earliest of these stories. Perhaps it is significant that none of the extant ancient pedigrees contains mention of Arthur or of his reputed father Uther, at least not in a form we can recognize.
[Though it is only fair to point out that these pedigrees usually show straight line descents, and Arthur had no children, and even in his sister's son, his nephew and eventual heir, this line failed. Therefore there would not be a real reason for preserving it.
Against this, note the many Saxon lines that were recorded which mayor may not have failed.]
For this reason, and because of the many conflicting statements about Arthur, for the past century it has been a generally accepted article of faith that no real Arthur ever existed, that he was only a figure of myth or heroic legend.
Today we are not so sure.
A good case has been made for him as a real person, though perhaps as a military leader rather than a king, and perhaps a pagan rather than a Christian. .
However, many now believe him to be the British commander who repelled the Saxons at the Battle of Badon Hill (ca. 520 AD) and destroyed their power, delaying the Saxon conquest of all of Wessex and Cornwall by probably 50 years. .
About 1135, Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk, later Bishop of St. Asaph, wrote his famous "History of the Kings of Britain," an amazing mixture of fact and legend which he claimed to have derived from Nennius, and from an old manuscript to which he had had access but which has now disappeared and which no one else ever saw.
In this work, Arthur is neatly placed in an historical context, and in a proper dynastic niche. . Geoffrey's work, dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, was considered authoritative for several centuries.
Arthur represented greatness on the world stage as a truly insular British figure as distinct from Norman and Saxon.
As such he was important to the early English Kings as a symbol of the importance and greatness of the Kingdom they had conquered. It was important to show that the native kings, from whom Henry II descended, were of such distinguished stock.
Accordingly, the discovery of the graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere at Glastonbury Abbey during the reign of Henry II added weight to the story and lustre to the throne.
The genealogy contained in Geoffrey's work was considered official and incorporated into Sir John Anderson's "Royal Genealogies,"
the first important attempt to compile the genealogies of all historical royalty. .
Here is the descent as Anderson shows it: .
Constantine of Brittany, landed in Britain 433 repulsed the Picts and Scotts, crowned King. Died 443
1. Constans of Vortiger succ. 443; slain 446 by treason. (identified in Anderson as a cousin by marriage, connection not clear.) [No issue]
2. Aurelius Ambrosius, chosen King on Vortiger's flight to Wales in 466. Poisoned 498. [No issue]
3. Uther Pendragon, succeeded his brother 498; died 516. By mistress, the Duchess of Cornwall, had: a. Arthur, succ. 516; Killed 21 May 542 Constantine II, son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, succ. his cousin 542, slain by his successor, 545. b. Ann, wife of Lothus, King of the Picts; had:
(1) Aurelius Conanus, succ. 545. . Vortiger and Aurelius Ambrosius are both well known historical personages. Vortiger was the Welsh (or British) "Over-King" or "High King" of the period who invited Hengist and his "Saxons" in to help fight the Picts, and married, as his second wife, Hengist's daughter Rowena, and then discovered he had sowed the wind and must reap the whirlwind.
Aurelius Ambrosius, who also used the title "Count of Britain," was almost certainly a Roman citizen, and possibly of the house of the Emperor Constantine. He is the last known Roman official and leader of the Roman faction, a capable soldier who fought against the Saxon invaders and confined their Channel activities to the Isle of Thannet, circa 440.
Thus the pedigree chart dates him several decades too late, and the Constantine who heads it could be the Emperor of that name, who was born in Britain, rather than a brother of the Duke of Brittany.
The existence of Uther is not attested by any known contemporary document, though his name could, of course, be a perversion of a British or Welsh name of that period. Further, it would be logical, linguistically, for a man named Uther to have a son named Arthur. .
In the 19th century the many discrepancies and contradictions in the "Matter of Britain" as the Arthurian material came to be called, became so apparent that the bulk of the scholars developed a total skepticism with regard to its historical importance.
But a few students were not satisfied to dismiss it completely since that left a number of matters unexplained. For example, the Battle of Badon Hill did take place.
A few of the skeptics had assigned this to Ambrosius, forgetting or ignoring the chronological impossibility. So in the last twenty years historians have been slowly reversing their positions once more, accepting Arthur as historical, but probably not as a king. .
Prof. Henry Treece, in his historic novel The Dark Island, pictures Arthur as a pagan Britton, Gwyndoc, friend of Caradoc (the Caractatus of Roman history), circa 25-30.
Then later in The Great Captains, Dr. Treece tells Arthur's story in substantially the framework of Geoffrey of Monmouth, but making him a pagan chieftain. .
Edson Marshall in his The Pagan King, identifies him with Aurelius Ambrosius, whose name he changes to Art-tay, Art-tyr, or Arthur, and makes him a British tribal leader of the 6th century.
Alfred Duggan brings him into the last pages of his The Little Emporers as a small boy who is a follower or student of the elderly Aurelius Ambrosius. .
Rosemary Sutcliff in her Sword at Sunset follows the traditional idea that Arthur is Aurelius' nephew, son of Uther, son of Constantine, but adds a new generation, making Constantine the son of the Roman Maximus, a not impossible idea.
However she also makes a change in Cerdic's ancestry, identifying him as a son of Vortiger by Rowena, a most unlikely idea, as no connection has been adduced for him with either the Hengistas of the Royal British line.
A more likely derivation is the Romano-Britton suggestion of Alfred Duggan in his The Conscience of the King. .
Probably the best known of these recent books based on Arthurian material is that of T. H. White, The Once and Future King, which has been turned into the musical Camelot, and which is written as patent fairy tale with a moral.
However it has remained for one John Whitehead, perhaps influenced by Henry Treece's Dark Island (or perhaps he gave the idea to Prof. Treece) to come up with a new and complete pedigree, and to present it as fact in his The Guardian of the Grail. (Jarrolds, 1959) .
70 BC Llyr Llediath, had:
40 BC Regan, mar. Henwen of Cornwall; had:
10 BC 1. Constantine; had
a. Gereint ab Lud; had:
50 AD (1) Cador, Chief of Cornwall; had
65 AD a. Constantine (Arthur's heir) .
10 BC 2. Tascovan, mar. Ywerit; had:
20 AD a. Cymbeline, mar. (1) an Alban princess, (2) Igraine of Cornwall He had by first wife:
(1) Clarine, mar. Ban of Benwick, had
a. Lancelot, mar. Elaine, had: Galahad
(2) Heln, mar. Bort of Llychlyn; had: Bors
(3) Gwydr (king until killed by treachery)
Cymbeline had by his second wife:
(4) Arthur, mar. Guenevere; had: daughters
(5) Anna, "Lady of the Lake,"
mar. (1) Modron; and had Gawain,
(2) Aaron Rheged; had: Mordred. .
The evidences are slight. The arguments are fascinating, especially the assignment of these pedigrees to Arthur's knights (but where are Kay, (Welsh Cei), and Bedivere (Welsh Bedwyr) who appear in the oldest of the Welsh tales).
To accept any of this we must agree that Arthur did not fight the Saxons, and his battles did NOT include Badon Hill. . After what we have shown here, I hope I have convinced some, if not all of you, to treat with caution all of the traditional Dark Age genealogies, and not adopt them into pedigrees on which you are working until you have made a thorough and careful check not only of sources, but of the manner in which generations are fitted together, how they mate with historical facts of the period and the presence or absence of dates confirming reasonable life spans and ages of fathers at birth of successors.