All In the Family

During this election season when the histrionics of the media about whether we can expect armed revolt should the Donald lose are growing ever more frenetic, here’s a true tale about transfer of power (and family dysfunction)  in the old days.  I came across the information while doing a genealogy project for an old friend.  When she was elderly and could no longer see, she had to abandon her attempts  to discover her ancestry prior to her death.  Since she always helped everyone else, when she was on her deathbed I promised to try and complete this project for her.

At Hospice an index card had fallen out of her prayer book and it had the birth, death and marriage information about a pair of her great grandparents, which is what prompted the promise.  I thought it would be a simple matter to trace a few generations, at most, before coming to the end of the trail.

Things turned out differently because, as it happened, she–unknowingly–came from two very well-documented colonial families.   It seems her people arrived in what is now the USA back in the early 1600’s.  Her ancestry is a glittering one and goes back hundreds and hundreds of years.  History books are full of her family’s deeds and exploits.

After finding all these names in genealogies on the LDS FamilySearch website, I started looking up some of those folks.  That led to a whole host of ancient manuscripts and documents, which were translated into English in the 18th and 19th centuries. Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon,, Nennius, William of Jumieges, William of Poitiers, Orderic Vitalis, etc. all had plenty to say about my friend’s ancestors.

Turns out that, among other things, her many-greats grandparents were heavily involved in ending Saxon rule in England, changing our history forever.

One of those Grampas was Gryffyd ap Llewelyn, King of Wales who had an ally, Aelfgar III, Earl of Mercia, who had been exiled by Edward the Confessor, King of England, for treason in 1055.  Alefgar had a beautiful young daughter, Ealdgyth, who married Gryffydd, probably having no say in the matter.

In 1063, Gryffydd was murdered by his own men in Snowdonia, Wales.  (Hey, it
happens.) His men took Gryffydd’s head and the figurehead of his ship, as proof of Gryffydd’s demise, to Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinsson.  Harold then took the head to  Edward the Confessor, presumably because Edward would be grateful for the removal of the troublesome Gryffydd.  Edward the Confessor had also previously exiled Harold, his brothers and his father Godwin, but by the time 1066 came around Harold had become a close ally of Edward.  It doesn’t seem likely that Harold was just being a nice guy and dropping off the head because he was going to be passing by the neighborhood, he was expecting to get something out of it.  Regardless, a grateful king can presumably be a handy person to know.

Since Lllewelyn’s widow, Ealdgyth was very pretty, as well as well-connected, Harold married her.  No word on how she felt about screwing the guy who’d carried her husband’s head around like a damn basketball or something, although, he was reputedly a total hottie.

Then on October 14, 1066, a few months after Harold Godwinsson had acceded to the throne of England, despite having sworn not to do so to another of my friend’s many-greats grandfathers, William the Conqueror, all hell broke loose.  William  invaded England and the Battle of Hastings ensued.  The outcome is well known–Harold did not survive it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot.   Harold Godwinsson had only just finished successfully leading his men three weeks earlier on September 25, 1066  at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, against his brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria.  Why?  Because Tostig had convinced Harold Hardraade, King of Norway to invade England and try to overthrow  Harold Godwinsson, King of England.  Harold Hardraade thought he should be king of England (there seems to have been a lot of that going around) because Edward the Confessor had seized the English throne from Norwegian king Hardacnut back in 1042.  Hardraade claimed that Hardacnut had promised the English throne to King Magnus of Norway, and, since he was Magnus’ successor, then he–Hardraade–should have the English throne by default.

And, just to complicate matters further, Tostig’s brother-in-law was Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, who was also William the Conqueror’s father-in-law and another many-greats grandfather of my friend.

Soooo, one of my friend’s many-greats grandmothers loses her husband, and then turns around and marries the guy who was running around Wales and England with the husband’s head.  And then, another of my friend’s many-greats grandfathers later kills the SOB who’d been running around with her other grandfather’s head.  And then that ancestor was crowned in the brand new Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1066.  (Westminster Abbey was consecrated in January , 1066.)

Now that’s really keeping it all in the family!

And that’s how power was transferred back in the day.  Busy, busy, busy, as the Bokononists used to say.

So my friend’s family history brings new (or old depending upon how you look at it) meaning to the term “transfer of political power” .  Puts it in context, so to speak.

I am so sorry my friend did not survive to learn of her glittering and gaudy ancestors and their frisky ways. Their doings make soap operas pale in comparison.  You think you’ve got a dysfunctional family?   And I haven’t even gotten into Eochaid IV “the Venomous” King of Scotland (what does one have to do to earn such an adjective) or Boleslav “the Cruel” Duke of Bohemia!


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