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Today’s ancestry and history lesson sponsored by the Gaunt family!

Ok, today’s ancestry and history lesson has nothing to do with the Viking era or the early Anglo-Saxons. No, today we are going to move forward a few centuries to some equally interesting family members. I have to admit that finding these ancestors has made me more appreciative of my more boring, average and mundane life! This week’s ancestry research has connected me to some families that I am not really sure I necessarily want to be descended from? I am beginning to realize why so many of my ancestors tried to stay on the edge of Royal and Nobility politics, why their fortunes may have took a down turn eventually and why they might have jumped at the chance to head for the wilds of America first chance they got!  I have found myself caught up in the web of Nobility and Royalty of the 1300s- a web of scheming, plotting and feuding families that would equal to anything earlier generations could have thought of!  After trying to sort through some of it, I will no longer complain about sifting through generation after generation of plain ordinary families who left little trace of their history.  

This family history update is brought to you by the Gaunt family… John of Gaunt and his rather illustrious family that includes some royalty, some nobility, some rather famous friends, plus assorted wives, and a  professional mistress who made good. 

blanche of lancaster and katherine swynford

I am not going to share the entire book that it would require to document events of this family. I just want to share the beginning of this family saga that will eventually drag us through the War of the Roses with ancestors on both sides of the long drawn out battle for the crown and the power of the English monarchy. A family saga that will come to include the Gaunt descendants, the Beaufort, Nevilles and the Percy families.

John of Gaunt is my 17x great grandfather by way of his daughter Joan Beaufort with Mistress turned wife, Katherine Swynford.

joan beaufort

Many people who have some interest in medieval history may be familiar with Katherine Swynford, one of the more famous or infamous mistresses who made good and managed to retire comfortably to wifedom… You may not realize that she was also a pre-cursor to the now somewhat familiar and infamous idea of the not so trusted Nanny idea.  She is also some proof that occasionally the role or career of long term mistress does pay off if one is willing to stick it out and ignore the bad press and scandal associated with the career. 

Let’s look at John of Gaunt first… he was no stranger to bad press and rumors himself! John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, (6 March 1340 – 3 February 1399) was a member of the House of Plantagenet, the third surviving son of KingEdward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. He was called “John of Gaunt” because he was born in Ghent, then rendered in English as Gaunt. When he became unpopular later in life, scurrilous rumours and lampoons circulated that he was actually the son of a Ghent butcher, perhaps because Edward III was not present at the birth. This story always drove him to fury. 

As a younger brother of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward, the Black Prince), John exercised great influence over the English throne during the minority of Edward’s son, who became King Richard II, and the ensuing periods of political strife. Due to some generous land grants, John was one of the richest men in his era. He made an abortive attempt to enforce a claim to the Crown of Castile that came courtesy of his second wife Constance, who was an heir to the Castillian Kingdom, and for a time styled himself as such. So, let’s just say that John was a pretty catch even if he wasn’t in line for a crown! John of Gaunt’s legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters, include Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. His other legitimate descendants include his daughtersQueen Philippa of Portugal and Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter (by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster), and Queen Catherine of Castile (by his second wifeConstance of Castile). John fathered five children outside marriage, one early in life by a lady-in-waiting to his mother, and four by Katherine Swynford, Gaunt’s long-term mistress and third wife.

john.gaunt.4

John was the fourth son of King Edward III of England. His first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, was also his third cousin, both as great-great-grandchildren of King Henry III. They married in 1359 at Reading Abbey as a part of the efforts of Edward III to arrange matches for his sons with wealthy heiresses. Upon the death of his father-in-law, the 1st Duke of Lancaster, in 1361, John received half his lands, the title “Earl of Lancaster”, and distinction as the greatest landowner in the north of England as heir of the Palatinate of Lancaster. He also became the 14th Baron of Halton and 11th Lord of Bowland. John inherited the rest of the Lancaster property when Blanche’s sister Maud, Countess of Leicester (married to William V, Count of Hainaut), died without issue on 10 April 1362.

John received the title “Duke of Lancaster” from his father on 13 November 1362. By then well established, he owned at least thirty castles and estates across England and France and maintained a household comparable in scale and organisation to that of a monarch. He owned land in almost every county in England, a patrimony that produced a net income of between £8,000 and £10,000 a year.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_of_Gaunt

Since we are looking more at his personal life here, I am not going to go into great detail about his professional life as in his politics, or his battle accomplishments-or lack of them. Despite any other faults or errors he may have made, he was loyal to his King. When Edward III died in 1377 and John’s ten-year-old nephew succeeded as Richard II of England, John’s influence strengthened. However, mistrust remained, and some suspected him of wanting to seize the throne himself. John took pains to ensure that he never became associated with the opposition to Richard’s kingship.

blanche of lancaster

As I mentioned, we are looking more at his personal life here- his marriages, and affairs of the heart so to speak.  On 19 May 1359 at Reading Abbey, John married his third cousin, Blanche of Lancaster, daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster. The wealth she brought to the marriage was the foundation of John’s fortune. Blanche died on 12 September 1368 at Tutbury Castle, while her husband was overseas. Their son Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV of England, after the duchy of Lancaster was taken by Richard II upon John’s death while Henry was in exile. Their daughter Philippa became Queen of Portugal by marrying King John I of Portugal in 1387. All subsequent kings of Portugal were thus descended from John of Gaunt.

marriage_of_blanche_of_lancster_and_john_of_gaunt_1359

Jean Froissart described Blanche (following her death) as “jone et jolie” (“young and pretty”). Geoffrey Chaucer described “White” (the central figure in hisBook of the Duchess, believed to have been inspired by Blanche: see below) in such terms as “rody, fresh, and lyvely hewed”, her neck as “whyt, smothe, streght, and flat”, and her throat as “a round tour of yvoire”: she was “bothe fair and bright”, and Nature’s “cheef patron [pattern] of beautee”. Of course she was young and probably pretty… she was born in  March 1345, although the year 1347 has also been suggested. So, given that birth date she was all of 13 or 14 at the time! 

Gaunt and Blanche’s marriage is widely believed to have been happy, although there is little solid evidence for this. The assumption seems to be based on the fact that Gaunt chose to be buried with Blanche, despite his two subsequent marriages, and on the themes of love, devotion and grief expressed in Chaucer’s poem (see below) – a rather circular argument, as it is partly on the basis of these themes that the couple’s relationship is identified as the inspiration for the poem. Blanche and Gaunt had seven children, three of whom survived infancy.

Tomb_of_John_of_Gaunt_and_Blanche_of_Lancaster

Tomb_of_John_of_Gaunt_and_Blanche_of_Lancaster

Blanche died at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, on 12 September 1368 while her husband was overseas.  She was 23 years of age at the time of her death, although Froissart reported that she died aged about 22. It is believed that she may have died after contracting the Black Death which was rife in Europe at that time. Her funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was preceded by a magnificent cortege attended by most of the upper nobility and clergy. John of Gaunt held annual commemorations of her death for the rest of his life and established a joint chantry foundation on his own death. 

It may have been for one of the anniversary commemorations of Blanche’s death that Geoffrey Chaucer, then a young squire and mostly unknown writer of court poetry, was commissioned to write what became The Book of the Duchess in her honour. Though Chaucer’s intentions can never be defined with absolute certainty, many believe that at least one of the aims of the poem was to make John of Gaunt see that his grief for his late wife had become excessive, and to prompt him to try to overcome it.

In 1374, six years after her death, John of Gaunt commissioned a double tomb for himself and Blanche from the mason Henry Yevele. The magnificent monument in the choir of St Paul’s was completed by Yevele in 1380, with the assistance of Thomas Wrek, having cost a total of £592. Gaunt himself died in 1399, and was laid to rest beside Blanche. The two effigies were notable for having their right hands joined. An adjacent chantry chapel was added between 1399 and 1403.

While John probably did love Blanche, and possibly grieved excessively for her, I have to think that he was not grieving too excessively for her… we have only to look at the appearance of Katherine Swynford in his household to give some proof of this. That is aside from the fact that he also married again in 1371 to Constance of Castile. 

Katherine was the daughter of Paon de Roet, a herald, and later knight, who was “probably christened as Gilles”. She had two sisters, Philippa and Isabel (also called Elizabeth) de Roet, and a brother, Walter. Isabel later became Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru’s, Mons, c. 1366. Katherine is generally held to have been his youngest child. However, Alison Weir argues that Philippa was the junior and that both were children of a second marriage. Katherine’s sister Philippa, a lady of Queen Philippa’s household, married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer

In about 1366, at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, Katherine, aged sixteen or seventeen, contracted an advantageous marriage with “Hugh” Ottes Swynford, a Knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, the son of Thomas Swynford by his marriage to Nicole Druel. She had the following children by him: Blanche (born 1 May 1367), Thomas (21 September 1368 – 1432), and possibly Margaret Swynford (born about 1369), later recorded as a nun of the prestigious Barking Abbey nominated by command of King Richard II.

Katherine became attached to the household of John of Gaunt as governess to his daughters Philippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. The ailing duchess Blanche had Katherine’s daughter Blanche (her namesake) placed within her own daughters’ chambers and afforded the same luxuries as her daughters; additionally, John of Gaunt stood as godfather to the child.

Some time after Blanche’s death in 1368 and the birth of their first son in 1373, Katherine and John of Gaunt entered into a love affair that would produce four children for the couple, born out of wedlock but legitimized upon their parents’ eventual marriage; the adulterous relationship endured until 1381 when it was truncated out of political necessity and ruined Katherine’s reputation. On 13 January 1396, two years after the death of the Duke’s second wife, Infanta Constance of Castile, Katherine and John of Gaunt married in Lincoln Cathedral. Records of their marriage kept in the Tower and elsewhere list: ‘John of Ghaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married Katharine daughter of Guyon King of Armes in the time of K. Edward the 3, and Geffrey Chaucer her sister’.

On John of Gaunt’s death, Katherine became known as dowager Duchess of Lancaster. She outlived him by four years, dying on 10 May 1403, in her early fifties.

Coat of arms of Katherine Swynford as Duchess of Lancaster, after her marriage to John of Gaunt : three gold Catherine wheels (“roet” means “little wheel” in Old French) on a red field. The wheel emblem shows Katherine’s devotion to her patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel,although there was once extant a copy of her seal’s impression, ca. 1377, showing her arms of three Catherine wheels of gold on a field Gules, a molet in fess point empaling the arms of Swynford (Birch’s Catalogue of Seals.
Children of Katherine and John of Gaunt:

The descendants of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt are significant in English and Scottish history. Their four children had been given the surname “Beaufort” and with the approval of King Richard II and the Pope were legitimated as adults by their parents’ marriage in 1396. Despite this, the Beauforts were barred from inheriting the throne of England by a clause in the legitimation act inserted by their half-brother, Henry IV, although modern scholarship disputes the authority of a monarch to alter an existing parliamentary statute on his own authority, without the further approval of Parliament. This provision was later revoked by Edward VI, placing Katherine’s descendants (including himself) back within the legitimate line of inheritance; the Tudor dynasty was directly descended from John and Katherine’s eldest child, John Beaufort, great-grandfather of Henry VII, who based his claim to the throne on his mother’s descent from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. John Beaufort also had a daughter named Joan Beaufort, who married James I of Scotland and thus was an ancestress of the House of Stuart.  John and Katherine’s daughter, Joan Beaufort, was grandmother of the English kings Edward IV and Richard III, the latter of whom Henry Tudor (thus becoming by conquest Henry VII) defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field; Henry’s claim was strengthened by marrying Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. It was also through Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland that the sixth queen of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, descended.  John of Gaunt’s son — Katherine’s stepson Henry of Bolingbroke — became Henry IV after deposing Richard II (who was imprisoned and died in Pontefract Castle, where Katherine’s son, Thomas Swynford, was constable and is said to have starved Richard to death for his step-brother). John of Gaunt’s daughter by his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, Philippa of Lancaster, was great-great-grandmother to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII and mother of Mary I of England. John of Gaunt’s child by his second wife Constance, Catherine (or Catalina), was great-grandmother of Catherine of Aragon as well.

We could just leave the story here and conclude that in this instance, the mistress wins… but does she win by default and longevity or is she truly the love of his life who waited patiently on the side lines until he could marry her? Was Blanche the one he truly loved as Chaucer would suggest in some of his works, and Katherine won by the fact that she survived and stuck it out for that ultimate final pay out of marriage and legitimacy for their children. At the time of their marriage in 1396, all of the children were adults and were legitimized by the Pope- which while they were already set upon high standing positions- would greatly benefit the rest of their futures. 

To put his relationships with both women in some perspective and reasoning, we can probably look at John’s character, his ideals and his friendship with one other person of importance, Geoffrey Chaucer.

One account and description of his appearance and character gives some clues to his mindset. 

John was dark-haired, with piercing eyes and a narrow, angular face. He was almost two metres tall (as his suit of armour at the Tower of London, “the Giant”, bears out). He was a superb judge of character, which attributed for his political finesse. And he was also an extremely proficient political negotiator. He did not enjoy battle, so was generally not successful in the field.

He had very strict ideas about chivalry, which he also expected from his knights. The pastimes he enjoyed were gaming (dice and chess) and hunting. He loved splendour but not pomp, was richer than the King (to quote R. Gablé: “as rich as a heathen caliph”), which was probably why he was in charge of the exchequer during Richard II’s reign. Those who disliked him would probably not have believed it, but he was a strongly loyal person. His far-sightedness and political expertise were held in great esteem abroad; but in England his true character was not appreciated, particularly by the people and the Church. It was one reason why he became very unhappy in later years, in spite of the fact that he was able to conceal his feelings in this (and many other respects). According to Candace Robb, he enjoyed a laugh but was quick to hold a grudge.

Blanche was the perfect lady. She was blonde, with an angelic appearance and had had an excellent upbringing. John loved and, above all, admired her greatly. He never really recovered from her death, although they could be said to have been companions rather than lovers. In an arranged marriage, one could probably consider a relationship of this kind a happy one.

Constanza was dark-haired and small. John evidently married her in a fit of euphoria (the throne of Castile) and under his father’s instructions. He was quick to see that he and Constanza would never see eye to eye, as they differed too greatly. She had a penchant for the Church, was fairly prude and, to John’s mind, too austere.

Katherine was a redhead and tall. She was, so to speak, the sunshine of his life. His mood brightened whenever she entered the room. When she was near him, or merely at the thought of her, his “troubled lot” became half as bad. Lists still exist of the many gifts he gave her (wine, money, estates etc.), which were intended to make her life easier and in consideration of what she had done for him. The fact that he could not marry her and love her officially troubled him greatly. In his view, their marriage was all too short. 

To put his relationships with both women in some perspective and reasoning, we can probably look at John’s character, his ideals and his friendship with one other person of importance, Geoffrey Chaucer. I have not made reference to John’s relationship or marriage to second wife Constance or Constanza because I think in all probability it was not any love, or lust match at all. It was an arranged marriage for political and economical reasons and did not play any part in his romantic notions or feelings for dead Blanche or living Katherine. It probably was more of a hindrance as he grew older and wanted to legitimize his relationship with Katherine for her benefit and for the benefit of their children. 

John believed in the idea of chivalry, honor and most probably that ideal of romantic courtly love. His marriage to Blanche was arranged but obviously there was some attraction and care for each other. After all, apparently she spent much of the short lived marriage pregnant. They were married for ten years and she bore seven children although only three survived. Their marriage was cut short by her untimely death at the fairly young age of 22. Added to the tragedy of her death was the fact that she died while he was away. Being the chivalrous man that he was and also given that he held some ideal or notion of that romantic love, he most likely would have indulged or dwelt on that idea of eternal love ever after.  As often happens with the death of someone close, the relationship takes on a more positive or glowing light than it may have actually been in reality. While they might have been relatively happy or at least not entirely miserable together, he may have put more outward mourning and grief over her death because of some feelings of guilt in not being there for her. Thus in death, she became that epitome, that idol of romantic love that the living could not compete with. Having went through a similar experience myself, I completely understand the adage that you can not compete with a dead lover.  No matter how he felt about Katherine, there would probably always have been a shadow or presence of  “perfection” Blanche

This could be what Chaucer was referencing and referring to when he suggested to John that he was over doing the grief stricken husband role and it was time to move on. He had already moved on partially but he needed to finally put closure to it all and give everyone a chance to go on as well. 

Geoffrey Chaucer was a life long friend of John Gaunt and most probably influenced him a great deal.  

Geoffrey_Chaucer_(17th_century portrait

Geoffrey Chaucer ( c. 1343 – 25 October 1400), known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of theMiddle Ages and was the first poet to be buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

While he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, and astronomer, composing a scientific treatise on the astrolabe for his ten-year-old son Lewis, Chaucer also maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. He is best known today for The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer was a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin.

Chaucer was a close friend of and served under the patronage of John of Gaunt, the wealthy Duke of Lancaster (and father of the future King of England). Near the end of their lives Lancaster and Chaucer became brothers-in-law. Chaucer married Philippa (Pan) de Roet in 1366, and Lancaster took his mistress of nearly 30 years, Katherine Swynford (de Roet), who was Philippa Chaucer’s sister, as his third wife in 1396. Although Philippa died c.1387, the men were bound as brothers and Lancaster’s children by Katherine—John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort—were Chaucer’s nephews and niece.

Chaucer_Duchess blanche of lancaster

Chaucer_Duchess blanche of lancaster

Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, also known as the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse, was written in commemoration of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s first wife. The poem refers to John and Blanche in allegory as the narrator relates the tale of “A long castel with walles white/Be Seynt Johan, on a ryche hil” (1318–1319) who is mourning grievously after the death of his love, “And goode faire White she het/That was my lady name ryght” (948–949). The phrase “long castel” is a reference to Lancaster (also called “Loncastel” and “Longcastell”), “walles white” is thought to likely be an oblique reference to Blanche, “Seynt Johan” was John of Gaunt’s name-saint, and “ryche hil” is a reference to Richmond; these thinly veiled references reveal the identity of the grieving black knight of the poem as John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Earl of Richmond. “White” is the English translation of the French word “blanche”, implying that the white lady was Blanche of Lancaster.

Believed to have been written in the 1390s, Chaucer’s short poem Fortune, is also inferred to directly reference Lancaster. “Chaucer as narrator” openly defies Fortune, proclaiming he has learned who his enemies are through her tyranny and deceit, and declares “my suffisaunce” (15) and that “over himself hath the maystrye” (14). Fortune, in turn, does not understand Chaucer’s harsh words to her for she believes she has been kind to him, claims that he does not know what she has in store for him in the future, but most importantly, “And eek thou hast thy beste frend alyve” (32, 40, 48). Chaucer retorts that “My frend maystow nat reven, blind goddesse” (50) and orders her to take away those who merely pretend to be his friends. Fortune turns her attention to three princes whom she implores to relieve Chaucer of his pain and “Preyeth his beste frend of his noblesse/That to som beter estat he may atteyne” (78–79). The three princes are believed to represent the dukes of Lancaster, York, andGloucester, and a portion of line 76, “as three of you or tweyne,” to refer to the ordinance of 1390 which specified that no royal gift could be authorised without the consent of at least two of the three dukes.  Most conspicuous in this short poem is the number of references to Chaucer’s “beste frend”. Fortune states three times in her response to the plaintiff, “And also, you still have your best friend alive” (32, 40, 48); she also references his “beste frend” in the envoy when appealing to his “noblesse” to help Chaucer to a higher estate. A fifth reference is made by “Chaucer as narrator” who rails atFortune that she shall not take his friend from him. While the envoy playfully hints to Lancaster that Chaucer would certainly appreciate a boost to his status or income, the poem Fortune distinctively shows his deep appreciation and affection for John of Gaunt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Chaucer

 

On a final note, there are a few books related to Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt that you might find interesting. I have not read them as yet, but am suggesting them because I trust the author! I do plan to read more about her now. 

mistress of the monarchy by alison weir

Acclaimed author Alison Weir brings to life the extraordinary tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Great Britain. Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Roët was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had truly begun two years earlier, when she was appointed governess to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine became John’s mistress and then, after many twists of fortune, his bride in a scandalous marriage. Mistress of the Monarchy reveals a woman ahead of her time—making her own choices, flouting convention, and taking control of her own destiny. Indeed, without Katherine Swynford, the course of English history, perhaps even the world, would have been very different.

history of royal marriages and the monarchy by alison wier

George III is alleged to have married secretly, on 17th April, 1759, a Quakeress called Hannah Lightfoot, daughter of a Wapping shoemaker, who is said to have borne him three children. Documents relating to the alleged marriage, bearing the Prince’s signature, were impounded and examined in 1866 by the Attorney General. Learned opinion at the time leaned to the view that these documents were genuine. They were then placed in the Royal Archives at Windsor; in 1910, permission was refused a would-be author who asked to see them. If George III did make such a marriage when he was Prince of Wales, before the passing of the Royal Marriages Act in 1772, then his subsequent marriage to Queen Charlotte was bigamous, and every monarch of Britain since has been a usurper, the rightful heirs of George III being his children by Hannah Lightfoot, if they ever existed.’ From Britain’s Royal Families

Britain’s Royal Families is a unique reference book. It provides, for the first time in one volume, complete genealogical details of all members of the royal houses of England, Scotland and Great Britain – from 800AD to the present. Here is the vital biographical information relating not only to each monarch, but also to every member of their immediate family, from parents to grandchildren. Drawing on countless authorities, both ancient and modern, Alison Weir explores the royal family tree in unprecedented depth and provides a comprehensive guide to the heritage of today’s royal family.

 

 

 

 

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I am King! Really, why and how?

I am King

All of the above men are or were Kings in our Vikings saga, the exception being young Erlandeur…his chance at King being thwarted by Ragnar Lothbrok! I have included Harald Finehair in the portrait as he will be arriving next season as King of Norway.  What I hope to do with this series of articles is shed some light on the hows, the whys of Kingship, and give some brief historical insight on each of these men and their claim to Kingship.  I will also look at a recent discovery of a Leadership gene, right to rule and divine destiny and how these concepts relate to these men becoming King. *Note* This is part one of a series that will look at each of these Kings and their claims or right to rule!

First, before anything else, we need to explore the concept of King, or monarchy in general.

A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is  one or several individual(s) reigning until death or abdication. They are called the monarchs.  Forms of monarchy differ widely based on the method of selection of the monarch, and any predetermined limits on the length of their tenure. When the monarch has no or few legal restraints in state and political matters, it is called an absolute monarchy. Cases in which the monarch’s discretion is formally limited (most common today) are called constitutional monarchies. In hereditary monarchies, the office is passed through inheritance within a family group, whereas elective monarchies use some system of voting. Each of these has variations: in some elected monarchies only those of certain pedigrees are eligible, whereas many hereditary monarchies impose requirements regarding the religion, age, gender, mental capacity, and other factors. Occasionally this might create a situation of rival claimants whose legitimacy is subject to effective election.

Tribal kingship is often connected to sacred functions, so that the king acts as a priest, or is considered of Divine ancestry. The sacred function of kingship was transformed into the notion of “Divine right of kings” in the Christian Middle Ages.  In Germanic antiquity, kingship was primarily a sacral function, and the king was elected from among eligible members of royal families by the thing.

Monarchies are associated with  hereditary rule, in which monarchs rule for life and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their child or another member of their family when they die. Most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family, the center of the royal household and court. Growing up in a royal family,  future monarchs are often trained for the responsibilities of expected future rule.

 Different systems of succession have been used, such as proximity of blood, primogeniture, and agnatic seniority (Salic law). While most monarchs have been male, many female monarchs also have reigned in history; the term queen regnant refers to a ruling monarch, while a queen consort refers to the wife of a reigning king. The principal advantage of hereditary monarchy is the immediate continuity of leadership (as seen in the classic phrase “The King is dead. Long live the King!“).

 

Monarchy, especially absolute monarchy, sometimes is linked to religious aspects; many monarchs once claimed the right to rule by the will of a deity (Divine Right of Kings, Mandate of Heaven), a special connection to a deity (sacred king). Many European monarchs have been styled Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith); some hold official positions relating to the state religion or established church.

  In a hereditary monarchy, the position of monarch is inherited according to a statutory or customary order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin through a historical dynasty or bloodline. This usually means that the heir to the throne is known well in advance of becoming monarch to ensure a smooth succession.

Primogeniture, in which the eldest child of the monarch is first in line to become monarch, is the most common system in hereditary monarchy. The order of succession is usually affected by rules on gender. Historically “agnatic primogeniture” or “patrilineal primogeniture” was favoured, that is inheritance according to seniority of birth among the sons of a monarch or head of family, with sons and their male issue inheriting before brothers and their issue, and male-line males inheriting before females of the male line. 

Before primogeniture was enshrined in European law and tradition, kings would often secure the succession by having their successor (usually their eldest son) crowned during their own lifetime, so for a time there would be two kings in coregency – a senior king and a junior king. Examples include Henry the Young King of England and the early Direct Capetians in France. In Saxon history, King Ecbert did similar with his son Aethelwulf. We will delve into that later.

aethelwulf and ecbert

 Sometimes, however, primogeniture can operate through the female line. In some systems a female may rule as monarch only when the male line dating back to a common ancestor is exhausted.  This is how Kwentirith has managed to achieve her current rule of Mercia…

Just a hint here Kwentirith when everyone throws empty cups at you you may have a few friend problems!

Just a hint here Kwentirith when everyone throws empty cups at you you may have a few friend problems!

In the case of the absence of children, the next most senior member of the collateral line (for example, a younger sibling of the previous monarch) becomes monarch. In complex cases, this can mean that there are closer blood relatives to the deceased monarch than the next in line according to primogeniture. This has often led, especially in Europe in the Middle Ages, to conflict between the principle of primogeniture and the principle of proximity of blood.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarchy

For our purposes in this discussion, we are going to deal mainly with the Hereditary Monarchy, because for the most part all of the Kings in our saga have achieved their crown via that sucession. Even Ragnar Lodbrok as we will see in tracing his limited history, probably did have a sort of blood link to the crown of Denmark. The only one that there is some doubt or question of will be King Aelle of Northumbria. We just do not know enough about him to make any detailed or accurate assumption as to his right or claim to that Kingdom.

Before looking at each man’s history and personal claim to Kingship, we should also look at some other more general theories and concepts regarding Kingship and it’s history. This will help to better understand each particular man’s role in this career choice…

Right to Rule and Divine right of Kings

The divine right of kings or divine right  asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm, including the Church. According to this doctrine, only God can judge an unjust king. The doctrine implies that any attempt to depose the king or to restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act. It is often expressed in the phrase “by the Grace of God,” attached to the titles of a reigning monarch.

While this concept would seem on the surface only to apply to European Kings of later centuries, the basis for the principle goes much further back and ties into the idea or concept that Kings were descended from God, or Gods… That they had a direct connection to that higher power and therefore had a right or claim to rule because of that connection. Denmark had a history for following this principle of right to rule dating as far back as to a point when it was inhabited by the Angles, who then eventually migrated to Britain and brought the concept with them.

The Dacians settled in a region that includes modern Denmark and the northwest region of Germany.  The Dacians named this region Dacia, in honor of their homeland.  In Dacia, the Dacians displaced the native peoples.  Undoubtedly, some level of integration happened between the Thracians, Dacians, and native populations.  Dr. David Faux offers a compelling argument that while the Dacians clearly displaced the Celtic Cimbrians, the Angles are likely to have partially integrated with them.

Right to Rule

Claimants to power in Angle were from a ruling family, with preference given to the eldest male most closely related to the prior ruler.  This tradition reduced the likelihood of conflict during times of transition and served to concentrate wealth and power.  This tradition continued in Russia, Scotland, Flanders, Normandy, post-conquest England and other regions controlled by the Angles, likewise serving to enable the formation of powerful governments and military capabilities.  Conflicts were reduced to situations where the lack of an immediate male heir led to contested claims by paternal cousins.

The origin of this behavior is perhaps based on the very ancient notion that the royal family descends from the gods.  Perhaps this concept was borrowed by the Dacians and Thracians from the Romans.  The family of Julias Caesar (gens Julia), for example, claimed to descend by Venus through Aeneas.  The original royal family of Norway were said to be descended from Odin.  Frey was the main god of kingship among the Swedes and the royal family (the Ynglings) were believed to have descended from him.

http://romanianhistoryandculture.webs.com/daciansindenmark.htm

The remote origins of the theory are rooted in the medieval idea that God had bestowed earthly power on the king, just as God had given spiritual power and authority to the church, centering on the pope. The immediate author of the theory was Jean Bodin,  who based it on the interpretation of Roman law.  This principle and theory would and did directly apply to King Charles and King Ecbert- who used the church to back his claim to power. King Aelle who deemed himself a Christian would have used such theory to some extent to validate his Kingship, though I think he achieved his crown by might and then would have tried to justify it in some way.  As to the Scandinavian Kings, we would assume that this principle would not have applied… but, when we look closer at their histories, we will see that while they may not have used the Christ God to justify their claims, they did claim connections to their own Gods to back up their rule once they established it.  For the Danes, they were long linked to the Frankish Empire and even back to Roman cultures so those ancient concepts would have made way into their own culture even if they did not ascribe to Christianity per say. As far back as the Romans were using links to the Gods to justify their claims to rule. Julius Caesar claimed connection to Venus.

The theory went back to those earliest Christians who advocated allegiance to Caesar even though he was a Pagan ruler.

  1. The New Testament, in which the first pope, St. Peter, commands that all Christians shall honour the Roman Emperor (1 Peter 2:13–17), even though, at that time, he was still a pagan emperor. Likewise, Jesus Christ proclaims in the Gospel of Matthew that one should “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”; that is at first, literally, the payment of taxes as binding those who use the imperial currency (See Matthew 22:15–22). Jesus told Pontius Pilate that his authority as Roman governor of Judaea came from heaven according to John 19:10–11.
  2. The endorsement by the popes and the church of the line of emperors beginning with the Emperors Constantine and Theodosius, later the Eastern Roman emperors, and finally the Western Roman emperor, Charlemagne and his successors, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings

The basic theory and premise of such divine right goes all the way back to Egypt with the Pharaohs linking themselves to the Gods. The future Christian interpretation of it just set down a different set of rules to follow. This principle and concept ties in well with the practice of hereditary monarchy and succession according to bloodline. Once one has established rule of a Kingdom, it is always wise to have some other means besides just might to back up one’s claim! This principle ensures that your hard fought for Kingdom will remain in the family for future generations and it also gives you an added cushion of authority in the eyes of your subjects who might think twice about rebelling against you if they believe you have some connection to the Gods!  It’s fine to achieve a Kingship and Kingdom by force, but eventually people will tire of fighting on your behalf and you will need some other means to control and lead them into your way of thinking. What better means of control than convincing them that you have supreme right from the Gods above to rule them!

I know, I know, you’re getting bored with all of this and want to get to the more interesting stuff… I just have one last theory to bring up before we get to our Viking era Kings. This theory is a recent development and discovery related to genetics.  Now you’re probably groaning to self- yes, you are, I can hear you! You’re thinking, What the Hell does current genetic research have to do with any of this! Well, please stick with me and let me explain!

In the past few years, there has been a vast amount of research done on genetics, DNA and how it might relate to us in various ways. Some of it has to do with genealogy and the ability now to better trace our ancestry, and of course that would include tracing Royal lineages- should some Royal ever require some need of proof that they are indeed part of Royal bloodline- or for those who just want to be able to say, Hey I am descended from Ragnar, Rollo, or others of historic fame. That in itself is quite interesting and I do plan to participate in that endeavor sometime soon.

If you are so inclined and interested, you can get more information about that research on these sites:

AncestryDNA project at Ancestry.com

http://dna.ancestry.com/

TribeCode DNA Ancestry testing

http://www.tribecode.com/

Although that genetic progress is interesting, it is not what we are most interested in with regards to this discussion. The discovery that pertains more to us is that of a specific gene called the Leadership gene!  A GENE has been uncovered that may help to create born leaders, or possibly trace the pattern in past leaders.

The leadership gene, known as rs4950, is an inherited DNA sequence associated with people taking charge.Scientists accept that leadership skills are also learned. But the gene may provide the vital push needed to make someone into a manager rather than a minion.  Researchers found the gene after analysing DNA samples from around 4000 individuals and matching them to information about jobs and relationships. Workplace supervisory roles were used as a measurement of leadership behavior.  The study showed that a quarter of the observed variation in leadership traits between individuals could be explained by genetics.

Lead scientist Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, from University College London, said: ‘‘We have identified a genotype, called rs4950, which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations.   ‘‘The conventional wisdom – that leadership is a skill – remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait.’’

Some of the greatest leaders in recent history include Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Sir Winston Churchill.  Leaders do not necessarily have to be heroic or good though. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Genghis Khan were also great leaders in their own way.

The new research suggests at least the possibility that some of these historic figures were blessed with the leadership gene. Despite the importance of the gene, acquiring a leadership position still mostly depends on developing the necessary skills, say the researchers.

http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/leadership-is-in-the-gene-say-scientists-20130115-2cs7c.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130115111553.htm

Now if I have completely confused you as to the relevance of this genetic discovery to our topic of Kings and their claims of divine right, let me try to put some perspective on it.  The Royal dynasties now and in the past are based on some principle that their bloodline enables or allows them to rule. Granted, their claim is that it comes from God, the Gods, that divine connection or link. They knew nothing about genetics or DNA, they attributed their ability to a higher power. But, given the discovery of this gene, it would be fascinating to find this gene in some of those ancient rulers! Perhaps it was not God who destined or determined their fate or ability, but it may have been something in their bloodline from the beginning that allowed for the earliest of these rulers to be leaders and then pass that predisposition down to their offspring and future rulers! The research does conclude that this gene does not completely determine one’s ability or success but merely predisposes them toward that. It also states that having such gene does not equate to heroics or good, it could also enable a person with worst of intentions or morals to succeed in leading people in their direction.

As a genetic trait, it might be responsible for that certain charisma, charm or bearing that a person  innately presents which would allow for people to follow them- good or bad! It may come across as an overall appearance, a self confidence, an air natural inborn Royalness such as some of our Kings and their offspring display.  It could also be some inborn ability convince or sway people to your side, to your beliefs… some people are natural born salesmen! Ragnar certainly has it.

ragnar2

And, he has passed it down to his son Bjorn who is not King yet, but will be one day.

Can you do that Bjorn can you lead with your head and set your heart aside

If Ragnar is gifted with such a gene then in our saga, his brother Rollo would probably carry the gene as well. Rollo does not achieve Kingship in history nor probably in our version of it, but he comes close in founding his own dynasty of Normandy. And, great Monarchs will descend from his line in history so we could probably assume that Rollo did indeed have this gene!

what will the future hold for rolloPortrait of Rollo's destiny. Credit to Ines Jagger of Vikings Aftermath group and to lindamarieanson of deviant art.

Whether we like him or not, Ecbert does have this innate trait, this ability to charm and control…

Vikings-Ecbert-King-of-Wessex-played-by-Linus-Roache1ecbert has been disobeyed

King Horik most likely  had the gene bit it  is one of those cases where he used none of it for good!

horik sends rollo to jarl borg while he stays at kattegathorik and wife Gunhild who was once a great sheild maiden herself

Does King Aelle have it? I would say, possibly but as in Horik’s case, it’s not been a case of any good coming from it? The only reason that I suspect he might possibly carry the gene is for the fact that daughter Judith appears to have it and presents a better side of it! This is of course in our fictional version of the history. Later we will attempt to look at Aelle in the context of actual history and what his claim or justification may have been. As I have mentioned previously, I suspect that he may have come by his rule and his Kingdom more by might than by any true right, but he may have had the gene, which would have enable him to sway people to his line of thinking…

King-Aelle1Aelle and judith

Now for the moment, that leaves us with new comer Harald Finehair of Norway… we know next to nothing about him and can only gauge any thought or assumption on a limited vision of his outward appearance? But, from that appearance, I would say that yes he probably does have this gene.

peter franzen4

I am going to include one other person of interest in this list because while he does not have royal blood as far as we know at this time, he does display this trait and characteristic. That would be Kalf!

Kalf tries to remain unphased and calm through Ragnar's tiradeKalf says his own last minute prayer to the gods

And, if one bases the succession of their reign on such bloodline or ability, there may always come a point where a successor has not inherited such gene from his parent. That would leave your dynasty with a weak, ineffective leader such as our Frankish King Charles! In the case of Charles, any of the Charles that he may be representing in our version of history, we also need to take into account one other thing that may have affected their genes. With the principle and practice of hereditary monarchy comes a somewhat disturbing side affect. In order to keep your Royal bloodline continuing, your descendants must marry within a severely limited group of others who would presumably share this royal blood. This practice results in a great deal of inbreeding with close relatives. The early Christian church realized this and did put forth a number of rules regarding who one could marry. This might have been looked at as some sort of extreme Papal control and Bureaucracy but in reality, it was their means of dealing with the affects of  such close inbreeding that led to much hereditary illnesses, instabilities and insanities being passed down through generations or ruling families.

charles I must prove myself better than my brothers and these Northmen have provided just the event

Charles and other members of his Frankish dynasty were thought to be afflicted by various forms of such instability. So, while Charles may or may not have inherited the leadership gene, (my personal thought is that he probably did not!) he most likely did inherit some of the other instabilities of his family.

As long as we’re looking at Charles, let us quickly look at his daughter, Gisla… who may or may not be a real person. In our fictional account, she is quite young but she does seem to have moments where she displays such a leadership gene.

charles leaves but the people still rejoice around the real hero of the day gisla

gisla raises the banner and reminds the men of what they fight for

gisla raises the banner and reminds the men of what they fight for

Since we have brought up the realities of inbreeding and instability, there is one other person to look at in relation to the leadership gene and to claims of right to rule. That person would of course be the Princess Kwentirith in our saga, who is said to be a daughter of Offa and who is now Queen of Mercia. Kwentirith is based loosely on some real women of that time period who did have some claim to rule. It was very rare that a woman would be allowed to rule but there were some early instances of it in Saxon history. It would have been due to the early practice of following the blood line and a woman being the last and only direct relative left to take over. That was the case of Kwentirith when her brother so conveniently died.  We will deal with the history of Mercia and their rule later. For now let us just look at Kwentirith in respect to whether she might have the leadership gene and whether she also carries some inherited family instability! At her best, Kwentirith can present a charming and engaging personality and a regal bearing.  She may have the gene which would allow her to put forth an initial image and presence that people would pay some attention to. Unfortunately, she also displays such an irratic and volatile range of instability that people quickly realize her instability! Is this instability inherited or due merely to her childhood environment? My thought is that it is probably a bit of both. She refers to the behaviors of her Father and her uncle, as well as brothers so I would think that some of the insanity is inherited, probably from a long line of inbreeding before the family might have converted and followed rules of the church!

Kwenthrith1

the return of kwentrith

the return of kwentrith

kwentirith enjoys the snack and Rollo thinks to enjoy his own snackKwentirith unleashing her savagery on Uncle britwulf's head

I have given you some basic overall theories and reasons on the hows and whys of Kingship in general, and how they relate to our Royalty in the Vikings saga.  In my next posts, I will deal with each King separately. Because all of these people have some real life historical basis, I will look at them in that historical context rather than the fictional one. Where ever possible, I will attempt to explore the fictional relationship as it might relate to the real one. The only people who do not seem to have any real life basis as yet would be Kalf, and Aelle’s daughter Judith. But, seeing as they are not yet rulers in any way, we will not look into their histories as it relates in this way!  Also, I have already dealt with both of them in previous posts so we will leave it at that for the time being!

You can find my thoughts on Kalf in the previous post about Hedeby:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/vikings-lagertha-kalf-and-why-is-hedeby-so-important/

Judith’s story is detailed here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/viking-saga-judiths-story/

Based on the historical fact that Horik’s and Ragnar’s claims are both tied to the Crown and history of Denmark, I will look at them together in relation to that history. In looking at that history, it may also lead us to exploring Aelle’s limited history in Northumbria… mainly because when we look closer at the history of the Danes and the Angles who resided in that country prior to the Danes taking over, we will see the migration of them to places in Britain such as Northumbria, York, and East Anglia. I will also look at where the ruling line went after Ragnar in history because historically he did not rule for very long and his sons did not take his place in succession. Because of that, we will look at who did come afterwards, and what happened to his sons in history. This will include a look at Sweden where Bjorn Ironside eventually become a King.

We will look at Ecbert’s path to his rule and his claim in relation to Saxon history and in relation to the church because they backed his initial claim to his throne. That Church connection will also be a connection to the rule of Charles. We will also see in this history, the claim of one woman who bears some similarity to our Kwentirith.

We will look at Harald Finehair and his connection or claim to the rule of Norway in a separate discussion because while we all tend to look at the Vikings and Scandinavia as one inclusive entity, they were very separate kingdoms much further back than the Viking age! As they all migrated to Britain during various time periods, they located themselves in different localities and did not identify themselves under that one umbrella of “Viking” They did not even particularly like each other and would not have chosen to band together or associate with each other unless it was for such purpose of defeating a common enemy such as the Saxon English!

I hope that you will join me and enjoy the upcoming journey as we explore the rights and claims to Kingship!

Danish right to rule and history: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/horik-and-ragnar-part-of-the-oldest-monarchy-in-europe/

This article includes Horik, Ragnar, as well as Ragnar’s sons Bjorn, Ivar and Sigurd!

Horik and Ragnar their paths to ruling a dynasty

Ecbert’s claim to Wessex:

The beginnings of Egbert's power plots

The beginnings of Egbert’s power plots

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/from-charlamagne-to-egbert-and-wessex/