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History on the Screen 2: Thanks Be to GOT!


Thank heavens for the success of Game of Thrones!



Its huge wave of popularity emboldended moneymen, er, TV producers to greenlight similar shows set grimly & grimily in that distant past of dark armor, shields & swords that gives Game of Thrones its look and feel.

Bernard_Cornwell copy.jpg

Surging forth first (or at least most notably) on this cashflow has been the epic & popular “Vikings”, and now “The Last Kingdom”, a BBC adaptation from a book in a series by British historical novelist and former news correspondent Bernard Cornwell that chronicles goings-on in England in the centuries before the year 1000.

And it’s awesome.

Statue_d'Alfred_le_Grand_à_WinchesterIt’s set during the reign of King Alfred the Great of England, so in the late decades of the 800s AD/Common Era (CE). Like stories &960 copy cinematic adaptations before such as Little Big Man, it inserts a fictional character into totally historically accurate situations to tell the past context in human detail.

For now, and for any fan of the show, here’s a chart I’ve done showing Alfred’s descendants for a few generations. Click on it and in the new tab click it again so you can check it out in detail if you like. More on this show later.


More on the show next time.


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Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Such Stuff as Kings Were Made of…ReDux 2



Yes, the news is finally here* on the Y-DNA of England’s King Richard III.

Last week (Dec 2) the team at the University of Leicester in the UK released its findings and details of the study it undertook on the skeletal remains found there two years ago under a parking lot of a man who’d died in the Middle Ages and had been, allegedly, when he walked the earth none other than Richard III, last king of the Plantagenet dynasty; a man infamous thanks to his portrayal by Shakespeare in the play of the same name. [King, T. E. et al. Identification of the remains of King Richard III. Nat. Commun. 5:5631 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6631 (2014).]

The richly sourced and detailed study concludes with about as much certainty as is possible that they are the remains of England’s King Richard III (1452-1485). His whole genome has been examined, and among other interesting things about that, some doubt has been cast–perhaps–on some of the historical royal succession.

Chart showing the ruling descendants of Edward III and the lines to Richard III and the living DNA donors.


John of Gaunt

Ostensible ancestor of living male-line descendants whose DNA was compared to Richard III’s.



His ostensible son, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset.


Click here TUES DEC 23 to find the scoop on the Global Family Reunion’s blog.


the 4 living guys: R1b-U152

Richard III: G2a-P278

*(Yes, many of us out here were actually waiting with baited breath for this news item that to many must sound like it’s among the most esoteric, most meaningless bits of irrelevant trivia ever. But it’s not. If human life is defined by, or at least given shape by the fact that as pattern-recognizers we make meaning through narratives, personal & cultural, then this news serves to elucidate a key tangle of plot point in the narrative of how the world got to be the way it is just now.)


Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Such Stuff as Kings are Made of


Royalty is fascinating, whether you’re American or living some place monarchs remain. And there’s a new angle on it thanks to widespread genealogy that makes it interesting in a new way. As historically rigorous scholarship has been deployed in genealogical work a number of lineages that used to be used to link, for instance, certain American colonists “back to royalty” have disappeared for lack of proof and being flat-out contradicted. However, a myriad more have emerged from the mists of the past, and a new picture of our collective descent from the past seems to suggest itself indicating that it’s not just your Bostonian and Tidewater yacht club types who count kings and court among their ancestors. The best history and science on the subject tells us that we are all descended from royalty, which actually underscores the fact that in the past, who remained “royal” was hardly a divine right, but the result of a combination of accidents and bullying.

“The Selfsame Heaven…”

imageCase in point. 130204162758-richard-iii-remains-16-horizontal-gallery

The recently discovered body under a parking lot in Liecester, England that once walked the earth known as King Richard III. Among the various parameters scholars used by which they’ve conlcuded that it really is Richard III’s remains is DNA analysis. No way. Way!pb-130205-richard-da-01.photoblog900

Out of the Blue…Blood, that is….

Ok, so we’re all descended from royal rulers somewhere back there. Cool. But it’s still not every day when a situation arises where someone close to us turns out to be a potential key to unlocking a historical mystery because they happen to have a very particular bit of DNA kickin’ around in…ohhhh, every single cell of their body!

The particular bit of DNA they happen to have (theoretically, anyway) is a bit that once upon a time (and what a time it was!) conferred the right to be King of England on whoever had it. Indeed. Just by having this one very particular and quite specific length of DNA entitled you to be King of England. Unless of course you happened to be explicitly told that you had to relenquish your right to that entitlement. I’m speaking of the little bit of DNA that tomb-plaque-of-geoffrey-plantagenetdetermines whether a person is male or female, what’s come to be known as the “Y-chromosome”. Specifically, I’m talking about the exact Y-chromosome that made Richard a boy at all, and by which maleness he was GPLANT to RICH3allowed to become King Richard III. It’s the same Y-DNA that made a boy baby for Richard’s 8th-great-grandma Matilda, (the daughter of English King Henry I) & that she got from her husband, Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, better known to History as Geoffrey Plantagenet. The boy baby that Geoffrey’s Y-DNA engendered grew up to be King Henry II of England, and in his turn he duly passed that same Y-DNA to his sons, and they Henry_II_Plantagenetto theirs and so on, down to Richard III.

Thus, between the years 1133 and 1485 in England, if you had that Y-DNA it meant (above all) that you were a boy, but more, that as a boy whose dad had had that Y-DNA, that you were either King, in line to be King, or receiving big treats and favors from the King because you were extremely closely related (say, an illegitimate half-brother). It also meant, especially toward the end of that period, that your life was in danger. Because there ended up being several boys of that Y-DNA brand who thought the same thing: if only the other boys were “not there”…”out of the picture”…”not among the living”, then they would be Richard_III_earliest_surviving_portraitKing, and not you. History calls that period, of course, the War of the Roses. Good times!

So, anyway, as I mentioned above, there were these “extremely closely related” males also engendered by the same Y-DNA. Perhaps it was a case of “keeping your enemeies closer”, or at least one of attempting to eliminate the possibility of these illegitimate half-brothers and such trying to claim the throne, but starting with the very first of this lot, the Kings did well by their half-bretheren, generally. We’ll be focusing on just this 1st one, brother to King Henry II. For it is through Henry’s older half-brother, Hamelin Plantagenet that I come to be in some proximity to some tangibly meaningful “blood royal”.

We have a family friend whose maiden name happens to have been Warren. Long ago she was the very first person outside my blood family whose family tree I ever worked on. I made a few generations of progress when I originally went at it in the mid 1980s, and as with my own when I returned to it in the last few years I made boffo crazy progress very quickly thanks to the internet. Out of this mad success on my return to her tree came two very satisfying discoveries.

First, I stumbled into the fact that she turns out to be 5th cousins with a friend of mine, here in California where I now live. They’re related through two brothers who lived in North Carolina, fought in the American Revolution together, and both lived to be nearly 100 years old. My California friend’s ancestor remained in NC, and the other moved to western Tennessee, his progeny then to Texas. And second, I’ve been able to trace these brothers’ ancestors all the way back into the mists of history, back to the very source of the last name the brothers shared, and that was my family friend’s maiden name. The brothers were Elijah and Isaiah Warren. And yes, it was with a bit of a start when I stepped back from a chart I prepared for her and saw that unbroken chain of men going from (let’s call her “Anne”) from Anne’s daddy back through Elijah and his dad Richard Warren, back 900 years to no less than the very source of the Plantagenet Y-DNA, the source, as history and genetic science would have it, of such stuff as Kings were made of.

The Handsome Count’s Tale

Geoffrey Plantagenet to me seems such an unlikely “founder of a dynasty”. What’s known of his life, actions and character don’t seem to connect with the unarguably long-lasting family entity, enviable (perhaps) in its focal intensity that by his mere act of paternity he is called the founder of. He was this handsome charmer, a solid athelete, adept in the warrior to-do’s. But this smoothie of a count died suddenly when he was only 38. His son Henry was the first of a total of 13 kings that this family would serve to the throne. From introducing heraldric arms and Magna Carta to the advent of Parlaiment, historians inform us that this dynasty indeed did more than any other to define a rulership of what we all know became the richest and most powerful entity in the world, eclipsing even Rome (and eclipsed only by its own offspring: America).

This almost comical incongruity notwithstanding, Geoffrey did sire the required pup of the strategically shrewd arranged marriage. PlantagenetGeoffrey Geoffrey was heir to the county of Anjou, right next to Normandy, (part of England since King Henry I’s dad, William, Duke of angevinmapKCNormandy, invaded and conquered England in 1066, thereby changing not only that country but his moniker, too. But I digress. The point is that the marriage between Geoffrey and Matilda of England was arranged to expand English territory). See the map.

During his lifetime Geoffrey V, Comte de Anjou was known as “Geoffrey Le Bel”…”the handsome”. He also had a nickname, but recent scholarship on its etymology and later use as a surname indicates a possibly still murky origin. But roughly during his lifetime or in the decades shortly thereafter he received a nickname of “Planta Geneste”, which might’ve simply referred French_Broom2to a yellow shrub-flower he wore in his hat, or to his virility. Keep this mind, we’ll return to it in a minute.

Geoffrey already had one son when he married the exiled Queen of England, Matilda. They had a son as well, and the two boys grew up together and were close. The first was known as Hamelin of Anjou, the second was Henry Curtmantle. who reclaimed his mother’s throne and became King Henry II. Henry wanted to do a solid for his bro Hamelin, so he arranged for a marriage between Hamelin and a very rich lady named Isabel, the sole beneficiary of the Earldom of Warene. Isable and Ham had a son named William, who became the 6th Earl of Warene. His cousins, (Henry II’s kids) first Richard (known as the Lion Heart) and then John because Richard had no kids, became Kings of England.

William, Earl of Warene’s male offspring became known (since they all spoke French, ironically) as so-and-so de Warenne, which about 300 years later (10 generation) they saw fit to drop the “of” or “de” and so you get William Warren, born in 1458. And born right around then, too, was his (now much more distant) cousin Richard. Now, remember old Geoffrey of Anjou’s nickname? Cuz by the time it was being used as the surname of the family that had held on to and passed down the crown, the kingship of England ever since Geoffrey’s son Henry II. And so this Richard, born 1452 was the youngest son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York.

Richard’s older brother Edward became King Edward IV, and what with all the Henry’s and the hubub over Richard, it’s not well known (in America, at least) that Edward IV ruled for about 22 years, with a 6-month “break” – ha ha – when he was briefly overthrown. It’s also not popularly apprehended that not only was his reign rather long but it was also rather good, great even! He brought peace (never lost on the battlefield), and apparently had a knack also for administering the country. Why does it seem like this is not well known in America? Maybe happy news is not considered news, here. The TV documentaries (even the “UK Version” of David Starkey’s “Monarchy”) really don’t go into his reign at all or very much; and since we’re not taught the English Kings in school…Eddie the Fourth fades next to the caricatured version of his little bro, styled to be the original “Tricky Dick”…and his daughter Elizabeth’s scheming husband, and self-injector of the Tudor line, Henry VII. (Thanks to a reader for catching my own accidental gloss-over of Ed! 🙂

So despite rockin’ the Crown, Edward IV died when he was only 40, and that’s when at 31, Richard himself took the throne of England as Richard III, immortalized as one evil son-of-a-you-know-what in Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Only two years later Richard III was killed in a battle with one of his 2nd cousins’ sons, the afore-referenced Henry Tudor, who thus took the throne and became Henry VII.


This basic chart shows the main lines of male descent from King Edward III; i.e., his sons who by definition inherited his Y-DNA, which he’d in turn inherited from his dad (Edward II, and he from Edward I) ultimately from Geoffrey V of Anjou (known to us as Plantagenet). The red frame around a person shows who was getting the Y-DNA in question (note absence of red frames on daughters); the red arrows further emphasize lines of inheritance. Click the chart to see larger version.
Direct male-line descendant of Geoffrey P. ~ David Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort

David Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort

Well so that line died out, since Henry VII’s son Henry VIII had a son who died young and his much more famous daughter, who even if she had had kids wouldn’t pass on his Y-DNA, which wasn’t even the same as the Plantagenet Kings had had.

But in one of the more mean-spirited twists in the War of the Roses, one batch of kids of John of Gaunt who were illegitimate were eventually legitimated BUT barred from any claim ever to the throne. The Dukes of Beaufort. Well if nothing else it kept the line alive, and even to this day. In one sense you might consider them, then, the true heirs to the throne. But bygones, right? Well point being that they do have that same Y-DNA that ole Geoffrey had.

 Grigsby Warren, Texan

Grigsby Warren, Texan

Just as the men descended from Geoffrey’s OTHER son, Hamelin, do, too. Leading to, among others, my family friend’s uncles and her still-living male 1st cousins and their sons, who all live in Texas.

As online communities ponder aloud what the Plantagenet Y-DNA signature is (since the Beauforts haven’t made it public) and whether or not this or that currently group of currently living Warrens are or are not descended from the last Warrens that are known and accepted to have been ole Geoffrey P’s descendants, the wonder grows. And methinks it’s time for me to ask my family friend how to get in touch with her cousins and encourage them to get a DNA test.

For the record, based on my research, I’m betting that the Plantagenet Y-sig will be the “I1”
folks, and not the R1b crowd. OK: discuss! 🙂


Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


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