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An unexpected conclusion

Who do you think you are? is always an interesting programme and is disappointing to see only eight episodes in the series. In the past, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Frank Gardner, Danny Dyer and Clare Balding have all been revealed as proven descendants of Edward I. That has not happened in 2019 and few lines have gone back as far as the eighteenth century, so I hoped that the concluding episode’s research could beat that.

Wrong

Wright

As it turned out, it did go back a long way. The subject was Mark Wright – not the red-haired central defender (left) who scored against Egypt in 1990, heading home a Gascoigne free kick, but a “reality show” star and former semi-professional full-back who was born only three years before that, who had a feeling that his complexion pointed to some Italian ancestry. This Mark Wright (right) was accompanied in the earliest scenes by Eddie, his paternal grandfather, who had collated his knowledge in advance, particularly about his own grandfather and namesake.

Edward Wright senior was a builder whose materials occasionally fell off the back of carts and was imprisoned for this on one occasion. On another, he was said to have left for America after another conviction and passenger lists proved that this really happened as opposed to being a cover for another “stretch”. With the help of Mark Smith (left), the arms and militaria expert from Antiques Roadshow, he proved that Edward Wright sourced horses for the British Army before signing up after reducing his age to serve in the First World War.

Next, Mark discovered that his grandfather’s  mother came from a Jewish line named Simons/ Simmons, through which he was able to visit the 1701 Bevis Marks synagogue (right), built for the Sephardi (Iberian and North African) Jewish community whom Oliver Cromwell had allowed back into the British Isles.

Further research took him to Spain, in particular Jaen in Andalucia, where his ultimate known ancestor Antonio de Castro/ David de Mendoza, a fencing master, was born in 1661 and then brought up there. This was a family of “conversos”, but frequently came under suspicion from the Inquisition. Antonio, as he was known, was arrested and tortured, tried, convicted and imprisoned before escaping to Amsterdam with his wife and children, where they resumed an overt Jewish life. His nephew Miguel was then arrested and, possibly because of Antonio’s activities, burned, a fate he shares with an ancestor of Simon Sebag Montefiore, her brother and sister. On a brighter note, Mark was able to meet a distant cousin who is also a Mendoza descendant.

“Mordecai Mendoza”(Bernard Cribbins)

Wright actually showed a real flair for genealogy, enthusiastically drawing up tables on paper and spotting the religious significance of the name Mendoza. Might we hear more about his family some time?

Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

Interesting roots

“Who do you think you are?” has returned and the third episode of the new series (20 July) featured Clare Balding. After last year’s programmes , this one and this other recent one, it is no surprise that tracing this racing presenter’s royal ancestry is a little easier.

Clare’s great-grandmother was Lady Victoria (hence the middle name) Stanley, who married, secondly, Sir Malcolm Bullock. This links her to the Earls of Derby, the first of whom was that Thomas, Lord Stanley who liked watching battles, although they were not broadcast live in his time. In particular, the 17th Earl married Lady Alice Montagu, who shared “Tudor” descent such that Ferdinando (5th Earl, 1559-94) was regarded as a hypothetical Catholic claimant after Mary of Scotland’s execution. Unsurprisingly, the Derby, one of the events she has often presented, was named for an ancestor (the 12th Earl, above right) from 1780.

Additionally, her uncle is William Hastings-Bass, the 17th Earl of Huntingdon and once the Queen’s trainer, connecting her to the marriage between Francis (2nd Earl, tomb in Ashby de la Zouch to the left) and Catherine Pole, thus to George, Duke of Clarence and Edward III.

I would rather have heard the Huntingdon line mentioned than so much about her Dutch-American forebears at the end.

As it turned out …

Last week, just hours before the actor Danny Dyer appeared on “Who do you think you are?” to reveal his descent from Thomas Cromwell and Edward III – in the latter case, via the Mortimer, Percy, Seymour (Jane’s sister), Cromwell (Thomas’ grandson Henry), Tollemache (of Helmingham hall) and Gosnold (Robert Gosnold V, 1611-58) of Otley Hall) lines – we blogged about it. It was rather a good episode, reminiscent of Frank Gardner’s episode, revealing Robert Gosnold’s service as a Cavalier officer, as well as Thomas Cromwell’s end much like Michael Stanhope’s._92420878_radiotimesddswordhi

There is, however, almost a second line of Royal descent.

John Gosnold (1528-1628 and a cousin of Bartholomew) was married to Winifred Windsor, the great-great-granddaughter of George, Duke of Clarence. They had five sons and three daughters. One of their sons was called Robert but Robert V was actually John’s great-nephew as Lucie Field’s tree suggests.

It was worth a try.

For more on Thomas Cromwell, son of a Putney brewer and secretary to Wolsey, including his impact on Ipswich and other locations, .try this excellent MacCullough documentary.

Another celebrity with royal descent …

… is the actor Danny Dyer. In the new series of “Who do you think you are?”_92420878_radiotimesddswordhi , he will be shown to have Edward III and William I as ancestors. In a previous series, Sir Matthew Pinsent was shown to be descended from Edward I via the Howards of Norfolk and an eighteenth century General.

Of course, Edward III had a large family that must have continued to expand over the generations but there would have been a counteracting tendency for his descendants to marry each other. Dyer has other interesting relatives, including Thomas Cromwell, with whom he shares other connections.

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