Richardson, Douglas. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families.

Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2004. xxix, 945p., hardcover. Index, illus. $85.00. ISBN 0-8063-1750-7.

Even though I do not, to my knowledge, have a single drop of royal blood in my veins, I have a longstanding interest in peerage genealogy — if only because the earliest surviving records concern the lineages of European society’s movers and shakers, not the yeoman farmers and small tradesmen whose genes I carry. Richardson is well known and widely respected in this field, having published numerous peerage articles in the most respected journals and having been a contributor to the last couple of editions of Weis. Those of us who hang out on the <soc.genealogy.medieval> newsgroup on Usenet have watched for years as this massive work took shape (always keeping in mind that the level of discourse in that venue often verges on the sophomoric).

The final result is close to being a masterpiece not only of genealogy of the traditional sort but of comparative historiography. His purpose is to document the lines of descent for about 190 individuals who immigrated to the North American colonies before 1700, from the Plantagenet dynasty who ruled England from 1154 (the accession of Henry II, Duke of Anjou) to 1485 (the defeat and death of Richard III at Bosworth Field at the hands of Henry Tudor). He notes that his work is an expansion and major revision of David Faris’s Plantagenet Ancestry of Seventeenth-Century Colonists, but the new work is so very extensive, this must really be regarded as an entirely new work; Faris considered only the descendants of Henry III (who died in 1272), where Richardson traces the progeny of all sixteen of Geoffrey’s great-grandchildren who left descendants, both legitimate and illegitimate. A subsequent volume covers descents from Magna Carta sureties and further volumes are planned for the early feudal barons and descendants of the Emperor Charlemagne. (Remember that anyone who descends from a single royal house in Britain or on the Continent will also have documented descents from most of the others.)

The plan of organization is reminiscent of that devised by Frederick Weis, with each family’s listed lineage beginning at the point of bifurcation from the previous, earlier lines; all generations are numbered from Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, the first to use the surname (or appellation, really) of “Plantagenet.” Citations are very, very full, which is sure to make this a heavily cited secondary source in itself. In fact, Richardson seems to have read everything — the bibliography is the most complete I have ever seen, running to more than seventy-seven pages! — and obviously has thought very carefully about what he read. A number of important discoveries and changes to previous scholarship are included, such as the proven parentage of both Margery de Bohun and Joan Hastings (both major problems for decades), and the maiden name of Margaret de Mowbray (important for descendants of Mayflower passengers). Even more important is the discovery that “Fair Rosamond” Clifford, mistress of Henry II, was not the mother of William Longspée (created Earl of Salisbury); that dubious honor now goes instead to “Countess Ida,” wife of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. Nor does Richardson consider his work to be complete: His snail-mail and e-mail addresses are included, as well as a website address, with the plea that new discoveries, additions, and corrections be submitted by readers. This oversized volume was my birthday gift to myself the year it appeared and it now has several dozen bookmarks and scribbled notes tucked into it.

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Published in: on 2 February 2010 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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