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

Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2005. xxxv, 1,098p, hardcover. Index. $100. ISBN 0-8063-1759-0.

In 2004, Richardson, a highly regarded specialist in royal and peerage genealogy with numerous published articles to his credit, brought out the first volume in a planned series — Plantagenet Ancestry, which tracked the descents of some 190 immigrants to the North American colonies from the Plantagenet monarchs of England, and which weighed in at 945 pages. This second installment is 150 pages thicker, and there are at least two more volumes in development, on descents from early feudal barons, and from the Emperor Charlemagne.

Any high school graduate knows the term Magna Carta (the “Great Charter”) but most have probably only a hazy understanding of its key role as the foundation of the English legislative system (and therefore of our own), and that it established the principle that even the king, the highest authority in the land, was subject to the law. The baronial party that forced King John to sign the document in 1215 didn’t trust him to live up to the limitations and conditions it laid down, and so they elected from among their own number twenty-five barons to monitor the Crown and enforce compliance. Of these twenty-five Sureties, seventeen had descendants past four generations; of those, there were two father-son pairs (Richard and Gilbert de Clare, earls of Hertford, and Roger and Hugh Bigod, earls of Norfolk), leaving fifteen distinct families that were ancestral to 238 17th-century North American colonists. As with the first volume, the author’s careful organization of a large mass of complex data makes this a comparatively easy book to use, either for ready-reference or for extended reading. All descendant families are organized alphabetically (a bit of a departure from “Weis style”), numbered generationally from the Magna Carta Surety, with emphasis on patrilineal descents. This is not a listing of all descendants in each generation; grandchildren without descendants themselves, for instance, are excluded. Citation of sources — mostly the original sources — is very extensive and the bibliography runs to nearly 100 large-size pages.

With such a wide-ranging project, with so many sources being perused, one might hope for new discoveries, and there are many included in the book. Some, of course are minor corrections, but at least a dozen are noteworthy, especially as they affect the Bohun, de Verdun, Grey, Hastings, Pole, FitzMaurice, and Mowbray families.

As with Plantagenet Ancestry, I bought a copy of this one for myself rather than hoping the library would pick it up, and I shall be waiting eagerly for subsequent volumes in the series.

Published in: on 4 February 2010 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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