The Lady of Lancaster

dagged sleevesLady Avice de Lancaster appears in Murdoch’s Tale, a minor yet pivotal character. In real life, other than giving birth to a daughter and a son and ruling Lancaster in her own right, I have been hard-pressed to find anything notable that Avice did. Perhaps this is a testament to her skilled governance. After all, most history books are simply chronicles of wars, assassinations, and other unpleasantness. In that case, “nothing important happened” could be a high compliment.

However, those two children of hers did certainly go forth and multiply, and her genealogy is positively fascinating. For the sake of simplicity, I’m leaving out most of the details as to exactly how many generations apart these folks are. (If you want those details, the link is at the bottom of the page.)

Descended from kings Robert I of France and Charlemagne, and cousin of William the Conqueror and Edward I, she shows up as ancestress of not only king Henry VIII (remember, he was both a Lancaster and a York) but also as an 12th great-grandmother of his last wife, Catherine Parr, and as great aunt of an astounding 3 of his other wives: numbers 2, 3, and 4, to be precise, all 10th generation descendents via her son. Her son William and 5 of his cousins were guarantors of the Magna Carta.

A 14th great-grandson of hers made it over on the Mayflower, and he was not the only one to go West. George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Grover Cleveland and 4th US Vice President George Clinton were great grandsons, as were 8 other signers of the Declaration of independence and/or Constitution, including Thomas Jefferson, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, and George Mason, father of the Bill of Rights.

Broadening the family tree out to great-grand-nephews and nieces adds another 7 Signers, and when we get to the cousins x-times removed, we can add another 2 signers and Presidents Zachary Taylor and John Quincy Adams, through his mother side. Two members of the famous Culper Spy Ring that kept George Washington informed of British activity in New York were his distant cousins: Caleb Brewster and Robert Townsend. Patrick Henry also shows up in the Lady’s family tree, as do at least 6 US State Governors.

Her family contributed to literature (Poets Edmund Waller, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., novelists Herman Melville, Harriet Martineau, and Jonathan Swift, and Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.) And military men General Robert E Lee and the fellow who led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade.

Elihu Yale, benefactor of the university that bears his name; Eli Whitney of cotton gin fame; Fletcher Christian, who mutinied on the Bounty; explorer Meriwether Lewis; C.W. Post, who founded Post Cereals; and, of course his daughter Marjorie, who founded General Foods, are all cousins.

And then there are the First Ladies: Jane Appleton Pierce, Helen Herron Taft, Abigail Adams. I recall (it’s not on the link below) that Barbara Bush is descended from Franklin Pierce, which would add another two presidents and a First Lady to the talley.

Of course, in such a large family tree, one would expect a few rotten apples, so here they are: 

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed for murder in the US after the Revolution, and Robert Catesby, a leader of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the houses of Parliament. One of her great-grand-nephews, the Reverend George Burroughs, was executed for witchcraft in Salem MA.

One can only imagine the family reunions.

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