Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Boleyn Women - July 2013

My new book was announced today: Boleyn Women - The Tudor Femmes Fatales who Changed English History. It is due out at the end of July with Amberley.

Despite the sub-title, the book actually goes back into the medieval period to examine the lives of all recorded women of the Boleyn family. The family first appear as prosperous peasants at the manor of Salle, with their exact origins not recorded. An Emma Boleyn, who lived in the late fourteenth century may be the first known female member of the family. There is considerably more evidence for the heiress, Alice Bracton Boleyn, who lived a few generations later and whose ambition for her family and children helped their rise. By the mid-fiifteenth century, the Boleyns were prominent in London trade and in educational circles. By the late fifteenth century they were mixing with, and marrying into, the nobility. In 1533 they produced a queen, repeating this success with a queen regnant in 1558.

This is the first book to tell the story of the Boleyns through the women of the family: wives, daughters, sisters and nieces. The life of every woman in the family who was either born with the surname Boleyn or became a Boleyn on marriage is included, as well as a number of women descended from female members of the family. While the Boleyn men were prominent in English history, the women of the family certainly increased that prominence, as well as acting independently on their own behalves. In the late fifteenth century, three marriages (that of Geoffrey Boleyn to Anne Hoo, William Boleyn to Margaret Butler and Thomas Boleyn to Elizabeth Howard) anchored the Boleyns firmly into the nobility. It was on this basis that the court careers of a number of Boleyn daughters were launched: most notably, that of the most famous family member, Queen Anne Boleyn herself.

With their ambition and influence, the Boleyns were a dynasty that proved to be as influential as many of the great aristocratic houses of the period. Largely, the family's story is the story of its women and it is fitting that the daughter of a Boleyn became England's first truly great queen regnant.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Pre-Conquest Ancestors

My article on tracing pre-Conquest ancestors has just been published in Your Family History magazine (issue 38, March 2013).

1066 is generally seen as a barrier to family research, with good reason, and I wanted to look at ways that it is possible to track your family back through the barrier. To do so, it will be necessary to find a ‘gateway ancestor’ in your own family tree – someone whose pedigree is known to take you through the barrier. For 1066 this will need to be someone with a drop of royal blood, which providing that it is from the English royal family, will be enough to take you back to the Anglo-Saxon kings (since even William the Conqueror, who was not descended from the Anglo-Saxon royal family married Matilda of Flanders, who was).

I carry out much of my research on the Blount family of Kinlet and a central aim of my research project is to promulgate my research to a wider audience. When writing about family history, I often use them as a case study as, indeed, I did with this article. Interestingly the Blounts, who came to national attention through the birth in 1519 of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Bessie Blount, have their own gateway ancestor: Edmund de Cornwall, son of an illegitimate son of King John. Some kings had a particularly high number of illegitimate offspring, vastly increasing the chances that you are descended from them...