Uncle Dave's book

Sunday, November 30, 2014

52 Ancestors # 48: Katherine de Roet, legendary beauty and love

     One of my favorite historical novels of all time is "Katherine" by Anya Seton it is the story of Katherine de Roet who married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and was the ancestress of the Tudor rulers of England.  It is a wonderful telling of Katherine's fascinating life.  Imagine my thrill one day on Ancestry when I discovered her in my (MY) family tree!  She is my fourteenth great grandmother, there are 17 generations between us. Again, she is someone about whom many books have been written. I thought I would compare as a female role model to Eleanor of Aquitaine of whom I wrote last week. Eleanor lived 200 years earlier than Katherine and was my 21st great grandmother.

     Katherine was born in Picardy in 1340, the daughter of a knight who served the House of Hainault (now in Belgium). Edward III's wife, Philippa, was of the House of Hainault and he served her, dying in battle and leaving two young daughters, Katherine and Philippa.  Philippa became a serving woman to the Queen and married Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine came to court and became famous for her beauty.  She was married to Hugh Swynford, a knight serving John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.  She married him at the age of 15 and had either two or three children by him depending on the source you take. In 1369, she was called to serve Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, taking care of her children and nursing her when she contracted the plague.  She died of the plague and Katherine attended her funeral.  It is believed that her affair with John, husband of Blanche and son of King Edward III, started at this time.  John of Gaunt awarded her a personal Coat of Arms and a pension "for the care shown to the late Duchess and for the Lancastrian children after their mother's death."

     In 1371, Hugh Swynford went to France to fight for the Duke.  He died there in mysterious circumstances from poison, after being wounded in battle. there is no evidence that Katherine was involved in his death but due to her involvement with the Duke, there were rumors about it. Katherine became the governess of John's children and bore John three sons and one daughter.  The children were given the name of Beaufort. By this time Richard II was king but he wan only 14 so, in effect, John ran the country.  There was a peasant's revolt and his palace was burnt to the ground. After this he and Katherine separated for awhile.  John married Constance of Castile.  Their daughter became the ancestress of Isabella of Castile of Ferdinand and Isabella fame.

     Constance died in 1394. John and Katherine were reunited and married in Jan 1395.  She was 54 (or 44 if born in 1350 as some sources say) and their four children were grown.  She was now the Duchess of Lancaster and the highest ranking and most powerful woman in the country.  However, there no indication that she used this power in any political manner. Their children were legitimatized with the stipulation that they could not ascend to the throne.  However, that stipulation was set aside so that her great grandson, Henry Tudor, could become King Henry VII.  John died three years after their marriage and Katherine followed in 1403.  She is buried in Lincoln Cathedral, next to her daughter, Joan.

     Katherine was famous for her beauty, in fact, her brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer, is said to have modeled is Cressida in "Troilus and Cressida" after her. Her love and devotion to John of Gaunt is clear.  She loved him and took care of his children, bore his children out of wedlock despite the scandal of it, allowed him to make a politically astute marriage to another woman and then finally married him.  All of this withstanding immense social pressures and acrimony. She was called a "witch and a whore" and a "she-devil and enchantress" by members of the clergy at the time. She was constant an devoted in her love and her children were among the leaders of English nobility, eventually ruling the country.

     Eleanor of Aquitaine had beauty and was also reviled during her lifetime.  But she also had a passion for power and she did many things which were considered outside of the realm of women.  Katherine never strayed from a woman's role. If one could take the best of each one would be an unstoppable force as a woman in any time! (Did I mention my granddaughter is named Elinor Catherine?)



Thursday, November 27, 2014

52 Ancestors, # 47: Eleanor of Aquitaine, a Woman for the Ages

     Eleanor of Aquitaine is a very famous historical person of whom many biographies, novels, plays and movies have written.  So I won't attempt a new one here.  But she is on my family tree.  There are 27 generations from her to me and 29 to my granddaughter.  My granddaughter is also named Eleanor, spelled Elinor (and apparently Eleanor spelled her name Aelinor in fact). So after Elinor was born I listed all the names of the line from Eleanor to Elinor and called it "From Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elinor of Alameda".

     Eleanor became an heiress at the age of 13, when her father died leaving her the Duchy of Aquitaine.  This land extended from the Loire to the Pyrenees, encompassing much of the east and south of France. She was well educated, unusually so for a woman of that age.  At the age of 15 she married King Louis VII of France.  She was famous for her beauty and also her "Court of Love" where she encouraged troubadours, chivalry and courtly love with music, poetry and art.  She and Louis had two daughters but the marriage was not a happy one.  When Louis took up the Second Crusade in 1145 Eleanor accompanied him along with several of her ladies in waiting and 300 personal vassals.  She and the women dressed in armor and carried lances but they never fought.  The crusade ended badly and she was blamed for this as she had intruded in a place where women did not belong. However, as a result of her experiences in this Crusade she introduced maritime conventions into her own lands as well as into England.  She also was instrumental in developing trade agreements with Constantinople and ports in the Holy Lands.

     The marriage did not survive this experience, though.  In 1252 an annulment was granted. Only eight weeks after the annulment was granted she married Henry Plantagenet, who was to become the King of England.  I believe that this was a marriage of great passion.  Two larger than life people, both very able and ambitious with a passion for each other and for power.  But also each had a commitment to governing the lands in their charge. They had five sons and two daughters.  Two of her sons became king of England and are two of the most famous of those kings.  Richard the Lion Hearted, famous for his exemplifying the chivalric ideal and John, famous for his venal personality and as the signer of the Magna Carta, necessitated by his excesses! In 1173, Eleanor supported three of her sons in fighting against their father.  As a result Henry imprisoned her for fifteen years.  This episode is covered in the excellent movie, "The Lion in Winter". After Henry died she was reinstated and was a major player in ruling England with her sons Richard and John.

     She died in 1204 and was buried next to her husband, Henry and her son, Richard.  She survived all of her children except for King John of England and Queen Eleanor of Castille.  Here was a woman who took her life in her own hands.  She did things that would have been exemplary in a man but were truly remarkable in a woman of the time.  She was also intelligent, educated, cultured and beautiful. She stands out with a handful of women in Western history who were way beyond the norm.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

52 Ancestors #46: Mary Caroline "Molly""Marion" Kells, Writer

     My mother's Aunt Marion, who she always talked about with respect and admiration, has been a bit of a mystery to me in researching the family tree.  Mary Caroline Kells was born 22 July 1889 in Melrose, Stearns, Minnesota.  She was the second daughter and seventh child of Stephen Avery and Isabella Duncan Kells.  Her mother died in 1897 and her father followed in 1898 so that she was an orphan by the age of 9.  Her older sister, Madge, married and raised her younger brothers and sisters, thus keeping the family together.  In the 1900 Census she is called Mollie and is living with her brothers and sisters in Melrose.  In the 1910 Census she is Mary and is teaching in Getty, Stearns Co. I have not been able to find her in the 1920, 1930,  or 1940 Censuses. Apparently she went to college in St. Joseph, Minnesota, at the College of St. Benedict.

     I am going to call her Marion here because that is the name my mother called her.  She hated her name, Mary Caroline.  She was known in the family as Mollie and is still called that in the family of the descendants of her older sister, Madge.  At one point she used the name Marie. At some point she adopted the name Marion, this is the name my mother and her cousin, Roberta Dorr, knew her by. My mother's cousin Cecile said that at one point, after her marriage, she went by the name of Marion Carlyle Kells Feldman. I haven't been able to find her under any of these names in the 1920-1940 Censuses. Her death is recorded under Marion Kells in both the Social Security Death Index and the Cook Co. one.

     According to my mother, Marion was a writer.  I haven't been able to find anything she wrote but in two letters I have that she wrote to my mother's brother, Lyman she talks about writing stories and having three of them off to "the editor".  Hopefully, I can find something she wrote someday, I suspect that she wrote under a pen name.

     I had thought that she never married.  This is what my mother seemed to think and what her cousin, Roberta Dorr, told me.  However, I found a number of photos of family reunions which showed a man named Jesse with Marion.  I put him on the tree thinking that perhaps they were an unmarried couple, a more bohemian lifestyle, not inconsistent with a writer from Chicago.  Then I found their marriage record! They were married in Seattle, Washington, for some reason, on 6 July 1922.  Laura Clark Kells, wife of her brother, Duncan. was one of the witnesses.  Marion's brothers Oakford, Lucas and Duncan were all in Seattle or area at that time, so perhaps that's why the marriage was there. In the photos I have, Marion and Jesse look very happy together.  Unfortunately, the marriage didn't last.  By 1942, when Jesse enlisted in the Army, he was divorced.

     Around 1957, my parents, sister and I visited Chicago. We primarily were there to see my father's brother and his family.  However, one day my mother took my sister and I to visit her Aunt Marion.  We went to an apartment building, up an elevator and to her apartment.  I recall her as tall with a certain amount of presence (or course, old in my eyes as well).  Her apartment was fascinating to me for all the interesting old things in it. Unfortunately, I don't recall very specifically, but probably an Art Deco style.  Marion and my mother had a good conversation and they were very happy to see each other.

     As I said, my mother admired Marian and said she was a writer, Cousin Roberta seemed to be puzzled about Marion, the grandchildren of Madge say that she was a loud, brash person and was a psychologist or social worker in Chicago. All may be true! There is a picture she painted of a floral arrangement that hangs today in the house of Mary Margaret Ellering, granddaughter of Madge, in Melrose.  I think she was an artist and very much her own person.

     Marion died on 14 Apr 1942 in Chicago, Illinois.  I'm going to let her own words end this. She wrote this in a letter to her sister-in-law, Edith, on the death of her brother, Lucas Kells.

     "Death will come but it is not the end.  Whatever there is of immortality, Luke will be rich in its heritage. There is so very much we do not understand: but I believe - and I think you do....I was thinking today of the things he liked and admired and felt that I wanted to carry them on in my life, and as though they were part of his.  That is what we all can do.

                                                         With all my love,