We can all probably name some of England’s monarchs but I bet there is 1 you can’t. I like to introduce him to you.
Henry the Young King
Henry was born on the 28th February 1155 at the Palace of Bermondsey. He was the second son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. After the death of his elder brother in 1156 aged 3 Henry became heir to the throne of England. He married Margaret of France, the daughter of King Louis VII of France (Eleanor of Aquitaine’s first husband) and Constance of Castile, in 1172 in Winchester Cathedral. The couple were betrothed when he was 5 and she was 2. The couple had 1 son William who was born prematurely in 1177 in Paris, France. William died when he was just a few days old.
Young Henry was described as being a tall strong man with red hair and blue eyes and being handsome. He was well skilled at fighting and took part in many tournaments throughout Europe making his a sort of celebrity.
Henry was crowned King of England, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou at Westminster Abbey in 1170 when he was 15 years old. What’s unusual about this, well his father was still alive and was still actively King. This made Henry a joint king with his father King Henry II. So technically the county had 2 monarchs, King Henry II and King Henry III, (although Young Henry was never was given a regnal number as it was assumed he would take the title King Henry III after the death of his father). So if Young Henry was actually Henry III, this makes Henry III the IV and so on so King Henry VIII was actually King Henry IX.
So how did this work, well at the time England ruled great portions of France through Henry’s parents and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s family. This meant that the king could not be present in his entire realm. The plan was for young Henry to take some of the responsibility, but in truth this never happened. It seems King Henry II only really crowned young Henry to make sure his heir was in place. This was because of the troubles in the accession after the death of his grandfather King Henry I. King Henry I only surviving child was a girl, Matilda, so many felt the crown should go to his nephew Stephen. Matilda didn’t like this to say the least and it led to what was known as the Anarchy (the struggle and war between Stephen and Matilda lasting from 1135 – 1154). The main struggles ended when Stephen named Matilda’s son Henry (King Henry II) as his heir. So by crowning the young Henry it solidified his sons claim to throne after he died.
But there was a problem young Henry wanted some power to go with his titles. This lead to young Henry rebelling against his father in 1173. He was joined by many of the leaders of the regions of France. In truth young Henry had been at odds with his father since 1170 when Henry’s great friend and father figure Thomas Beckett was murdered, perhaps on the orders of his father. It is also felt that Young Henry’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine was involved in the struggle siding with her son and encouraging his brothers Geoffrey, Richard and John to side with him. This lead to Eleanor being imprisoned for the next 16 years, which turned the family against itself due to the close bond between mother and sons.
The battles with his father came to a head in 1183 when Young Henry’s troops along with those of his brother Geoffrey and the King of France attempted to ambush King Henry II at Limoges, France. This ambush failed and young Henry had to flee into Aquitaine. It was during the period of exile that Young Henry died at Martel in Quercy, France from dysentry. He was initially buried at the cathedral of Le Mans and later moved to Rouen Cathedral, France.
What happened to the family after this? Well King Henry II ruled until his death in 1189. Geoffrey died in 1186 in Paris leaving behind a widow and 3 children, his son Arthur was named heir to the new King (he never became king). Richard became King on the death of his father and spent much time on crusade or imprisoned in France, during which time the country was run by his mother Eleanor. Richard died in 1199 in his mother’s arms from an infected arrow wound. And John became King after Richard died and had an eventful rule. Eleanor died in 1204 at the abbey of Fontevraud, France where she was a nun. Her tomb is in the main church of the abbey where she lays alongside her husband King Henry II, her son King Richard I and her daughter in law Isabella of Angouleme (King John’s second wife).
Having members of your family, whether now or ancestors in the past with a disability is no different from having a family member with no issues at all but unfortunately society didn’t always agree.
To start with, what is disability? In basic terms is it any condition which affects a person’s ability to function on a day to day basis and is usually physical, mental or sensory in nature. Some definitions will be much greater in length but this is what I went with in my Postgraduate dissertation. How a person deals with a disability varies from person to person and is unique to them. Some embrace it and don’t let it stop them, others find it more limiting.
Throughout history many people with disability were not treated with the care and cutesy they deserved. Some people, especially those with mental health people were often put into the asylum or workhouse just to get rid of them and it wasn’t just the working class that did that.
How many of you have heard of Prince John, the youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary? Probably not many of you. Prince John was born in 1905 and had epilepsy. As a result he was hidden away at the family’s Sandringham home where he had a governess and played with the local children. Although up until the age of 11 he was seen with the rest of the family. John died aged 13 in 1919 from a seizure. There is evidence though that the family felt they were doing what was best for Prince John. Fresh air and less stress could all aid him and attempt to reduce the number of seizures he had. This isn’t the only case of a member of the upper classes being hidden away. Anyone who wasn’t classed as perfect was shielded from public view. Must keep up appearances and all that.
Against this though is King Richard III. He had a well-known spinal deformity but he managed to rule the country for 2 years. No matter what you think of him and how he ruled he was still the most powerful man in the country.
If you consider what was happening in the lower classes and thus with our ancestors then things were different. The census returns can shed some interesting light on what was happening. If you look at the census the end column you may have noticed words like blind, deaf, dumb, imbecile, idiot and lunatic. Obviously the first 3 relate to known sensory conditions, but the others. Well they could include physical or mental conditions, birth defects or even what we would call learning difficulties. What to do with such people? The census is probably the only way you would ever know if there was any disability in your ancestry unless family stories mention those with disability.
Well some people suffering from these conditions were cared for at home by their family. They were able to live as normal a life as they could and hopefully were happy. There were such things as peg legs and hooks for arms and there were wheelchairs. Those with mental condition may even have as normal a life as possible with jobs and families of their own. But this wasn’t always the case.
Unfortunately many with physical and mental conditions ended up in the asylum (mental conditions) or the workhouse (both types of condition). As you can imagine life wasn’t great for them. Treated like second class citizens and demeaned, they probably would have felt life couldn’t get any worse. For those with physical difficulties they would probably spent most of their life in a bed unless they were able to do manual tasks and them they would have been put to work.
It’s those with mental conditions who suffered most. In the Victorian times in the asylum all sorts of hateful, cruel things were done to them. They would electrocute them with high voltages without sedation or pain medication. I know they used electric shock therapy now but it’s done under safe conditions and with care. Life was probably not worth living. They may have had severe conditions such as schizophrenia, but they may just have had depression or even grief.
Let’s consider the grief aspect. Queen Victoria was well known for having mental health issues. She probably suffered from grief and depression from the day her husband Prince Albert died until the day she died. No one tried to put her in an asylum but there were probably people in these institutions who were suffering the same way she was.
There are so many ways a disabled person can have a full life. Wheelchairs, assistant dogs, friends, family and support structures through treatment and therapy (hopefully). Service personnel now are treated for their PTSD not classed as insane and lock away as they were in the past. Charities such as Guide Dogs (I sponsor a black lab called Hattie) and the fantastic organisation Warrior Canine Connections who raise dogs to help service personnel in the USA with PTSD (look at https://explore.org/livecams/warrior-canine-connection/service-puppy-cam-3 to watch the future service dogs growing up).
No matter what a person’s disability is treat them the same as you want to be treated with respect and care. They are human and don’t ignore them, they are not invisible and remember if you are descended form a disabled ancestor they were a strong person who overcame what life threw at them and managed to have a family and thus you are alive today.
There has been a lot of information in the press this week as it is the 100th anniversary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote. I want to consider how this affected our ancestors.
The Women’s social and political union was established in 1903 by Emmerline Pankhurst, nee Goulden(1858 – 1928) and her daughters Christabel (1880 – 1958) and Sylvia (really name Estelle, 1882 – 1960).
The group started out peacefully campaigning for votes for women but by 1905 women were being arrested for public order offences and not paying fines they had been given for minor offences. One of the first to be arrested was Christabel for interrupting a meeting of the Liberal Party. She refused to pay her fine so she went to prison. After 1905 things started to escalate as women began to chain themselves to railings and broke windows. The acts got worse as they began to set fire to post boxes and even used small bombs. This led to more women being imprisoned and some began to refuse food through a hunger strike. These women were forced fed using brutal techniques. In 1913 Emily Davison died when she fell under a horse owned by the King at the Derby. It’s thought she was trying to stop the race to promote the cause. The cause continued the use of criminal acts until the outbreak of World War 1 when the women focused on the war effort. In February 1918 the vote was granted to all women over the age of 30 who owned property and all men over the age of 21. This meant 8.4 million people got the vote in the UK. This lead to Christabel standing for parliament in December 1918, although she didn’t gain the seat.
So how can you tell if you had a suffragette in your family? Well unless they went to jail or we high up in the organisation it is unlikely you can know for sure but you can find clues.
The first clue is if your female ancestors were not on the 1911 census. Many of the women felt this was a good way to voice their protest. They refused to answer the questions on the census as they felt if they were not allowed to vote then why should they take part in the census. A note of caution though as this wasn’t always the case as some women may simply have not been at home.
A second method is to look at the ages of your ancestors. This will help you narrow down as to whether there was a chance they were involved. For example my great grandmother on my maternal line were both born in 1878 so would have been 25 when the union was formed, but my great grandmothers on my paternal line would only have been 7 and 3 so they would not have been involved. So with that line maybe their mother’s and aunts were as well as much older sisters?
Suffragette artefacts may also hold answers. We all have a box somewhere in the family which holds all the small items passed down through the generation and the key may be within it. You may find the holy grail and have letters or diaries belonging to you suffragette ancestors which shows you what they did for the cause. Jewellery can be a great indicator of involvement or support to the women. The movement used the colours green, purple and white. So if you have a broach or pendent say which has these colours on it there is a chance it is a suffragette piece. This doesn’t automatically mean they original owners were suffragettes, they may have purchased it later without knowing the significance. You may also find other items which were sold to raise money for the cause. On an antique programme I saw a pair of salt and pepper shakers in the style of a woman carrying a sandwich board encouraging “Vote for Women”.
So we many never truly know if our ancestors were part of the Suffragette movement but we can see which of them could potentially have been. And in the end not matter what in 1928 all women over the age of 21 got the vote in line with men.
These days all we see are the shells of the former monastic buildings and probably think no more about it, but monasteries have always held an interest to me. When I was growing up in Sheffield I lived less than 1 mile from Beauchief Abbey and every winter the land around the Abbey became a popular place to go. The land next to the Abbey church (which is all that is left standing and is still used today) is a municipal golf course in the city and has a rather long steep hill, excellent to sledging!
Beauchief Abbey was established in Derbyshire in 1183 after the land was given by Robert FitzRanulph who was the Lord of Alfreton.
Beauchief Abbey was run by the Premonstratensian order or white cannons. They served as priests for the surrounding churches and worked within the community. They also had farms, fish pond and a smithy on the nearby river Sheaf (the source of the city of Sheffield’s name). The abbey continued serving the community through until 1537 when the abbey surrender itself to King Henry VIII during his dissolution of the monasteries when he moved away from Catholicism and made himself the head of the Church of England. Beauchief Abbey was one of the first to go as it was 1536 that the change began. Initially the monasteries were just reformed, not dissolved. Then the abbey and land was sold to Sir Nicholas Strelley for £223(now approximately £72,000). Today Strelley Avenue and Strelley Road still exist within Sheffield (Beauchief is now an area of Sheffield and in the county of Yorkshire). The buildings of the abbey continued to be used until the 1660’s when they were taken down to build the nearby Beauchief Hall for Edward Pegg. He and his decedents continued to use the church building as their private chapel. In the 1930’s the Pegg family gave the land and buildings to the Sheffield Corporation. Much of the land became Beauchief municipal golf course and the Abbey itself still hold services to this day, albeit small services as the building is really small. In the 1950’s the Abbey building was made a scheduled monument.
What did the closure of the Abbey’s mean for the population of the country as a whole. Well in general terms things became worse for our ancestors. The monks may have taken care of the spiritual needs of the community, but they also provided many other ways they helped the community. Anyone who has ever read the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters will know Cadfael was an apothecary who helped heal the medical problems of not only the Abbey, but also the town and surrounding villages. This fairly factual as the abbeys were well known for have infirmaries to tend the sick and injured. Many of the larger abbeys also acted as lodging houses where travellers and pilgrims could get board and lodgings.
The main way the abbeys aided the community though was through employment. They abbey needed workers to survive. With the number of religious duties they had to preform they had no time for the everyday tasks. They employed farmer, labourers, stone masons, gardeners, cooks, housekeeper, laundry workers and many others. When the abbeys closed all these people would have lost their jobs and others would be hard to come by. This would have impacted the wider community as rent and bills couldn’t be paid and families may have become destitute. If you became destitute who would you turn to? The monasteries! So a vicious circle began.
In the end if you ignore the religious aspect of the monasteries the dissolution damaged the communities surrounding them. It left the skeletons of the buildings behind to decay and be pulled down for the stone. In most cases all that’s left is the main church buildings, if anything at all. One of the most famous abbey churches still being used today is Westminster Abbey (which is actually called the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster).
So it is possible that the dissolution of the monasteries impacted your ancestors whether directly through losing their jobs or indirectly by the loss of the service the abbeys bought to the communities.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!