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Foundation - Peter Ackroyd ”The house of the Plantagenets, from Henry II to Richard III himself was brimming with blood. In their lust for power the members of the family turned upon one another. King John murdered, or caused to be murdered, his nephew Arthur; Richard II dispatched his uncle, Thomas of Gloucester; Richard II was in turn killed on the orders of his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke: Henry VI was killed in the Tower on the orders of his cousin, Edward IV; Edward IV murdered his brother, Clarence, just as his own two sons were murdered by their uncle. It is hard to imagine a family more steeped in slaughter and revenge, of which the Wars of the Roses were only one effusion. It might be thought that some curse had been laid upon the house of Plantagenets, except of course in the world of kings the palm of victory always goes to the most violent and the most ruthless. It could be said that the royal family was the begetter of organized crime.”

Well I didn’t really give much more thought to the Plantagenets than any other royal family until my cousin Nancy began researching our family history. It seems my ancestor James Ives (1775-1802) convinced (bamboozled) this rather wealthy girl from a well connected family in Boston to marry him. Her name was Anna Ashley (1782-1822). So far research has not brought to light exactly how James was in a position to marry so well. His livelihood is murky, so he must have been charming or attractive or at the very least a smooth talker. The interesting thing about this marriage is that it insured that at least a thimble-full of Plantagenet blood is circulating in my body.

Peter Ackroyd, who I have always thought of as a novelist, has probably written about as many nonfiction books as he has novels. I’ve enjoyed his books and tend to pick them up when I run across them. His latest project is a six-volume history of England of which this is the first volume. First thing to understand is that this is an overview, so if you are looking for a drill down into a particular time of English history that is not the purpose of this book. I knew a lot of what Ackroyd covers in this volume, but it was still nice to refresh my memory of the period. I also made several notes about a few people that I would like to read more about for instance Alfred the Great’s sons and grandsons. ”The descendants of Alfred, the sons of Woden, had ruled the country for 145 years. Not one of them was ever proclaimed to be a tyrant.” Athelstan, son of Alfred, in particular is of interest because he is considered the first King of England where Alfred was referred to as the King of the Angles and of the Saxons.

Bernard Cornwell has written a compelling series of books covering Alfred the Great’s reign and his battles and alliances with the influx of Dane incursions into England. Sure the Dane’s raped and pillaged, but after acquiring and keeping territory they started bringing their women and children with them and settled into what turned out to be an island with lands well suited for agriculture. Many centuries before the Romans conquered the island for the fertile lands to provide grain for a hungry citizenship back home.

Richard the III end of the Plantagenet line of kings

This book covers from Stonehenge to the end of the Plantagenet rule with the death of Richard III in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. I also had a relative that fought on the side of the Tudor usurpers (well how they are referred to in my household anyway) he was knighted on the battlefield by Henry VII for his role in helping to slay Richard.

”The houses of York and Lancaster were in fact two sides of the same ruling family. The house of Lancaster was descended from the fourth son of Edward III, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster; the house of York was descended from the fifth son of the same king, Edmund, duke of York, whose youngest son had married the great-granddaughter of the third son. They are sometimes describes as the third and fourth sons respectively, but this omits one male child who lived for six months. Their closeness, however, bred only enmity and ferocity. Blue blood was often bad blood.

When I was a kid, you will find this shocking, I was always reading. I remember I was reading about William the Conqueror (1024-1087)one summer and mentioned to my grandfather that he was named after an English King. He looked at me with disinterest and then crammed a black banana in his mouth probably with the intent of making me nauseous and saved him the trouble of actually shooing me away. His name was not William, but Harold Ashley Ives. Notice the nod still given to the Ashley family in the 20th century. Harold was King in that fateful year 1066. ”His reign, lasting nine months and nine days, was one of the shortest in English history.” He was not a bad king nor was he a poor soldier. He just happened to be in the way of one of the most ambitious and best field commanders of the day William the Conqueror.

William the Conqueror

Now William had no claim to the throne, not even such a weak connection as Henry VII(1457-1509). Henry’s claim to the throne was that his paternal grandfather secretly married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois. What he and Henry VII had in common was that they both took the crown at the point of their sword.

Now my ancestor Anna Ashley is descended from Henry I(1068-1135), fourth son of William the Conqueror. Unfortunately Henry I did not have a legitimate son. He had a very capable son named Robert (1100-1147) who would probably have made a great King, but he was illegitimate, and therefore; could not claim his birthright. The Plantagenets like most dynasties sowed the seeds of lust in many fields. Henry I made all of his supporters swear they would support his daughter Matilda to be the first crowned Queen of England. Matilda had an acerbic nature and was not well liked coupled with the fact that England wasn’t ready to follow a woman. This resulted in very little support for her to ascend to the throne. Cousin Stephen was crowned King and that touched off a war with Matilda that lasted from 1139-54 accomplishing little, but creating chaos among the peasant populations. In the end Stephen names Matilda’s son Henry II(1133-1189) to be his successor which puts my direct line of ancestors back in power.

John (1167-1216), the baby of the marriage between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine outlasts his brothers and comes to the throne. So yes I do have to claim John as his son Henry III(1207-1272) is also a direct ancestor to Anna Ashley. Henry was the last of a line of king ancestors in my direct line of genealogy. We are descended from Henry's son Edmund Crouchback(1245-1296) the 1st Earl of Lancaster. He was the younger brother of King Edward I.

Edmund Crouchback brother to a King

So my cousins, female and male, that bear the name Ashley do not fully realize why that name has been so carefully passed from generation to generation, but I’ve noticed that they are also naming their children Ashley, so it is very probable that the name will stay attached to the Ives family for many more generations. Ashley was on the shortlist for my name, but my Aunt Shirley insisted that my name was supposed to be Jeffrey. In moments of fancy I think of myself as named after the ancestor Geoffrey V Count of Anjou (1113-1169) who had such a stormy relationship with Empress Matilda(1102-1169), but the makeup sex must have been superb because they sired three boys insuring a solid bedrock of claims to the English throne.

Geoffrey of Anjou

Ackroyd admits most of the history of this period that is available is the history of royalty. He does write vignettes between chapters that focus on the lives of the peasants, roads, crops, land, stone and brick building, and the growth of communities. This is a history steeped in blood, volume two will cover the Tudors, the usurping bastards :-), and I will discover if they do any better at controlling the hoards of power hungry dukes and lords, and tempering their own lusts for conquest and fame. I’ve taken a peek and it looks like a wild ride.