"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 5 November 2012

Remember, remember...?

So, I was planning on making this, my 100th blog post, rather more reflective, but I will postpone that until next time in order to concentrate on some rather more timely subject matter – Bonfire Night.
The reason for this is that there is an old family rumour that one of my ancestors was in some way involved with the Gunpowder Plot. Exciting as this may seem, as yet I have found no evidence that it is actually true.
The rumour originates from my paternal family, but I haven’t been able to narrow it down much beyond that, which means 50% of my ancestral lines are currently implicated.  If I was ever to narrow this down – or even get that far back on most of these lines – I’d be very impressed, and I don’t hold much hope, to be honest. However, it is rather interesting to consider that if the rumour were true it would imply Catholic recusant ancestors, and the recusancy rolls are a potential source of information that I am aware of, many thanks to my degree, so you never know...
In an attempt to possibly suggest where the connection might be, I have looked in a little more detail at the plot and two potential connections immediately present themselves:
One possibility is the Wintour, or Winter,brothers, Robert and Thomas, who were among the key plotters. The name Winter occurs in my Father’s maternal line, which is where I sort of get the impression the story comes from (though I can’t be certain).
If it were on my father’s maternal line, the Winters would seem the most likely candidates. The Rayners came from Ireland in the early 1800s and so that’s half of my great-grandfather’s side accounted for. On my great-grandmother’s side, again we can discount the Geoghegan line, which also came from Ireland, and I have enough second-hand information on the Hall line back into the 1600s to suggest that they’re improbable. It really only leaves either the ancestors of Emma Winter (both of her parents were also Winters, quite probably related) on my great-grandfather’s line or the ancestors of William Kipping Hedgecock on my great-grandmother’s line.
The possible problems with the Winter connection are that Winter is a fairly common name, so alone it is hardly compelling evidence. This is further compounded by the fact that Wikipedia tells me that historian Antonia Fraser (for whom I have great respect) in her book about the Gunpowder Plot (which I may have to purchase) points out that the brothers never used the spelling Winter themselves; it is usually found spelt Wintour or Wyntour. Obviously, spelling was quite variable back then, and I suppose it was still relatively fluid by the time I encounter my Winters in the nineteenth century. However, my Winter ancestors are consistent in the spelling of their name, which doesn’t really help my case.
Further to this, the location is wrong – the Wintour brothers came from the West Midlands, whereas my Winters were based in Surrey. Again, though people did move around, the location evidence hardly helps any argument for this being the connection, so I have to concede it isn’t likely.
A stronger possibility, I have to concede, is on an entirely different branch of my family, which has strong roots in the right area. My Buswell line as far back as I’ve been able to trace it originates around Whichford in Warwickshire, before migrating southwards into Chipping Norton and Banbury. Whichford is roughly thirty miles from Coughton, the base of the Throckmorton family, to whom many of the Gunpowder Plotters were related or connected. Though it’s not particularly close, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine part of the family moving a relatively small thirty miles over a couple of hundred years, and/or being connected by marriage to a family within such an area.
The problem with this possibility is that the Buswells feed into my Thompson/Newby line, which is my paternal grandfather’s side, and as I say, if anything I had the impression that the connection was on my dad’s maternal line.
On his paternal line, I can discount the Thompsons, also Irish, and the other possibilities are the Newbys/Wallingers, about whom I know too little to guess either way.
What I can say without any hesitation is that nowhere in my family lines have I encountered anyone who can seriously be called a gentleman of the rank that the Gunpowder Plotters were (with the exception, perhaps, of William Kipping), so whichever branch it was, they must have had some financial problems somewhere along the line!
Just to be clear, this is all very much conjecture, just for the fun of it. I have absolutely no evidence that this particular rumour is even true, never mind the means to identify the ancestor! Indeed, many such rumours do turn out to me completely untrue, or at least exaggerated considerably. Given that my most famous real ancestor’s granddaughter ­– J. B. Geoghegan, grandaughter Mabel Hall – only died in the 1960s and yet the man was never mentioned, it would seem improbable that a true story so much older would survive!
I think the most likely explanation is that my ancestors may have ‘supported’ the plot – i.e. they were recusant Catholics, hoping to put a Catholic monarch on the throne ­– rather than being actively involved in it, and over time, this expression of support became exaggerated into something more sinister.
That said, I have no evidence whatsoever for any kind of recusancy or nonconformity in my family either. Almost all of my ancestors baptised their children, married and were buried in the Church of England (despite the fact that many of them lived in strongly Methodist areas). Beyond that, I have found no evidence of anyone actively involved in the church or showing any strong faith. As a fair complement of my ancestors was Irish, some of them may have had a catholic background, but that wouldn’t really tie in with the Gunpowder Plot in any case. The vast majority of them seem happy to tow the Anglican line, to be honest!
It just goes to show that there’s only so much that genealogy can uncover. The vast majority of our family history must remain unknown, and many of the myths must remain unresolved. It’s rather nice to have the possibility that I really do have such an exciting background, though, and with a bit of luck I might one day make the breakthrough that proves or disproves it!
L x

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