Chapter Two: Fantasies (continued)

Introduction (on previous page)

The Red Hand of the Holt Baronets (on previous page)

The King's Hat and the Queen's Shoes

The Hastings Maunch

The Conqueror's Scarf

The King's Hat and the Queen's Shoes

This story starts with an item in a fashionable newspaper describing a forthcoming exhibition. On view would be a hat of Henry VIII and a pair of shoes from Anne Boleyn. They were acquired, it was reported, by an ancestor of their current owner, and the fashion of their acquisition caught the attention of Oswald Barron.

. . . . . . . . . . when the king was riding through Hertfordshire with Anne Boleyn and a company of attendants, he passed by Ayot St Lawrence and inquired to whom the place belonged. It was in reality a royal possession, and this was explained to Henry by one of his courtiers, who added that he wished it belonged to he himself. "And so it shall," said the king; and the estate was then and there handed over to the courtier, who however craved some token of its surrender. The king gave his hat and made Anne Boleyn part with her shoes, and the three articles have remained ever since in the possession of the family.

Barron commented:

A charming story which illustrates at once the manners of the time and the well-known amiability that was characteristic of Henry VIII. That he should continue his ride in a hatless and his wife in a shoeless condition is what one would naturally expect of the king and queen.

We have only to turn to Cussans' Hertfordshire to learn that "in 1873 the manor and estate came to Captain Lionel Neville Ames, grandson of Levi Ames the third son in succession of Levi Ames and Anna Maria Poole." The said Levi was an alderman of Bristol, and his wife was granddaughter of a mayor of Bristol whose brother acquired the said manor by purchase in 1718. Exit therefore "the ancestor" who acquired it as a favourite courtier of the eighth Harry.

But the exits are only beginning. In the official catalogue of the exhibition "the ancestor" has disappeared, but the "relics" were entered with their story now altered as follows:

Nicholas Bristowe, a favourite courtier of Henry VIII, was riding with the king and Queen Anne Boleyn in Hertfordshire. Passing Ayot St Lawrence he greatly admired the place, wondering whose it was. The king said, "It is mine, but now shall be yours." Bristowe asking what evidence he was to produce of the gift, the king gave him the hat he was wearing and asked the queen for her slippers, saying, "Bring these in London and I will give you the title deeds." The hat and slippers have since always gone with the estate.

Here again we have only to turn to Cussans' Hertfordshire to learn that the estate was not "granted" by the Crown till 35 Hen. VIII (1543-4) and had not even come into the hands of the Crown till 1540. As Anne Boleyn was put to death in May 1536, the inconvenience of parting with her shoes must have been greatly tempered by the fact that she had already parted with her head several years before.

Nicholas Bristowe, Clerk of the Jewels to Henry VIII

The Hastings Maunch

Another example of the longevity and apparent indestructibility of the gossip columnists' myths is that of the Hastings maunch, the extraordinary sleeve that old movies insisted on giving to mediaeval servants:

Everyone may not be aware that all the Hastings family have a right to a quaint adjunct to their servants' liveries in the shape of a maunche or hanging sleeve of black velvet, given to a Hastings of olden days as a mark of gratitude for services rendered to his Sovereign.

Barron commented:

A late alliance of the house of Hastings with the house of Bass has set in motion an industrious paragraph which appears and reappears in the society journals. The Hastings family, with its all but certain pedigree to the Hastings who had Ashill in Norfolk under Henry I, might be spared the tag which affirms it to be "among the few who, literally, landed with William the Conqueror." But the house claims a rarer distinction than descent from one of those many companions of the Conqueror who have been selected as ancestral figures by respectable English families.

A base of sound fact is afforded to all of such statements by the openings "it is not generally known" or "everyone may not be aware." So far, as a rule, we are with the paragrapher. Students of armory are familiar with the white shield of Hastings and its black sleeve borne thereon for arms. At what date a Huntingdon was seized with the curious fancy for commemorating his ancient arms in a servant's sleeve, which must be nervous wear when soup-plates are being handed and removed, we cannot guess. But the idea that some ancient sovereign of these realms rewarded Hastings's fidelity by designing new liveries for his footmen or parlourmaids is not one which we should accept without questioning. (George IV, before whom troopers of the Tenth stood in full uniform whilst the king with royal fingers pinched and demonstrated to an attendant tailor and cutter that pantaloons and coatee already at bursting point might be drawn still tighter, suggests himself as the Sovereign of the paragraph, but the days of his reign are hardly matured to the point of permitting themselves to be described as "olden days.")

The Hastings Maunch

By coincidence, although doubtless Barron was aware of it, the regiment of William Arthur Hamar Bass, the groom at the Bass-Hastings wedding on 9th June 1903, recently returned from the South Africa war, was the in fact the Tenth. (The bride was Lady Wilmot Ida Noreen Hastings, the 22-year-old daughter of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon.)

The Conqueror's Scarf

The following introduction to the lineage of the Earls FitzWilliam is a fair example of the worst excesses of the early years of Burke's Peerage.

The founder of the family was Sir William Fitz Godric, a Saxon, cousin to King Edward the Confessor. His son, Sir William FitzWilliam, an ambassador to the Court of William Duke of Normandy, would seem to have joined the Conqueror against Harold, as for his bravery at the battle of Hastings the Norman leader gave him 'a scarf from his own arm' which now forms the christening robe of every heir to the earldom.

Professor Edward Augustus Freeman, an authority of world renown on this period of English history, was outraged:

It is perhaps needless to say that all this is a pure fable; but one really stands aghast at the utterly shameless nature of the fable. Sir William Fitzwilliam is supposed to be an English ambassador at the Court of Normandy. The inventor of the fable had so little knowledge as not to see that the Sir, the first William, the Fitz, and the second William were, each of them by itself, as much proof as could be needed that a man of whose name they formed any part could not have been an Englishman of the days of Edward the Confessor. Furthermore it would seem that the inventor thought it honourable for an ambassador sent to a foreign prince to join that prince in an invasion of his own country, and to bear arms in battle against his own sovereign. As for the scarf from William's own arm, we need hardly look in the Bayeux Tapestry to prove that the Duke who knew so well how to wield his mace of iron did not encumber his arm with any frippery of scarves on the day of the great battle. . . . . . . . .

The arms of the Earls Fitzwilliam

The safest principle for all newcomers to ancestral research, and especially for those whose local libraries stock only pre-1970 editions of Burke's Peerage, is to treat with the greatest caution all anecdotes from the centuries prior to the reigns of the Tudors. For the Tudor period and later it is best to remember that the details delivered to the editorial offices of Burke's Peerage by members of the relevant family were usually accepted uncritically.


Drambuie, the Royal Liqueur

Drambuie did not need the "Royal" adjective in its name to be identified immediately as a high-ranking tipple, for Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Chevalier Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Prince in the Heather, and a score more romantic images lurking in readers' imaginations were used to project a secret Royal Formula combining Highland honey and Highland herbs to glamour the liquid and to entrance the palate.

Still today the magic of Drambuie lingers, its reputation for quality still endorsed by the "Peerage people."

Chapter II page 1 ~ Fantasies ~ 1 ~

Chapter III ~ Debrett's and Burke's

Mists of Antiquity: Introduction

The Baronage Contents page

© The Baronage Press Ltd and Pegasus Associates Ltd