Introduction & preface
Researching Family History is a time consuming and absorbing hobby, but it is not for all. I was very intrigued, early in life, when my mother gave me a little book detailing her American ancestry and I have dabbled, on and off, ever since. With the emergence, in recent years, of phenomenal internet resources research and exchange of information have taken giant steps forward. My desire to preserve the facts for prosperity now creates the defining moment when all those years of research must give way to sharing the information in such a way that creates interest to not only my family, but also the wider reader. Therefore, consider this as my book, it’s always in print and never complete – Shepherds and Princes.
Written in vignettes, each features the heroic tales and social history of one of my family’s ancestors. Every chapter is a true story in its own right, and includes snippets of the social history of the time and place. Please consider this, especially the romantics amongst you the reader, and I include myself, we are not all descended from colourful princes and chivalrous knights. In fact, the characters from our past have far greater wealth… they were, thankfully, survivors of the fittest in our harsh world and their valuable lives were certainly not in vain because they make us, DNA and all, the people we are today.
‘Shepherd, courtesy is often sooner found in lowly sheds with smoky rafters than in tapestry halls and courts of princes, where it first was named’. This quote, which inspires my title, comes from the poet John Milton and his ‘Masque presented at Ludlow Castle in 1634’ or ‘Comus’, as it is now known. Masques were a favourite form of court entertainment, performed by players from the household, and Comus argues the virtuousness of temperance and chastity over mockery, magic, sexual pleasure and excess. It has a stimulating sentiment and, in many ways, the ideas seem the perfect model for my family history tales.
The thought-provoking quote has always suggested to me, as an ordinary person, that better qualities are likely to be found in the ‘lowly sheds’ of the ‘shepherd’ – the common man. Some family historians go to great lengths to trace ancestors in those ‘courts of princes’ in their ‘tapestry halls’, and I can certainly provide tenuous family links to William the Conqueror, The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and, even, the lesser known Chieftain Flannabhra of The O’Malleys of The Owals. Linking to these grand historical figures with the names of ancestors and their dates of birth, marriage and death are really of very little value in themselves. My enjoyment has always been to research the social history of the times in which my ancestors lived. My hope is to provide the reader with a mixed bag of this history and real family characters, with all their mysteries, comedies and dramas. They all have a message for us! The reader is not required to be one of my traceable relatives, the fact is we are probably all related somewhere along the line and our ancestors all shared the same times and would have equally interesting tales to tell.
As any family historian will tell you, the most valuable tales are from the living memory of your relatives and these take pride of place in this book. Like old wives tales there is always some truth in the stories handed down from one generation to the next but they are often inaccurate for the genealogist – that’s all part of the fun! Discovering the true facts in a family history based on authenticated providence takes more years of research than are available. Nobody will ever know the whole story for sure, research will always remain incomplete, and I can only hope that this book will confirm to descendants of mine how special and unique they are, encourage them to preserve our family history and, maybe, inspire them to dabble a bit in further research themselves. Those hopes go to every reader.
So, to you the audience and with special thanks to all my performers, let the Masque begin.