Tuesday, 2 March 2010

White and Black Sheep

My sister has been researching our family history for years now, diligently turning up brickmakers and tweenies. The most exciting thing to date has been a highway man, Joshua Hayley who was transported to Austrialia for highway robbery. His wife was a midwife. I imagine them; he dashing and daring, she, her youthful good looks fading, slapping babies arses, a bottle of gin in the pocket of her pinny.

That got my juices running for a while but then the story returned to hatmakers and school teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with those careers, after all, we will always need hats and learning provides the impetus for the worst of us to drag ourselves from the gutter.

By taking a different branch of the tree and delving a little further, some rather more interesting discoveries were made. I am pleased to report that my family does have some blue blood after all, however well watered down.

The trail of noblemen is easier to trace and so picks up impetus. A link with the Myddletons of Chirk castle made me prick up my ears, not from snobbery, but from the fact that we were now dealing with people I had actually heard of! People who are on the historical record.

Hugh Myddleton, sixth son of Richard Myddleton of Chirk, was apprenticed to a goldsmith. He became Royal Jeweller to James I, alderman, Recorder of Denbigh, and eventually MP to Denbighshire and a baronet. He is best remembered for the New River, dug from Amwell in Hertfordshire to london to provide the capital with fresh water when the Thames became too polluted. A statue to his memory stands in Islington.

There are numerous famous Myddletons,too many to go into detail here; their portraits hang in the Royal Gallery there are monuments and statues scattered around Britian. The most impressive of which is Chirk Castle that lies close to the centuries old posting road from London to Holyhead. they fought for parliament during the civil war but, disillusioned with Cromwell's rule, voted for the restoration of Charles ii. The Myddletons trace their descent back further to the Welsh warlord, Rhirid Flaid and (along another route) to the viking, Ivar the Boneless. My blood is up now, you have my interest Mr Myddleton, do please tell me more!

I studied the portraits of these long dead ancestors; they are aloof and far above me in terms of status. I do not sniff a mystery until my eye rests on one particular portrait. She 'speaks' to me, but I can't quite hear her words. I begin to read, find out who she is and why she is staring so smuggly from the canvas. What has she to hide?
Jane Needham was the eldest daughter of Sir Robert Needham (d. 1661), and his second wife, Jane (1619–1666), daughter and heir of Sir William Cockayne of Clapham, and widow of John Worfield of Barking. Like the Myddletons the Needhams were Welsh gentry.

Jane was married at the age of fourteen (18 October 1660) at St Mary''s, Lambeth, to Charles Myddleton, the sixth son of Sir Thomas Myddleton of Chirk Castle. She is a very interesting character. Contemporary accounts recall her as thrusting, ambitious and ruthless. Undeterred by her unsuccessful bid to weedle a way into the bed of King Charles ii, she then resorted to dangling the charms of her young daughter, Jenny, before his eyes.
'That isn't very nice, Jane!' I think and am forced to read on, to learn more. I turn to Pepys who mentions her in his diaries. Jane myddleton is 'indeed is a very beautiful lady' he says and I feel better. That is where I must get it from I suppose :D

On reading further I discovered that far from being loved and admired, her contemporaries (or at least those of the female persuasion) found her annoying, a girl who 'had not learned the meaning of wit or wisdom'. Rather more startling in a world of unimaginable smells, she is recorded as being 'smelly.' Pepys writes, 'she (Mrs Pierce) tells me that the fine Mrs. Middleton is noted for carrying about her body a continued sour base smell, that is very offensive, especially if she be a little hot.'
Oh, fair do's! I cry! Everyone was smelly in those days! I then began to realise that, if everyone was smelly then her stench must have been truly overpowering. Not something one hopes to discover about one's ancestors but I am now determined to discover the cause (or at least a hypothesis of the truth) of that unfortunate, scheming, ruthless, beautiful, calculating woman's personal aroma. I smell another novel!

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