My Cousin Josh?

Last month I mentioned the possibility that I shared common ancestors with Edith Beaumont Clay.

Last night I watched the first programme in Series 18 of Who Do You Think You Are?, featuring Josh Widdicombe. On his journey into the past, the first name that rang my bell was Lady Katherine KNOLLYS, the daughter of my many times great grandmother, Mary BOLEYN (possibly).

Josh’s televised adventure didn’t go any further back than another of our (maybe) common grandparents, King Edward I of England, aka “Longshanks”.

Catch it if you can, wherever you happen to live. Genealogical eye candy of the highest order.

Find Mary Boleyn on the FamilySearch Shared Tree.

Josh was expecting to find “a couple of farmers” among his forebears and was well pleased with the quality of the stock from which he came. I wish I had a bunch of historians to establish my descent from the high and somewhat mighty down to my ag labs and sawyers.

Townscape 72 · Seafront

Seawall Repair

Something About Mary

About two years ago I added a 3rd great grandmother to my pedigree on FamilySearch Tree. When I checked back a few days later I discovered a portal had opened to many generations of increasingly illustrious forebears. It was all a bit much. I picked a few favourites from the “famous names” – and one was 14th great grandmother, Mary Boleyn. Who wouldn’t want a high-class strumpet for a granny?

I finished reading Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies this morning and Mary was mentioned several times in the narrative. One of the reasons that Henry 8’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was considered illegitimate was because he’d rogered her sister first.

After an audience with Anne, Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell speaks with Lady Rochford, wife of George Boleyn. Jane says of her sister in law, the queen:-

‘She is losing her looks, don’t you think? Was she too much in the sun this summer? She is beginning to line.’

‘I don’t look at her, my lady. Well, no more than a subject ought.’

‘Oh, you don’t?’ She is amused. ‘Then I’ll tell you. She looks every day of her age and more. Faces are not incidental. Our sins are written on them.’

‘Jesus! What have I done?’

She laughs. Mr Secretary, that is what we all would like to know. But then, perhaps it is not always true. Mary Boleyn down in the country, I hear she blossoms like the month of May. Fair and plump, they say. How is it possible? A jade like Mary, through so many hands you can’t find a stable lad who hasn’t had her. But put the two side by side, and it is Anne who looks – how would you express it? Well-used.’ Page 111.

Had affairs taken a different turn, Thomas Cromwell might have taken Mary Boleyn for his wife.

He sometimes thinks about Mary; what it would have been like, if he had taken her up on her offers. That night in Calais, he had been so close he could taste her breath, sweetmeats and spices, wine … but of course, that night in Calais, any man with functioning tackle would have done for Mary. Page 250.

Henry has fallen for Jane Seymour and ways are being sought to annul his marriage to Anne. Thomas Cromwell discusses the matter with Thomas Wriothesley, Clerk of the Signet, who says:-

‘We can still free the king. My lord archbishop will see a way, even if we have to bring Mary Boleyn into it, and say the marriage was unlawful through affinity.’

‘Our difficulty is, in the case of Mary Boleyn, the king was apprised of the facts. He may not have known if Anne was secretly married. But he always knew she was Mary’s sister.’

‘Have you ever done anything like that?’ Master Wriothesley asks thoughtfully. ‘Two sisters?’

‘Is that the kind of question that absorbs you at this time?

‘Only one wonders, how it would be. They say Mary Boleyn was a great whore when she was at the French court. Do you think King Francis had them both?’

He looks at Wriothesley with new respect. ‘ There is an angle I might explore, Now … because you have been a good boy and not struck out at Harry Percy or called him names, but waited patiently outside the door as you were bade, I’ll tell you something you will like to know. Once, when she found herself between patrons, Mary Boleyn asked me to marry her.’

Master Wriothesley gapes at him. He follows, uttering broken syllables. What? When? Why? Only when they are on horseback does he speak to the purpose. ‘God strike me. You would have been the king’s brother-in-law.’

‘But not for much longer,’ he says. Page 360.

Mary was only 21 years old when she married William CAREY in 1520. Their daughter, Catherine Mary Carey is one of my 13th great grandmothers. Maybe.

Anne’s only surviving child, Elizabeth, is a first cousin fifteen times removed. If only…

I smelled a rat at the pedigree portal and contacted the person who had put the gentleman there. A reply agreed that the fellow was an impostor and he was removed. My glorious and inglorious ancestors vanished. I make do now with agricultural labourers, sail makers, sawyers, dressmakers and washerwomen. Honest, decent folk.


Butter wouldn’t melt… Portrait of an Unknown Lady.  Accepted by some to be Mary Boleyn, or possibly her sister Anne, but maybe neither. One of several copies if this portrait hangs in the Hall at Rockingham Castle.

Mary on FST

Royal Flush

I continue to be rather embarrassed by my possible blood relationships to the kings and queens of several European countries. As I can now imagine, though I never previously thought about it, once one is a king one hands out largesse in the form of land, property and sometimes daughters to supporters. The daughters forge blood ties with “nobles” – so it is no surprise that I have successions of earls and dukes in my pedigree.

I am dutifully putting the exalted into RootsMagic and happening on a surprise or two each day. Yesterday I reached my fourteenth great grandmother Mary Boleyn (L5BC-D1G). Surely not! Alas ‘tis so, my great grandaunt times 14 died in the Tower of London.


Today I decided to move down in the world, back to my early ancestors. GEDmatch offers a tool that, in just a few seconds, compares autosomal DNA with that of “archaic” individuals found 1,200 to 50,000 years ago, in Europe and Asia mostly but with a couple from Brazil, a “Polar Eskimo” from Greenland and the Clovis child from the USA. The first two on the list are the granddaddy of them all – a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains and that other very senior citizen, a Denisovan from Siberia.

I still know very little about ancient DNA but I was hoping to have a small percentage of both Neanderthal and Denisovan in me. Here’s the indication on the first four chromosomes:-


I seem to match two ancients from present day Hungary most closely and this makes My Heritage’s suggestion of an East European ethnicity, which had initially taken me by surprise, seem more plausible.

What I really wanted to know though was whether I am a hunter gatherer or a farmer. GEDmatch’s answer was unequivocal. On every chromosome I was majorly Baltic Hunter Gatherer (averaging 54% over the 22) admixed with 35% Mediterranean Farmer. There were surprises in the traces. I would never in 50,000 years have expected I harboured Bantu Farmer DNA (I didn’t) but on 6 chromosomes I averaged 2% Pygmy Hunter Gatherer. The largest trace contribution has come from Middle Eastern Herder, which might explain Shem, Ham and Japheth, though I take that part of my pedigree with a pillar of salt. HGs from Oceania and South America will have to be explained by someone much cleverer than I will ever be.

This afternoon I watched a YouTube Video in which David Reich explained recent projects that are taking us Towards a New History and Geography of Human Genes informed by Ancient DNA. My earlier session at GEDmatch began to make more sense. My rough takeaway from his talk is that there were three major migrations of archaic people into Europe where previously the models favoured just two – the farmers and hunter gatherers. The third peoples are the Ancient North Eurasians. After much DNA sequencing and number crunching an estimate has been made of the share of DNA from the archaic populations that will be expected in various European groups today. Overall the combined proportions of farmer and hunter gatherer are only a little below my results, though my “traces” obviously are not Ancient North Eurasian. Leaving that aside as a puzzle, my admixture of the Big Two is quite close to Estonian, then Lithuanian and Icelandic. Norwegian, my chief suspect for the 50.7% Scandinavian ethnicity from My Heritage comes in about fourth.

English, which is what I thought I was, has an estimated admixture of 50% farmer, 36% hunter gather and 14% Ancient North Eurasian. Hmm, interesting; I hope you think so too. If you haven’t already, get testing and GEDmatching!