There is a moment in the television version of Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards when Francis Urquhart puts the new King Charles firmly in his place. Urquhart alludes to the fact that his family had come south at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century with James VI of Scotland, the monarch who became James I of England. ‘We were defenders of the English throne before your family was ever heard of,’ says Urquhart in a snarling assault on the king, whom he forces into abdication.
It was a line that resonated with something deep in my memory. I have childhood memories of the Royal Family being referred to as ´German interlopers.´ It seemed an absurd suggestion, the Hanoverians had arrived two and a half centuries when I was born.
Perhaps the objection had arisen from forebears’ recollections of the Royal Family changing their surname from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1917, German names not being very popular during the First World War.
Perhaps folk memories remained from the slaughter of local people during and in the aftermath of the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. Although, that seemed unlikely, the Prince of Orange was favourably received when he passed through in 1688, on his way to eject James II, whose forces had destroyed the local men at Sedgemoor.
Perhaps there still remained something of the Parliamentarian spirit that had motivated members of the family to join Cromwell’s forces at Langport in 1645. Although, as one of my uncles comments, our family would have been no more than pike bearers.
The more likely explanation for having felt a sympathy for Urquhart’s comment is a lifelong dislike for hierarchies. It was a thought that recurred whilst researching family history this afternoon.
One of the positive aspects of coming from an unremarkable family of small people is that most of them have never moved very far. The families researched today were from Kingsbury Episcopi and Aller, both within a few miles of Langport. In one case, the records went back to 1515, in the other back to 1494.
Five hundred years of family history in one small area, there is a sense of security, a sense of place, a sense of pride.
I laughed at the thought of Francis Urquhart, we were here two centuries before his forebears rode south.
Five centuries of written records, who knows how long before that? These were people who had endured, survived, struggled, battled.
Why should families who have laboured through the years, endured hardship, suffered tragedies, created farms acre by acre, joined the colours in wartime, not regard themselves as the equal of anyone?