Saturday, September 14, 2002

76. What is the oldest pedigree in England?

The longest documented pedigree now known in England is that of the Arden family. This is a pedigree blessed by the great scholar J. H. Round – himself always accounted a great iconoclast – and who says of the Arden family tree: ‘It had not only a clear descent from Aelfwine, Sheriff of Warwickshire in days before the Conquest, but even held, of the great possessions of which Domesday shows us its ancestor as lord, some manors which had been his before the Normans landed, at least as late as the days of Queen Elizabeth.’ This is high praise from so great a genealogist, and it enables the Arden family to rank as the only English pedigree with a certainty of going back before the Conquest. There are others which are almost equally certain but where no absolute documentary proof can be found. These include the Berkeleys, (in Scotland Barclays) whose descent from Eadnoth the Staller is almost beyond cavil. Eadnoth was killed in some fighting near Bristol in 1068. He was called the Staller as being a chamberlain to Edward the Confessor and evidently he transferred his allegiance to the Conqueror. Then there is the great Scottish family of Swinton whose ancestor is considered to have been the Edulfing or ruler of the district between the Tyne and the Forth in the days of Alfred the Great. Like many English families who did not care for the rule of William the Conqueror they migrated northward and were welcomed by the Scottish kings. In addition to these we can add the name of Wilberforce, famous in connection with one of its members, William Wilberforce who led the anti-slavery movement in Great Britain. This family claims a descent from a hardy soldier who had the distinction of fighting both at Stamford Bridge and Hastings. When we have gone over this short list of four we have run over the families of England whose ancestry is pre-Conquest. The Ardens have a distinction even greater fame. They produced Mary Arden, the mother of William Shakspeare. It seems peculiarly appropriate that the greatest of English poets should have been born of a family of undoubted English pre-Conquest stock.

L. G. Pine, Heraldry, Ancestry and Titles: Questions and Answers (65-66)

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