In the almost seven years (wow!) that I've been writing this blog, I've had numerous messages and emails from readers, at least 95% of them lovely and supportive. Quite a few readers find the blog because they've been doing research on their family trees and are looking for more information about their ancestors of the early fourteenth century, and occasionally they email me or contact me on Facebook for more details or to ask about someone I haven't yet mentioned on the blog. This is great and I'm happy to help. I have noticed, however, that a small minority of genealogy researchers are so keen to find royal ancestry somewhere in their tree that they wrongly ascribe royal parentage to someone, who of course just happens to be an ancestor of theirs. Others, also keen to find royal ancestry, who have read their posts online and are also descendants of the people with supposedly royal parentage then ask me if I can confirm this. When I can't, when I say that actually there is no evidence for this, they can become a bit - well, snippy and defensive. Even rude sometimes.
One classic example of this: I received an email a while ago about a fairly obscure knight of Norfolk of the mid-fourteenth century, whose name escapes me now (and I no longer have the email), who was an ancestor of my correspondent. The correspondent asked me if it was true that this knight married a daughter of Edward II and Isabella of France, which apparently is a story that appears somewhere online. No, I said, it's not possible. Edward II and Isabella had two daughters, Eleanor and Joan, born in 1318 and 1321. Edward negotiated at various times for his daughters to marry King Alfonso XI of Castile, the future King Pedro IV of Aragon, and two sons of Isabella's uncle Charles, count of Valois. Ultimately, after his deposition, the girls married Duke Reynald II of Gelderland and King David II of Scotland. These negotiations give you an idea of the kind of husbands Edward II wanted for his daughters - preferably kings, or at the very least someone closely related to kings and very well-connected to European royalty and nobility (as the count of Valois certainly was, being Philip IV's brother).
Edward II's marital negotiations with Castile, Aragon and France also reflect his foreign policy and which powers he wanted or needed to make an alliance with at the time. (And before anyone starts screaming about how nasty and unfair it is that he was so willing to use his daughters as 'pawns', a word I would be delighted never to have to see again in connection with medieval marriages, let me point out that his own future marriage had been used since the age of five in the furtherance of his father's foreign policy, and his list of fiancées reflects his father's political aims and need for certain allies at any given time, and this is entirely normal and the case for pretty well every other king of England.) If Edward and Isabella had had more daughters or if Edward had reigned longer, it's certainly possible that the girl(s) would have married in England, as two of Edward's sisters did - Joan of Acre and Elizabeth, who married the earls of Gloucester and Hereford. Edward might have decided to ally himself with an English earl and seal this with a marriage of their children. But it's 100% safe to say that a simple shire knight of Norfolk would never have been considered as a suitable husband for a legitimate daughter of the king of England, who was also granddaughter and niece of kings of France. Edward would have received no benefits at all from such a marriage and it would have disparaged his daughter to make such a match, and been shocking to contemporaries. If Edward II had had an illegitimate daughter, this is the kind of marriage she might have made. But there is no evidence that he did. Another way in which this marriage might just be possible is if one of his daughters was widowed and then decided to please herself by marrying a man of her own choice, as Edward's sister Joan of Acre did with her second husband Ralph de Monthermer. But Edward's daughters Eleanor and Joan married outside England so this evidently didn't happen, and there is no evidence whatsoever that he and Isabella had another living child beyond the four who are well-known to history. Sadly, my correspondent was unwilling to let this line of inquiry and an extraordinarily tenuous possible link to royalty go and basically told me that if I couldn't or wouldn't help, they'd look elsewhere for this non-existent daughter of Edward and Isabella and her marriage. Well, good luck with that.
Something similar has happened to me a few times, with a story doing the rounds that Edward II's niece the countess of Devon made a secret love marriage to a cousin of hers named Richard and bore him a son John, before this scandalous marriage was dissolved and she was forced to marry someone more suitable, Hugh Courtenay, future earl of Devon. The alleged son of this alleged secret marriage allegedly has - surprise! - descendants alive today, many of whom believe they are thus descended from Edward I. Margaret, the countess, was betrothed to Hugh Courtenay in 1314 when she was only three years old and married him on 11 August 1325 when she was fourteen. So if she did marry and have a child with this cousin, which I really, really doubt, it must have been when she was only twelve or thirteen. (Hugh Courtenay lived until 1377 when Margaret was sixty-six, so her supposed son John can't have been born when she was widowed.) Again, I haven't received any thanks on the few occasions I've pointed all this out to the self-proclaimed descendants of this secret marriage and love-child; quite the opposite. I'm not saying the story is totally impossible, but there is no contemporary evidence whatsoever for it, and the genealogy websites which perpetuate the story are all forced to make Margaret several years older than she really was when she bore 'John' in this fabulously romantic marriage with her cousin, because otherwise, ewwww, icky.
Finally, there was, according to numerous genealogical sites, a man born in England sometime between about 1320 and 1330, who has tens of thousands known descendants in the twenty-first century. His name is variously given as William Alfred, William Knight, William Alfred Knight, or William Knight of Bradley. (I haven't looked into him properly, so have no idea what primary sources prove his existence and his descendants.) Some time ago for reasons I can't quite fathom, someone got it into their heads that this William was the illegitimate son of Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France, and now this astonishingly dubious claim is repeated all over the place as fact with inventions and inaccuracies galore, such as:
"Mortimer was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and then hung. Isabella, who was pregnant with Mortimer's child, was given a large pension for life. She gave birth to a son, Willielmo, in 1325. After paying eight shillings for the "fifth part of a knight's fee", he became known as Willielmo Knyght de Bradley. Smuggled out of the Tower of London after his birth by Adam Orleton, Bishop of Worcester. He was fostered in Worcester, and undoubtedly never told of his parentage. According to the French chronicler, Froissart, Isabella was pregnant in 1330 when Mortimer was executed. However, the evidence is that the child was conceived and born in the Tower of London during the year that both Isabella and Mortimer were in residence. Nevertheless, it seems to have been generally known that there was a child of this union. As soon as she had recovered from this birth, Isabella fled to France, taking her eldest son, the heir to the throne with her. He was given the name "Knyght" by his mother, who pleaded for his father's life with the words: "Now, fair sirs, I pray you that you do no harm to his body, for he is a worthy knight, our well-beloved friend and our dear cousin."
Notice how this account brilliantly warps known history, turning Isabella's journey to France in March 1325 to negotiate with her brother Charles IV (with Edward II's full knowledge and permission) into a flight to her homeland because she had borne a child to Roger Mortimer, and notice also that the illegitimate boy didn't know his true parentage but somehow genealogists of the twenty-first century do. Amaaaaaaaazing. Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, incidentally, had fallen out of Roger and Isabella's favour as early as 1327, and wouldn't have been smuggling their secret love-child anywhere in 1330. The notion that Isabella and Roger had a son who, ta-da, actually survived has become a popular one in recent times and has featured in at least one novel I know of, wherein simply by existing he is said to be some kind of threat to Edward III and his position on the throne, for reasons that are not at all clear to me. Details are breathlessly invented and added to this bizarre story for extra spice and excitement, and the whole unappetising concoction is then given credence by being repeated on numerous websites and posts on Ancestry.com. (All of them, not at all coincidentally, written by descendants of Sir William whatever his real name was.) There really is no evidence that Isabella and Roger Mortimer had a living child, no real evidence in English sources that she was ever pregnant by him at all, no evidence that they ever met in the Tower when he was imprisoned there in 1322/23 let alone had sex (puh-leaze!), no evidence that people at the time were so remarkably stupid that they wouldn't have noticed if the queen of England had borne a child to a prisoner and then fled abroad with the child years later. It makes me cross when sites like this make statements such as 'the evidence is that the child was conceived and born in the Tower of London during the year that both Isabella and Mortimer were in residence'. What evidence? Cite it. Oh wait, you can't, because you're talking utter nonsense.
From another site, about William Alfred/Knight:
"On the genealogy web site Ancestry.com there are an astonishing 72,103 descendents of William Knight who have listed him in their family tree. Interestingly, almost all of them firmly believe that William was the illegitimate love child of Roger De Mortimer (The Earl of March) and Queen Isabella (The Queen of England). This fact may or may not be true, the history is inconclusive, but the story is well worth telling…It is accepted by most scholars that at the time of Roger De Mortimer’s execution, Isabella was pregnant with his child. The official record states that she lost the baby in childbirth, but others are not so sure. There are reports that the baby was smuggled out of the castle by Isabella’s friend and supporter Adam Orleton, the Bishop of Worcester, and given to a sympathetic family. It would make sense, since a male child of this union would have almost certainly been seen as a threat to the throne* and would not have been allowed to live. In case you haven’t guessed, that baby is said to have been William Alfred Knight, my ancestor.
Was William Knight really the child of Roger De Mortimer and Queen Isabella of England? We may never know. There are scant few records from the time to prove or disprove it. But the vast majority of the 72,103 people who list themselves as descendents of William Knight certainly think so. And as a descendant myself, I’m happy to include the Queen of England and one of England’s most notorious traitors in my family tree. Although I do feel an obligation to point out that most sources record William Knight’s birth year as somewhere between 1320 and 1325, 5 to 10 years before Isabella was pregnant with De Mortimer’s child in 1330. But hey, why let that ruin a great story."
* Why? It was perfectly clear to everyone that Edward II by 1330 couldn't have been the father of any children Isabella produced, and any child of Isabella and Roger Mortimer - or any child she might have had by anyone else, legitimate or not - would have had no possible claim to the English throne. (Which came from Edward II, not Isabella of France. I really shouldn't have to point that out.) The birth of an illegitimate half-sibling might have been deeply embarrassing to Edward III, but it was no threat to his position. I find it hard to picture anyone seriously putting forward a son of the dowager queen and a married nobleman as a potential king in place of Edward III. The latter was the eldest legitimate son of Edward II who was the eldest surviving son of Edward I who was the eldest son of Henry III and so on, and was thus the rightful king of England in the eyes of absolutely everybody.
That last sentence from the website is quite telling - hey, as long as it's a good story, and as long as some people believe that we might have a royal descent via this knight, who cares really if it's true or not? Could I make a request to some of you: If you want to ask me about royal ancestry you think you might have in the period of history in which I specialise, and you don't get the answer you want, please don't get snippy and rude with me. Frankly it's quite hurtful, and it's not my fault if other people have invented and perpetuated stories with no foundation which you want to believe because it's just so cool to think that Edward I is your 23 greats grandfather. Some people do accept what I say (one lady recently sent me two lovely emails about William Alfred and really took on board what I said, so thank you for that, much appreciated!), but others just inform me that I must be mistaken because this one website is totally certain that Person A is definitely certainly positively the child of King X and if I think otherwise, I'm ignorant and wrong and They Will Prove It and then I'll be sorry to have doubted them.
Incidentally, it doesn't hurt your cause if you say 'please' and 'thank you' and use my name when you write to me requesting my help, and remember that I do all this for free out of the goodness of my heart and am not your own personal researcher with many hours available to work on your family tree. Just saying. Sending me peremptory emails such as 'I need to know details about William Alfred who is said to have been the son of Edward II's queen', and yes, I have received emails like that without so much as a hello, in no way makes me inclined to help you. I know, I'm funny like that. And to finish, a big thank you to all the many, many lovely readers and correspondents (who I am in no way talking about here) for your support and your thought-provoking ideas and suggestions and for kindly sharing your own research with me.