Our European ancestors often did genealogy as propaganda. Nowadays it’s sometimes hard to convince new genealogists, people who might have only a limited historical education, that there wasn’t some secret, oral, underground stream of tradition that has been suppressed by clumsy academics.
No. It was pure propaganda, and today we can see through it easily.
When I was in college, we translated Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin class; a project that spanned a full year. I loved that story. I still do. Priam murdered at the altar. Aeneas and his family fleeing the burning city. This is the stuff of legend.
But it’s all just a propaganda. The legendary Trojan prince Aeneas, who fled the city, eventually settled in Italy. He was the supposed ancestor of Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome, and more importantly ancestor of the family of Julius Caesar. Virgil wrote his famous poem to help aggrandize Caesar and his family.
The story worked to connect upstart Rome to the ancient and considerably more sophisticated culture of Classical Greece.
And medieval propagandists took a page from Virgil. If Rome had a Trojan ancestor, then as heirs of Rome their national lineages had to be just as good. The Franks invented Francio. The British invented Brutus. The Scandinavians turned Thor into Tror. All Trojan princes. “Heirs to Troy, and by extension to the Roman Empire, they had a right to rule inherited from the heroes of classical antiquity.“
One of my main academic interests is the way genealogical fakes are created and preserved. For many years I was active on Geni.com, working with other volunteer curators to round up and fakes, get them corralled, and so improve the quality of the medieval tree there. In the end it turned out to be a losing battle.
Even so, most of my genealogical correspondence continues to be people asking my opinion about different lines where they suspect a fake. Answering those messages is a lot of work. And, truthfully, my heart isn’t really in it right now. I’m off on other things.
I’ve stumbled across a YouTube channel — UsefulCharts — that does some pretty good work on presenting basic information on this topic. So, I’m going to take the easy way out and just link to some of them. I don’t agree with every point of every presentation, and I would caution that many of the presentations oversimplify. But still.
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. I love this day (but don’t tell Laura). On this day in 1415, some 900 stout-hearted Englishmen defeated the flower of French chivalry. On the French side, some 7,000 dead and some 1,500 taken prisoner. On the English side, a mere 100 dead. The numbers are staggering, and give some hint how devastating it was. The French were cocky and made mistakes. And, the English used the longbow, an amazing weapon that was not considered sporting in chivalric circles. For me, Agincourt was the end of Chivalry and the Middle Ages. Thereafter, war becomes increasingly technical and brutal. Before Agincourt, war was the noble occupation of all true men. After Agincourt, war begins to be seen as inhuman. The medieval world is romantic in retrospect, and I love it for that, but I’d rather live in a moral world.