Titles, Heraldry, and Genealogy

There are loads of titles out there for sale. You see them in magazines and on the Internet. However, the reason for these is lost on me.

The only real reason for titles (in their original form) was to honor a member of the court for bravery in battle or some other service, for saving the ruler from death or harm, for a loan of money in time of need, for financing armies, or something of that sort. Buying a title doesn’t change who you are, any more than wearing a medal that was earned by another. Aren’t both of these actions a bit of a lie?

I remember one incident from my school days, when a certain orchestra member wore his sister’s medals one day after a statewide competition. Everyone knew he did not earn them, and they called him to accounts. What motivated him to try and say they were his? Who knows?

The buying of titles is much the same, but there are those who would like you to think that doing so may open up a new world of society contacts. My advice is to save your money!

To understand this, one must dissect how titles came to be. I am talking general terms here, not just Polish titles. I remember when Elizabeth I was almost killed by an assassin, the guard who took the arrow was told something along the lines of “From this point on, you will want for nothing…” Titles were a form of gratitude for a service well done. Basically they meant you and your family were now with the “in crowd” or, if you prefer, “the privileged class” (those with power)

In the past, you would be safe in this position for as long as you (and your family) continued in the trend of loyalty. Of course, the King would have to remain in the same mindset

How different is this from corporate moves such as a father getting his son into business, when there might be better candidates with better credentials? How many times have you heard the statement “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” spoken today?

This seems unfair to the one who is rejected, while a less deserving lout gets the high salary, just because his daddy made it big. But this happens every day, doesn’t it? Is today’s society really any different from the Middle Ages?

Having these privileges wasn’t all roses. In the past, this could all change in a blink of the eye. Henry VIII had a secondary courtier, named John Bartholomew, who was an envoy (to Spain) for his (Henry VIII’s) marriage to Catherine of Aragon. But eventually Henry suddenly developed a bad taste for Catherine. She wasn’t much for producing male heirs (although as we all know today, it’s the X & Y chromosomes that count-Henry was the real culprit!).

Then Henry VIII established the Church of England. All those who had helped in his first marriage and all who were Catholic fell from favor. This was the case with John Bartholomew. At least John managed to keep his head, although he was on trial as a “Popish Recusant,” meaning that John decided to remain Catholic.

The problem of envy arises when these titles are passed on. As each generation inherits a title, I daresay the quality of the receiver might be diluted. All families have a few “black sheep” in their midst.

Often this is discussed on various levels. My number one reason for liking to have royals, peerage, or landed gentry is that there are records kept on them. I have found a few not-so-admirable characters among them, with alternative lifestyles, but they were family nevertheless.

If records were kept as well for peasants, then I doubt anyone would delight in finding a few nobles, since they would know all there was to know about the rest of their family. We can find information on humanitarians, inventors, writers, famous composers, famous artists, and even famous criminals, but the common everyday man sort of blends into the landscape.

Collecting ancestors is the lifeblood of genealogy. We must also remember that many people do genealogy for medical reasons. Doctors use family medical history as a diagnostic tool today. If your family has a history of a certain disease, there is a better chance that you may also develop that same disease. If you know this, perhaps you can prevent or delay its onset through diet, exercise, and medicine.

Some diseases are passed on from royals. Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria’s descendants have a congenital predisposition for hemophilia. Those with genes from the Spanish and German line have “madness,” from a disease called porphyria. It lies dormant unless certain factors came into pay, such as overindulgence in alcohol or the taking of certain contraindicated drugs.

In most cases, looking for royalty, peerage, and landed gentry is not all a matter of collecting nobles, although it is nice to find them because then you have that branch of the family all laid before you.

I think of genealogy as history. Studying your own family can teach you “family history” up close and personal. Heraldry has developed from its origins to being closely akin to genealogy. How many heraldry books are there out there with family trees in them? Heraldry, genealogy, and history cannot be parted. They are all in the same family, and isn’t that what genealogy is all about?

Here are a few Websites that deal with subjects mentioned in this article, which you may find of interest.

http://www.habitant.org (Genetic Disorders, Databases, and Genealogy)
http://www.marie-stuart.co.uk/Welcome.htm (Mary Queen of Scots, The Official Site of the Marie Stuart Society of Scotland)

by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A., P.N.A.
With permission Ð from the White Eagle Fall/Winter 2001, the Journal of the Polish Nobility Association Foundation.