From Medieval Nobles to Modern-Day Nobody: The Somewhat Tragic Trail of My Ancestry (And Probably Yours, Too)

Andrea CefaloAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and Medieval history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The next three books in The Fairytale Keeper series –The Countess’s Captive, The Baseborn Lady, and The Traitor’s Target—will debut later this year.  She regularly posts about Medieval history on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Emperor Fredeirkc II

My 22nd Great-Grandfather, Emperor Frederick II

I have the blood of kings and emperors flowing through my veins. Well, just a trickle of it.  That doesn’t make me original. That makes me ordinary. Most Americans can trace their lineage to an ancestor of notoriety and wealth…yet most of us have little of either. So how did we end up here? Why aren’t we living off trust funds and jet-setting to summer homes? How did we go from Noble to Nobody?

To answer my own question, I began my research with my 22nd great-grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. From his birth in 1194 up until 1332, things looked REALLY good. It was all emperors and countesses and duchesses and dukes.

Then, I stumbled upon my 18th great-grandfather, Philip of Brunswick-Grubenhagen, Constable of Jerusalem. Constable! How did we go from dukes to constables in one generation?!

Sadly for poor Philip of Brunswick-Grubenhagen, he was a sixth-born son, and many of his siblings lived. In Medieval Europe, it rarely paid to be a sixth-born son with a brood of healthy brothers and sisters. All the titles and lands were doled out by the time poor Philip humbly approached his father with out-stretched palms.

Janus I of Cyprus

My 16th Great-Grandfather, King Janus I of Cypress

Strangely enough things started to look up with Philip’s daughter, my 17th great-grandmother, Helvis of Brunswick-Grubenhagen. Like most girls, she married a man like gold-old dad—another constable. But because Helvis’s husband outlived three older brothers and a nephew, he became King James I of Cyprus. Helvis jumped from constable’s daughter to queen in her lifetime, basically winning the Medieval lottery of social hierarchy. Sadly for her and her husband, they spent much of their marriage as captives in Genoa.

Their kingdom passed on to their son, Janus I. I perused the records on his descendants, holding my breath a few times as I stumbled across girls or third-born sons, but by the grace of God, my ancestors either married well or outlived their rivals.

Everything was going great up until 1641. That was the year my 9th great-grandfather was born: Francis Savoy. Poor Francis. If there was anything worse than being born a sixth-born son, it was being born a bastard.

Thomas Francis of Savoy

My 10th Great-Grandfather
Thomas Francis of Savoy

We can blame Francis’s father—Thomas Francis of Savoy, Prince of Carignano, Count of Couldn’t-Keep-It-In-His-Pants—for this socio-economic nose dive. If Prince Thomas had married Francis’s mother, Francis would have inherited the princedom Carignano. Instead, Francis was shipped off to Eastern Canada where he worked as a general laborer until his death.

For the next 250 years, my ancestors were stuck at the bottom rung of society. Things changed drastically in the 20th century…for the better. My parents and grandparents, like so many others born in this century, utilized education and perseverance to join the ever-growing middle class.

So let’s say I go back to the dukes of Savoy and quickly trace their descendants until the present day, following eldest sons whenever possible. If I continue down the line until I reach someone approximately my age, I land on Milena Gaubert.

Born to Princess Helene of Yugoslavia in 1988, Milena is the great-great granddaughter to the last king of Italy. I could find little on Milena. In a tabloid article from 2011, Milena lent her father–an aid to former French president Sarcozy–support when her mother named him in the Karachi scandal. That’s it. Milena may be living a Paris Hilton lifestyle, but if she is, she’s quiet about it.

Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia

Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia

The dead end was pretty dissatisfying, so I researched Milena’s relatives, discovering an Uncle who was a little less shy.

Prince Dimitri, 50, has relatives in eleven royal families. He was raised near the palace at Versailles, though his family summered in a Renaissance palace in Vaglia, Italy. Dimitri always had a love for jewelry and now runs a jewelry firm bearing his name. Before this, he was the senior vice president of the jewelry department of Sotheby’s.

Sigh. The life that could have been… I could have been a jet-setting, bigwig who designed sparkly things.

Still, I can’t ignore the bright side of my own ancestry. If Francis of Savoy hadn’t been sent to Canada in the seventeenth century, he wouldn’t have met my 9th great-grandmother, and I wouldn’t have been born. When putting it that way, the somewhat tragic trail of my ancestry seems a little less tragic. A million tiny things happened over the course of history so that I could be here, typing this blog post. Surely designing jewelry is a tad more lucrative, but they say money can’t buy you happiness. I may not be rich, but I’m pretty darn happy.

Sources:

“Affaire Karachi : Une Fille Gaubert Accuse Sa Mère De Chercher à Se Venger.” Le Point.fr. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
“Henry II, Duke of Brunswick-Grubenhagen.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 July 2014. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
“Janus of Cyprus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 July 2014. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
“Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Mar. 2014. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.
Remos, Ana B. “Dimitri of Yugoslavia: A Prince of the 21st Century.” AzureAzure: A Privaieged Life. AzureAzure.com, n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2014.
“Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 Aug. 2014.

Ancestry.com

Advertisements