Family Histories: De Braose

One of the reasons anthropologists record genealogies is that they show change. People have records of their families, or they remember. Both are valid ways of understanding a family. Families are part objective biology (and I love when I can get mtDNA or Y chromosome markers or autosomal markers for the people I study). They are built on marriages too.  The people who provide DNA to a child and the people who raise children can be different or overlapping sets of people. And that’s nothing new, although many people on the New Right will tell you a false story about the past: there were no good old days of “family values” as they mean it.

I suppose that’s one reason I got interested in the topic. What changes? Are the French correct (they usually are). La plus ça change…

But it’s also about the family mythology, what a family tells itself about who it is, what its founding principles are, what’s “born” into them. I am a lot like my dad – but I am not biologically related to him. When I say I’m a lot like my dad, I mean that I share many things that may be proven to be inherited, so it was fascinating to find that my both my dad and I are a good deal French and Scottish (but I have more English, both Norman-English and Saxon-English…and we both have a Celtic background, going way back). We are lots of other things too. Most families are.

The example I chose to illustrate the fun of genealogy as a way of viewing European prehistory is the de Braose family.  Aficionados of the Norman conquest of England will know who they are).  To the rest of you, they could be “any family” of ancient times. They are reasonably good example of a family that kept track of itself, plus, modern genealogists and scholars had added to whatever they would have known themselves.

There are literally thousands of ancestors of Black Will de Braose, infamously excecuted  by Llywellyn ap Gruffydd, the Last True Prince of Wales. And despite his early death by hanging, Black Will had a lot of descendants through his three daughters (I am descended from two of those daughters).  Black Will’s wife was Eva, the daughter of one of history’s good guys, William Marshall, the Protector.  While Black Will was known for his treachery, he came by it rightly, as his parents were the murdered William de Braose and the unfortunate shrew Maud de Braose.  Good guy William Marshall’s descendants and Bad guy William de Braos’s families joined together.  Most of us have both devils and angels in our nature.

Technically, the de Braoses can trace their roots back to…God…or Odin. But that’s true of all families with Norman roots, so we can move on. Some say it wasn’t Odin, but Ymir, The Frost Giant.  Personally, I’d rather be descended from Ymir than Odin, so I’m going to stick to that story.  I’ve got some tall relatives somewhere.  Ymir may well be the first to take a name with the -mir pattern to it, in European mythology (and it may be before the Indo-European push into Persia and India around 6000BP).

So let’s say that Ymir and Odin stand for the mythical progenitors of one set of ancestors of the de Braose family.  The first known mortal of their line was almost as mythic as the gods:  Tuisto, First King of Germany.  Now, it wasn’t called Germany back then (and it still isn’t, by the Germans, they call it Deutschland).  More about that in a later post.

There has to be a First King somewhere along the line.  In anthropology, we haggle over who’s a “Chief” and who’s a “High Chief” or a “War Lord” and then…what constitutes a “King.”  I think there are two main views on this:  1) translation is nearly impossible and it’s we anthropologists and linguists who make decisions about how to interchange these terms over time; and 2) there’s some kind of intuitive basis to awarding the title of “King,” which while varying somewhat from culture to culture, remains something like “Top Dog” of a large geo-political entity.  Or “Top Cat.”  (We will encounter some Lion Hearts and very few wolves or dogs in this genealogical journey).

Unfortunately, Tuisto is often said to be the First Mortal Human, which puts him in a tricky time period.  The real Tuisto (because someone has to be the European ancestor of the de Braoses) must have lived as many as 1000BP.  At any rate, his children are largely mythical and span enormous amounts of time, as do the early progenitors of most lineages.  Maybe it was a clan name.

Anyway, Tuisto is the grandfather of all the -mir Kings of Europe, and specifically, of the Norse, Gothic and Burgundian Kings (who span proto-Germano-Celto-Slavic in terms of word origins), men like Ingae, who ruled over the Nordic lands, as well as Burgundy, while his brother Irmino gave rise to the Herminones.  Yes, the echoes of Greek are in the language, because we’re speaking of a time when it’s really proto-Indo-Euroean that’s being broken into fragments, and the naming system shows that.

A third brother, Njord or Nord of Nortun, goes on to found (you guessed it) the Nordic/Scandinavian branches of the family.  A real Njord of Nortun lived at around the year 200 A.D., so we’re entering times that comprise history – if you’re speaking of Greece or Rome or bits and pieces of the Roman empire.  There isn’t any writing in Norway or Sweden at 200 A.D., but apparently the Romans have heard of a Njord (or two or three, again, maybe a clan name).

It’s possible that Njord was not the de Braose ancestor, that it was someone named Nerthus, or that Nerthus (as is claimed in some rec0rds) was a son of Njord.

At any rate, either Nerthus or Njord had a son named Frey av Svitjod (probably pronounced S-wv-ih-t-vyod).  Yes, it sounds both Nordic and Slavic, as this guy is an ancestor to both – and to the Norman French (and so, to the de Braoses).  He ruled over a place called Uppsala until 299 (being born in 235).

Oddly, the place name Uppsala has long intrigued me.  It sounds vaguely Greek, like the name Ypsilanti (home of the Three Christs of Ypsilanti; more on that in another post, maybe).  Again, we are probably looking at placename characteristics from a period when many of the short sound sequences were already taken.  Uppsala, of course, is in Sweden, overshadowed by the newer city of Stockholm, but at the time, Uppsala was a royal stronghold and emerging “city” of Sweden.  To my surprise, when I first began to study prehistory, I learned that anthropologists and prehistorians use the word “city” very loosely.  Early cities probably had no more than 1000-1500 people, but compared to the Paleolithic fishing settlements upon which they are based, that’s a 300-1000% increase.  Population boom occurred just as Frey av Svitjod becomes known, probably no coincidence.  He seems to be historical, and note the Celto-Slavic patronymic construct:  av instead of ap, as it would be in Wales.  We can safely assume that the patriline was already of keen importance at this time, around 300 A.D.

Did Black Will de Braose know he had a Swedish ancestor?  Probably, in some vague way.  He knew he was Norman-French, and the Normans knew they came from Scandinavia.  Frey would have had blue eyes, of course, and been of the R1a1a Y chromosomal pattern.  He can be seen as one of the founders of the lineages that would eventually be the Vikings, but also control pre-Romanov Russia, much of Prussia/Poland/Germany, the coast of the Atlantic all the way south to Normandy.  And, of course, in 1066, his descendants would conquer England.

Not much is known about Frey’s wife, but by the time of his grandson, he and/or his son, Young Frey (Yngvi-Frey) were making political alliances with other high chiefs/Kings.  Specifically, the grandson Fjolnir Yngi-Freysson married the granddaughter of the King of Kvenland (a place which was made up of part of contemporary Finland and part of contemporary Norway).  These people would have been seen as distant relatives and of a similar level of grandeur to Frey’s family.  Notice that history records the last name, still patronymic, as Yngi-Freysson instead of av Yngi-Frey, but that two lineal relatives’ names are combined in the last name.  These people were proud of their patriline and wanted to make sure that the grandkids remembered who their progenitors were – and, sought to keep their high status by reminding everyone of Frey (who must have been quite the warlord in his day, as certainly, artifacts of war abound in Scandinavia of this period).

Fjolnir’s son was named Svegder Fjolnirsson (also spelled Fjolnarsson), so the -sson ending is entrenched by that time.  Naturally, Svegder’s son has the “last name” of Svegdasson (note the contraction of Svegder’s name in making the last name).  Would people still have remembered Frey by then?  Perhaps not.

While retaining their lands in Sweden, one Frey’s Great-great-great-great grandsons would establish lands for himself in Denmark, marking an incursion onto the mainland, the advance of the “Vikings” into Northern Europe.  These people were of course considered among the Barbarian Tribes encountered by the Romans, and if one remembers their history, these people are well connected to the troubles the Romans had in conquering northern Europe.  Frey’s 5-times great grandson, Rij,  established himself as the First King of Denmark, and while it is said (by Romans and their descendants) that these people had no writing, in fact, of course, they had a Runic system of notation that went beyond petroglyphs, and petroglyphs are already a fairly sophisticated extra-somatic system of marking down meaning.  While the Romans looked to the north and saw “barbarians,” the barbarians thought of themselves as comprising orderly Kingdoms, with signs of status and wealth.  The Romans were more lavish, had a fast empire, but the descendants of Frey must have also felt quite expansive by around 400 A.D.

The de Braoses are descendants of the King who stayed behind in Sweden, Domaldr, not his brother, Dan ‘the Magnificent’ of Denmark (Rij’s father, and an alternate candidate for the first King of Denmark, as he is the one who conquered the place and secured it for his son, Rij).

As time went on, the great grandchildren and further descendants of both Domaldr and Dan would intermarry in state weddings uniting the chiefs of Sweden with the Kings of Denmark.  While Dan’s line prospered, Domaldr’s line fell back into the ranks of lesser chiefs, as Domaldr and his line did not manage to hold very much of Sweden and other families rose to power, families with which Domaldr and his descendants had to contend and, eventually, to whom they had to pay homage and be vassals.  They did not become poor or landless, though, because 6 generations after Domaldr, they managed to marry a son, Yngi Alreksson, to the granddaughter of the new King of Sweden, Dagr the Great, about whom little is known except that he was now in charge of most of what is modern Sweden.  Yngi Alreksson likewise kept his status fairly high, as his children married well and his great grandson married a granddaughter of the King of the Goths, and their son married back into the ancestral line by marrying a descendant of Dan the Magnificent.  About 10 generations had passed before this “cousin marriage” took place, so although the two were cousins, they were not very closely related.  Since all of these people were blue-eyed, blonde-haired and spoke inter-related languages and had similar kinds of Runic symbols, they must surely have seen themselves as natural allies.

By the time Dan’s and Domaldr’s line reunited in the production of Aldis the Great Otarsson of Sweden, it was about 600 A.D. and the Roman Empire was falling.  The number of northern peoples who took part in the fall of Rome is rather a long list, and Aldis is not mentioned as directly involved in any events taking place in Rome.  His distant cousins, of course, were very involved.  Since marriages were now being worked out in a web that encompassed Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and the Goths of Northern Germany, it is very likely that Aldis, who held Sweden together against any encroachment from the mainland, would have heard of the great Latin-speaking empire to the South.  It is also possible that, as peoples of northern Europe swept into the former Roman empire, looting and taking over towns, Sweden was less of a target and, being difficult to reach, a military society, and ruled by a central ruler, it was well on its way to establishing itself as a state.

The mother of Aldis’ 3times great grandson, Olafr Treehewer Ingaldsson was the descendant of a newish King, the King of Gutland (another Nordic Kingdom).  The Kings of Gutland were noted for being “mild”, Gutland taking its name from its founding Lord, Gauti or Goti (probably a Goth setting out to establish a demesne for himself).  Goti is also a son of Odin, possibly a historic Odin and not a reference to the God, but going around saying one is a son of Odin certainly had connotations.  Goti, whoever he was, proclaimed himself as both royal and semi-divine, easily earning a title of King, in English.

The fact that so many of these ancient kings traced their lines to their gods, or to Odin in particular, shows that it’s not just the Greeks, Romans, Hebrews or Hawaiians that had these kinds of stories.  Rooting the distant past in some connection with divinity:  being a direct child of God, or made by God, is a part of everyone’s past.  That Olafr’s wife, Gauthilde (literally, daughter of Gauti) could claim that her grandfather was divine must have made her quite a desirable bride.  We can conjecture as to whether Olafr knew his own divine genealogy – I think he did.  We can conjecture whether he viewed it as symbolic, or was even cynical about the entire divinity business.  I doubt that he was cynical.  I tend to believe these people felt that divine beings lived in their immediate past and that they were connected to them.  Their right to rule over others came directly from this divine connection.

The fact that it was more than 20 generations for Olafr, though, may mean that he, like his later descendants, would not have been so keen on claiming divine ancestors.  After all, while his ancestors included many Kings and Queens, they also included people more properly thought of as peers or aristocrats.

But, one thing is clear.  Lineage is important in those days in ways that we moderns can only perceive from a distance and try to understand.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Will: The Will of William the Conqueror « The Furies and the Muses
  2. Wilda
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 00:01:44

    Terrific work! This is the kind of info that should be shared across the internet.
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  3. Camille De BRAOSe
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 13:50:15

    Merci pour ce travail partiel.
    Camille De BRAOSe de France


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