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Saturday 3rd January 2004

I watched Tony Robinson's TV programmes about Richard III and Edward IV tonight (well there's no point in going out if I'm not drinking is there - this is why my yearly attempts to give up alcohol always fail).
He was very excited to discover that Edward IV might well not have been the son of Henry VI, but the illegitimate off spring of Henry's queen and an archer. Consequently he argued that the whole royal line we know and don't love is invalid (Henry VII's dubious claim to the throne was legitamised by his marriage to Edward IV's daughter - but if Edward was illegitimate, then so was she).
Tony Robinson then set about tracking down the true monarch of the United Kingdom, through the Plantagenant line and found it was a fat and charming Republican who lives in Australia and is called Michael. He was aware of his Plantagenant ancestry and had some sort of title, but had not realised that he was arguably our legitimate king.
I actually quite like the fact that the blood of some randy archer who a medieval queen fancied is still running through the veins of our monarchy, and I would be extremely surprised if there was not many more cases of illegitimacy in our Royal family tree (there's rather a well known rumour doing the rounds about someone who is well positioned in the line to the throne, and a less well known one about the man who immediately follows him). During my research for my book (and I apologise if I've mentioned this before) I saw two studies one of which claimed that one in ten people are not the child of the person that they believe is their father, and the other which claimed the figure was one in four. If that second figure is true and assuming that these people's mothers were having sex with only two people at the time of conception, given that presumably there is a 50/50 chance of either man being the father, we might conclude that 50% of mothers were being unfaithful at the time of conception (and half of them were lucky enough to be impregnated by their husbands) Which is as close as science gets to saying that all women are whores (well half of them, anyway).
I'm not sure that things are quite that bad (and I remember there being some controversy about the sample of people used in the one in four statistic), but taking the less extreme example, if ten per cent of us don't have the father we think we do, then it doesn't take many generations for our blood-line to be corrupted. In the case of the Royal family, who have to contend with both a fairly decadent history and the long term absence of partners, then I think the figure might be closer to one in four. So unless Tony Robinson can also prove that no-one in the Plantagenant line has been born illegitimately as well (even more unlikely, as the earls and the lords had nothing to lose by putting it about and no-one cared what they did), then I think we should stick with the current crop of bastards.
Of course in the past the woman's role in the creation of a child was seen as being solely that of a grow-bag. Somewhere for the man's seed to blossom into a child. But now we know that that isn't the case and that a child is a genetic mish-mash of both father and child, I think it would be much more sensible for the Royal Family and family trees generally to follow the female line. After all we can be fairly sure that our mother is our real mother (with very few exceptions), so if we really want to know who our ancestors are, we should follow that line backwards. It would be more sensible also if we took our mother's surnames.
Of course we then run into the argument about whether our father is the person who brings us up, or the sperm donor who creates us.
Unfortunately, Tony Robinson was unable to prove that Michael was related to the Plantagenant line, because when he took hair samples for DNA purposes, he merely clipped off the end, rather than collecting the roots. This may have been fortuitous.
I think all of us would have surprises and embarrassments if we were take a similar test. Suddenly our lovely, respected, old grandma might prove to be as human as the rest of us.
And passing down huge fortunes and priveleges based on our male ancestry suddenly seems like a bit of a joke.

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