Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Genealogy of the Beauchamp Family, late 15th/early 16th century. From a private collection. Photographs © Dianne Tillotson.
This document on paper is rather complicated, but interesting in the way that it illustrates some of the tricks and hazards of genealogy. The core of the document is a genealogy of a branch of the Beauchamp family, to which has been added a mass of annotations and additions in slightly later hands. According to a note in the later script on the verso of the document, it was "written by some servant to the Lord Beauchamp in Henry the 7 time, from whence they are copied, the originall is at Madres Fields Court". The script is a rather untidy cursive, with numerous abbreviations, and the language is English. For this exercise we will look just at the original core text of the genealogy, and examine the script of the later annotations in a separate exercise, otherwise it is all going to get very complicated.

A claim to fame of the Beauchamp family in the later middle ages is that one branch became Earls of Warwick, through marriage to the female heir to that title. That line eventually died out in the male line and the title was passed on through the female line to the Neville family. A daughter of Richard Neville married King Richard III and the rest, as they say, is history. The genealogy of the Earls of Warwick is recorded on the famous Rous Roll, two copies of which survive, one in the British Library and one in the College of Arms. This document, however, does not, in its original form, follow that branch of the family, but rather the direct line of the younger brother of the first Beauchamp to become Earl of Warwick. That line eventually also died out in the male line, which is where this document finishes, so one assumes that its purpose was part of the settling of the affairs of this specific branch of the family under that circumstance.

This genealogy and that recorded on the Rous roll therefore merely intersect at a strategic junction, but the later 16th century annotator has added in the lineage of the Earls of Warwick down the left side. The Rous Roll finishes up with the "moost myghty prynce Rychard by the grace of god kynge of ynglond and of fraunce and lord of Irelond" and his family, but this later document delicately finishes the genealogy just before he gets into it. A bit of a case of "Don't mention the war!"

The document illustrates just what you might get into if you pursue medieval genealogical research, with uncertainties, corrections and additions, all in rather bad handwriting. English spelling is also incredibly eccentric in this era, with even the family name spelled in at least three different ways in the genealogy. It also has some heraldic interest, as coats of arms are included, showing how these developed in complexity.

Information on the Rous Roll comes from John Rous 1980 "The Rous Roll'" with an Historical Introduction of John Rous and the Warwick Roll by Charles Ross Gloucester: Alan Sutton.

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 20/10/2005.