News and Tribune

January 29, 2013

BEAM: When the princess is really a pauper

By AMANDA BEAM

— A good tiara is hard to find. Not that I haven’t located one, the British armory just refuses to allow me to wear it despite my illustrious credentials. 

How Fergie — who sold out to Weight Watchers and an undercover journalist — could be entrusted with the jewels but not me boggles the ol’ noggin.

Oh, bother. I didn’t want to announce this in such a way. Trumpets should be blown and proclamations decreed, but alas the official correspondence arranging for both must have been lost in the mail along with my Publishers Clearinghouse winnings and book deals with well-known publishers.

You see, I descend from royalty. Grade A royalty at that, a Scottish King to be precise. No need to curtsy or bow, although if you seek my favor, presenting a gift of Taco Bell before my gilded La-Z-Boy might be advisable. No onions, please.

Knowledge of my noble ancestors only came to light a few weeks ago. I’ve been researching my lineage through a paid Internet service in order to gain membership to the local Piankeshaw Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

Starting out as a desire to wear old period costumes, my quest quickly mutated in to a full out olden-days obsession. I can’t get enough. What great grandparents have I not discovered? Do they stir in their graves or look down from heaven when their forgotten names have been spoken after so long a silence?

As the Carl Sagan saying goes, you have to know the past to understand the present. DNA from these forefathers and mothers still replicate in my genes. Understanding their history, struggles and all, should help with the understanding of my own life, right?

So I chipped away at the hardened coat of neglected memories. As I started to delve further down the rabbit hole, I quickly realized that most all my ancestors are Kentuckians, many having arrived 200 years ago when Native Americans still owned the frontier. Being a proud Indiana alum, my stomach churned at the thought. 

Hoosiers, especially ones who love IU basketball, feel some conflict when confronted with reality of bluegrass blossoming around the family stump. I reminded myself of that Christian Watford buzzer beater and, with a reassured smile, I moved forward in my search for the past.

And what a past I’ve found. Stories of American Revolutionaries, two of which were German immigrants fighting for independence of a new, unfamiliar nation. Tales about European grandfathers helping to found the New Amsterdam colony. French and Irish and Norwegian settlers traversing the turbulent seas during the 1600s, looking for better opportunities and a freer existence. History reads like a storybook, and even we unknowingly continue to write its pages.

Looking through the centuries, I came upon my gallant lineage quite by accident. Through my paternal grandmother’s line, going back 14 generations, my distant grandfather was King James the IV of Scotland. In fact, two of my direct ancestors were actually cousins, so the branches of my family tree twist and intertwine, bad for genetic variance but a blessing for lazy genealogical researchers. 

But here’s the rub. Great-to-the-14th grandma wasn’t married to the king. Isabel was his mistress, one of four. My old Scottish papa liked to spread enough seed to germinate a family forest. His illegitimate daughter and my great-to-the-zillionth grandmother, Lady Jane Stewart, married Lord Malcom Fleming, the line from which I descended. While accompanying her half niece, Mary Queen of Scots, she also sparked a relationship with Henry II of France and bore him an illegitimate son. 

That apple obviously didn’t fall far from the sultry tree.

Most Americans who claim royal pedigree actually are predominantly descended from these imperial affairs. Illegitimate children were not of high enough status to marry other princes and princesses, so they wedded lesser nobles instead. Through the years, the line flourished until eventually it produced stellar girls like me who grew up wearing off-brand sneakers and working at fast-food joints. 

Tracing back King James IV’s parentage, I also found out that Robert the Bruce of “Braveheart” fame and King Edward III are direct kin. It seems, from a royal genetic standpoint, I’m nothing special. Research indicates millions of Americans are descendants of Eddy, an incredibly fertile and obviously frisky king. Poor Prince Harry is tame in comparison. 

At present, my declaration of royalty has done me no favors. My husband refused to acknowledge my aristocratic blood, and my dainty hands that yearn to twitch a haughty wave at her subjects are instead relegated to scrubbing the only thrones in our house, several porcelain ones. 

But I now know where I come from. Mechanics and coal miners. Farmers and teachers. Soldiers and peacemakers. And, yes, even nobility. Sloshing the mop around the last dirty spot on the kitchen floor, I wonder if my body will shift under the hardened ground when my future descendants call out this old writer’s forgotten name. As long as the crown stays atop my bony brow, I’ll remain in peace. 

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com