Thursday, 11 August 2011

Out of Their Trees - Rufus Wainwright

The New series of “Who Do You Think You Are?” began this week. It has featured a good handful of lgbt participants in the past.

I’ve been interested in genealogy longer than any other branch of history. For LGBT History Month 2010 I researched ancestries of many lgbt people. I found about 2 dozen lgbt descendants of Nottinghamshire Mayflower Pilgrims (I don’t call them Pilgrim Fathers because there were Mothers and Children as well), including Katherine Hepburn and Vincent Price.

Gay US/Canadian singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright has varied roots. Through his mother there’s a lot of French-Canadian ancestry which he shares with Madonna and the Duchess of Cornwall. But one descent which interested me was his Pilgrim ancestry which he shares with Barack Obama.

The name Pilgrim is always associated with the Mayflower but there were other Pilgrims – families and friends – who sailed to America in later years. Rufus Wainwright does have Mayflower ancestry, but not from the original ship.

The original Mayflower was left to rot in Rotherhithe. A second ship named Mayflower was built and sailed from London in 1629 stopping at Gravesend to pick up Pilgrim passengers. Peter Blossom of Cambridge had decided to sail with the Pilgrims to America in 1620 on the Mayflower’s companion ship Speedwell. Unfortunately, Speedwell sprang a leak and had to turn back. The Mayflower went ahead alone and Blossom didn’t get chance to join the others until the new Mayflower was built. With him went his wife and young family, his eldest child being Elizabeth aged 9. At the age of 17 she married Nottinghamshire-born Pilgrim Edward FitzRandolph.

The FitzRandolphs have an ancient heritage and a coat of arms (pictured). They descend from King William the Lion of Scotland (uncle to one alleged candidate for the original Robin Hood). By marriage into the Langton family they inherited Langton Hall near Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Edward FitzRandolph was baptised in Sutton in 1607. As a child he would have heard about the emerging Puritan Separatist movement in Bassetlaw. Edward and the Separatists were persecuted by the government because of their lifestyle, just as many lgbt people around the world are today. That’s why Puritans began to leave for places where they could worship in freedom.

FitzRandolph left for America in 1630 in the “Winthrop Fleet”, a group of over 700 Pilgrim settlers. Also in this fleet were the Cheseborough family, Rufus Wainwright’s ancestors from Lincolnshire.

In the Puritan colony Edward met and married Elizabeth Blossom in 1637. Over time a lot of colonists found the Puritan lifestyle becoming more strict and confining, and the FitzRandolphs were among many who moved to other colonies. The FitzRandolphs moved to New Jersey and had 12 children. Rufus descends from their youngest child Benjamin. Their eldest son Nathaniel is ancestor of President Barack Obama.

Rufus Wainwright has more Robin Hood connections. He descends from the brother of Sir William Neville, Constable of Nottingham Castle, whose boyfriend Sir John Clanvowe probably wrote the earliest surviving stories of Robin Hood. Another ancestor is King Edward II of England who spent a lot of time at Nottingham Castle and made his boyfriend Piers Gaveston the Constable.

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