Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, and Me

I can’t have been the only gay man to have wondered as a child why he found the Tarzan films so appealing without really knowing why. As gay adult it is obvious (Gordon Scott was my favourite!).

One anniversary this year which may have gone unnoticed is the centenary of the first Tarzan story. I don’t want to let the anniversary pass, because when asked about what famous relatives I have I often include Tarzan.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (a real relative) created Tarzan for “All-Story Magazine”, an American pulp magazine in October 1912. It was published in novel form in 1914, and the first film version was as early as 1918.

What makes Tarzan a “member” of my family is the jungle man’s fictional link to the real title of Lord (or Baron) Greystoke. And it actually links Tarzan with Robin Hood! The simplified family tree below shows the relevant connections.

Burroughs’ original title for the Lord of the Jungle was Earl Marasigan but he changed this to Lord Greystoke in later books. Greystoke is situated in northern England and has its own castle. The real title of Lord Greystoke was first created in 1295, but that first lord died childless and his title died with it.

The lands and title were revived in 1321 and it is from the new Lord Greystoke that the fictional Tarzan (and the very real me) derives descent. In those days titles could be inherited through the female line. In 1569 the 9th Lord Greystoke died childless but he had several sisters who shared the right to pass on the title equally. The title itself went into abeyance – it still existed but could not be used until parliament decided which male heir of the sisters had the senior right to pass it on.

Imagine if the same rules applied to the throne of England. Under medieval peerage laws when King George VI died in 1952 the right to the throne would be held equally between our present Queen and her sister Princess Margaret, but neither of them could actually occupy the throne. Their eldest male children would become joint heirs of George VI, and until the descendants of one of these male heirs dies out totally (that could take many generations!) the law cannot decide which sister is the only heir to George VI. In the case of the 9th Lord Greystoke who died in 1569 there are 4 people who are presently his coheirs. Edgar Rice Burroughs, however, chose to create a totally fictional senior line for his Tarzan to inherit.

I descend from the 4th Lord Greystoke (see the family tree, sorry if its a bit small). So does Tarzan. And on the family tree you can see the link to Robin Hood. The 4th Baron Greystoke was half-brother to Sir William Neville, Constable of Nottingham Castle (they had the same mother, Alice). In several previous posts I’ve given my theories about the origin of the oldest surviving ballad of Robin Hood, and how I believe they were written by Sir William’s “wedded brother” (i.e. husband), Sir John Clanvowe (click on “Robin Hood” in the Labels list). My ancestry also includes an older brother of Sir William.

There was a couple of years when it looked like Sir William Neville would actually become Lord Greystoke himself. As the youngest in a large family William was not expected to inherit much on his father’s death. By the late 1340s it looked like the 4th Lord Greystoke, Lord Neville’s stepson, would not marry and have children. So Lord Neville made arrangements that would mean one of his 3 youngest sons, including the 3-year-old William, would inherit the Greystoke estates and name. Whichever was the oldest of these children to survive childhood would be the next Lord Greystoke after their half-brothers’ death. However, the 4th Lord Greystoke married late and fathered a son to carry on his line (fortunately for me, because that son is my ancestor). Sir William lost his chance to become Lord Greystoke – but he managed to marry a wealthy heiress and become an important figure at court.

There are many hundreds of thousands of people who are also descended from the medieval Barons Greystoke, perhaps even you. Among the lgbt descendants are Lord Byron, Lawrence of Arabia, Ellen Degeneres, Jodie Foster, Divine, E M Forster, Bishop Mary Glasspool, Rupert Everett, Clare Balding, Anthony Blunt, John Singer Sargent, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and painter Francis Bacon. They can all say they are related to Tarzan like I do!

1 comment:

  1. During summer 2014 I re-researched some of my family lines. Unfortunately, one result of this is that I lost my Greystoke ancestry. Briefly, newly discovered evidence proved that my ancestor Thomas Appleyard had no children by his 2nd wife, from whom I formerly thought I was descended. I am, instead, descended from his 1st wife. She is descended from Ralph, 2nd Baron Neville (see family tree), so I'm still related to the Greystokes but not descended from them.