Sunday, 14 July 2013

Out Of Their Tree - Clare Balding

In this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list Clare Balding received an OBE for her services to broadcasting. In this look at Clare’s ancestry we’ll see how much horses play a part in her family tree as well as discover links to Robin Hood, 9/11 hero Mark Bingham, and the architect of Henry VIII’s sodomy laws.

Clare first shot to fame as a champion female amateur jockey but she is more well-known today as a sports commentator and presenter. She and her partner Alice Arnold are the most famous lesbian couple in the UK.

Horses have always been part of Clare’s life. Her father Ian is a horse trainer for the Queen and former polo player, while her grandmother, Priscilla Hastings-Bass, was Director of Newbury Racecourse. Following the Balding family line backwards there is an unbroken line of horse dealers back 150 years. Other horsey connections are found in the aforementioned Priscilla’s ancestry – her grandfather’s great-grandfather, the 12th Earl of Derby, founded the famous horse race named after him (which is quite remarkable, because Clare Balding now commentates on that race for Channel 4!). On a more sad horsey note, Priscilla’s great-grandmother Louise, Duchess of Devonshire, died of a seizure while attending Sandown races.

Clare’s mother Emma is the sister of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon, William Edward Robin Hood Hastings-Bass. Yes, there IS a real Robin Hood after all! The Hastings family is one of the oldest noble families in England, and they got the title of Earl of Huntingdon from their position as heirs of Prince Robert of Huntingdon, one of the many real people put forward over the centuries as the original Robin Hood and, as we all know, Robin Hood was sometimes known in more recent times as the Earl of Huntingdon. The Hastings family became earls in 1529, though it wasn’t until 1818 that they began to use Robin Hood as a family name, at about the time the legends really became famous.

Prince Robert of Huntingdon died young and childless leaving 2 sisters as coheirs. From one sister the Hastings family inherit the Huntingdon title. From the older sister descends King Robert the Bruce of Scotland – the real historical Braveheart. King Robert the Bruce’s step-brother was the father-in-law of Sir William Neville, Constable of Nottingham Castle and Keeper of Sherwood Forest. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog my theory of the origin of the oldest surviving Robin Hood ballad. Basically, I believe it was written by Sir William’s other partner, Sir John Clanvowe, who used lots of family background of both Sir William and his wife as the basis of new stories of a famous hero - the legends we all know today. Clare Balding descends from Sir William’s brother.

There is a lot of noble blood in Clare’s veins (as well as working class blood, I might add). Through families like the Earls of Huntingdon and Derby, as well as the Dukes of Manchester, Hamilton and Gordon, Clare has many royal lines of descent. In fact, the Earls of Huntingdon were heirs to the Royal House of York, while the Earls of Derby were bloodline heirs of Queen Jane Grey.

Perhaps the most surprising family connection comes through Clare’s other grandmother, Mrs. Ellie Hoagland Balding. She was a member of one of America’s most distinguished families. The Hoaglands descend from a Dutch settler in New York (while it was still known as New Amsterdam) called Christoffel Hooglandt. His direct descendants rose to become leading citizens and legislative members.

In 1828 Clare’s ancestor Andrew Hoagland married someone with the same surname, but they were not related. She was Jane Hoagland, who was also descended from a totally different early Dutch settler. This  other settler was also ancestor of Alice Ann Hoglan (the surname has been spelt many ways down the centuries), the mother of 9/11 hero Mark Bingham, the gay amateur rugby player after whom the gay rugby world cup is named.

To complete this little roll-call of heroes, horses and homophobes in Clare Balding’s family tree I’ll end with the Cranmer connection. Through her grandfather she is descended from the Cranmers of Aslocton, just a few miles from where I live in Nottinghamshire.

The most famous member of the Cranmer family is Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury. In England the first law that specifically targeted homosexuality was in 1533. It was passed in order to give King Henry VIII extra ammunition in his battle to close the monasteries (which had always had a reputation as being hot-beds of gay sex, whether true or not). Henry enlisted the help of two men to formulate and enforce the act. First was Thomas Cromwell, the King’s Secretary, who drew up the Act. The other man was Thomas Cranmer. His support for Henry and the Act gave the monasteries no hope of calling upon him for help. Most of today’s homophobia has its roots in the 1533 Act. Before 1533 punishment for homosexual acts were predominantly aimed at the clergy. After 1533 it included punishment for everyone.

Clare Balding descends from the archbishop’s brother, as do other famous people like Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, the Duchess of Cambridge, Christopher Reeve, Todd Eldridge, Anthony Trollope and Gene Roddenberry. Among the lgbt descendants of Cranmer’s brother are Lord Byron, Cole Porter and Hart Crane.

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