Sunday 8 March 2015

Out of Their Trees : The "Queen" of Maryland

To mark today’s International Women’s Day we concentrate on one woman who has conquered the American entertainment industry – Ellen DeGeneres. In 2010 Lisa Kudrow revealed some of Ellen’s French-Canadian ancestry and cousinship to Madonna on her tv show. What I’d like to do today is look at Ellen’s other ancestors. Her ancestry reveals her DNA has been inherited from some influential woman in British and American history.

Ellen is descended from a network of close family relationships and is descended from people who not only founded America (Mayflower ancestors included) but also founded Maryland, Baltimore and Capitol Hill. In fact, Ellen’s ancestors WERE Maryland.

Let’s begin in the 16th century and the heart of England where we find Ellen’s most influential female ancestor of the Elizabethan age. No, not the Virgin Queen herself but a woman known as the Queen of the Midlands, and popularly known as Bess of Hardwick.

My own family has a distant genealogical link to Bess, but a closer link comes through some of the properties her children inherited – Clumber Park, Nottingham Castle and Welbeck Abbey. My sister, myself and my eldest brother have worked in those respective properties.

Elizabeth “Bess” Hardwicke (1520-1608) was born into the minor gentry of Derbyshire. By a fortunate string of four marriages Bess rose to become one of the richest women in England owning more estates than most men. Her first marriage was when she was a teenager and she was widowed soon after. It is her second marriage in 1547 which has the biggest impact on genealogy. Her second husband was Sir William Cavendish of Chatsworth. They had 8 children. One son became the 1st Earl of Devonshire (ancestor of the later Dukes) and is ancestor of many UK Prime Ministers (including David Cameron) and the Queen. Incidentally, there’s no such place as Devonshire – Devon is a county not a shire, the 1st Earl invented the name to stop being confused with already existing Earl of Devon. It is from Bess and Sir William’s eldest son Henry Cavendish (1550-1616) that Ellen DeGeneres descends.

After Sir William’s death Bess remarried in 1559 to Sir William St. Loe, another wealthy landowner. He died in suspicious circumstances in 1565, probably poisoned by his brother – and this isn’t the last murder in Ellen’s ancestry, as we’ll see later.

By 1565 Bess of Hardwick was the wealthiest woman in England after the Queen, whom she knew personally and acted as Lady of the Bedchamber. Bess’s final marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury brings Mary, Queen of Scots, into the story. When Mary was arrested and awaiting execution she was placed under house arrest in the custody of Bess and the Earl.

Henry Cavendish (mentioned above) had several illegitimate children. One daughter, Anne, married Vincent Lowe of Derbyshire and they were the parents of Jane Lowe (1633-1700), our second influential female in Ellen’s ancestry.

Jane Lowe and two brothers settled in Maryland in the early 1660s (Ellen is also descended from one of these brothers). Jane followed her great-grandmother by marrying well. First she married Col. Henry Sewall who became Secretary of Maryland. He was given lots of land in the colony by the governor, Hon. Charles Calvert.

A brief word on the Calverts. They “owned” Maryland. The family held the title of Lord Baltimore, and the present city is named after them. Also, as their colonial flag the Calverts used their family standard (coat of arms in flag form) and this is still the flag of Maryland (pictured).

In 1665 Col. Sewall died, leaving Jane a wealthy woman and owner of over 9,000 acres of land. Not long afterwards she married the aforementioned Governor Calvert. He moved in with her on her Sewall estates and Jane became First Lady of Baltimore. Nine years later Calvert inherited his father’s title and Jane became Lady Baltimore. Jane has many descendants by both Col. Sewall and Lord Baltimore, including Charles Carroll, one of the Signatories of the Declaration of Independence, all cousins of Ellen DeGeneres.

In 1681 Lady Baltimore’s brother, Vincent Lowe, accused one Christopher Rousby of treacherous words against Lord Baltimore and the king. Accusations flew around for a couple of years until 1684 when Rousby was stabbed to death by Lord Baltimore’s cousin. The king gave him a pardon! However, that’s not the end of it. In 1691 Rousby’s successor as the king’s tax collector was murdered by Nicholas Sewall, Lady Baltimore’s son! So that’s 3 murderers in Ellen’s ancestry!

Let’s leave all this law-breaking and look at some law-making. The murderous Nicholas’s sister Elizabeth followed her mother’s example and married colonial governors, Jesse Wharton followed by William Digges. Elizabeth’s children by Digges gives Ellen DeGeneres a descent from King Edward III. Lady Baltimore’s grandson Notley Rozier (1673-1727) (Ellen’s direct ancestor) inherited the Duddington manor in Maryland. In 1791 Notley’s grandson sold the estate to the US government who were looking for a site for their parliament building. Today, that Duddington manor (Ellen’s ancestral estate) is known as Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

Finally, another lawful, if not crusading, connection comes in Lady Baltimore’s more distant ancestors. Through her father Jane is descended from the Willoughby’s of Wollaton Hall in Nottingham. This stately home became a film star in 2012 when it was turned into Bruce Wayne’s stately mansion for the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” (seen near the start of this official trailer). Also, most of the properties inherited from Bess of Hardwick have been used for tv and film locations.

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