Thursday, June 25, 2015

This July 4th Kiss a Viking

By Bob Ferris

George Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze 

Carlene and I recently visited the Field Museum in Chicago and had an opportunity to tour the Viking exhibit.  It was relatively small and simple but to me it was meaningful.  Seeing the remains of a legendary Ulfberht sword and looking at the group's cosmological evolution as well as items from everyday life clicked for me.


The best swords during the Viking era were made by Ulfberht.  The swords we so good that they were even counterfeited.  

I mention this as we come into the time of year when we celebrate the Declaration of Independence because we should recognize that this founding document might not have come into existence had the Magna Carta not been sealed by King John 800 years ago at the insistence of 25 barons at Runnymede and their allies.  Most of those barons were Normans which meant they came from Normandy in France.  They were essentially “men from the north” or Vikings and the Magna Carta reflects their Viking philosophies and approach to life (see below).

Excerpt from Leadership Principles of the Vikings - What You Need to Explore, Conquer, and Succeed as a Leader in Dark Ages by Jan Kallberg
Now 561 years between events seems pretty far removed and therefore the connections likely remote. That is unless you consider that when the Magna Carta toured the US in the 1930s and 1940s—when Britain was reaching across the pond for support during World War II—the travelling exhibit always was accompanied by a display of George Washington’s genealogy  which showed that he was related to 24 of the 25 barons who played a dangerous game of political chicken with King John, Pope Innocent III and Prince Louis of France.  George was a direct descendant of up to 14 of them.  As these knights were mainly Norman, George Washington was not only a Founding Father but by descent our first Viking leader too.

Normans on Bayeux Tapestry By Dan Koehl (Tapestry de Bayeux) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is no surprise given this background that some of the principles expressed in the Magna Carta as well as earlier in the Textus Roffensis  penned during William the Conqueror’s time are embodied in the Declaration and also the US Constitution.  It is not hard to see parallels between the Barons and Congress or regular voting and the idea of a representative form of governance.  Duke William's section in the Textus Roffensis about trial by combat, ordeal and oath is certainly a precursor to our legal system and the rules regarding who should own breast plates and pikes as well as how many sounds familiar in a Second Amendment sense.

A modern representation of Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford and Magna Carta Baron (from here).
As my siblings and I share a lineage with George Washington through the Reverend Lawrence Washington of Sulgrave Manor via my mother’s Robb connections, we can claim direct descent from seven of the Magna Carta barons with an additional surety knight coming from my father’s side and the Ramsays. This Ramsay connection comes in the form of a Norman knight named Robert de Vere who was the 3rd Earl of Oxford.  Robert is an interesting fellow in that he is frequently and wrongly associated with the legend of Robin Hood (1,2).  He like all of the rebellious lords lost their lands and titles when King John had second thoughts about being below rather than above the law and appealed to Pope Innocent III. The Pope agreed annulling the agreement through a Papal Bull and he also excommunicated the barons adding insult to the injuries they had already suffered for holding dear to their Viking philosophies.

Robert de Vere's grave site.
Even after de Vere regained his titles and lands he paid a price by way of penance as he was obligated by a very young King Henry III to go on the ill-fated 5th Crusade to the Holy Lands.  This head of what was essentially the House of Truth—the de Vere family motto being vero nihil verius or nothing truer than truth—was wounded in Egypt and died soon thereafter in Italy circa 1221.  He was buried at Hatfield Broad Oak Priory under an effigy of a figure in chainmail with crossed legs drawing a sword and holding a shield that clearly shows the de Vere star from the coat of arms (see above).

The Listing of Magna Carta Barons in my tree along with three generations of names many with Norman (Viking) roots.
Again this seems far removed and abstract.  What impact could a group of 13th century knights have on our broader family 800 years later and many thousand miles away?  As I look at our collective family tree, it looks mainly like a mixture of English, Scottish and French ancestors like many families in the US.  But then the deeper scratching begins and we find that the Settles line started with a Norman knight called Roger le Poitvan who settled on the River Ribble.

Stained glass rendering of Jeffrey Ferris in First Congregational Church of Greenwich, CT.
There is considerable debate about the Ferris name before Jeffrey Ferris (above) co-founded Greenwich, Connecticut in 1639. Family legend claims that our family started out as de Ferrer or Ferrier coming over from Normandy with William and fighting at the Battle of Hastings.  Many in the family including George Washington Gale Ferris (inventor of the Ferris Wheel) believed we were descended from Henri de Ferrers who was Duke William’s Master of Horse, but others dispute that claim or point to Ferris as the non-noble side of the de Ferrer lineage.  So we could be Norman or not. That said, we are linked back to that noble Norman family through Caroline Canby Ramsay (known to most as Nana) who counted Daniel Ferree and Marie de la Warenbuer Ferree as her ancestors.  The Ferrees were Norman and likely associated with Robert Ferre des Ferris though Jean (Fuehre) LaVerre.  Whew.

Dalhousie Castle Cockpen Parish Midlothian County Scotland stands on lands thought to have been first acquired by Sir Symon de Ramesie in 1140 from King David I.
We think of our Morris and Ramsay roots as English and Scottish respectively but these names also came across the English Channel with William.  The Morris name could have Norman or Welsh origins the former being the Anglicized version of Maurice.  And the Ramsays while certainly residing in Scotland for nearly 1000 years began that long occupation with the northward travels of Sir Symon de Ramesie (Simon of Ramsay) a Norman knight who likely accompanied David I when he claimed the Kingdom of Scotland.

Those who visit the travelling Viking exhibit will see this Viking weaving sword.  The runic inscription reads: "Think of me, I think of you. Love me, I love you."  The Vikings were not all axes, shields and dragon-headed boats. They have left much in the way of  legacy including an approach to governance that if maintained in their fashion will last and serve for generations.  
So this 4th of July while you are celebrating the early roots of this country you might just consider the often overlooked but inescapable contributions of the Vikings.  You might also take a moment to understand that the Vikings among us—both those of blood and those of spirit—should be rumbling and beating their shields with swords and axes because the ruling class in the form of billionaires and the politicians they control have become King John-like and forgotten that they need to rule in the “Viking way” with our views in mind and with full consideration of the benefit to all.  Perhaps it is fair time to remind them of that.

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