Monday, December 1, 2014
The first royal pedigree
I mentioned in a previous post that genealogies first appeared as human pedigrees, initially based on biblical histories (The role of biblical genealogies in phylogenetics). However, such ideas were also adopted by the Roman nobility as stemmata (literally, garlands connecting portraits of ancestors) to be displayed in their homes. The latter pedigrees were used to assert the nobility of the nobles by right of family descent — stemmata distinguished between the patrician class (those with noble ancestry) and plebeians (commoners). This usage continues to this day, in most parts of the world.
However, there are no extant pedigrees (of real people) from the earliest times. The first preserved written records appear towards the end of the first millenium CE, when family chronicles began to be written by clerics in the courts or monasteries of northern France. For example, the Genealogia Arnulfi Comitis [Genealogy of Count Arnould] was compiled between 951 and 959 CE by the Benedictine monk Witger, listing the pedigree of the counts of Flanders. It was preserved at the abbey of Saint Bertin, and is reproduced in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Tomus IX (1851) pp. 302-304.
This development seems to have been as much a response to the feudal inheritance system (automatic consanguineous inheritance of fiefs) as it was a concern for familial prestige or preserving the memory of ancestors. Legitimacy of succession was the key motif, not history. It might have been this motivation that lead to the use of diagrams, as these illustrate the succession in unambiguous terms.
The first known illustration of a pedigree is the Tabula Genealogica Carolingorum from c.1000 CE. Here, Cunigunde of Luxembourg's ancestry is traced in a tree-like manner to include Charlemagne, thus legitimizing her claim to being of royal descent. Cunigunde (c.975-1040) married Henry, Duke of Bavaria, in 999. He became King Henry II of Germany ("Rex Romanorum") in 1002, at which point she became Queen consort of Germany (1002-1024); and when he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor ("Romanorum Imperator") in 1014, which was the tradition for the King of Germany, she became Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire (1014-1024). Henry died in 1024, and Conrad II was elected to succeed him.
Cunigunde's ancestry is thus of some practical importance. Being able to trace that ancestry to Charlemagne ("Charles the Great") is of especial interest, as it made her a descendant of the Carolingian dynasty. Charlemagne (c.742-814 CE) was the last great ruler of a united Western Europe. When his son, Louis the Pious (778–840), died, his own sons fought over the succession. The resulting Treaty of Verdun (843) divided the Carolingian Empire into three kingdoms, without any consideration for linguistic or cultural groupings. Europe has been arguing over national boundaries ever since; and the European Union is thus the first serious attempt to return to Carolingian times for more than 1,100 years.
The oldest copy of the Tabula Genealogica Carolingorum is shown in the first figure. It is from the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek, in Munich. BSB Clm 29880(6. Since it is almost unreadable, Jean-Baptiste Piggin has digitized a copy, as shown above.
The pedigree is drawn very like an upside-down tree. (Actually, it looks like a chandelier hanging from the ceiling.) The ancestors of Charlemagne form a trunk at the top, and his descendants fan out as tree branches at the bottom. Cunigunde herself is at the bottom-left, labelled "Cynigund imperatrix" [empress]. She is thus part of the seventh generation from Charlemagne (labelled "Karolus rex" and also "imperator in Frantia"). Her connection is through Louis the Pious' second son, who became "Karolus rex Francie et Hispaniae". Her ten siblings are not shown.
Charlemagne's ancestors are traced back 200 years, to the mid 500s CE. The ancestry as shown is via the male lineage back to Arnulf of Metz (c.582-640). However, the person listed at the root of the pedigree, Arnoald of Metz (c.540/560-c.611), is disputed — he may have been the father of Arnulf's wife (Doda), rather than of Arnulf himself.
Cunigunde's husband is shown in a separate pedigree of seven people at the bottom right. He is labelled "Heinricus dux Baioariae" — the rest is unreadable but Piggin transcribes it as "postea imperator" [later emperor].
There is also an annotated transcription in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Tomus II (1829) p.314, as shown in the third figure. This is taken from the copy in the Codicum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae Monacensis. It is displayed in a much more conventional modern form; and it lists Henry as "Romanorum imperator".
Piggin notes that another version of the pedigree was drawn between 1101 and 1111 CE at the monastery of Prüm and bound into the Liber Aureus, a book of important Prüm documents. Finally, there is also a version of the pedigree that tries to hint at a divine origin for the nobles, as shown in the figure below. This is from the Chronicon Universale at the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, in Jena, Codex Bose quarto 19 fol. 152v. Several editions of this book were produced between 1100 and 1125 CE.
In noble pedigrees, the presence of sacred progenitors who sanctify the lineage is not uncommon, as this legitimizes the nobility in religious as well as secular terms. Interestingly, this idea seems to trace all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, who employed genealogy to prove descent from a god or goddess.