I've had an interesting couple of days. It all began about 18 months ago, when one of the Watton Festival organisers invited me to appear as Queen Elizabeth I. "The thing is", he said, "Lord Walsingham lives near here. We might get him to introduce you. Would that be ok?"
Lord Walsingham?! A direct descendant of Queen Liz's famous Spy Chief?! I thought that would most definitely be ok.
After many phone calls across many months, we established that our Walsingham was not in fact descended from the Sir Francis of the Elizabethan court. As our Walsingham put it, that lot were the vulgar branch of the family, descended from some butchers in Bury St Edmund.
An exchange of emails yesterday revealed that our Walsingham was a descendent of de Graie of Normandy, High Steward of the Duke. De Graie's daughter was none other than Herlot, mother -courtesy of the Duke's son- of a boy who came to be known as William the Bastard. We English, of course, gave him a different name: William the Conqueror.
So our Walsingham, family name now 'de Gray', is a little bit well connected. Herlot's cousin Anschetil was commander of cavalry at the a Battle of Hastings, and his part in the victory was rewarded with lots of stolen Saxon land. He sired seven sons, and our Walsingham is descended from the seventh.
His Lordship also told me about his family connection to Queen Elizabeth I - the plan being for me to chide him about it as part of my talk at the festival. It so happened that Robert de Gray was discovered to be a recusant (refusing to deny the catholic faith) during Elizabeth's 1578 Progress to East Anglia. He received a fine and a reforming stay with a good Protestant family, but was unrepentant and was fined annually until his eventual imprisonment in Norwich castle in 1587.
Bailiffs were sent to takeover de Gray's lands and the Crown received the income for the duration of the imprisonment. In prison, de Gray received word that his villagers' coppicing rights would be infringed by the bailiffs, and somehow he managed to warn them. The villagers fought and beat the bailiffs with pitchforks in what became known as The Battle of Wayland Wood. An enquiry took place; de Gray was fined £1000. Lobbyists tried to discredit de Gray further by linking him to the 'Babes in the Wood' legend, in the starring role of Wicked Uncle.
All extremely interesting stuff, although I was a little scared at the thought of the additions to my usual 'Queenie' spiel.
And after all that, in the end, my Lord Walsingham was mysteriously absent from the talk, so I did it all alone!
For further information on the fascinating de Grays, including Walter, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor to King John (yes, THAT one, the one in the Robin Hood stories)...try Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_de_Gray
At any interesting point in English history, it seems one of the de Gray family was there!
The Watton festival continues until 2nd November. More information available here: