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On a possible connection to Plantagenet

A nineteenth century contention

Though there is no evidence of a genetic connection, the possibility that Plant could be an abbreviation of Plantagenet attracted much debate in the nineteenth century. For example, Lower's 1860 Surname Dictionary referred to an edition of the Leceister Mercury and stated that Plant is a corruption of Plantagenet. This was taken up in other publications, such as an 1862 book.

In 1897, some further discussion of Lower's claim appeared in Notes and Queries (Oxford University Press) [8th S., XII, Aug 28, '97, p. 167]:

PLANTAGENET. - Some time ago I read an account of a boy named Plant (residing in Warwickshire, I believe), whose grandfather had borne the royal name Plantagenet, but had changed it to Plant, thinking that the full name too grand for a poor man. The note proceeded to state that this boy, if Salic Law had been in force, would have been king of England. Can anyone tell me more of this, or inform me as to where I should obtain the note in question? ... PELOPS.

There were replies [op. cit., Sept. 25, '97, p. 258]:

PLANTAGENET (8th S, xii. 167). - Some such note as this, of the name Plantagenet shortened to Plant, may be found in Burke's `Vicissitudes of Families.' But there is no kind of verification, and the statement that the holder of the name would be king by Salic law must be taken with very great caution. ... C.F.S. Warren, M.A., Longford, Coventry.

The Rev Anthony Bathe wrote from Paull, Yorks, the account of the boy Plant that PELOPS enquires about. It appeared in one of the daily papers - the Standard, I think - and Mr Bathe mentioned that the boy at that time was living at Paull. - R.H., Ely.

This evidently relates to the boldest possible interpretation of Lower's 1860 claim that `Plant is a corruption of Plantagenet'. It presumes that Plant would have had legitimate male-line descent from the Plantagenets if polygamy had been legal. There is no good evidence to support this. My own view of Lower's claim is a much weaker version; to wit, that:

when considering the early spellings Plante Genest (Plantagenet) and Plantt (Plant), any connection can not be taken to be genetic though it may be that there was a contemporary culture that related to both names' meanings.

Some Plantagenet bastards

Though I do not uphold it myself, it is perhaps worth considering a relatively strong version of Lower's claim; to wit, that there may have been an illegitimate genetic connection. In this version, the lack of documentary evidence can be explained away, since there is little information about the putative descent from the Plantagenets' little-known bastards. Though it can not be disproved that there might have been such a descent to the Plant family, my own view and that of others is that a `lack of disproof' does not form an adequate basis for making a claim. Notwithstanding that most of us are related, one way or another, over the time-span since the medieval period, male-line relatedness is much less common; and, in royal matters in particular, the usual onus of proof is to supply strong evidence and not simply to say that a connection could be possible. It largely remains to be seen if Y-DNA evidence can throw any further light, one way or the other, in connection with such perennial discussions.

Though the general historical evidence shows that bastards' mothers were disproportionately from a low class, notably servants, their putative fathers could be higher ranking. According to Laura Betzig [Laura Betzig, British polygyny in Biology and History, ed Malcolm Smith, pp 30-87.], rich men throughout the Middle Ages and in modern England married monogamously but mated polygynously, having sex with as many women as they could afford: they have almost certainly produced more children as a result. She adds that, in the past several hundred years, the tide has turned in England from despostism to democracy, and polygyny started to give way to monogamy.

Among the Plantagenets, Geoffrey Plante Genest of Anjou is known to have been a womaniser; his best-known bastard son was Hamelin, who became the Warenne earl of Surrey.

Plante Genest's eldest legitimate son, Henry II of England, had two well known, well placed bastards: Geoffrey, Archbishop of York; and, William Longspée, earl of Salisbury. Identifying his other bastards is clothed in mystery though Henry's reputation for womanising is clear. He is supposed to have coveted the sister of Roger of Clare, earl of Hertford. A little later, Eude de Porhoet, who had been Brittany's count, complained that Henry held his daughter hostage in 1168 and got her pregnant. Henry presumably fathered another bastard - Morgan, a provest of Berkeley and bishop-elect of Durham. And there were rumours that Henry debauched his own daughter-in-law to-be, Alice who had been meant to marry his legitimate son Richard. There were undoubtedly other concubines of a lower class, of whom we know relatively little, such as `fair Rosamund' Clifford and a `Bellebelle' who is recorded in an 1184 pipe roll. Gerald of Wales said the king `became an open violator of the marriage bond.' Another contemporary, Ralph Niger said the king's vassals `hid their daughters and wives when the king was in other towns', since Henry `was a corruptor of chastity, and followed his father in committing crimes.' Ranulf de Broc was keeper of the king's whores.

Henry's youngest legitimate son John is even more notorious for his womanising. According to Roger of Wendover, John was very fond of his wife; and, according to Matthew Paris, he was fond of other men's women. According to more than one source, John made his magnates mad: he `seduced their more attractive daughters and wives.' Among the king's known women were: Suzanne (listed domicella, amica domini Regis in a Misac roll); `queen' Clementia (named by a Tewkesbury monk); Hawise (the widowed countess of Aumale); another Hawise; `Alpesia, the queen's damoiselle'; and the wife of Hugh Neville, chief forester. John's philandering resulted in bastards, some of whose names are apparent. For example, one, John, was supported by the see of Lincoln; Henry FitzRoy was given lands in Cornwall in 1215; Richard captained troops in a baronial revolt; Geoffrey emerged from obscurity to command troops and mercenaries in 1193; Osbert Giffard's fate is not clear.

However, it should immediately be stressed that modern opinion does not consider that such indications are nearly enough to claim that the Plants were Plantagenet bastards.

Debunking the evidence for a genetic claim as circumstantial

Twentieth-century Surname Dictionaries have offered different opinions for the meaning of Plant; and, my own opinion, having studied the matter for many years, is: if there is a connection between the Plant and Plantagenet surnames, it can not be said to be any more than cultural. That is not to say that an embellished Plantagenet claim does not provide a tidy explanation of some details of the more-recently established evidence:

However, on the other hand, it should be added that: If Plantt is taken to be an abbreviation of Plantagenet, the spelling Plantt might simply suggest a child within a possible affinity to Plantegenest's realm. Though there is a genetic connection between Plant and Plantt this does not prove any genetic connection to Plantagenet. Moreover, there may not be any association of Plantt to the Plantagenet name: the proposition of a connection can be dismissed, for example, by arguing that the spelling Plantt simply mimics an emphasised final `t' in a French pronunciation of the coexisting spelling Plante.

Onomastic significance of similar names

Though this leaves just a hint of a possible, perhaps indirect, cultural connection between the names Plantagenet and Plantt or Plant, it is an important hint when taken together with a consideration of other `Plant-like' names. Considering a series of similar names is a standard onomastic technique when trying to reach an understanding of those names' meanings. The Plantagenet surname itself is controversial and the Plant surname, together with other by-names similar to Plantagenet, can provide important clues.

The name `Plantagenet' was orginally spelled Plante Genest or Plantegenest. It originated with Geoffrey of Anjou, father of King Henry II who ascended the English throne in 1154. It is most commonly claimed that the name arose because Geoffrey wore a sprig of broom in his bonnet though perhaps otherwise that he planted it to improve his hunting covers or used broom to scourge himself. Its significance has been said to relate to its golden flower though, in a recent Nomina publication, I have postulated that it related culturally to the earlier name Plantapilosa and, thereby, to the development of contemporary belief in the vegetative soul.

Though the name Plantagenet has been retroactively applied to the descendants of Geoffrey Plante Genest of Anjou, there is no contemporary evidence that the royal family used this surname before the mid fifteenth century; and so evidence for the intervening years of the development of similar names, such as Plant, is amongst the best available evidence when seeking onomastic clues for the significance of the Plantagenet surname. Recent Y-DNA and other evidence suggests a generative meaning to Plant: `offspring' [J.S. Plant (2005) Nomina 28, pp. 115-33]; and this and other evidence suggests that generative and other aspects of the vegetable soul could have played a key role in the development of the Plantagenet surname.

Some further articles

Such matters are discussed further in:

Likely role of an illegitimate Plantagenet line in Plant surname origins

A more recent discussion of the feudal context of the first Plants is given


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