the formative context of the Plant and Plantagenet surnames,Reference: Dr John S Plant (2000-11) in Roots and Branches, Issues 20, 21, 22, onwards including Series 2, Issue 3; with a few subsequent contributions.
including some contemporary philosophy
Recent progress towards understanding the genetic composition of the Plants has thrown light on a likely context for the inception of their surname. The fact that they are mostly an abnormally large single family is considered within an early context of life in the Chester palatine where Welsh Law was being subjugated under a high living `Plantagenet' authority.
For a grander overview of the philosophies surrounding the Plant and Plantagenet names, we can consider the Longspee-Audley hypothesis which is described elsewhere of this website. This extends to a consideration of vegetal names throughout Western Europe and, in particular, the arrival of a grandson of Geffrey Plantagenet in Staffordshire who may have been involved in ascribing the name Plant to his followers or peasants. The first records for Plants in their main homeland are in east Cheshire but, given the patchwork of surviving records, it is quite possible that they arrived first in Audley lands in north Staffordshire before crossing the county boundary into Cheshire.
Dance of virtues and vices, personified
in the 13th-century Roman de la Rose
- Recent progress towards understanding plant in a surname
- Possibilities for the origins of Plants in their main homeland
- The possibility of a continental influence on plant-based names
- Reconstructing a folk view of the developing Plantagenet surname
- The prevailing philosophy of medieval times
- Some differences between beliefs then and now
- The Ins and Outs of Creation and Generation
- Relevance to plant-based names
- Some philosophical precursors of medieval belief in the plant soul
- A scholastic context for the Plante Genest nickname
- Grosseteste's Philosophy
- Some French evidence near `Plante Genest' and `de la Planta' of Anjou
- The homeland of the Plant surname by the fourteenth century
- Note on implanting contrition
- Two crafts of soul and body
- Langland's virtuous `plant of pees' and `tree of life'
- The Pearl poet's grace of grewe
Abstract. Here I include consideration of a rather more lowly perspective than that which is more readily available for the aristocracy. I extend the deliberations to the possible implications, amongst the less knowledgeable peasants, of a particular spelling of Plantagenet. The meanings of the words planta and geneat can be loosely associated with early evidence for the nickname Plante Genest (sic), which was that of the progenitor Geffrey of Anjou who fathered the English royal dynasty. This dynasty is now called Angevin or Plantagenet, even though there is remarkably little evidence for the contemporary use of the Plantagenet name. It might have been that a popular controversy kept alive a developing form `planta-geneat' of Geffrey's nickname, which could have meant a `philandering horseman' - without this, there could have been relatively little understanding, amongst most peasants, of the intended sense of the Plante Genest nickname.
More fully, on the one hand, there are the well documented beliefs found in aristocratic scholasticism. On the other, there are hints of bawdy gossip as evidenced in some bye-names of the peasantry. Accordingly, the lack of early records for Plantagenet as a royal surname can be imagined to be partly due to aristocratic avoidance of slanderous innuendo, though salacious sense seems evident in some other Plantagenet-like bye-names.
It seems that early Plants in their main homeland could have been familiar with Welsh customs and with the conquest of Wales by `Plantagenet' lords. This, together with other evidence, has helped with reconstructing a circumstance of competing influences. The early Plants apparently lived under a `planta-geneat' authority, with possible influence of meaning ranging from the early English sense of plant --`to found'-- to the Welsh sense planta `to generate children'. Both senses can be considerd to derive from a notion of planting seed. The surname of the main Plant family belongs somewhere within such a context while similar names occur only elsewhere. More eruditely, though likely not fully understood by the peasantry, such names could have been influenced by widespread medieval concepts of the soul, as well as by local place names which perhaps related to some sense of foundation.
The account given here describes some of the local conditions of medieval life. It also leads on to some aspects of early philosophy that help to outline a contemporary understanding of man's soul. The vegetable soul's powers within man were believed, in the Aristotelian view, to be threefold: nutritive; augmentative; and generative. These powers seem central to the initial context of Plant-based names in so far as they relate to quests for nutritious plenty, noble elevation, and procreation. This can be finessed further with NeoPlatonic views of the vegetal soul, though that is discussed more on the aforementioned Longspee-Audley webpage, for which more knowledable views were likely accessible to the aristocracy and so are taken more fully into account.
The past fascinates us because it was different; and, medieval times were very different. Around the times when surnames formed, most people worked on the land and were dominated by an aristocracy and an all-embracing church. Only 10%, rising to 20%, lived in towns. Vegetation was all around and plants formed an integral part of man's beliefs. The medieval word plant had a wide range of meanings; and, the associated beliefs help elucidate some contemporary viewpoints. More needs to be considered than just the most obvious modern meanings of plant when considering the origins of the Plant and Plantagenet surnames and, in particular, some scholastic beliefs were very different from those that have since come to the fore.
Surnames need to be distinctive. At first sight, this seems inconsistent with the fact that plants in themselves were not distinctive, being a common part of everyday life. Many twentieth-century surname dictionaries got around this by claiming that the Plants planted particular types of vegetation. However, there is little or no evidence for this. Around late medieval times, there were innovations involving the planting of legumes as part of a crop rotation system [Christopher Dyer (2009) Making a living in the Middle Ages: the people of Britain 850-1520, pp. 166-7, 250]. This might explain the one isolated occurrence of the name Plantebene in Norfolk in 1199-1200 [Pipe Rolls]; but it seems tenuous to relate this to the surname Plant. In upland areas, the main economic surplus for local lords, both secular and monastic, evidently related to animals and wool. However, it seems that most peasants needed to be self-sufficient and would have needed to plant crops so that, even in predominately pastoral areas, a planter of unspecified crops can hardly be expected to have been distinctive.
Most mentions of the Plant surname are near Wales, where the Welsh meaning of plant provides an alternative explanation. Surnames commonly relate to a father (e.g. Johnson) and the Welsh meaning `children' of plant is broadly appropriate in this way to a surname. However, since all children have fathers, this leaves the question of how this could have been distinctive. Recent DNA evidence suggests that the Plants might have been abnormally many children, perhaps through polygyny. For example, the paternal family may have come from a region where the Welsh meaning `children' of plant was prevalent and settled in a region where Welsh was less used and where they merged this distinctive trait of their culture with the English fashion for fathering a surname.
There is held to be evidence that pre-English tongues were spoken as near as Shropshire, immediately to the west of the main Plant homeland in north Staffordshire, and so a border with a different meaning of plant could have been close. The Shropshire river Tern, for example, is surely the Tren of early Welsh poetry, with a straightforward etymology in Welsh `strong, powerful'; on the other hand, its source at Maer Hall in Staffordshire, surely relates to the Old English mere meaning `lake' or `pool'.[D.N.Parsons (2013) Pre-English river names and [ancient] British survival in Shropshire, Nomina 36, p.113.]
As another possibility, if we accept the Longspee-Audley hypothesis, the Plant name could have arrived in its main homeland with an illegitimate Plantagenet line which valued an ancient sense of the vegetal, which was distinctive to their arrival in England from Anjou.
That is not to say that other possibilities should not be considered. For example, there is a Welsh name Ianto (pronounced Jan-toh) and some have claimed that this can give rise to confusion with Lanto. Just as the surname Price is often said to derive from the Welsh ap Rhees (son of Rhees), it has been claimed that the surname Plant might have derived from the Welsh ap Ianto (son of Ianto). The phonetic argument is not strong unless we invoke some interaction with the simpler idea of the Welsh word plant (children). More generally, plant is a simple word that is widespread in European languages and some bewildering phonetics of non-locals could conceivably have been misconstrued as the name generally spelled Plontt (local dialect for Plant) in the fourteenth-century Macclesfield Court Rolls.
To consider the need for distinctiveness further, it has been claimed that surnames initially needed to be distinctive locally. For example, Smith is a common surname but there was initially perhaps only one smith locally. The many instigations of the Smith surname could have been coined for a distinctive person in each village. Similarly, philandering could have led to a surname that was distinctive locally. This could have arisen since philanderers often rove. For example, many Plant offspring, from one father but many mothers, could have been sufficiently dispersed to produce a name that, albeit frequent, was adequate to identify them locally. With no more than a few children called Plant locally, their full names would have been sufficiently distinctive, locally in each maternal neighbourhood.
Alternatively, some scholars maintain that surnames were chosen afresh for the peasants in the Manorial Courts, such as at the fourteenth-century Courts of the Lordship of Macclesfield in east Cheshire. The first available records for the main Plant family are to be found in this Lordship and the Plants' first known location was at the Black Prince's newly-founded vaccary (cattle station) at Midgeley. We can hence imagine the Court's scribe allocating the Plant name to a small group of men living near this newly-founded "plant". That provides an alternative explanation of why the main Plant family is abnormally large, given that it could have been seeded by a few already-related men, though this too has a basis of rather tenuous conjecture.
One possibility is that the Plants settled in England with the distinctive Welsh word plant as their surname; and, for the ongoing heritability of their surname, we can add that Welsh Law recognised polygyny (i.e. children from liaisons with many different women). Welsh Law also held that paternal land was to be inherited by all recognised children: it was to be inherited regardless of their mother, provided that the offspring were recognised by their father. In particular, land was available in the main Plant homeland, in the large adjoining parishes of Prestbury (east Cheshire) and Leek (north Staffordshire). It seems that this could have been conducive to the ramification of a scatter of Plants, each with enough land to survive, since medieval villages were not the main form of settlement here, rather hamlets and more isolated areas of newly cleared land (i.e. assarts) [Christopher Dyer, op. cit.,, Map 2].
The situation was rather different for parts of Somerset for example where Robert Plonte of Saltford (c.1280-1303), `once Bailif of Marsfeld', had property in Bath [Bath BC records]; the Plant name does not seem to have proliferated so much there, even if one considers that it might have given rise to the similar name Plente (later Plenty). As a bailiff, Roger Plonte's duties would no doubt have involved the collection of some form of tribute from the peasantry for the benefit of a local lord. A bailiff's contact with a lord would have placed him in the high-status, so-called `Franklyn class' of peasants.
The detailed nature of the tribute gathered for local lords, by reeves or bailiffs from the peasantry, varied between different regions of Britain. This depended not least on the local economy. For example, before a shift towards substituting cash payment for rent in the commute of Ardudwy in Merioneth in north Wales, in the decades before the 1282 conquest of Wales, it was paid in kind: to wit, cattle; pigs; milk and flour; and, there was also an obligation on the peasants to entertain the prince's men when they visited the district [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., p. 243].
For the later fourteenth century, the administrative structure of east Cheshire is quite well documented and the Plants, thoygh not without means, are not named as administrators in this Palatine of the heir to the throne. In the Longspee-Audley hypothesis, the early Cheshire Plants would have crossed the county boundary from Audley lands in north Staffordshire. There might have been some friction between these two different authorities - the case of the outlaw Thomas Plont (ca.1362-82) suggests that he was better accepted by Dieulacres Abbey in north Staffordshire than across the border into Cheshire.
It is uncertain how the Plants arrived at or near their main homeland. One possibility is that their male-line had arrived in the region much earlier and that they were, in particular, a small group of related men predating the foundation of the Black Prince's vaccary near them. Another is that they arrived near Poynton, in east Cheshire, with the illegitimate descent of the Warren `Plantagenet' earls themselves, who withdrew to here in the mid fourteenth century after the last Warren earl was deposed in SE England by the Lancastrians. Yet another possibility is that the Plants had prospered elsewhere, or were allowed in as part of a Cheshire amnesty to admit outlaws, and then they were able to acquire sufficient land in east Cheshire for their ongoing proliferation. I shall consider the context of such possibilities here.
The sparse pastoral region of the main Plant homeland has incomplete records, albeit that the Macclesfield Court Rolls are unusually complete from around the 1360s. Even in later centuries, Plant records around here are mostly bare scraps that do not piece together readily into coherent genealogies. It is the extent of the recent DNA evidence, which reveals a large single Plant family, that indicates that they arose from a single paternity and multiplied and survived around these Staffordshire-Cheshire borderlands and elsewhere in large numbers.
It seems that the main homeland of the Plants was dominated, at least partly, by an economy in which `lords' amassed tribute from a scattered peasantry. Monetary sums are recorded in the Macclesfield Court Rolls for the panage of pigs for example and, from the earliest records, Plant were making payment for this privilege. It is possible that exchange based on money may not yet have developed entirely here, where forest lands around Macclesfield were being opened up. Some forms of tribute might have involved plant and animal produce or an obligation to entertain the lord's men. The abnormal size of the single Plant family could have been partly due to the availability of land, as well as conceivably opportunities for a philandering authority. In general, assarting (claiming new land), when the local lord allowed it, gave rise to new opportunities for settlement; and, this had occurred, for example, during the doubling of England's population in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
During the fourteenth century, following the Great Famine (1315-22), even before the population was halved by the Black Death (1348-50), large areas of land were lying unoccupied, as evidenced in east Staffordshire for example [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., pp. 235-6]. Population stopped expanding early in this century, seemingly for a combination of reasons. Moderate wealth or influence of a father could no doubt help his family to continue expanding, against the general trend, into this century. For example, it is evidenced elsewhere at Halesowen in Worcestershire, around 1300, that the wealthier peasants had an average of 5.1 children as against 1.8 for the cottagers; also, mortality during the Black Death could be as low as 27% in the case of tenants in chief of the English crown but as high as 70% for some peasant groups [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., pp. 158, 161, 271-2]. Still larger beneficial factors are begged, however, in order to explain why the Plant family has become around 30 times larger than is typically expected for a surviving single family. Their ramification appears to have begun by the fourteenth century. As explained in more detail elsewhere e.g. [http://plant.one-name.org/GTM3_Guild.pdf and http://dx.doi.org/10.14487/sdna.001652], an early paternity involving men philandering or taking several successive wives, (i.e. in short polygyny), or the name being applied to a small group of related men, could have applied a significant multiplier to the whole of the subsequent population of this family which could then have gone on to grow fortuitously. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, there is evidence of Plants in the Macclesfield Court Rolls with adequate land and livestock holdings.
The first evidence for a Plant near Cheshire is in 1301, for Ricardo Plant with rights to coal at Ewelowe [Pipe Rolls] in Flintshire in north Wales, not far from Chester. The coal mines of Flintshire experienced a boom: fuel was needed for the smiths making tools, nails and other ironwork used in the extensive castle-building taking place around those times [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., p. 260]. A Plant such as he could have acquired sufficient means to relocate, instead of being bound to a local lord. Moderate wealth could have enabled such a Plant's family to seek comparatively safe land elsewhere, such as in east Cheshire.
The Warren `Plantagenet' earl was amongst those who had acquired substantial land in north Wales near Chester, following the 1282 conquest of Wales for which the earl had headed the commissariat. This predated the times of the general recession that took place throughout the early fourteenth century. During these times, Welsh marcher lords exploited the peasants ruthlessly [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., p. 255]. Conflict and rebellion in north Wales could have played their part in encouraging a displacement of the populace. For example, in 1294, the English authorities at Flint, fearful of an attack by Welsh rebels, themselves burned down the town which had been built next to the castle, to prevent its use as a shelter for a besieging army [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., pp. 256-7].
Any relocation could have been to east Cheshire since, in Macclesfield Forest, virtually all tenancies recorded in the early fourteenth century in places such as Whaley, Port Shrigley and Disley were of holdings assarted (cleared from waste) relatively recently, mostly between 1240 and 1310 [Alan Crosby (1996) A History of Cheshire, p. 44]. We can only speculate, however, about this as giving Plants from north Wales an opportunity to relocate to east Cheshire. This forms one possible explanation for the origins of the Plants in their main homeland, apparently with a Welsh meaning and customs to their name, around Macclesfield Forest by the later decades of the fourteenth century.
Alternatively, however, the royal `Plantagenets' were known for their philandering and others could have adopted similar morals. To this extent, a `planta-geneat' administration could have been involved in the fast growth of the Plant populace: but this need not be extended nearly as far as the nineteenth-century contention that the so-called Plantagenets were directly involved in the Plants' paternity.
There is various evidence for Plant proximities to the royal and lesser aristocracy descending from Count Geffrey Plante Genest (`Plantagenet'). For example, in 1352, there is evidence indicating that a James Plant was involved in the disinheritance of the Warren `Plantagenet' earls from their traditional Norfolk lands [Patent Rolls]. It may be relevant that the earl also held land in north Wales such that his following may have been familiar with Welsh meaning and customs. Plants might have relocated, perhaps initially from Wales, with the Warren earl; and, in the mid fourteenth century, travelled with the Warren descent to their Poynton estate in east Cheshire, thereafter escaping to settle in the adjoining lordship of Macclesfield. There was newly vacated land there, following the fourteenth-century decline in population, particularly after the Black Death. More generally, there is evidence to show that, especially around the 1380s and 1390s, an increasing number of peasants left their lords' manors and were able to acquire land on manors where their servile origins were either unknown or quickly forgotten [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., p. 278].
Reconstructing a full story of a family's development in medieval times typically relies on a modicum, at the very least, of guesswork. As I shall discuss further however, we can surmise that the context for the formative Plant name in its main homeland could have involved both or either of a Welsh and a `Plantagenet' feudal influence. For the latter, there is a juxtaposition of the lines of Geffrey Plantagenet's illegitimate son Hamelyn, who fathered further earls Warren; or, perhaps more convincingly, there is Geffrey's illegitimate grandson William Longspee who fathered the Staffordshire Longspee-Audley line.
The paternal family of the Plants, or perhaps more likely part of the culture for their name, could have arrived with the Angevins, since the name de la Planta or de Plant' is found first in 1202, in Anjou, where the aristocratic Plante Genest (`Plantagenet') family originated.
Modern scholarship, archaeology and DNA is indicating that it should not be ignored that there has been migration bordering the Atlantic coast of mainland Europe (including Aquitaine and Anjou adjoining the Bay of Biscay) extending not only around Brittany into the English Channel and thereby to the North Sea but also across to the west coast of Britain into Cornwall and around Wales and to Ireland. Some commonality is found in the similarities of the Celtic languages of Brittany (NW France), Cornwall and Wales and, to a lesser extent, Ireland and west Scotland. In the twelfth century, English merchants plied their trade with links down Europe's Atlantic coast as far as Spain, taking wool and returning with spices, gold and fine leather [Christophe Dyer, op. cit., p. 207]. Plants might have been involved in overseas trade. For example, by 1262, the name Plaunte was in Essex [Forest Pleas]; and, across the Channel at Rouen, there were three merchants called Plaunt and de la Plaunt in 1273 [Patent Rolls]. Though the Plant in Essex might not have been related, his Rouen namesakes could well have been trading with England across the Channel. More clearly, there is subsequent evidence of long distance trade in connection with the name Plente. In the mid fourteenth century, cloth exports began to supplement those of wool; and, around 1364-8, the king's minister, Roger Plente of Exeter, with his ship `le Ceorge' was active in taking cloth to Gascony (i.e. Aquitaine in SW France), Spain, etc. and returning with wine, etc., to the ports of London, Southampton, Sandwich and Exeter [Patent Rolls, Fine Rolls]. By 1275, the Gascon wine trade had also reached Chester, near north Wales, from where lead for example was exported; Chester was the main port of NW England at that time [Alan Crosby, op. cit., p. 56]. The Duchy of Aquitaine (Gascony) had been allied to England since the times of Angevin Empire (1154-1204) and wine imports to England from there reached their peak of 20,000 tuns (5 million gallons) around 1308 [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., p. 208].
It may be more than coincidence that the main modern evidence, for names like Plante in mainland Europe, is near the Atlantic coast, around Gascony (i.e. Aquitaine); furthermore, as already mentioned the name de la Planta alias de Plant' is found as early as 1202 just to Gascony's north in Anjou. The most conventional interpretation of this name, de la Planta, is that it means from a region called la Planta and we can debate where such a place might be. Less conventionally, it means literally `from the shoot' or thereby an `offshoot' or `offspring' and there might conceivably have been some commonality of culture, not least as a result of trade, between such a meaning in Anjou and the Welsh meaning `children' of plant. Still earlier, in both Wales and Aquitaine, the word plant could have had an ancient meaning concerned with reproducing or feigning life on earth from otherworld divinities, as I shall outline a bit further later below.
The name Plant in England is found first near the Thames estuary, the Wash, the Bristol Channel (in Somerset) and then more prolifically in east Cheshire. In other words, albeit perhaps partly because of the incomplete nature of the records, the Plants in England are found first largely around the south-east coast of England as well as to the west up the Bristol Channel and also, more prolifically, from the then-busy Dee estuary into Cheshire. A relevant culture for a surname might have arrived in England from Aquitaine and Anjou and merged with meaning and custom spreading from Wales around the coast of Britain and, most prolifically, perhaps directly or indirectly from Wales into east Cheshire. As already outlined, displacements of the populace from NE Wales can be expected following the royal incursions and conquests of north Wales from Chester.
Continental European culture was a vital influence on mentality and administration in England, from the ideas of chivalry and crusade among the secular aristocracy, to the religious orders and methods of church government which spread through the international church. Though early evidence for the Plantagenet name is more sparse than for Plant, there was no more influential family in England than the so-called `Plantagenet' family. It may have been the noble Angevins who, along with the church, strengthened a relevant philosophy from above for the Plant and Plantagenet surnames in England.
A possible popular (mis)interpretation of the name `Plantagenet', in connection with royal authority in the main Plant homeland, might have involved the fact that planta could mean `to procreate' and a geneat was a high status peasant (horseman) with duties to his lord: `plantageneat' suggests the meaning `philanderer horseman'. Such worldly meaning might have been favoured by the local peasantry: it seems that such a meaning could have kept alive the nickname of Geffrey Plante Genest, Count of Anjou. This could explain the large gap in the written evidence for the Plantagenet name, which was no doubt biased by the censures of the aristocracy. The nickname Plante Genest appears in the twelfth century for Count Geffrey of Anjou and then only much later, in the mid fifteenth century, the similar name Plantagenet became attached as a surname to his royal dynastic descendants. This leaves questions about the gap in the documentary evidence throughout the intervening centuries: the supposition of a censured folk-term `plantageneat' serves well to fill that gap.
An isolated exception to the paucity of early evidence for the Plantagenet name is that Galfrido Plauntegenet had the duty in 1266 of transporting a gardrobe (i.e. a lavatory, perhaps for an itinerant court), as recorded at Oxford during the Barons' War. This seems consistent with the duties of a geneat (horseman), as well as with a recorded belief that a function of the vegetable soul was the control of the digestive system. The tribute of a geneat to his lord is known to have included such duties as riding, carrying messages, escorting his lord, helping with the hunt and general carriage work [Christopher Dyer, op. cit., p. 39].
Ultimately, tribute around the main Plant homeland was for the advantage of the heir to the `Plantagenet' throne who held the titles Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales. However, at the Black Prince's stud at Macclesfield, in east Cheshire, local responsibility was largely devolved. Thus, any popular use of the term `plantageneat', in the sense of a philandering horseman, can be considered to have been associated with the royal authority merely in the person of a high status peasant, rather than involving directly a member of the royal family itself.
The recent DNA evidence for Plant points perhaps to polygyny. This is consistent with the procreating meaning of both an archaic sense of `to plant' and the surviving Welsh verb `planta'. It is often held that peasants did not choose their own surnames. Philandering ones are not uncommon.
In this light, we can reconsider the contentious nineteenth-century claim that Plant is a corruption of Plantagenet. Needless to say, a direct association of Plants to the Plantagenets is best given no more than limited credence, albeit that it is not uncommon for amateurs to favour royal associations for their family. A nineteenth-century claim for the Plants appeared in no less than the Oxford University Press and it asserted that the Plants were illegitimate descendants of the royal Plantagenets themselves [Appendix A.1 in http://www.plant-fhg.org.uk/plant_and_plantagenet.pdf]. That seems very likely to be false. Instead, the Plant name could have for example developed directly from the Welsh, with little or no cognisance of the supposed `plantageneat' term. As an intermediate hypothesis however, we might venture to consider that there could have been `some truth' to the nineteenth-century story, just to the extent that the abnormally large Plant family could have descended from a paternity that involved a murky `plantageneat' (philandering horseman) context. In the main Plant homeland, such a `plantageneat' would have been potentially answerable to the royal and aristocratic `Plantagenets'.
We can moreover contemplate a wider `plantageneat' context that might have played a role in the eventual development of the Plantagenet surname. There is contemporary evidence for the bye-name Plantefolie and this thirteenth-century evidence was quite widespread [Leicester 1209, Somerset 1226, Weston' 1263, Nottingham 1267, Yorkshire 1270]. This name had clear philandering allusions, which could have parodied any early use of the `plantageneat' term. This supports a notion that there was some widespread currency to the likely philandering meaning of Plantefolie which could have been widely gossipped, albeit that widespread evidence for folk use of the supposed term `plantageneat' is lost to the surviving documentation as could well be expected.
In the eyes of at least some in the aristocracy and their followers, a need could therefore have been seen to promote a more elevated interpretation of the nickname of Geffrey Plante Genest, beyond that implied by a bawdy term `plantageneat'. This popular term `plantageneat' could have kept alive the old nickname Plante Genest and the term `plantageneat' could then have been cleansed by scholastic philosophy. This provides a plausible route towards the eventual acceptance of the official royal surname Plantagenet.
To understand the full significance of the word plant, in the context of such names as Plante Genest, Plantefolie and Plant, an understanding of some Western European medieval philosophy is pertinent. Scholastic philosophy reveals some more elevated layers of meaning. These can seem obscure to a modern mind. However, in the remainder of this article, I shall focus on the underlying medieval philosophy for such `aristocratic' meanings, outlining some relevant parts of the prevailing scholasticism. These more elevated beliefs could have inculcated some cleansed understanding of a term such as `plantageneat' into folk of the wider community. This could explain the eventual documentary evidence indicating that Plantagenet became accepted as a royal surname.
As outlined above, the names de la Planta and Plante Genest are found first in Anjou. This was near an Aquitanian troubadour tradition in which a `courtly love' influence held sway over a pre-occupation of the Church with sin.
Towards the end of medieval times, when surnames were forming, there was a shift from earlier times in which pagans and Christians had come to glorify ugliness and dirt. Beauty together with all its associated pleasures had been thought to be of the Devil. By the twelfth century, there were divisions amongst the secular and religious aristocracy, not least between King Henry II and his Archbishop. There is evidence for considerable philandering by Henry's family, from his father Count Geffrey Plante Genest through to Henry's youngest son King John. With their beliefs in `courtly love', this `Plantagenet' family were known as the Devil's Brood.
Literary clues to a context for plant-based names may be sought in, for example, the poem the Roman de la Rose (illustrations below), the initial version of which was written by William de Lorris around 1230.
In Jean de Meun's continuation of the poem, ca.1275, written largely it seems for a secular aristocratic audience and not just the clergy, there are philosophical digressions, not least about Nature's generation. It is at least clear that understanding was different then and that contemporaneous ideas are important for the additional insights they give.
Whether we realise it or not, we are steeped in a modern way of thinking. Though it can be difficult for us to piece together the details, medieval ideas no doubt seemed natural at the time.
In late medieval times, when surnames were forming, the influence of the Church was great. Their teachings may be ascertained most clearly from various writings of the scholastics, who were largely engaged in reconciling NeoPlatonic Christianity with the philosophy of Aristotle which was being received from Arabic translations. It is difficult to know how much the scholastics were leading public opinion as against simply reflecting common beliefs; but, either way, we may look to the scholastic writings for clues, as the beliefs are presented more clearly there than in less philosophical writings.
If we were to take the influence of later medieval Church teachings to have been paramount, we might imagine that the first of those bearing the Plant surname might have been assorted individuals deemed to have been planted with various virtues or perhaps even vices. At another extreme, it has been widely held, since the mid twentieth century, that the first Plants were assorted individuals engaged in various `gardening' occupations, such as the planting of bean-seed into the soil. The DNA evidence suggests that the truth for plant in a surname may lie somewhere between the two extremes of divine creation and basic gardening.
In order to explain the abnormally large size of the main English Plant family, as ascertained by DNA evidence, it seems likely that the Plants' origins lay with a fertile family engaged in planting an abnormally large distribution of seed into many women (polygyny), thereby generating many children who had the same ancestral paternity. This is consistent with contemporary philosophy as expressed in terms of the vegetable souls of humans and man's planting of human seed accompanied by a life-force from God.
Beliefs in how generation springs from the planting of human seed have since changed: there is now a better understanding of the role of DNA which is not just in the seed but also in the female egg. In late medieval times, at least by the fourteenth century, it seems that there was some dispute as to whether virtue was transmitted with the seed or planted in humans by God.
It is perhaps beliefs about God's Word that have changed the most. In medieval times, knowledge was believed to be the result of revelation, which came from God through prayer and meditation and, most particularly, through ancient authorities. Even Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who is usually held to be the founder of modern philosophy and who is remembered for coining `I think therefore I am', held that knowledge came from thought. It was not until around 1690 that the English philosopher John Locke held that knowledge came from experience, leading to a stronger belief in scientific empiricism: it is now common to believe that knowledge comes from our observations of the world(s) around us.
For the times we are considering however, the focus was more on revelations from God and His life-giving light which accompanied the planting of man's seed for the generation of children.
In Christian teachings, since the times of St Augustine (354-430AD), the Word of God was `that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into this world'. This can be compared with the Logos of the Biblical Gospel of St John which identified Christ less as a man than as a theological figure: this Gospel begins, `In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God ... In him was life, and the life was the light of man'.
In modern English, we have the `creation is birth' metaphor which is found in such modern expressions as `the birth of blues music' or for example `Einstein's theory of relativity first saw the light of day in 1905'. In medieval times there was no common understanding of the `speed of light' but there were beliefs based on the `light of creation'. Corruption (moral and physical) was the diminution of this creative light (cf. the physical reality of plant life).
The proximity of the scholastic philosopher, Robert Grosseteste (ca.1175-1253), to some of the first known evidence for the Plant (Plante, Plonte or Plente) name in England is helpful in revealing the likely beliefs underlying this name's meaning. There are accounts of a friendship between Grosseteste and the `Plantagenet' King Henry III in his minority (1216-23) and, after Grosseteste's pre-eminence at Oxford, he was appointed bishop of Lincoln - he may be seen as a `Plantagenet favoured theologian' though he disputed with both king and pope.
Rather as the name Lionheart focused on man's animal soul, Plant highlighted man's vegetable soul. As a surname it could focus on the vegetable power of generation (fertility) and hence hereditary continuity to the child. This would be quite appropriate for a surname in that an offspring sense is quite usual (e.g. surnames such as Johnson, Children, Young) though, besides generation, the augmentative power (growth and elevation) of the vegetable soul became important.
As well as the `creation is birth' metaphor, metaphors of causation include (a) `the object comes out of the substance' as in `I made a statue out of clay' and (b) `the substance goes into the object as in `I made the clay into a statue'. Implantation can be viewed as a causal aspect of generation. By the late fourteenth century, implantation is implied in Middle English reference to the `planted Word' or to `planted vertue'. Earlier, the thirteenth-century scholastic, Roger Bacon (ca.1214-92) of Oxford and Paris noted that the virtues of the father are in the seed [semen in Latin] and remain during the generation of the progeny.
In the thirteenth century, it was held that the plant within us (cf. God's holy vine) carried powers, including that of generation [i.e. reproduction]. Man's vegetable soul had powers of nutrition, augmentation (growth) and generation which were supplemented by the operations of the animal (sensory) and intellective souls. There were various views as to how these souls depended on the four elements (earth, water, air, fire) and on Aristotle's `fifth element' light or intelligence.
The sprig of broom (Plantagenet) is hairy, which can be compared with the `hairy shoot' meaning of the earlier name Plantapilosa: plant, animal and human characteristics of generation might have been relevant to the Plantagenet name. Furthermore, though the early spelling for Plantagenet was genest (broom) rather than genet (horse), there could have been some conflation associated with transmutation through the species. I shall return to discussing this later below.
Contemporaneous considerations can also be applied to interpreting meanings for other medieval plant-based names in England.
Grosseteste's philosophy, taken together with the duties in 1219 of Radulphus Plente for the burbhote of Oxford, suggests a possible meaning for Pl(a/e)nte.
Burbhote means 'upkeep' or 'funds for upkeep'. The Middle English definition of plente is generosity or abundant or fertile. A known fourteenth-century sense to the variant word plante of implanting virtue can be seen as an extension of Grosseteste's early thirteenth-century philosophy.Though some senses might not have been widely understood until the fourteenth century, the summary meanings shown below can be considered for some early thirteenth-century names.
- Pl(a/e)nte - fertility or generosity implant(er)
- Plantefolie - an implant(er) of wickedness or a cudgel of sin
- Plantefene - an eager implanter
- Planterose - grown plant or philanderer of females or a roused or elevated implant(er) of courtly spirits.
In particular, the name Plantefolie warrants some further discussion. It seems important to try and separate out the thirteenth-century meanings from more modern understandings of the words.
It seems that the meaning of folie was initially more allied to wickedness than is now the case for the ensuing word folly. Some change to the more modern meaning can be ascribed to the eclipse of medieval scholasticism in northern Europe. This came after the Renaissance and is exemplified by the main character Folly (female) in the book Praise of Folly; this was written by Erasmus (1466-1536) who showed his dislike of scholasticism (which had been more prevalent at the times of the name Plantefolie). Folly was central to Erasmus's sentiment as represented by: But for Folly the human race would die out, for who can marry without folly [i.e. wickedness or foolishness]? Erasmus even has Christ interrupting: `Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees ... I left you but one precept, of loving another, which I do not hear any one plead that he has faithfully discharged'.
As against the intellectual strictures of the medieval scholasticism, which had been concurrent with the emergence of the Plantagenet name and Plantefolie, Erasmus presaged the coming liberalisms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
For medieval times, it is important to remember that the contemporary beliefs were very different. Much of the remainder of this article is concerned with trying to disentangle some understanding of the relevant beliefs. To set the scene, I shall here add just a few words about the subsequent transition towards more modern understanding. The old Catholic strictures of medieval England were weakened by the sixteenth-century doctrinal conflicts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. At that time, the earlier transitional musings of Erasmus were swamped by warring religious extremisms; but, this was followed by religious toleration, allowing in particular the triumphs of science in the seventeenth century. By then, much of the earlier understanding had been lost. For example, much of our modern understanding of `plants' dates from the times of the eighteenth-century botanist Linnaeus.
Returning to the thirteenth century, the meaning of the name Plantefolie was seemingly dominated by a context of medieval scholasticism. According to a late fourteenth-century translation of the Bible into English, God could `plant' virtues into man, but He `rooted up' vices. More generally, since earlier times, sin was believed to arise with man's abuse of free will. This mainstream theological belief gives the name Plantefolie a sense of man, not God, being responsible for sinfully planting wickedness or, in other words, philandering. The Middle English Dictionary gives the meaning of folie as foolishness or wickedness.
We can accordingly attach some credence to the idea that the name
Plantefolie was ascribed to a man with a reputation (deserved or otherwise)
for philandering. This name dates back as far as 1209 which is more or less
as far as the profligacy of the Angevin king of England, King John, along
with the first evidence (1202) for the name de la Planta in Anjou.
However, the Plante Genest nickname of John's grandfather Geffrey,
Count of Anjou, somewhat predates then and it is not quite so certain that
it related to exactly the same philandering allusion. Moreover, the context
of the plant-based name Plantapilosa, in an earlier
century, is still more alien to a modern mind, though, to explain the
surrounding philosophy, I shall proceed to piece together from some scraps
of relevant evidence.
Some philosophical precursors of medieval belief in
the plant soul
Ancient authorities, especially Plato and Aristotle, were important in medieval beliefs.
Empedicles, who flourished around 440BC, knew that there was sex in plants (Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, 2nd Ed., p. 72).
The De Anima (On the Soul) of Plato's pupil Aristotle (ca.381-322BC) (Ibid., p. 182) includes, 'it indubitably follows that the soul is inseparable from the body or at any rate certain parts of it are ... Self-nutrition is the only psychic power possessed by plants ... The soul is the final cause of the body'.
Plotinus (204-70AD) (Ibid., p. 296) dismissed the Gnostic view that only the soul of man, among things perceived, had any goodness. Plotinus held that matter is created by soul. In his Tractate on the Gnostics (II, 9, 8) he questions Gnostic beliefs with `How then can anyone deny that the Universe is a clear image, beautifully formed, of the Intellectual Divinities? No doubt it is a copy ... But to say it is an inadequate copy is false.'
This may be compared with belief in Old Aquitanian Divinities, with their names of plants and animals, accompanied by the Old Basque meaning `feigning' of the word plant. Apparently, plants and animals were seen as copies or feignings of Intellectual Divinities transmitted by the reproductive power of the Platonic World Soul, though there was controversy about whether the earthly `copies' contained the full beauty and goodness of the Divinities.
Though pagan, the NeoPlatonic philosophy of Plotinus remained influential in Church teachings which, from around 400AD to 1400AD, were largely dominated by Catholic dualisms: the clergy as against the laity; the Kingdom of God as against the Kingdom of the World; and, the spirit as against the flesh. Much of this stemmed from St Augustine (354-450AD) who placed Plato above all other philosophers adding, `It is said that Plotinus, that lived but lately, understood Plato the best of any.' The Hebrew influence was of course also important. St Jerome (345-420AD) had translated the Bible, direct from Hebrew, into Latin and he adopted the scion [planta in Latin] metaphor for human descent, as in his epitaph for his aristocratic follower Paula: `Within this tomb a child of Scipio lies - A daughter of the far-famed Pauline house - A scion of the Gracchi, of the stock - Of Agamemnon's self, illustrious.'
The word plant clearly appeared in key roles in beliefs about the descent of life from Divinities or illustrious ancestors. Some of the influence for generation came from on high as well as in generation from more earthly seed.
John the Scot's influential translation (ca.827-860AD) from Greek into Latin of the pseudo-Dionysius (ca.300-500AD) included, `As the mighty root sends forth a multitude of plants which it sustains and controls, so created things owe their origin and conservation to the All-Ruling Deity'. This ninth-century translation was contemporary with a famous Aquitanian duke called Plantapilosa (hairy shoot) and the significance of this name might have been the shoot's metaphorical proximity to a mighty root representing the Deity. John the Scot, frequented the court of the French King Charles the Bald, who held some influence over Aquitaine and hence Plantapilosa.
The writings of Avicenna (ca.980-1037AD) developed ancient concepts of the plant soul in man adding, `The purpose of its function is to keep the body in order and the limbs in proper balance, while supplying strength to the physique'. This related back to Aristotle's three souls in a human: those shared with plants (vegetative) and animals (sensory) together with that found only in humans (intellective). Though this had been preserved in Arabic literature, it was less well known in Western Europe than Plato's World Soul, until translations became more widely available in the West, such as through Avicenna.
Peter Abelard (1079-1142), a contemporary of Geffrey Plante Genest (Plantagenet), retreated to the monastery of St Denis after being castrated for his famous love affair with his Paris pupil Heloise who was some twenty years his junior. The Abbey of St Denis had been founded by John the Scot who had travelled from Ireland to Paris. Abelard identified the Holy Ghost with the Platonic World Soul, though he abandoned this view as soon as its heretical characteristics were pointed out to him. Abelard wrote that the World Soul derives its name from its function of animating and vivifying; but, before anything other than God existed, there was nothing for it to animate. Vivification might have been relevant to the Plantagenet name as I shall discuss later below.
Around the same time at Cordoba, the influential Averroes (1126-98), referring back to Ghazali (1058-1111), wrote, `the plant comes into existence through composition out of the elements; it becomes blood and sperm through being eaten by an animal, as it is said in the Divine Words: "We created man from an extract of clay ..."'.
Whereas the Plant surname might have arisen from a folk culture, the noble Plante Genest nickname, as well as its predecessor the ducal name Plantapilosa, could have been influenced more directly by scholastic church teachings.
A traditional story, datable back to 1605, for the origins of the Plantagenet name is that Geffrey V `le Bon' (1113-51), Count of Anjou, took to wearing a spring of broom, or planta genista, in his bonnet. However, evidence for the name Plante Genest for him dates back much earlier to the second half of the twelfth century. Geffrey was the father of King Henry II of England and the illegitimate Hamelin, Warren Earl of Surrey. Apart from questioning the reliability of the `sprig wearing' story, it might be questioned whether such a story for the nickname of a Count would have survived down the centuries if plante genest did not hold some further significance. It may be noted, in particular, that the contemporary philosophy was very much concerned with creation and generation and with adding a spiritual superstructure to such ancient Natural Histories as that of Pliny. Emphasis on the spiritual superstructure is evidenced, for example, in Herbals, such as the De rerum Naturis of Alexandar Nequam (1157-1217). The `sprig of broom' symbol may have been important as a perceived `hairy shoot' origin to God's `planted life'. This could have followed on from the name Plantapilosa which, as already mentioned, could have related metaphorically to a hairy shoot springing forth from a root representing the All-Ruling Deity.
In the intervening years between the Plantapilosa and Plante Genest names, Atto of Vercelli (924-61) complained in a sermon of the custom practised by `little trollops' (meretriculae) in his diocese of baptising branches and turves (and hence calling them - it is not clear whom - co-parents), hanging them in their houses and afterwards guarding them assiduously quasi religionis causa. Avicenna (c980-1036) from Persia maintained that the souls of plants and animals were shared with humans. He developed the NeoPlatonic thesis on light as a vehicle for the soul and maintained that the better the balance between the active (fire and air) and passive (water and earth) elements, with the balance being regulated by spiritual light, the better was the body conditioned to receive the higher forms of life. The Spanish Jew Avicebron (c1020-70) developed traditional Islamic ideas about spiritual emanations from bodies. Transubstantiation (such as of the whole substance of the Eucharistic bread to become the body of Christ) became an article of Christian faith in 1079 though it had been accepted by many long before then. In particular, there were contemporary ideas about transmutation through the species and these may have held relevance for the developing Plantagenet name.
Roughly contemporary with the Plante Genest nickname, Averroes (1126-98) at Cordova in Moorish Spain reiterated an ancient scheme for the generation of life from the elements, such as earth, through plants and animals to man. Acceptance of the transmutation of plants through the species is also clearly in evidence in the writings of Albertus Magnus. Aquinas had studied under St Albertus Magnus (ca.1193-1280) at Cologne. Albert wrote De Vegetabilis (On Plants), considering plants as the first principal of life, seemingly regarding them as imperfect animals, and constantly drawing false analogies between plants and animals as to their organs and functions. He included sections for example `On the fecundity and generation of plants', and `On five ways of transmuting one plant to another'. His texts include, `To contribute toward generation it is necessary that something formative should be in it leading to a species of plant. Now, what is formative is produced either by a lower power, as the semen (seed), or by a universal higher power, as putridity, which contributes to the generation in two absolute ways. The third and remaining one, which is transplantation of a plant into another plant, contributes simultaneously to the generation of the plant and the transmutation of its shape. ... a shoot of one species is implanted into the trunk (or stem) of another species and is altered into a plant of a third species'. Such ideas of generation through seed and putridity can be held to have been relevant to beliefs concerning the transmutation of a parasitic herb such as broomrape.
There is hence a further possible interpretation of the developing Plantagenet name beyond the usually supposed sense of the Latin planta genista meaning `sprig of broom'. A `spring of broom' interpretation is consistent with a sense of transmutation from broom, perhaps to broomrape, and thereon, according to Averroes, to the beasts (albeit by the nutritive power of plants) and in turn man. Taking this further, the alternative `plant horse' sense of Plantagenet (when the word genet is substituted for genest) is consistent with a scheme of generation from the light of God's Word of creation through the plants and the much esteemed horse to the nobility itself. In keeping with such a scheme, the developing Plantagenet surname can be placed in an aristocratic medieval context with sense as, `of particularly well balanced flesh, transmuted and digested through the plant and horse genera; balanced to receive a particularly high implant of God's planted Word'.
In fact, direct evidence for the usage of the English word plant in connection God's Word comes a little later though, more generally, vivification by God's Word had long been an integral part of Christian belief. Also a little later, in the fourteenth century, there is some further relevant evidence in the writings of the so-called `Pearl poet'. The Pearl poet refers to beasts biting on broom. Broom, as a nutritive origin for animals and man, may be related to the usually supposed `sprig of broom' meaning of the Plant(a/e)genet name and thereby represent a Divine origin to the species as a `hairy shoot' stemming from the mighty root representing an All-Ruling Deity.
Robert Grosseteste (ca.1175-1253) in England and others in Paris were taking increasing account of Aristotle's three souls, conflated with the generative power of the Platonic World Soul, when he wrote about man's vegetable soul, describing its powers of nutrition, augmentation and generation. It was a little later that St Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles (1259-64), challenged too close an adherence to Arabian doctrines, though he preserved the plant soul as a nutritive soul in humans in his Summa Theologica (ca.1273) relying more on direct translations of Aristotle from the Greek. Grosseteste was also much influenced by the traditional Christian statements of St Augustine (354-430), such as the soul of man bears witness to God's light yet itself is not that light. Transubstantiation remained an article of faith throughout, for example, the Church's condemnation of Determinism, associated with some aspects of Aristotelism and Averroism, in 1277 when rather more in Paris than Oxford were condemned as heretics.
In late medieval times, NeoPlatonic ideas were supplemented by the borderline-heretical ideas of Aristotle, which were rediscovered in the western world through translations of Arabic documents which had preserved Greek teachings, albeit with some Arabic accretions. The cosmology of Grosseteste (ca.1175-1253) broke away from Aristotle's tradition. Uniting the philosophy of heaven into a hierarchy with earth, Grosseteste held that each superior body passes its form, species, or virtue by light to the body that follows. Unlike his contemporary Phillip the Chancellor (ca.1160-1236) in Paris, he considered soul as a unity of vegetative, sensory, and intellective operations separated from ignoble flesh by mind as spiritual light (irradatio spirtualis) engendered by celestial light (lux suprema). Slightly differently, Phillip the Chancellor considered a plurality of forms of the soul, with the vegetative and the sensory intermediate of the rational soul and the flesh.
Grosseteste's follower, Roger Bacon (ca.1214-92), at Oxford and Paris, claimed that all English theologians and all philosophers taught the direct creation (by God) of the intellective soul only, though this was not quite in line with the teachings of Grosseteste. Bacon also claimed that the virtue of the father flowed with the seed [semen in Latin] into the mother, who was of sufficiently similar nature for its virtue to be retained and thereby pass to the progeny. Around the same time, an English work known as the Pseudo-Grosseteste Summa Philosophiae (ca.1265-75) discussed more fully the nutritive, augmentative and generative powers of man's vegetable soul.
Such philosophies evidently spread into fourteenth-century Middle English, in which there is reference to planted virtue, the planted Word of God (through St Augustine's light of creation and Grosseteste's lux suprema), and the planted grace of noble lineage. There is for example the quotation `(1340) Ayenb. 123/3: The holy gost .. bestrepth the zeue zennes uram the herte and plonteth (F plante) and norisseth zeue uirtues' relating planted virtues to the holy ghost.
Around 1230, the Orleans poem, the Roman de la Rose began its 300 years of influence, not least through the English court. The Roman de la Rose, was continued by Jean de Meun around 1275-80 who, for example, asserted for the fern plant:
Do we not see how those who are masters of glassblowing create from fern ... both ash and glass?Ash was associated with rebirth, specifically of the Phoenix. Glass could multiply images of whatever adorned the garden. This multiplication of images is set in the context of God's chambermaid, Nature, continuing always to hammer and forge to renew the species by new generation.
For Grosseteste, generation of corporeal things were described through the action of created light which transmits the form of each body to that which comes after it. In the above extract from the Rose poem, there is evident reference to generation in the medium of glass - this was described in particular in Roger Bacon's work on the multiplication of species, De Multiplicatione Specierum. In the above extract from the Rose poem, it appears that this multiplication, or generation of images, is associated with the generative operation in the vegetative soul of the fern.
This evidence is rather indirect but it suggests that, in the thirteenth century, there was an understanding of the generative power of the vegetable soul that extended beyond just a few scholastics.
Some clarification about the underlying philosophy of soul and faith can be sought, for the Plant name's main fourteenth-century homeland, to wit Cheshire, in the works of the local contemporary Pearl poet, around the times of the Black Death. Those times may be associated with more corpse-like images of `Green Man' heads (illustration below).
In ancient traditions near the main Plant homeland, the Welsh otherworld was called Anwyn and it was a land of peace and plenty with a cauldron of rebirth. Late medieval legends of the Holy Grail can be compared with Celtic belief in cauldrons of rebirth and plenty. Perhaps even more importantly, the Hebrew traditions preserved in the Bible were pervasive. Plenty (plente) and plants can be compared with the ancient traditions of the genealogical tree of Jesse, such that there was evidence not only for men as plants in God's vineyard [Isiah 15:1-5] but also for a tree of life. The Middle English meaning of plant could be a young tree as well as a young sprig or shoot and, as a metaphor, this had long been carried over to the branches of human descent. For example, for Old Testament times, there is an archaeological Canaanite carving of a female (divinity?) with a tree (of life?) carved on her belly. In the more recent twelfth century AD, there was a tree in a dream of William the Bastard's mother Harleve on the night of his conception - this was of a dreamt tree springing forth from her body to overshadow Normandy and England; the chronology was such that, according to the historian William of Malmesbury (ca.1095-ca.1143), this foretold the outcome of the Battle of Hastings, in 1066, at which William the Bastard became the first Norman king of England.
The fourteenth-century works of the local `Pearl' poet refer to..
As I shall expand on further below, such evidence reinforces a notion that an early context for the Plant surname related to the vegetative (green) vertues of nutritive generosity, abundant growth, and fertile generation.
- a heavenly court, life around London, and evidently particularly Cheshire - this may be compared with the contemporary disinheritance of the Warren `Plantagenet' affinity from the Earldom of Surrey and lands around Norfolk, and their settlement in east Cheshire;
- two crafts of soul and body, in keeping with Grosseteste's philosophy;
- the `filth of the flesh that horses have used', which might refer to a meaning of the Plantagenet name;
- the likening of pe(e)s (peas or peace) to a pearl - this can be compared with Grosseteste's Prince of Peace as well as Langland's virtuous pl(a/e)nte of pe(e)s;
- Mary's grace of grewe which can be compared with the translation God increase it of the name of Dieulacress Abbey at Leek in the main Plant homeland - this suggests meaning relating to the `augmentative' operation which is one of the vegetative operations in Grosseteste's philosophy of the unified soul, with the other two being the nutritive and the generative;
- `plant(t)ed' with the meaning `established'.
For such reasons, a summary sense to Plant can be taken to be:
- an (im)plant of God's Word, spirit, ethos, or virtue (at least by the late fourteenth century); or, seemingly rather earlier,
- an (im)plant(er) of the vegetative life-force or seed .
Similar concepts, relating to establishing life, are still in evidence by the seventeenth century with reference, in the main Plant homeland, to..
In the main Plant homeland, near the border of Prestbury parish with Leek, a seventeenth-century Wincle Chapel inscription evidently remains compatible with an earlier faith in receiving the lordly Word. Many had believed that the foetus was purely vegetative and sensory until it received intellective operations in the soul. Grosseteste maintained that Christ received God's light from the moment of holy conception though, for the Pearl poet, this was to be joined with Mary's grace of grewe.
In Wales, near the main Plant homeland, the literal meaning of plant is `children' and the Plant surname may refer to plenteous generated children - this would explain the abnormally large size of the main English Plant family whom the DNA evidence shows to share paternal descent from a single male ancestor. A Welsh influence may well also have reached around the coast to other early instances of the Plant name though, more generally, an early philosophy for a similar meaning relating to the word plant could have been prevalent throughout Western European church philosophy.
My lord, in whom evere yit be founde
Pite withoute spot of violence,
Kep thilke pes [peace or seed] alwei withinne bounde,
Which god hathe planted in thi conscience;
This clearly relates to virtues being planted by God into humans, specifically into the king. Less virtuously, Plantebene for example might have had a philandering allusion of implanting seed, Plantefene of doing so eagerly, Planterose of implanting [seed in] a symbol of the feminine [rose], and Plantefolie of doing so wickedly. In addressing the `Plantagenet' king, Gower could have been keen to promote a more virtuous sense of planting.
The poem Saint Erkenwald has been associated with the so-called `Pearl poet' or `Gawain poet' of the NW Midlands dialect district, who has been tentatively identified with the Rector of Stockport around the times of the c1340 marriage of Sir Edward de Warren into de Stockport lands in east Cheshire and south Lancashire. This can hence be associated with the times of the settlement here of the illegitimate Warren `Plantagenet' descent, along with the Plant surname, in east Cheshire.
Lines 346-7 of Saint Erkenwald suggest a belief in two crafts which may be described loosely as being of `transubstantiated body' and `planted soul':
For as soon as the soule was sesyd in blisse (i.e. heaven)
Corrupt was that othir crafte that couert the bones.
This was not without its controversies. For example, the Englishman William of Occam (ca.1295-1349) had been summoned to Avignon by the Pope to answer charges of heresy as to transubstantiation. Also, the Averroists, unlike Aquinas, had held that the soul was not immortal, a dispute stemming from an ambiguity in Aristotle who had held that the soul, or at least part of it, could not be separated from the body. Aristotle had been concerned to discredit a belief of Pythagoras, who had flourished around 532BC and who believed that souls could transmigrate between various living bodies. The transmigration of souls was a topic that had again been taken up, albeit with scepticism, in the thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose. Gerald of Wales (ca.1146-1223), who frequented the court of the early `Plantagenet' kings, evidently believed in transmigration and shape-shifting, whereby for example an earlier `Plantagenet' ancestor Melusine was said to have flown screaming out of a window as a bat upon being confronted with the body of Christ.
William Langland's poem, Piers Plowman can be associated with London and Shropshire, near the east Cheshire Plant homeland, around 1380, and it includes the lines:
Loue [love] is the louest thing that oure lord askith,
And ek [grows] the pl(a/e)nte of pes;
For treuth telleth that loue [love] is triacle [for] synne
And most souerayne salue [sovereign salve] for soule and for body.
Loue is [the] plonte of pees, most precious of vertues,
Here, the `plant of pees' can be translated as a generative implantation of peas (seed) or as the planted virtue of peace.
Some of Langland's late fourteenth-century musings can be related back to the early thirteenth-century writings of Robert Grosseteste. Like Langland, Grosseteste had referred to God's daughters Peace and Justice kissing on Judgement day, prior to the rule of the Prince of Peace (cf. Langland's virtuous plonte of pees). With his royal connections, Grosseteste related this to the children of a king. William Langland refers to the plontes of virtuous pees and Trewe-love which evidently relate carnality to a `sense of divinity' with a propre plonte blowing in privilege, bringing forth folke of alle nacion, and shored up by a trinity of the Power of God the father (Potencia-dei-patris), His Wisdom (Sapencia-dei-patris), and His `breath of life' (Spiritus Sanctus). Here, a `proper plant' is evidently held to be the `tree of life', shored up by a Christian Holy Trinity, bringing forth folk of all nations. Thus, a `proper plant' is portrayed as having a formative power, which had long been associated with the NeoPlatonic World Soul and which, little more than a century before Langland, Grosseteste had allocated, as a generative power, to man's vegetable soul.
A particular emphasis on another vegetative power - the augmentative - of Grosseteste's unified soul is suggested by the Pearl poet's reference to Mary's grace of grewe (lines 425-6 .. 429-31 of the poem Pearl):
We leuen [rise or gain Word] on Marye that grace of grewe,This refers to rising on Mary's grace of growth that bore a child from the vegetative (virgyn flour). It seems relevant that the rose flower was often associated with Mary, or more generally the female, and there are references to females acting as enclosed gardens for generation (or God's church). Mary is then likened to the Arabic (erstwhile Greek) rebirth of the Phoenix that flew from the ashes to gain courtly grace.
That ber a barne [child] of virgyn flour [flower].
We calle hyr Fenyx [Phoenix] of Arraby,
That fereles fleze [flies] of hyr Fasor [Creator]
Lyk to the quen of cortaysye [courtesy].
This suggests that not only scholastics such as Grosseteste, but also the wider community, believed in the augmentative power of the vegetative soul, not only for physical growth but also for spiritual or moral enrichment. Growth features in: the plonte of pees with its climbing vine; and, the climbing hedge rose (cf. the ascension of the Virgin Mary to heaven). Elevation towards higher authority features in the practise of chair lifting (raising young men and women on a chair on May Day) which is recorded for Prince Edward in the court of Henry III. Of the thirteenth-century princes, Edward (later King Edward I) bore the gold rose badge and his brother, Edmund, first Earl of Lancaster, bore the red rose. The same custom of chair lifting was subsequently long found in the main Plant homeland around Leek parish.
The English royal family could have been au fait with Grosseteste's augmentative power of man's vegetable soul, from its early times in the thirteenth century. By the late fourteenth century times of the main Plant homeland, Langland was familiar with a generative tree of life and the `Pearl poet' seemingly was familiar with an augmentative grace of grew. The first Plants seem most linked to a base generative `children' meaning of plant. Following a `label in bend', suggesting some form of early illegitimacy, the Plants have a red rose appended to their blazon, perhaps suggesting a subsequent allegiance to the augmented authority of the Lancastrians.
The initial inception of the Plante Genest nickname, in the twelfth century, can be related back to the ninth-century synonymous name Plantapilosa representing the generation of a hairy shoot from an All-Mighty Divine root by manner of the NeoPlatonic World Soul. Geffrey Plante Genest's notorious grandson, King John (b 1166, reigned 1199-1216), fought unsuccessfully with the French king based in Paris to retain Anjou. Around those times, the scholastic Phillip the Chancellor in Paris identified the vegetable soul as a base soul, whereas Robert Grosseteste in England held it to be unified with the highest aspects of man's soul.
For those times, it can be supposed that there was a term planta-geneat that, like the contemporary surname Plant, had its origins in a folk culture for a progligate authority fathering polygynous bastards. This supposed less-Divine association for the developing Plant(a/e)gene(a/s)t name could have seemed unfortunate, at least in the eyes of the secular and religious English aristocracy. Nonetheless, it might have been such a bawdy association that kept alive in England the Plante Genest nickname of a relatively unremarkable foreign Count: there could accordingly have been widespread gossip that the English royal family descended from an Angevin with a plantageneat (philandering horseman) nickname.
In subsequent centuries, it seems that more elevated associations came more widely to the fore, involving not only the digestive and generative aspects of Grosseteste's NeoAristotelian vegetable soul but also this soul's augmentative power. In this way, by the late fourteenth century, salacious generative senses were evidently being cleansed and there were more Godly references to planted virtue, planted grace of noble lineage and God's planted Word. Eventually, in the mid fifteenth century, Plantagenet became accepted as an official royal surname.
Bawdy associations with the Plante Genest nickname were by then seemingly lost: the thirteenth-century philandering name Plantefolie had evidently long disappeared. Furthermore, soon after the adoption of Plantagenet as the royal surname, medieval beliefs waned as England entered the more modern times of the Tudors. Plantagenet then progressed to become simply a convenient lexical label to refer to a foregone dynasty. An explanation for the name became simply that it had been fathered, much earlier in the twelfth century, by Count Geffrey `Plantagenet' of Anjou. Commonly the mistake was then (and still is) made that Plantagenet was the royal surname of the whole Angevin dynasty, though there is a gap of centuries when there is no contemporary evidence that they had any surname.
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