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Early `Plant like' names around SW France and Switzerland

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A Roman instance of the name

The first known example of 'Plant like' names in western Europe dates back to around 2000 years ago. Though he is found in the Alps, Julius Planta could have had links to almost anywhere in the Roman empire.

In 46AD, just 3 years after the Roman invasion of Britain, there is mention of Julius Planta in an edict of the Roman Emperor Claudius, granting citizenship to people living near modern Trento in the Italian Alps, which includes...

`I have for the matter under consideration sent Julius Planta, my friend and adviser. And since he has investigated and examined the matter with the utmost care, in consultation with my procurators, both those who were in the vicinity and those in other parts of the region, with regard to all other matters I grant him permission to make decision and render judgement ....'

It has been claimed [G.R.de Beer (1952) Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, p.8] that the modern Planta family, around its noble seat of Engadine in the Swiss Alps, descends from this nearby ancient Julius Planta, though it seems extremely controversial that the genetic link was intact throughout the millennium or more from 46AD to 1139AD.

DNA and other evidence for the name's genetic and cultural origins

Despite the evidence for Julius Planta two millennia ago, it is within the last millennium that widely-spread Plant(e)-like names appear to have arisen, apparently for unrelated men within a pan-European culture. For their earlier ancestral male lines, there is DNA evidence for an influx of male lines arriving from the east and expanding throughout Europe around five millennia ago.

The names Plante and Plant are found particularly in Aquitaine, in SW France, and in the NW Midlands of England. Some very distantly related people, sometimes rather misleadingly called "Celtic", are found towards the Atlantic coast of Europe and towards the west of Britain, such as in Wales which is to the west of the most populous region for the Plant name.

Though people living in England speak Germanic-based English in modern times, this should not be taken as indisputable evidence that none had Atlantic-bordering genetic origins from a region where Celtic tongues were previously to be found. Y-DNA evidence indicates that male migration can cross language boundaries and, for example, the relatively recent Norman invasion of England is well documented as a mixing of tongues. Strictly speaking, Celtic applies to a range of related languages found in Western Europe though these languages are now much diminished. Estimates vary, but the Celtic branch of Indo-European languages might have split around 5,000 years ago from Germanic tongues which evidently prevailed to the north east of the River Seine [Stephen Oppenheimer (2007) The Origins of the British]. Many of the known Plant name locations appear near the nexus of the Celtic and Germanic language regions though the male-line ancestors of the main Plant family seem earlier to have been in the vicinity of the Basques whose language is not even Indo-European.

DNA testing indicates that the migratory path of the male-line ancestors of the main English Plant family, and of very many other people, might have passed through central Europe from the east. The arrival of the broad family of Indo-European languages into western Europe might have occurred earlier, perhaps more in tandem with the arrival of the genetics of female lines, though the details remain controversial.

There has been some reason to speculate that much of the European population might have over-wintered around Iberia during the Last Glacial Maximum, during when Britain was depopulated by ice until around 10,000 years ago. However, others have questioned this, especialy in view of the evidence for a more recent influx of male lines from the east around 5,000 years ago. In general, it seems that this male-line influx was associated with relatively few men, whose male-line offspring then proliferated throughout Europe. Though some scholars have associated a conjectured migratory path of genetic traits, such as of relatively tall hunter gatherers, with the spread of Indo-European languages from the Near East, this is still a matter of on-going debate.

Leaving aside linguistic details, the DNA evidence shows that many men now living Western Europe descend down male lines from early men having the so-called R1b1a haplogroup. This mutation is found in the Y-chromosome and hence is carried only by men. It originated in a man who apparently lived around 15,000 years ago. Subsequently, his male-line descendants evidently spread westwards from a region somewhere to the east of the Black Sea. Such male-line descendants expanded greatly throughout Western Europe, it seems, especially in an era from around four to two thousand years ago [Nature Communications paper, May 2015]. While the male-line descendants of other men from that time have died out, the founding R1b1a man has eventually fathered around half of all western European men now living - it seems this was through his descendants who interbred with a generally earlier stock of European females.

After coming from the general region of the Levant, the male-line R1b1 ancestors of the main English Plant family, in one view, reached the Black Sea perhaps around 9,000 years ago where this ancestry has been associated by some with the later Maykop culture (around 5,700 to 4,500 years ago) of advanced Neolithic farmers and herders who were amongst the very first to develop metalworking and hence metal weapons. It is then imagined that a male-line descent from these R1b1a men migrated, around 4,500 to 4,300 years ago (i.e. ca.2400 BCE), largely up the river Danube through central Europe into Western Europe becoming R1b1a2a, then adding the so-called R1b-L23 mutation followed by L51 and L11 leading on to the first R1b-P312 man's presence in central Europe perhaps around 4,300 years ago.

R1b Migration through Europe

The genetic Y-SNP mutation called R1b-P312 is sometimes denoted R1b-S116 instead. This subgroup of men reached towards Europe's Atlantic coast. Then, one of them acquired a further mutation R1b-L21 that gave rise to a sub-branch of many male descendants who are now found mostly towards the north (including Britain) in the most westerly regions of Europe though also spreading down to south west France. A different sub-branch R1b-DF27, on the other hand, is found mostly towards the south (notably around the Pyrennees) though it appears it could also have spread early towards northern France. It seems that this R1b-DF27 clade could have formed around 4,400 years ago reaching the Pyrenees a couple of hundred years later. Though R1b-DF27 men are now prevalent in Iberia, early men with this mutation might not have entered that region and reached its south west (i.e. Portugal) until around 3,800 to 3,300 years ago [Martiniano et al (2017) The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia, PLOS Genetics].

The development of a population of R1b-DF27 men can be considered alongside the development of Bronze Age cultures. The British Bronze Age, for example, is dated to around 4,100 to 2,750 years ago and, in particular, Cornwall and Devon were major sources of tin for much of western Europe. Tin and copper are alloyed to form bronze. A wider so-called Atlantic Bronze Age, dated to around 3,300 to 2,700 years ago, saw economic and cultural exchanges between different cultures in Portugal, Andalusia, Galicia and the British Isles. This era saw a number of distinct regional centres of metal production along the Atlantic seaboard unified by regular maritime exchange of tin in particular reinforcing an earlier trading age of copper products.

Living Distribution of R-DF27

As many as 70% of Basque men, near the Pyrennes, have the R1b-DF27 haplogroup (cf. R1b-DF27 map above). Perhaps no more than a couple of generations after the R1b-DF27 mutation first occurred around 4,400 years ago, the male ancestral line leading on to the main Plant family acquired a further mutation. This was R1b-Z2552, which is evidently now associated strongly with Iberia. For the Plant line, this was followed by further mutations in some unknown order: [L617, FGC14934, FGC14935, FGC14937, FGC14966, FGC31063, FGC31066], summarised by the R1b-L617 mutation, which applies to just a small fraction of the DF27 men, though it is found relatively often in ethnic Basque men for whom it accounts for 1.7% of their population.

The R1b-L617 mutation is now found for both Basque men and, to a lesser extent, Lithuanians for example. This takes in a wide north-south spread around the Atlantic and Baltic coasts of Western Europe. With this large north-south spread, it is not entirely clear where the whole block of mutations associated with L617 first formed, perhaps near Iberia or somewhere perhaps further to the north, such as in western France for example. Thereafter, the Plants' male ancestral line had another mutation R1b-FGC14951, variously estimated as occuring around 3,600 to 3,300 ybp (years before present), bringing it into the times of the British Bronze Age (ca.4100-2750 ybp) and towards the times of the wider Atlantic Bronze Age (ca.3,300-2,700 ybp) – the latter times are associated with more complex trade networks including along Europe's Atlantic coast. This FGC14951 mutation evidently occurred near the English Channel and then had branches in England and seemingly also in western Scotland with its links to north east Ireland, as judged by surname evidence for the past 800 years.

Male line descending to Main Plant family

A further set of mutations are shared by the main Plant family and some of the many men called Gibson. This is summarised by the mutation Y17800 [and more fully includes Y17800, Y17804, Y17812, Y17814]. This perhaps occurred sometime roughly around 3,000 years ago, well within the Bronze Age, with the results for FGC14951 and Y17800 suggesting for these surnames an emphasis on Britain, though the results are limited and suffer from a bias due to bans on genetic genealogy in France. Indeed, so far for Y17800, it has yet been found only for the main Plant family and just a few of the many men called Gibson – this latter surname is found in England and especially across the sea link from the western Isles of Scotland to the north-east Ulster region of Ireland.

In summary, the pre-surname male-line ancestors of the main English Plant family descended from a branch R1b-L617 that is now found up and down the Atlantic and Baltic coasts of Europe. The sub-group FGC14951 has been found so far mostly in the UK but that can be expected to be partly because far fewer men have yet taken a Y-DNA test in France. In view of the general lack of French data, the main family of Plant men might have arrived in England any time between around 3,500 and 800 years ago. Indeed, there might have been much movement to and fro with trade between mainland Europe and Britain.

The migration to England of the male line of the main Plant family could have been as early as the Bronze Age which started around 4,000 years ago in Britain, though apparently starting later in Iberia as judged by evidently just some imported items such as bronze daggers to supplement archealogical finds of copper ornaments in Portugal. This trade could have been associated with the Cornish tin trade, for example, with relevant ancestors perhaps sailing up and down the Atlantic coast in connection with trading tin or items made of bronze. There is particularly some evidence of R1b-FGC14951 men with surnames associated with Cornwall, which can be associated with tin and bronze trading, with archaeology suppoting its passage, for example, through the vicinity of St Michael's Mount on the south coast of Cornwall.

Alternatively, instead of a Bronze Age arrival, it is possible that R1b-FGC14951 men arrived severally and separately into England from around the English Channel. Accordingly, perhaps the main Plant line might not have arrived until as late as the 14th century AD when, for example, the Black Prince held the Atlantic coast lordships of both Gascony (near Iberia) and Cheshire (adjoining the main English Plant homeland). As another possible example of a FGC14159 arrival in late medieval times, the earls of Chester provided a strong and persistent link between westen Normandy and the region of England that is subsequently known to have become the most pouplous place for Plants – this feudal link might have been a conduit for a naming fashion, if not Plant men themselves. These Chester earls had their origins in the 1066 Norman conquest of England and they retained links with western Normandy where there is evidence of the name Plante in 1180. This suggests that the Plant name could have arrived from Normandy to England though it is in particular unsure that Durand Plante in Normandy in 1180 was specifically a forefather of the subsequent main Plant family itself, found especially along the western flanges of Staffordshire, or rather just an example of a spreading fashion for the Plant name.

According to the detailed Y-DNA evidence, the main family of men bearing the Plant surname started to diverge into their separate family lines around 700 years ago. This is broadly in agreement with the documentary evidence for the first known records of the Plant name in England.

In modern times, besides the main Plant family, there are others in Europe bordering the Atlantic with a Plant(e)-like surname. There are:

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Possible linguistic influences on the name's meaning

Linguistic influences on the English Plant and French Plante surnames may have come not only from Old English and Ancient French but also for example from Welsh, Latin and old Aquitanian.

The Romans left Britain in 410AD; and in 491 Frisian tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) brought the Germanic basis of Old English to Britain, though more recently some have conjectured that Germanic languages might have existed in SE England much earlier. Though important for the English language as a whole, this might not represent the main influence for Plant-like names. It is conjectured that most people in Britain at the time had been speaking Celtic. Though only about 20 Celtic words survived into English and only about 200 Roman words were found in the first 150 years of Anglo-Saxon English, one of these was planta. A similar word is found in Old High German, Old Norse, and French for example. Also, there was evidently an early interaction between the Latin word planta and the phonetically similar (Celtic) word clanda (meaning `family'). P-celtic languages such as Welsh are generally distinguished from Q-celtic languages such as Gaelic (where P is pronounced as Q or C). Within such a context, the Welsh word plant, meaning `children', and the Gaelic word `clan', can be considered to be linguistic assimilations with the word planta which had a Latin meaning `shoot' or `offshoot'.

In the medieval Age of Faith, when the Plant surname formed, the word plant was associated mainly with God's and man's `planted life', consistent with the meaning `offspring' or `children' or `family' whereas, in the more scientific age of modern English, the word is associated mostly with `a herb' as a more specific category of `planted life'. The commonly supposed meaning `gardener' of the Plant surname, which predates this change, ignores this very different semantic context in late medieval philosophy.

Old Aquitanian is considered to be the same as old Basque. For example, Aquitanian gods' names in Roman times match with Basque plant and animal names. This may be related to primitive beliefs in man's origins from the land or deities. Such ideas can include ones of regenerations from offshoots as offspring. It may be noted that such concepts span most of the so-called Great Chain of Being and reach right from the humble flora through the Welsh meaning `children' of plant to the use of the names of plants for Aquitanian gods. Medieval beliefs in `shape shifting' and the transmigration of souls also span a wide range of the species as do, around the times when surnames were forming, scholastic accounts of man's `vegetable soul'. In late medieval scholasticism, which incorporated pagan (largely Greek) philosophy into Christian beliefs, children were considered to be solely vegetative until they received an intellective component of soul from God.

In modern Basque, the word planta means `appearance' or `feigning'. Though the detail of interactions between the Latin and Basque meanings of planta is uncertain, it can be imagined that the French surnames Plante, Planty and Plantie involved a notion of the 'feigning' of individuals from one to another. To this limited extent, there is some conceptual overlap of `feigning' with the meaning `to reproduce' of the Welsh word planta and the associated meaning `children' of plant.

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Early history of some similar names and a critique of a popular myth

Maps: (a) Carolingian Empire 741-814, and (b) Fuedal France 1030-1270.

Around 870AD, towards the end of the reign of Charles le Chauve (b 823, reigned 840-77) of West Francia, a new Duchy of Aquitaine was begun in SW France with count Bernard Planta-pilosa (or Planta Pilus in Latin or Plantevelue in French), who had exerted his authority first on l'Auvergne and le Velay (869-872AD).

[Aquitaine circa 768 is included in map (a) below and Auvergne circa 1223 is included in map (b)].

(a)Carolingian Empire 741-814  (b) Feudal France 1030-1270
     After the Historical Atlas of the Medieval World, (Penguin Books, 2005), pages 27 and 45.
Map (a) shows the expansion of the Frankish Kingdom under Pepin III (reigned 741-68) to take in Aquitaine and Alemannia. Considerable further expansian, including Brittany, Spanish March, Saxony and the Lombard Kingdom, as shown on the map, was achieved by Charlemagne (reigned 768-814).

Map (b) shows the royal demense of France (ca.1030) expanding south of Paris to take in the Gatinais for example by 1173; and then, for example Anjou, Touraine and Auvergne by 1223; and also, the south of Toulouse, including Carcassonne and Nimes, by 1270. The purple boundary shows that the Angevin Empire of Henry II, the first Plantagenet king of England, took in most of Western France in 1154; but, this was much reduced to a region around Gascony by 1259 as shown by the brown boundary.

The name Plantapilosa in old Aquitanian might have meant 'hairy appearance' though, when Latinized, it can be related to a broom shoot, which is hairy, as well as perhaps much earlier relating to an old Aquitanian deity. This may have led on to the Plantagenet nickname, meaning sprig of broom, along with some associated concepts of the `vegetabilis soul', as I have outlined in: John S. Plant (2007), The tardy adoption of the Plantagenet surname, Nomina, Vol. 30, pp. 57-84. There is also the name Plantapeluda, also meaning 'hairy shoot', in Dorset, England ca.1180 in connection with Monteburgh abbey in western Normandy where there was also the name Durand Plante ca.1180, on the Cotentin peninsular projecting northwards as shown to the east of Brittany in NW France in Map (a). This predated the encorporation of Aristotelian beliefs into Christianity, as was pioneered by the thirteenth-century and later schoalstics.

However, still in the fourteenth century and until later, Platonic ideas remained to the fore. Still by 1308, this can be illustrated by the choir stalls of Winchester Cathedral [illustration below]. This Cathedral was at the one-time capital of England, near the Channel crossing from the Cotentin peninsular in western Normandy to the counties of Dorset and Hampshire on England's south coast. The Winchester Cathedral choir stalls were accordingly in the land of an earlier linkage of the name Plantepeluda between England and Normandy, alongside the name of Durand Plante.

(a)Green Men in Winchester Cathedral  (b)Green Men in Winchester Cathedral
      Winchester Cathedral Green Men, ca.1380

The above depictions of so-called Green Men in the ca.1380 choir stalls can be compared with the following extracts from Plato's Timaeus, respectively verses 77a,b and 90a. Such ideas still held relevance to the NeoPlatonic Christianity of those times: (a) [the Gods] engendered a substance akin to that of man, so as to form another living creature; such are the trees and plants and seeds which have been trained by husbandry and are now domesticated amongst us; but formerly the wild kinds only existed, these being older that the cultivated kinds; and, for (b) insomuch as we are a plant not of an earthly but a heavenly growth, the sovereign part of the human soul raises from the earth to our kindred who art in heaven.

A modern myth

Less credibly, according to `The Da Vinci Code' of popular fiction and the pseudo-history of `The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail', the name Plantard is supposed to date back to Merovingian times. This has been dubbed The Plantard Subplot which includes:

In particular, the associated `so-called Razes genealogy' includes the `Plantagenet like' names...

Merovingians
The Merovingian Dynasty 450-751AD

To put the record straight:

There is evidence:

The debunked Razes genealogy claims that a blood line Planta in England descended from the Plantards. However, I know of no accredited evidence for that. In the context of the true evidence, there are various possibilities by which `Plant like' names could have arrived in England, such as..

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Plant-like names around Western Europe and the possible influences of a popular culture

It seems possible that a popular culture may have led to `Plant like' names around Western Europe, though this requires some understanding of early beliefs.

It is possible to make various conjectures about the meanings of Plant-like names. For example, in Breton, ard means art or craft and plantan can mean to implant, such that a possible sense to Plantard is an `implant(er) of skill or divine magic'. The name Plantamour might be related through the `rose of heavenly love' to a `courtly love' sense for the name Planterose. The latter name may have held sense as an `implant(er) of heavenly love and healing' since the healing powers of the rose were believed to be many. Alternatively, Planterose may have related to the old French Planterosse with a `horse borne establisher' sense similar to that of Plantagenet.

The name of the Plantagenets however is more usually said to relate to their emblem, the sprig of broom. The sprig of broom is hairy and it can hence be related to a virile hair sense to Plantevelue. Such a connection seems less extraordinary when it is noted (a) that hair (and bone and nail) was said, in the philosophy of Scotus Erigena (a contemporary of Bernard Plantevelue), to contain only insensitive `vegetative life'; (b) the Merovingians were reknown for their cult of long hair; and, (c) in the Middle English herbal Agnus Castus, broom is ascribed the vertue of knitting together broken bones and sinews. Powers of healing broken bones could have been important to Plantevelue and the Plantagenets.

More particularly, a Latinized meaning of Plantevelue was `hairy shoot' and the sprig of broom is an instance of a hairy shoot. Names of philandering were popular at the time of Geffrey Plante Genest, who was the forefather of the Plantagenet surname.

The Y-line DNA Testing programme of the Plant Family History Group may shed further light on such possibilities. So far, the DNA results indicate that the English Plant family is from different male-line stock than the French-Canadian Plante family.

Subject to further findings, the possibility has been considered (Journal Number 27) that many Plant-like names are unrelated except that they arose from similar late medieval cultures, spread across Western Europe, involving Greek and Celtic traditions modified by Christian teachings, interacting with the Latin word planta. The Latin word planta implies life's foundations as `sole of foot' or `shoot for propagation' and, in (Celtic) Welsh, planta becomes `to beget children' and plant becomes `children'. This can be related to pre-scientific beliefs in mythic origins from the land as well as from blood ties.

Since the times of the Egyptian deity Osiris circa 2400BC there had been a long tradition of vegetation, fertility, and the soul and, even by the 17th century, the English poet John Milton described death as returning to earth and our mother's lap. In Welsh myth, Math could not live unless he kept his feet in the lap of a virgin and, with Gwidion, he created Blodeuedd from blossoms of oak, broom, and meadowsweet. There is various evidence of pre-scientific belief for life's origins that involved a mixing of concepts of the vegetable or vegetative soul (from the land) and intellective life from the Lord's Word (and from blood ties).

Plantevelue can mean `hairy foot' as well as `hairy shoot for propagation'. Both meanings can be related to contemporary beliefs about life's origins and to Pseudo-Dionysius writings on the All-Ruling Deity as the mighty root of creation springing forth various plants.

The Bible represents the foundations of God's kingdom as the smashed feet of clay of Babylon's third kingdom producing the miry clay at the foot of a mountain for the propagation of men's seeds (Daniel 2:31-44). It also represents men as the plants in God's vineyard (Isiah 5:7) and as the branches of Jesus as the vine with God as the husbandman (John 15:1-5). The rose is substituted for virgin birth in Middle English (cf. augmentation of the flesh) and peas for Jesus as the Prince of Pees (cf. the integrating vine of peas or peace). The 14th century Middle English poet William Langland states that `Love is the plant of pees' indicating a metaphorical grounding of man's or God's love not only on the planting of pea seeds but also on the integrating vine.

Though some Plant-like names may have related to a religious work ethic, there is sense as `scions of the holy vine' or `souls of God' for such names as Plantevine, Plantevin, Plantebene, Plantefeve, Planterose, and Plantamour. The vegetable soul of augmentation or porrection can explain the national emblems of England (rose) and Wales (leeks). In Switzerland, there are various Plant-like names including Plantaporrets (dialect for leeks), Plantefoi and Plantfor, and there is the noble Planta/Von Planta family. In `Plantagenet' England, Plantebene or Plantefolie can mean a `hallowed offshoot or child' or a `child of (contrition of) sin' and, rather similarly in Switzerland, Plantefoi or Plantfor can mean a `planted place or child of faith or testimony' or a `child of tribunal or conscience'.

Across medieval Europe the vegetable soul carried powers of nutrition, augmentation and generation. Meanings based on the sole of God's kingdom, or the soul of augmentation or porrection, or the soul of love or generation of children can explain such names as Planta, Planterose, Plantaporrets, Plantamour, and Plant.

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A possible genetic link between Aquitaine and the main English Plant homeland

So far, the DNA evidence suggests that the male-line ancestors of the main English Plant family may have found their way broadly from the general region around Aquitaine to east Cheshire in England between 3000 to 700 years ago. There is evidence in 1301 for a Richard Plant in Flintshire, on the western border of Cheshire, and it is further known that the English Plant family was well established in Macclesfied Hundred of east Cheshire by the 1360s. As DNA techniques advance, it may well become possible to check out further such a possible connection of these Plants back to ancestors around Aquitaine. The following summary by Prof Richard E Plant outlines one possible historical context for such a connection.

Gascony, also known as Aquitaine, was brought into the realm of the English royal family through the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II in 1152. It remained in the possession of the English until 1453, and during the early part of this period the Gascons were, for the most part, loyal allies of the Anglo-Norman kings. Gascon soldiers were famous as crossbowmen. A contemporary chronicler said that they fought `like lions', and one modern author calls them `the Gurkhas of the later Middle Ages'. They were mercenaries, and were paid about 3d per day for their services. They were employed in the Welsh wars on several occasions by both Henry III and Edward I, but their most prominent action came in 1282-1283 under Edward I. At that time, according to payroll records, a total of 210 mounted soldiers and 1,313 foot soldiers were recruited. They suffered very heavy casualties in the battles. Because of the high cost of paying them, most only stayed for a period of three months and then returned home. They were sent to Wales by way of Chester, and as with soldiers everywhere, it is possible that one of them had a chance liaison with a local girl that resulted in a male child. It is also possible that some of them stayed in the area and eventually settled there.

To fill out the context, immediately after the battles, Edward I set about building a collection of castles, with the intent that these would protect a surrounding collection of settlers. These protected towns were called `bastides'. The first was built in Flint, which is only about 15 miles from Chester (although it is 50 miles from Macclesfield). The guards of these castles were crossbowmen. When the bastides were opened for settlement, some of the settlers were soldiers, some of whom could have been Gascons. Shortly after this period, Cheshire itself was opened for settlement, and indeed people from other counties who were considered outlaws in those counties could settle in Cheshire and escape prosecution. There is some evidence that some of the Gascons deserted and, though probably a minority, it is possible some might have made their way to settle in Cheshire. More generally, there could have been a Gascon influence in Cheshire around the times when the Plant name formed.

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The possible transmission of a culture through the illegitimate descendants of Plante Genest

A possible line of influence can be traced through the names Plantevelue and Plante Genest starting in Aquitaine in France, leading on to a perhaps influential cultural context for the formation of the Plant surname in England.

Troubadour

After Bernard Plantevelue's 9th century founding of the Duchy of Aquitaine, it passed to William I of Poitiers in 951 and, by 1086-1126, to the troubadour (illustration alongside) grandfather of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The love poetry of William IX, duke of Aquitaine (1086-1126) was blasphemous, erotic, amoral and sensitive as in: "To refresh my heart in her/ To renew my flesh in her/ So that I shall never grow old". His granddaughter, Eleanor, married Geffrey Plante Genest's son, King Henry II of England, and their sons, including Richard I and King John, continued the troubadour tradition of `courtly love'.

The name Plantevelue means `hairy shoot' and the nickname Plante Genest means `sprig of broom' which is an instance of a hairy shoot. This can be set in the troubadour context of `renewal' by the shoot of a fresh family tree. Even by the times of Desiderius Erasmus (d 1536) `renewal' was still associated with the word plante (meaning `shoot'): "By this polecye nature hath prouided in our chylderne and neuewes we may be renewed and florysh fresh agayne ... she thus maketh one thynge to yssue out of an other (lyke as a yonge plante which is cut off, from ye tree springeth freshly vp)".

Geoffrey Plante Genest, count of Anjou and Maine was the father of King Henry II of England and, amongst others, Hamelyn, Warren earl of Surrey (London) - it is near Hamelyn's de Warenne descendants that the subsequent English Plant surname is mainly found. In 1200, King John married Isabella of Angouleme in Aquitaine who subsequently married Hugh de Lusignan, the most prominent baron of Aquitaine. In 1247, John de Warenne married Alice Lusignan (de Brien) and English resentments of favouritism towards the `foreign' Lusignans led on to the Baron's revolt in England, leading to the capture of King Henry III at Lewes (1264), though the king was freed by John de Warenne at Evesham (1265).

There is evidence the name Plante Genest (hence Plantagenet) was used for Geffrey by the 1160s; but, evidence for subsequent use of the name is weak until the mid 15th century. A rare early explicit mention is in the Close Rolls (1266): this refers to Galfrido Plauntegenet, serjent at arms, Wodestock, with garderode duties to the king. Also at Woodstock, with duties to the royal palace, there is the first evidence for the spelling Plente which is found in 1219 just after the times of Henry II's son, the lecherous King John; and this spelling can be associated with the meaning `abundance' or `fertile'.

The name spelling Plante occurs in England by 1262. In modern France, this spelling is clustered around Aquitaine. Though `Plant like' names may have arrived in England earlier (possibility 1), an Aquitainian influence could relate to possibilities of such names arriving in the times of the Angevin Empire (possibilities 2 and 3 above) with its three blocks: Anglo-Norman; Angevin; and Aquitainian. One can suppose an influence on the formation of the Plant surname in England from Geffrey Plante Genest's nickname, which fathered the subsequent royal surname, Plantagenet, as well as more immediately perhaps influencing the formation of such names as Plant.

The Plant surname is found in close proximity to various de Warenne lands around England until the mid 14th century; this is when the Plants are found settled in their principal homeland of east Cheshire which is also where the disinherited de Warenne family settled. Early Plants were also found near the lands of William Longspée (Long Sword) who was (like the de Warennes) an illegitimate descendant of Geffrey Plante Genest. It seems that there could have been an influence from the Plante Genest nickname on the English Plant surname, though this may have just been through the popularity around Longspée and de Warenne lands of the Plante Genest metaphor of a `growing shoot' for renewing life's origins.

The possibility of a Welsh influence on the formation of the Plant surname can also be considered: there was an early Welsh influence on the de Warennes through a 1225 marriage to Maud (Matilda) Marshall of Pembroke who had earlier married a half-brother of Longspée; and the subsequent homeland of the de Warennes, along with that of the Plants, was near Wales. In Welsh, plant means children and, in Old Irish, cland means family: both cland and plant are said to come from early adoptions of the Latin word planta. Phonetically similar words in modern English are clan and plant, though we now use other words for life's foundations: land; sole; sprig; scion; and child. Sprig and scion have both human and vegetable meanings, which is appropriate to a medieval view of life's origins as shoots from the land (man's vegetable soul) as well as offshoots from the Lord in His kingdom (intellective soul). Man's vegetable soul can be traced back to primitive beliefs about human life's emergence from the land.

In particular a culture of a `hairy shoot' tradition may have been transmitted by the Longspée and de Warenne descendants of Geffrey Plante Genest to the context of the formative Plant surname. More widely, such influence may have been ameliorated by more godly meanings such as through a mid-thirteenth-century Savoyard influence in England - for example, the Queen's uncle Peter of Savoy was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anglo-GasconSavoyard
Plantebene - pleasant shoot   _:_  
Plantefene - eager shoot   _:_  Plantefoi - planted faith
Plantefolie - wickedness shoot   _:_  Plantamour - planted love
Planterose - risen shoot   _:_  Plantefor - planted conscience

By the time that Plantagenet is known to have become an hereditary royal surname in the mid-fifteenth century, a more developed scholastic (godly) sense may have come to more the fore. In the intervening period, the English Plant surname (with possible spellings Plente or Plonte or Plaunt) may have held a Welsh-like `offspring' meaning that was compatible with the `growing shoot of renewal' sense of the influential nickname Plante Genest and the `fertile' or `abundant' sense of plente.

Initial meanings for English surnames are usually considered thinking backwards from modern times. However, in the case of the Plant surname, there were powerful earlier forces that could have influenced the word's meaning such that more modern concepts may have only later come more to the fore. Early possibilities of influence can be tied in with simple ideas for the formation of English surnames whereby the Plant name can be thought to be `locative' and mean from the fertile or planted place. In the medieval context, this can be associated with the generation of young animals, for example, though such sense can be considered to have subsequently led on to meanings such as an `industrial plant' meaning a place where products are generated.

The DNA and Aquitanian evidence is in keeping with the Welsh. An initial meaning associated with Plant was very likely `feignings' or `offspring' and the DNA evidence shows that the Plants comprised an abnormally large number of `children' of, at least mostly, a single family. But whose? Alternatively, the surname may have been initially ascribed to denote the first Plants were so named because they lived near a fertile or planted place.

That the first Plants had a cultural connection to the Plante Genest nickname is at least better evidenced than the modern myth of their blood-link to Plantard. Despite nineteenth-century claims, their connection to Plantagenet was more likely cultural than genetic; and, it is relevant to consider Plantagenet-related concepts about the vegetative soul.

See also: Towards a better understanding of the Plant and Plantagenet surnames.

Origins of Plant NameOrigins of Plant Name