Thursday, 11 October 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Celia Imrie

Episode 8 of Series 9 of Who Do You Think You Are? featured the actress Celia Imrie. Her tale was one of political machinations dating back to the 17th century, and I was enthralled by it. I was, however, a little disappointed that she didn't research her Scottish roots, particularly the ancestry of her Glaswegian father.

The story instead focused on Celia's great x8 grandfather, William, Lord Russell. William was the son of the Earl of Bedford, and lived in some very turbulent times. He was a Whig politician who was tried and convicted of conspiring against King Charles II and his brother James. The charge of treason carried a sentence of death. It appeared as if the charges were false and were brought about for political reasons. William was a staunch advocate of constitutional liberty, and was also extremely pro-Protestant, and therefore anti-Catholic, in his views. 

William was inevitably found guilty, and was sentenced to a gruesome death involving being hanged and quartered. This was eventually commuted to a beheading, which was more merciful but still unjust. 

William's grandmother, Frances Howard, was also researched in this episode. She had been the subject of an arranged marriage at the age of only thirteen. The Howard family were hungry for power and political influence at the royal court of King James I. This marriage was annulled, however, when Frances reached adulthood, and she went on to marry Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.

This, again, was a political marriage, and led to charges of murder against Frances and her husband. Somerset's adviser, Sir Thomas Overbury, did not like Frances, and was making moves to reduce the power of the Howard family, and to gain more for himself. When he died of suspected poisoning the blame was laid at the door of the Somersets. They were found guilty of murder, locked in the Tower of London, and sentenced to execution. They were later pardoned and eventually released.

Celia Imrie's Who Do You Think You Are? story was a fascinating insight into the politics of 17th century England. The actions of Celia's ancestors have to be viewed in context, however it was a little surprising that she stated many times how proud she was of her ancestors, both of whom had been found guilty of crimes.

Celia Imrie's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

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