Thursday, April 30, 2015

Baron Muncaster Bloodline Male Pennington Likely Found

Baron Muncaster Bloodline Male Pennington Likely Found
by Guye Pennington
Research and editorial assistance by Dr. Nick Penington
I think many of us in the Pennington Research Association, including myself, have publicly or privately hoped that we were cadet branches of the historic Group 27 line of Penningtons, which is the line of the Barons Muncaster. The Penningtons of Muncaster own the magnificent Muncaster Castle, where I and my family were delighted to visit in 2012, and they have genealogical records dating to the 12th century (and maybe the 11th century, depending on what source you consider). From a genealogical standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than that. Group 27 Penningtons have a fascinating history and a deep connection to Ravenglass in modern Cumbria (northwestern England by the Scottish border).
But my hopes (and probably the hopes of others) were probably dashed when we recently found what we believe to be legitimate Group 27 male bloodline heirs. The DNA of two males, both of whom had possible but unproven links to the Group 27 line, matched each other at a high degree. This means that while each individual story of linkage to Group 27 was previously possible, the strong DNA linkage between them makes it far more likely that both links to Penningtons are genuine. Therefore, the most probable outcome is that these gentlemen are genuine Group 27 descendants in the male line. It is very exciting to have likely solved a Pennington mystery that has existed since 1917 when The Right Hon. Josslyn Francis Pennington, 5th Baron Muncaster, 9th Baronet, died without an heir. Namely, the mystery has been, does a Group 27 male-line descendant still exist?
Let’s start with the science. Our current understanding of DNA makes two types of genetic testing possible for a very reasonable cost. The first is pure patrilineal testing, which is strictly father-to-son testing since the Y-chromosome for men mutates very slowly over time. This allows familial connections to be found over long periods of time. The Pennington Research Association uses Y-chromosome testing for its family DNA study. A second type of genetic testing, which is pure matrilineal testing (that is, pure mother-to-daughter until the last generation being tested, which could be male or female) is also widely available, but it has less utility to us in the Pennington Research Association’s DNA study since it is the surname of Pennington that unites us. So we use pure patrilineal testing to find out if various Pennington males are related, and these connections have been outlined in previous articles by our DNA Chair, Dr. Nick Penington.
In late 2014, Dr. Penington observed that there appeared to be a high level of linkage between two gentlemen in our study, Eric Mulcaster and Charles Heard. Coincidentally, both live in the province of Ontario in Canada. This initial match was made using a lower-marker DNA test, which is less expensive but also less accurate. Because the initial match was strong, and both gentleman had possible links to Group 27, Dr. Penington and I agreed that it was prudent to pay to upgrade the test to a higher level, thereby creating a much greater level of accuracy. Therefore, Eric Mulcaster upgraded to a 67-marker test, and I financed a 37-marker test for Charles Heard. This meant that results could be collectively compared at the 37-marker level.
When the results came back, the gentlemen shared 35 of 37 DNA markers, which is a high correlation rate. This correlation is strong enough to assert with confidence that both share a common male patrilineal ancestor. It is highly probable (95% according to Family Tree operational formulas[i]) that this common male ancestor lived within 14 generations back. If we presume 25 years for a generation plus 40 years for current lives of Messrs. Mulcaster and Heard with an additional 25 years to account for the common ancestor to be old enough to father children, we have a common ancestor between the two born roughly 415 years ago. This is simply (25 x 14) + 40 + 25 = 415. Thus, presuming normal mutation rates, we have a 95% confidence level that the common male ancestor between them was born at the earliest of 1600. But these things are not an exact science. As much as we’d like there to be, there are no explicit indicators of the timing of when a mutation occurs. Some families may have mutation rates faster than average; other families may have slower rates. It is entirely possible for there to be just two mutations over a span of 800 years as we will propose shortly. But the important thing, for our purposes, is that Messrs. Heard and Mulcaster share common patrilineal DNA. So, somewhere in the last 1,000 years or so, these individuals almost certainly shared a common male ancestor.
Now that we’ve explored the scientific reason why the DNA demonstrates a close linkage, let’s examine the family origin stories and how both tie to Group 27 and Muncaster Castle. There is only one family, to my knowledge, that has constant linkage with the land that is currently known as Muncaster Castle. This is the Group 27 Pennington family.
The Mulcaster family’s internal origin story[ii] surmises that Benedict de Pennington, the son of Gamel de Pennington (the founder of the Group 27 line), had a son named David in the latter 1100s or the early 1200s. David took the surname of the family estate, Mulcaster, as it was known then. In so doing, the Mulcaster family became established.
This David de Mulcaster is not noted in the pedigree book of the Group 27 family, which was published in 1878 by the 5th Baron Muncaster in London.[iii] Within this pedigree, the only noted child of the above Benedict was Alan de Pennington (Penitone), who succeeded to his father’s wealth. But this does not mean that David did not actually exist. Surnames were not yet fully customary and fixed in England during this time[iv], so Alan de Penitone/Pennington having a surname that was different from David de Mulcaster is entirely feasible. David could have been a full younger brother who inherited little (thereby not worth recording in the Group 27 pedigree) or he could have been an illegitimate child of Benedict. We just don’t know.
But we have some interesting ancillary information. First, I can find no town named Mulcaster in either modern or historical England. There are Mulcaster Avenues in Kidlington and Swindon[v], but these are modern inventions and likely not candidates for the creation of a surname. Thus, I’m inclined to believe that Group 27’s original territorial name of Mulcaster (other spelling variants are Mulcastre, Mulecastre, Meolcastre, and the like) Castle is the origin for the Mulcaster family since there is no known alternative. Further, the Mulcaster and Group 27 Pennington families had some direct interaction with each other. Based on timing, the below Robert de Mulcaster was likely the son or grandson of David de Mulcaster. Consider the following quote[vi]:
“In 1278, there was a plea of Alan de Pennington versus Robert de Mulcaster, regarding the manor of Mulcaster, Alan alleged an agreement between himself and Robert, to the effect that Robert should deliver to Alan the manor of Giffen in Cunningham, Ayrshire, and also deliver to him a certain charter, by which an ancestor of Alan [Benedict de Pennington] {In the translation here quoted, this name is inserted in square brackets.} whose heir he was, became enfeoffed of the same manor, and that Alan should thereupon enfeoff Robert son of Robert or John son of Robert of ten marks of land in Giffen. Alan further alleged that, in consideration of the premises, he had granted all his lands in Copeland to Robert for life and Robert had agreed that Alan's son and heir, William, should marry Alice, daughter of Benedict and heir of Robert de Mulcaster. (Cal. Doc. Scot., ii, P. 29; and see Wilson, St. Bees Register, p. 241 n.)”
The 5th Baron Muncaster’s Pedigree (previously mentioned) also lists that William was the son and heir of the above Alan, but it does not list who William’s wife was. But we have no reason to believe that it wasn’t ultimately Alice as contracted to above. While an arranged marriage between distant cousins (William and Alice) may seem odd to us today, it was not uncommon in a historical sense. Intermarriage within families was a mechanism to preserve wealth.
The Heard family origin story is more recent in nature. Our Heard DNA contributor, Charles Heard, is the great-grandson of Robert Heard, who was born in the British county of Cumbria in 1795. Within the family, Robert Heard is said to be the illegitimate son of Lowther Pennington[vii], 2nd Baron Muncaster, 6th Baronet and a maid with a surname of Heard (or Hurd) at Muncaster Castle. At the time of his birth, Lowther Pennington had not yet succeeded to the title, and he wouldn’t until his elder brother John died in 1813. Since illegitimacy isn’t the most glamorous of backgrounds, especially in an era where it as very damaging in the socially-stratified United Kingdom, one cannot immediately discount the family legend since it is less than flattering. Robert Heard is said to have become a gardener at Muncaster Castle as he grew up, and he permanently immigrated to Canada about 1850. We are unsure why he made the life-changing decision to leave Britain for Canada. The subsequent Heard connection to the Muncaster Penningtons is circumstantial, but there are several interesting things. Per Mr. Heard, there are family stories of some of the Heard daughters receiving dowries from the Penningtons of Muncaster prior to marriage. Another family story is one of the Heard daughters used to secretly sign her surname as Pennington. According to James Leonard, a cousin of Mr. Heard, his great-grandmother’s death certificate said Muncaster was her legal surname. Also, within the family is a story where Muncaster Castle (but not the title) was offered to Joseph Heard, son of Robert Heard. Supposedly, Joseph wished to distance himself from the Penningtons, and he burned the documents, although some fragments of the documents were salvaged by the family who wanted to return to England. Charles Heard, the gentleman whose DNA was tested, is not in possession of any of these fragments. But, in light of the DNA match with Mr. Mulcaster, I think it makes sense to investigate these family legends more closely in the future and see if they can be confirmed. Since the DNA match greatly increases the probability that the Heards are Group 27 Penningtons, these stories should be recorded for posterity within Pennington research. Dr. Penington noted that the book Fragments of a Dream by Leopolda Dobrzensky, which is referenced in Pennington Pedigrees, may be a good start. Charles Heard descends from Robert Heard through Robert’s son Dan and his grandson Lloyd.
So, since Messrs. Mulcaster and Heard both have familial origin stories linking them to different Group 27 bloodline Penningtons, and their DNA confirms that there is a shared genetic patrilineal heritage between them, our conclusion is that it is probable that both Messrs. Mulcaster and Heard are Group 27 members in the male line.
However, while it is virtually certain that Messrs. Mulcaster and Heard are related in the male line, one could argue that they are related but have no actual connection to Group 27. But I find this unlikely. First, by their very surname, the Mulcasters appear to have a very direct link to Group 27. If there was any other village or historic property named Mulcaster in England, this would increase my doubt. But I cannot find any other such place (please alert me if you find something contrary), so I conclude that Muncaster Castle is where the Mulcasters take their name. Second, the family origin stories for both the Mulcasters and Heards have the ring of truth with the specificity of Pennington connections, especially with the less-than-glamorous illegitimacy of the Heard line. Both family stories tie directly to male blood line members of Group 27, and we’ve shown that their DNA matches. These Mulcaster and Heard family origin stories have existed for many generations, especially in the Mulcaster line. The ancestors who passed these stories down the line had no knowledge of DNA, so it’s not as if they could have conjured up the stories of connections to Group 27 once their DNA was shown to match. Thus, in weighing the evidence, we conclude that these are Group 27 male members.
We do not make this assertion lightly, and we must be respectful of the Group 27 past. Namely, after Josslyn Francis Pennington, 5th Baron Muncaster, 9th Baronet, died without issue, Muncaster Castle legally passed to the Ramsden family through Josslyn’s mother, Frances Catherine Ramsden[viii]. The inheritors changed their surname from Ramsden to Pennington-Ramsden at the request of the last Baron Muncaster, but they were not previous bloodline Penningtons. This is why no current male member of the Pennington-Ramsden family has DNA that matches any of our other Pennington Groups.
One may wonder, with this DNA evidence surfacing, whether someone from the Mulcaster or Heard lines should pursue an inheritance claim for Muncaster. From my perspective, this would be wrong on both a moral and legal level. Morally, Muncaster Castle has been in Ramsden hands now for almost 100 years. Through the passage of time, although they are not related to our Pennington lines, the Pennington-Ramsdens have shown that they are Penningtons in heart if not necessarily in a genetic sense. They have invested the Ramsden family monies into ensuring the perpetuation of the Pennington heritage at Muncaster. As detailed in the biography of Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington, a delightful gentleman whose company we thoroughly enjoyed in 2012 and who is the father of the current owner of Muncaster, the castle’s roof was just years away from complete collapse when they inherited the estate.[ix] There were also many other aspects of the estate that were in significant disrepair, and much family money was necessary to repair them to functional condition. So I believe that it would be immoral to try to undermine the inheritance of a family that saved the Group 27 Pennington ancestral estate; they have demonstrated that they are Penningtons by virtue of their actions to save a Pennington heritage that we can all continue to appreciate today.
Additionally, I consider it legally wrong as well. Although I am not a lawyer and make no claim to be, Josslyn Francis Pennington inherited Muncaster Castle in full. Primogeniture, the passage of property from father to eldest son, was a legal mechanism that was common in noble circles. This primogeniture helped to preserve an estate over time within the same family since the land was not broken up into different inheritances. So there were no other competing interests for Muncaster Castle when it was fully inherited by Josslyn Francis Pennington under primogeniture. Since the 5th Baron had no legal male child (or any children that we are aware of), there was no primogeniture transfer possible subsequent to that, so he was fully at liberty instead to pass Muncaster Castle to the Ramsden family. There is much precedent in the British common law that demonstrates that legal inheritance is more important than genetic inheritance. For example, please consider the somewhat similar situation of the Dukes of Northumberland. The historic Percy family, the Earls of Northumberland, had the last male line heir die in 1670. A baronet named Hugh Smithson married the granddaughter of the last Percy male, and Hugh changed his surname from Smithson to Percy.[x] These new Percys were later raised to the positions of Dukes of Northumberland, and they have retained the surname of Percy even today. While not completely identical to our Pennington situation, the Percy/Smithson change demonstrates that it is legal inheritance, not genetic inheritance, that matters. Thus, I do not believe that any legal claim would exist for a cadet family line of an earlier Group 27 Pennington. Furthermore, the legal doctrine of prescription, which is a bar to a claim after the passage of enough time so that title can cure, would likely be another reason that a legal claim would likely be moot.
One may also wonder if a restoration of the Baronial noble title with the territorial designation of Muncaster is possible. In short, I do not believe that it is. I have a hobby interest in nobility and royalty, and the Letters Patent for a noble title is generally where the fons honorum (the Crown) will note any succession allowances that differ from custom. The custom in the United Kingdom, the font of the Pennington nobility, is for legitimate children to inherit titles, not illegitimate ones. In addition, the legitimate children must spring from the blood of the original grantee, else the title becomes extinct. Further, the Letters Patents of the noble Penningtons, where each Baron Muncaster was recognized in succession after his elevation to the honor at the death of the previous Baron, do not contain allowances for title passage through illegitimacy that I could tell (some of the pictures I have of these documents are a bit blurry). I also reviewed my pictures of the Group 27 Letters Patents for the Pennington baronets (a non-noble British title that is superior to knighthood but less than a peerage title), and these likewise do not make allowances for illegitimacy. Further, in reading the official entry of the last Baron into the United Kingdom’s House of Lords (the previous peerage titles were only of the Irish peerage)[xi], there is no mention of an allowance for illegitimate inheritance of the title. So, even though our conclusion is that Messrs. Heard and Mulcaster are likely bloodline Group 27 Penningtons, I do not believe that they would be successful in seeking a retroactive claim for recognition as a Baronet or Baron in the United Kingdom. This is because of the illegitimacy of the Heard situation and that David de Mulcaster, the ancestor of the Mulcasters, predated by half a millennium the Pennington rise to nobility in 1783 (the year that H.M. King George III created the 1st Baron Muncaster).[xii]
So, ultimately, what are the ramifications of this probable discovery of male-line members of Group 27? In my estimation, it mainly gives the Heard and Mulcaster families a rich new layer of family history. What an interesting thing it must be for them to be the direct patrilineal descendants of the Group 27 noble family. Since the Mulcaster connection to the Pennington family predates 1783, the Mulcasters cannot accurately say that they descend from a noble Pennington line. But they can say that they descend from an ancient line where the main trunk of the family tree eventually became noble. In contrast, the Heards can present themselves as likely descending from a noble family. This is because the Group 27 Penningtons were already noble when Robert Heard was born.
But, ultimately, whether descended from nobility or not, the Heards and Mulcasters should be embraced by the Pennington Research Association as likely full, fellow members of our extended Pennington family. They also should be considered for placement within Group 27 as part of the greater Pennington body of research. After all, what unites us in the Pennington Research Association? Is it a shared genetic heritage? No; our DNA study has shown that there are fully distinct Pennington lines with diverse genetics. Is it a united spelling of our surname? Dr. Penington and I immediately demonstrate that there are differences there. Is our common bond a singular village where we all took our surname? As seen in a previous article of mine, there are actually three places in England named Pennington, and different groups of Penningtons took their names from these different locations. So we Penningtons/Peningtons don’t have a common origin beyond a common tie to England. Therefore, I propose that what fully unites us in the Pennington Research Association is a tie, in one way or another, to simply the surname of Pennington or Penington. Within this context, based upon the findings, the Heards and Mulcasters should fully be considered part of our Pennington familial connection.

[i] for Y-DNA37
[ix] Available for sale at
[xi] A copy of which was provided to me after writing the House of Lords in London, United Kingdom.

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