Kesgrave man: “King Henry II is my 24th great-grandfather”

Suffolk's Orford Castle, built by Paul Cook's 24th great-grandfather King Henry II Picture: Getty Im

Suffolk's Orford Castle, built by Paul Cook's 24th great-grandfather King Henry II Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Paul Cook has spent years tracing his and his wife’s family history, uncovering a whole host of tales and stories - as well as a shocking connection to royalty.

Paul Cook and his wife Margaret. Paul has spent the last 15 years uncovering both of their families'

Paul Cook and his wife Margaret. Paul has spent the last 15 years uncovering both of their families' roots Picture: Paul Cook - Credit: Archant

Kesgrave resident Paul Cook has long been fascinated with uncovering his family history. Paul’s roots stem mostly from the south of England, whereas his wife Margaret (née Moss) is East Anglian through and through. The two married in 1973, where they shortly to moved Kent before locating to Reading, and settling back in Suffolk in 2008.

Having first begun his deep-dive well over a decade ago, Paul said: “I started doing family history research a good 15 years ago. The motivation was really to find out more about where I came from, as my parents’ generation were fast disappearing. My grandparents had all died, so I was left with photographs of people whose names I didn’t even know.”

Beginning his search on his paternal side, Paul soon came to a standstill due to being a Cook and thus having an incredibly common surname. “I soon hit the brick wall with my great-great-great-grandfather who was born in Surrey in 1783,” he explained. “That led me to my maternal line, which was much easier as her maiden name was Duddy.

“I found the family in Hunton, Kent and spent many happy hours wandering around the village, copying gravestone inscriptions and talking to the older village folk, all of whom had some recollection of the family.”

The Cooks were able to access Wymondham Abbey's archives while visiting on a Heritage Weekend, allow

The Cooks were able to access Wymondham Abbey's archives while visiting on a Heritage Weekend, allowing them to uncover more of Margaret's family history Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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On one of his trips around Kent, Paul found a row of 18th century headstones that belonged to his ancestors. Eager to share his findings, he soon logged online.

“I joined to find other researchers and share my information with them,” he explained. “It is vital to check any information from those sources, as not all family historians are diligent about where their facts come from.”

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As many genealogists will find in the course of their research, sometimes it’s best to pursue another line of enquiry – and that’s exactly what Paul did.

“As the tree grew and the lines became harder to research, I moved on to my wife Margaret’s line and found some names there that were easier to trace back,” Paul explained.

A depiction of King Henry II, Paul Cook's 24th great-grandfather. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images

A depiction of King Henry II, Paul Cook's 24th great-grandfather. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images - Credit: PA

“I have traced her paternal grandmother’s family, the Cranes, back to the 1600s in Marlesford. This was researched with the help of the National Archive, where I was able to find historic reports of bastardy cases, resulting in the mother being removed from the parish and sent to outlying districts in order that the home parish had no responsibility for supporting the child.”

“The Scriveners were another classic example, as the records went back to 1320,” he added. “This is chiefly because that name means ‘writer’, and they kept a copious amount of notes on their family. Nonetheless, it was a great surprise to get as far back as 1320. I was living in Suffolk then, and we were able to visit Belstead where the Scriveners originated from, as well as Marlesford, where several generations of my wife’s relatives had lived.”

Margaret’s family history is filled with crime and mystery galore - with one incident starting in Norfolk and concluding as far away as Australia.

“I was researching her family of Meadows, who hailed from across the border in Norfolk, when I came across the Norwich assizes records for one Robert Meadows – my wife’s four-times great-uncle – who was sentenced to death in 1827,” explained Paul.

Orford Castle in Suffolk was built by Henry II of England, between 1165 and 1173, to consolidate roy

Orford Castle in Suffolk was built by Henry II of England, between 1165 and 1173, to consolidate royal power in the region. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

“He was listed alongside three poachers who were given a similar sentence, but there was no indication of what heinous crime Robert had committed, other than it was at Wymondham Abbey.”

Coincidentally, it happened to be a Heritage weekend, so the Cooks took a trip over the border and headed to the Abbey, where they were about to uncover another piece of Margaret’s ancestral puzzle.

“Once in there, I told the story to a guide who immediately referred me to the Abbey’s archivist,” Paul continued. “She led us up a twisting, narrow stairway, to a room high in the tower where the archives were stored.

“Amidst all the dusty tomes, she hit a computer screen and found a reference to Robert. The archivist then opened a box, and handed me a piece of paper dated 1827, bearing his cross on a confession to the crime of heresy.”

The paper revealed that Robert, along with two accomplices, had stolen three surplices from the Abbey to make into clothes for their children.

“Robert had a young wife and two children in Wymondham - with a third on the way,” Paul added.

Following this, the police had caught Robert’s wife red-handed, cutting the surplices to make into shirts.

“As this was around the time of Australian settlement, his sentence was commuted to transportation for seven years. Once in Australia, he remarried twice more and lived there until his death at the age of 92.”

The Antipodean stories don’t stop there however, as one of Margaret’s ancestors succumbed to an untimely death down under.

“Again, on my wife’s Meadows line, we had a more recent mystery of a great-uncle who was always believed - through anecdotal family stories - to have died in a swimming accident in Australia.

“After a lot of newspaper research, I discovered an account of his death in Australia which defied belief. Apparently, he had been a baker in Leiston in 1913, and then suddenly left for Australia. His body was found tied to a stake in the middle of the Murray river near where he had been camping with his friend while searching for work.”

With Margaret having a second cousin living in Adelaide, it was down to her to investigate this further.

“According to all the evidence, his death certificate ruled his death a suicide, and the police had buried him in a pauper’s grave in Australia. According to his friend’s account, he had gone to collect water from the river, and when he did not return after three days, his friend reported him missing.

“A woman rang the police at the same time to say there was a body floating in the river - he was identified only by letters in his knapsack addressed to my wife’s great grandmother!”

However, a couple of years ago, Paul made his most fascinating discovery yet.

“The most surprising thing happened when I was looking at my mother’s line, and found a John Fettiplace, who showed as my 15th great-grandfather. The history pages revealed he was a member of the court of Henry VI and was awarded the Order of the Garter by the King of Portugal. I was intrigued,” he said.

“I found that he had married a Portuguese princess, and that led me to trace back through to my 24th great-grandfather, King Henry II. Through him and Eleanor of Aquitaine, William IX of Aquitaine, who was born in 1071, is my 26th great-grandfather.”

The name Eleanor of Aquitaine may ring a bell with eagle-eyed readers, as she was in fact Judith Keppel’s million-pound winning answer on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? back in 2000.

“Regarding finding out my mother’s royal lineage, I am just so very disappointed she never lived to know that fact. She was the epitome of Hyacinth Bucket on Keeping Up Appearances, and she would have had many candlelight suppers dining out on her regal extraction,” Paul said.

“Sadly, there are only a couple of cousins left on that side of the family, and when I told my eldest cousin of the connection, he simply said he had always felt different from the rest of the world. My wife was far more down to earth about the revelation, and asked how she was related to Danny Dyer, after his royal lineage was revealed on Who Do You Think You Are?

“You might call it coincidence, but since the Covid-19 pandemic I have been shielding for 12 weeks and have not used a penny piece of cash – isn’t that a royal trait?”

With two extensive and fascinating family histories between them, the couple certainly have their fair share of tales to tell.

But as people’s interest in genealogy and ancestral research grows over the years, Paul admits it can muddy the waters for others when people don’t check their findings thoroughly.

“As more people take to research, largely following the success of Who Do you Think You Are?, a lot of information has appeared purporting to relate to people in my tree, but when you look into it, it is clearly erroneous,” he explained.

“Sometimes it’s a simple mistaken identity, and sometimes plain stupidity. For instance, the alleged relative who was born to his mother when she was aged two, who then went on to live for 178 years.

“The plea from me and every other family researcher is to please check your facts before you publish them.”

Have you been researching your family history? Do you have an interesting discovery to share? Email with your story.

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