My oldest son is writing an autobiography for a school English assignment. One of the requirements is to include a brief family history, so a couple of weeks ago he and my husband spent an evening discussing my son's paternal ancestry. My son then turned to me.
"Where's your family from, Mom?"
It was not the answer he wanted.
Later, my son was looking through my familysearch web page and announced, "Somebody has researched the Harper line all the way back to Adam!" I said, "Somebody's wrong." Again, not the answer he wanted.
I think it's typical for people to want their family history to contain famous people and exotic places. Medieval kings' genealogies commonly trace the royal family to Troy or Jerusalem. Often these genealogies listed legendary heroes or gods among the ancestors.
James Campbell wrote that royal genealogies began appearing in England during the 8th century (see The Anglo-Saxons, p. 116). He argued that the dynastic politics of this time period required kings to prove royal descent. In short, during the 8th century, Anglo-Saxon nobility invented the idea of inherited rule to reduce the frequent fighting between the countries' dynastic factions.
What I found fascinating about this development was the idea that a stable monarchy could be more desirable than an unstable republic. Granted, even at its most democratic, the Anglo-Saxon "constitutional kingship" was only remotely similar to modern representative nation-states. But citizens today frequently assume that greater representation in government is always desirable. People who lived during the Middle Ages may not have had this assumption.
Questioning the "greater representation is better government" assumption lead to questioning some of my other assumptions about political philosophy and international relations. I do not want to discuss this too much here, as I want this blog to focus on historical, not present-day political systems. However, I will point out that the current ideas about what is best for many countries may change if the assumptions about what makes better government also changed. What if a country in the Middle East set up a constitution that valued a stable theocracy over a potentially unstable democracy? What if a former Soviet republic set up a system of government that was totalitarian but had little chance of overthrow? James Campbell has given me something to think about.