The Curse of Green

Paul Fahrenheidt

Paul Fahrenheidt

Many a man thought himself wise, but what he wanted he did not know.

The land of the Franks once called Gaul stretches from the north side of the Pyrenees Mountains to borders not grown from the earth, but made in men’s minds by millenia of constant combat. To look at it from the eyes of God or a bird, The France as it’s called by the natives is shaped like a warped Pentagon. One side of that pentagon stretches from Brest at the point of Brittany to Dunkerque at the point of Calais. It serves as a wall between the English Channel and Charlemagne’s seat as though the hundred-years war never ended. This wall-like side of the Pentagon is called Normandy.

Named for its demi-conquerors: the blond-haired six-foot tall axemen who felled firs in their Fjords to furnish ships meant to seize foreign shores, their conquest was halted by a bribe of soil and stone. Thus the Nords became Normans. The bribe bought only loyalty to feuds as the Franks found, and their long-lost cousins set forth to seize shores more foreign (though they did so in Christ’s name rather than Wotan’s.) So started the stories of Sicily, of Spain, and most notably, the land of the Angles.

Halfway between Brittany and Calais, a peninsula shoots toward England like a petrified arrow, a final vengeance of France permanently stayed by such things as fault lines. This pointed piece of earth was named La Manche, a sleeve of soil slipping between silty sand and stormy seas, where the island-Cathedral Mont-Saint Michel mirrors it; an arrow pointed upward towards the God it reveres.

Where this sleeve of soil meets the mainland of Frankia, there lies a hamlet as sleepy as it was one-thousand years ago. Named for the color of the trees and fields surrounding it, the village of Vere gave life and name to a family which this chronicle will follow. Like the trees which the place is named for, no family is one “family,” shooting out in all directions like so many limbs, branches, and twigs. To follow them all is folly, though all have stories worthy of sharing. This tale will trace one line, from the roots to the twig.

Being from the village named Green, the family was named as such. Supposedly descended from Charlemagne (a claim as widespread as his descendents,) the family was named for the village of their origin. Thus the first “de Veres” were no more “de Vere” than “of Green” (though family legends abound of dragon bloodlines and other such nonsense.) 

Aubrey of Green was the first known of this line. Though all men have a father, it seems that the great Aubrey’s was lost to time and legend. Aubrey was a great noble, a courageous Knight, and a loyal servant to Duke William “The Bastard” (as he was then called) of Normandy. Thought to be noble in those days was to own a horse, to be a knight was to possess a sword, and “loyal” was a compliment more than a character assessment.

The death of Edward the Confessor and the pressing of William the Bastard’s claim to England in 1066 A.D. was one such act of “questionable loyalty.” Of course, the strength of William’s arms was a windfall to the Knight of Green, now well and truly Aubrey de Vere, and his nobility was set in stone by the stewardship of land. Oh, if only the troubles ended there.

Legend has it (and simple legend is not enough to prove,) that this earliest root, this founder of the dynasty brought about a blight to the line. A curse which seems to touch every descendent of him in all directions, which cannot be explained away by superstition or apocrypha. Upon the Norman conquest, Aubrey was appointed the King’s justiciar in the midlands, the center of old Anglo-Saxon power.

The story goes that Lord Aubrey was riding with his retainers through Northamptonshire, on the way to hear a dispute between two barons, when he laid eyes upon a Yeoman’s estate. The Yeoman was an Angle, supposedly a part of the old nobility displaced by King William’s (now called, “the Conqueror”) Norman nobles. Aubrey fell in love with the estate, and as it was entirely legal for a Norman to seize land from Angles and Saxons for any reason, he ordered his retainers to seize it for later use. The Yeoman protested of course.

“M’Lord, this land has been in my family for fourteen generations, since Hengist and Horsa granted it to us!” The Yeoman said in the crude tongue of the Angles, which Aubrey did not understand and needed one of his retainers to interpret for him.

“It is my right as Chamberlain and Justiciar of the King to seize this land, on charges of treason and rebellion against your liege-lord, King William.” Lord Aubrey replied, staring down at the pie-faced Angle from atop his brown horse.

“While fight him we did, so too did we lay down our arms when King Edgar abdicated! This land is mine!” The Yeoman insisted, to which Aubrey’s temper flared.

“Seize this rebel and have him executed, such is my right!” The Knight of Green commanded and his retainers obeyed. Three of Aubrey’s party dismounted and two held down the man, while a third drew his sword. The Yeoman shouted and spat, but did not resist. Just before the retainer raised his sword to cut short the treasonous tongue of the Yeoman, his voice took a solemn and somber tone.

“You call yourself Justiciar but hold no justice. You call yourself a Christian but disgrace Christ by this act. Devilish heathenry it may be, I call on the old gods of my fathers. If so cruel and callous you be in victory, may your line never taste it again. I curse you! I curse your line to the thirtieth generation, that victory be as foreign to you as justice!” The Yeoman’s cries were cut short by the retainer’s blade, and Lord Aubrey continued on his way. 

The property was near the border of Counties Berkshire and Oxfordshire, both of which would become lands held by Aubrey’s descendants. A bridge stood over the nearby Thames river, which would come to be called Radcot Bridge. Lord Aubrey soon forgot the curse.

Aubrey died in 1112 A.D., succeeded by his son, Aubrey de Vere II. It seems that the worst traits of the father were afflictions of the son. Appointed Sheriff of London, Aubrey II would abuse his power just as his father did, seizing lands and taking bribes from prisoners in his custody that they be allowed to escape. A favorite of King Stephen of Blois (himself no man of justice,) Aubrey II sided with him against the Empress Matilda during the First English Civil War, also called “The Anarchy.”

During the war he was tasked to keep law and order in London, though it seemed London would have neither law nor order. A mob was burning market stalls, demanding peace between the nobles and lesser taxes (two common English demands.) Lord Aubrey went to calm them, though it appears his presence incited them more. Some unseen force, some spirit of the place, brought the mob to a frenzy when they laid eyes on the Lord de Vere.

The mob seized him and stomped him to death.

King Stephen and his de Vere supporters lost the First English Civil War.

The demands of brevity and boredom force the acceleration of this chronicle some two centuries to the late fourteenth century. Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster, and a coterie of other nobles called “The Lords Appellant,” despised King Richard II and his court favorites, among them one Robert de Vere. So infuriated with Richard’s corruption and nepotism (which are more just reasons to revolt than one’s own greed it seems,) were these magnates, that they took up arms against him in 1397 A.D..

Dispatched to deal with Bolingbroke, Robert de Vere led an army to his ancestral estate near Radcot Bridge. Finding Bolingbroke had beat him to the bridge, Duke Robert de Vere had a memory. A deep creeping recollection, which seized his skin and put fire to his nerves, opening a pit in his stomach from which dread stormed forth. Here it was. Here near Radcot Bridge his line had been cursed to eternal defeat.

Duke Robert remembered the stories of the Anarchy, how his line sided with the losing King Stephen. The hundred-year’s war with France was going poorly as well. And here, an army stood across the river from de Vere where he’d been cursed to eternal defeat. To call him a coward is uncharitable, but largely accurate. He flung his forces across the ford, and fled to France, dying of a Boar hunting accident five years later in 1392.

Henry Bolingbroke would be victorious, later crowned King Henry IV, and can be read about with much greater detail in Mr. Shakespeare’s plays. As would the French when some jumped-up peasant girl single-handedly reversed the fortunes of the beleaguered Franks.

With new centuries came new succession struggles in merry old England, as it has always been. The line we follow had long since stopped calling themselves “de Vere,” save for prestige and filial piety. Now called “de Wever,” and of considerably less importance, they were considerably no less cursed, as their liege Richard III of York would discover in the wars of the Roses.

While the Wars of the Roses are one of those things which sound extremely romantic to ears separated from it by some six centuries, in reality they were rather boring, complex, and have yet to be fully understood (as there is little reason in them other than greed and ambition.) While no “Winner” can really be declared, save for Henry Tudor whose presence ended the struggle, “Losers” certainly can.

The not-so-newly coined “de Wevers” sided with Richard III of York, fitting with their familial love of abusing power and siding with so-called tyrants. Though in this case, tyrant seems apt to describe Richard III, seeing as he had his nephews (the rightful Kings of England) executed in secret when they were no more than children. Richard got his end though, when Henry Tudor slew him at Bosworth Field in 1485, which can also be read in the plays of Mr. Shakespeare (as they are quite good.) Rather poetically, Richard’s remains remained buried under a parking lot until they were rediscovered in 2012. Sic semper tyrannis.

The mention of Mr. Shakespeare brings this chronicle to the de Vere’s next conflict, though this was not of arms but rather of truth. It has long been held that Mr. Shakespeare, the greatest poet and playwright in western history, was a cover for nobles to write plays considered bawdy and offensive (as it seems Mr. Shakespeare could not find the time to be legible nor teach his children to read, obvious from his three signatures which exist.)

Edward de Vere, who lived from 1550-1604, was a well-known poet, playwright, jouster, and bearer of the infamous family curse. A well and true aristocrat, whose travels through Italy took him to such places as Verona and Venice, on the face of it he seems much more familiar with the subject matter which makes up the majority of Mr. Shakespeare’s plays. Compare this with Mr. Shakespeare, himself no noble, at best middle-class Yeomanry, and most likely even less than that.

To bog down this narrative with pointless speculation is to insult the reader, yet it seems the Yeoman’s curse has afflicted the family with two sides of truth-lined lies. Were Edward de Vere really Shakespeare, it seems the war for the truth has been lost. And were he not? The de Veres are no strangers to lies afflicting their family name.

As centuries change, so too do religions, continents, and families. When Luther’s theological fire burned through Europe, the de Vere’s were too split in twain. Not between Cathlic and Protestant, but between exiles and royalists. The de Wever line had the misfortune of converting to Protestantism a tad too early, and found themselves on the exiled end of an exile sentence given by well-known wife-whacker Henry VIII. Off to Zürich they went, where their story goes its own way and their curse crosses the channel with them.

Funny things, curses, how they cross continents and languages and faiths. The Zürich de Wevers, being Protestants, fought with the Swiss Protestants in the Swiss Wars of Religion. Unfortunately for the Swiss Protestants, it seems having a de Vere onside is less preferable than having half an army desert, or having one’s head chopped off. The Catholics were victorious in the cantons, and every Swiss Protestant they found was exiled to Germany.

The curse followed the de Wevers to the Rheinland, where they’d Germanized their name to the “Webers.” When Catholics, Protestants, ambitious nobles, and greedy Generals unleashed the Thirty Years War on Europe, the Webers were caught between all sides, and fought on all sides. It seems then, that this is the reason no one can really be said to have “won,” the Thirty Years War, a three-decades long slaughter whose pointlessness was only surpassed by its tragedy.

Similar misfortune befell the royalist line, though they managed to stay in the good graces of Henry VIII, waiting for just the right time to follow their King into Anglicanism. Winning favor seems a genetic talent of de Veres, as they too gained it from the Stuarts when Queen Elizabeth died with no children, her only issue being the Colony of Virginia.

Questionable acts of loyalty also seem a de Vere genetic talent, as when Charles I took up arms with him against a mob of upstart peasants led by some backwater lord named Oliver Cromwell, the oh so poetically named Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, seemed to take the smart decision of not siding with his liege-lord. But he was also well-aware of the curse, and chose to avoid siding with the Parliamentarians and accidentally causing their defeat. 

After a load was taken off King Charles’ shoulders by the headsman’s axe, Aubrey returned to England an ardent royalist (once it was politically correct to be so.) The beneficiary of the Stuart restoration (as he was imprisoned by Cromwell,) 1688 and the Prince of Orange’s coup brought one final choice to the much beleaguered House de Vere. Aubrey had lived through three great wars, never picking a side as his namesake’s curse would damn it. Yet all men must make choices, and Aubrey had nowhere else to run. So he threw in with King William.

Aubrey was well-known as a good and just lord. He was a tolerant Protestant, allowing all faiths in his military commands. He stood against the tyranny of Cromwell, for which he was imprisoned. When the restoration came, he served the Stuart Kings once again. Yet when King James III demanded Aubrey appoint Catholics to public offices (an illegal act,) Aubrey refused and was stripped of all titles. He cared for his soldiers, supported a tailor whose son died in his regiment by ordering uniforms from him, and earned the enmity of the traitorous Duke of Buckingham (who knew no principle.)

Curses are funny things. The actions of one man can bring them upon a line; the actions of another can clear them. It’s even funnier when the two men have the same name. The first Aubrey de Vere’s abuse of power and injustice of action kept his family from fortune for six centuries. The last Aubrey de Vere’s justice of action and standing on principle, even when it was the hard thing to do? Maybe the Angle’s old gods noticed.

William of Orange led the glorious revolution which forever exiled the Stuarts from England. Aubrey de Vere was heavily rewarded both by fate and the now King William III, and with the end of his line so too did the curse. Aubrey de Vere died in 1704 without children. The main line of the de Vere has been extinct since.

If only the Webers were so fortunate.

Having settled in a mountainous part of the Rhein called the Siegerland, the Webers took to working iron. Governor Spotswood of Virginia, an appointee of William III’s daughter, Queen Anne, was looking to set up iron-mines in the back-country. Finding a village of iron-working Germans seemed a godsend. And through the Governor’s influence and deep pockets, eighteen German-speaking families stepped off of a ship in Jamestown, including the Webers.

Settled in what is now called Culpepper, Germanna was a hellish frontier town that the Germans despised. They stayed only seven years, picking up shop and heading further west to the forks of the Rappahannock where naught but wide-open fields lay free to claim. By now, the Weber’s had re-Anglicized their name to Weavers, having forgotten both their de Vere heritage and de Vere curse with the crossing of the Atlantic. As we know, curses don’t seem to be forgotten.

The Weavers seemed content enough with English rule that they took the title Tories when Mr. Henry demanded “Liberty or Death,” and Mr. Jefferson said that “All men were created equal.” It seems the redemption Aubrey had claimed for the de Veres died with the de Veres. The Weavers had yet to answer for the act of their progenitor. They stayed in America after independence, miraculously surviving the purges of the Tories afterwards.

They settled in the Shenandoah Valley, coming to like the South so much that when a Second war of Independence was declared on American shores, the Weavers decided they were all for it this time. Seems gray coats are just as unlucky as red coats, and Weavers just as cursed as de Veres. Though more than one Weaver son died for Dixie, it seems they should have sat this one out too were it a cause they believed in.

Now, the curse has gone dormant as Weavers fought the Spanish, fought the Kaiser, fought Hitler, and won. Maybe some wars are so important that curses keep out of them. And while one or two Weavers fought in Vietnam, that war seemed lost with or without a curse.

Perhaps time did for the Weavers what Aubrey did for the de Veres, as even curses can’t last forever. Maybe it’s well and truly gone, and the Angle’s soul has been satisfied. Yet the heir-apparent of the long-lost Weaver branch of de Vere family found himself siding with the United States Army in August of 2021, the last month with troops in Kabul. 

Perhaps the curse is yet to be broken.