Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exploring Family Ties

Many of the students we come in contact each day have revolving family members. Those that come and go are blood related and some hang about simply by circumstances that seem to change with each new moon. Quirky family situations are not lost on today’s student. I believe that is why many of my new charges enjoy hearing this quirky tale.

Once upon a time a man and woman were henpecked by a non-family member to back a scheme to obtain power and wealth. The man and woman kept putting the non-family member off because they were embroiled in a struggle with a group of squatters who had taken up residence on their land. After a few years the man and woman were able to provide the necessary financial backing to the non-family member and the scheme was put into motion.

Soon the man and woman entered into an agreement with a neighbor across the way regarding their youngest daughter. She would marry the neighbor’s oldest son. Unfortunately the young man died leaving the daughter distraught and in a difficult situation. Thankfully the young man’s brother stepped in and married the daughter instead. Everyone though he was probably a better match anyway.

The non-family member and his scheme finally began to pay off. The man and woman began to grow quite wealthy with power and property. They were glad they had finally listened to the non-family member.

Though their daughter seemed happily married, the young man became disenchanted with his bride when she failed to produce a male heir. A little girl had been born, but any other children had been still born or died soon after being born. Tragedy strikes when the daughter is set aside by the young man for a much younger girl. Unfortunately her mother and father were both dead at this time and no one else came to her aide with enough force to help her.

The young man causes quite a scene in his attempts to divorce the young girl, but she would not agree to it. Members of their church family and town began to take sides. Finally the young man simply declares he’s divorced and marries another woman. Many people are appalled at the young man’s audacity. He announces he doesn’t care what people think. Unfortunately the second wife also has a problem producing a male heir and gives the young man another daughter. The second wife also runs afoul of the law, ends up in jail, and loses her life. The young man eventually grows to be an old man and marries many more times.

Eventually the young man’s daughters who have different mother’s take their turn running the family business. The daughter of the wife who was simply set aside takes her turn first since she was the eldest. She failed in her running of the family business miserably even though she had a like-minded partner with her husband and first cousin who just happened to be also be the great-grandson of the original man and women this story started with.

Advance in time a bit……..the second daughter (her mother’s head was cut off) has now taken over her father’s family business due to the first daughter’s death. She is a very powerful woman. Many men would like to marry her. She has her pick from several candidates. Even her half-sister’s widow wants to marry her.

Is this a plot outline for the latest reality show? A script from Desperate Housewives?
A southern family tree (see my maternal line line here)?

No, this is a tangled web of royal family connections that play an integral part in the early settlement of North America.

If you haven’t already guessed my story involves Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The non-family member doing the henpecking is Christopher Columbus. The squatters refer to the eventual ouster of Muslims from Spain….a period called the Spanish Reconquista. Ferdinand and Isabella’s youngest daughter, Catherine of Aragon, travels to England and marries Authur Tudor, however, he dies soon after the marriage. Arthur’s brother, Henry, steps up to the plate and marries Catherine. Things are great until Catherine seems unable to produce a male heir. Henry and Catherine’s daughter is Mary. Henry turns his back on the Pope in order to be rid of Catherine so he can marry Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately Anne also has a problem producing a male heir (Henry would have never considered it was his problem) and Henry soon was rid of her as well. Henry and Anne’s only living child was Elizabeth. Once Henry goes on to the great beyond his daughter Mary takes the throne. She marries Philip II of Spain, great-grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella. When Mary dies her widow then tries to court her half-sister Elizabeth for a time.

Sure, I could simply have kids read the text where it discusses the Protestant Reformation, Queen Elizabeth I, and the Spanish Armada (fairly heady subjects for a nine year old, don’t you think?). I could ignore those topics and also ignore the backstory since it isn’t part of the standards for fourth grade.

I could, but I don’t. I feel that by sharing the family connections between the ruling families of England and Spain I build prior knowledge, increase interest, and create a foundation of understanding behind the driving force behind many royal decisions. The kids begin to conjecture on their own why Philip II launched the Armada. Perhaps he was mad because Elizabeth had turned him down? Perhaps he was mad because he had lost any hope of England becoming a Catholic nation again? Perhaps he was a little peeved that Elizabeth began allowing her “Sea Dogs” to attack the treasure laden ships enroute from New Spain?

Kids become animated and react to my story at each little twist and turn. It sure beats simply ignoring details because they aren't in the state curriculum, reading the text, and answering the lesson questions.

Update: Tudor History has posted a great link regarding two men who were beheaded during the reign of Elizabeth I simply because they were Catholics. Using facial reconstruction procedures we can now see what the men looked like. See the whole article from Tudor History and their link to the British news story here. This fits into my follow up discussion with my classes today as we dicussed the reigns of Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. One student correctly advised, “Gee, they just kept flip-flopping between being Protestant and Catholic.”

Long happy sigh…….someone was listening and even better…they inferred.:)


Anonymous said...

I am in awe of your storytelling abilities! I know that stories are more beneficial than the bare facts, but I have not developed the memory to keep the stories straight or details interesting. Did your ability develop over time or is it a natural ability?

EHT said...

ms.q, you have no idea how much I needed to hear that tonight. Thank you!

To answer your question I'm not really sure. I have always been a history nut so the content has never been too much of a problem. Making it intesting is something I have to work at. I think the ingredient that makes the content most interesting to students is your own enthusiasm. They know I know the material and they know I absolutely love it. Over time I have tried to amass a toolbox of coincidences, interesting connections, etc. that can serve as motivators to hook students.

Anonymous said...

You are awesome. Kids love stories. Adults love stories.

I just returned from a two-week trip with my kids to France. They loved the history, because their aunt (an AP European and world history teacher who is currently teaching in Paris) could tell them all kinds of cool stories.

For example, the assassinatin of the Duke of Guise in the chateau of Blois. She told them the story of the three Henrys, about how the Protestants and Catholics were literally at each other's throats, and how the King Henry (moderate Catholic) wanted Henry of Guise (wacko Catholic extremist) dead. But in the end, Henry the King was also killed by a crazy monk, which then led to the end of the Valois Kings and the ushering in of a distant cousin, Henry of Navarre (a Protestant...gasp!) who then was crowned Henry the IV.

The point of the story is not the history, but

1) the way my sister told it...full of intrigue, swashbuckling, and literall backstabbing
2) the fact that we were actually in the room where it happened (okay, probably not possible for most field trips from the US, but cool anyway)
3) they way my 11 and 8 year-old boys ate it up.

The facts of history are fun! Now my boys understand how huge an upheaval the Protestant Reformation was, because Kings and Dukes would literally kill to ensure the "wrong" folks didn't get control of the monarchy.

Kids love history. Why don't we teach it more?

EHT said...

Mark, the trip to France sounds fabulous. I'm so glad your children got to live history. French history is full of so much intrigue.

You're right, the facts of history are fun if they are told in a fun way.

I'm going to update this post soon with a link I found today from the blog, Tudor History. It discusses some folks whose heads were seperated from their bodies because they forgot to change their religion as the monarch changed......

Anonymous said...



I get so angry when I hear a young person tell me that history is boring. To me, that means the teacher failed at making history come alive. I wish we could make copies of you and send you nation wide. (Of course I also know there are others who teach like you, but I also know you and the others are in the minority.)

Keep up the good work!

EHT said...

Gee Deke, I say let's make copies of me so I could get all the red tape paperwork and grading that NCLB has dropped in lap plus keep up with my writing....thanks for the kind words.