The Kingdom of Yetholm July 13, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Gypsy history provides a rich field for bizarrists: after all, here is a people from the Indian subcontinent who hiked half way across Eurasia for reasons that are completely mysterious to modern historians causing confusion and marvel wherever they went. Nevertheless, even in such a rich field Beachcombing has an easy favourite: the Gypsy Kingdom of Yetholm on the Scottish borders.
Yetholm, pictured above, is a picturesque Cheviot village that has been a ceremonial centre for Scottish gypsies from ‘time immemorial’.
Now when anyone says ‘time immemorial’ that is, of course, another way of saying: from back before anyone can remember. Some claim the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries when the Gypsies first arrived in Scotland. Other date the establishment of a gypsy base at Yetholm to the seventeenth or even the eighteenth century. Certainly, in the 1800s, between fifty and a hundred and fifty Romani lived in the valley, many of the royal Faa family.
What all the authorities agree upon is that the first properly recorded Gypsy King of Yetholm, William I (Glee’d-Neckit Wull) floruit in the eighteenth century. It was his prerogative to wear the tin crown, to carry the gypsy sword of office (in the picture of queen Esther below) and, if later ritual was respected, he would have been made king with a hare tied around his neck (to represent his poaching ways) and a bottle of whisky broken over his head.
In 1784 King William I died. He was succeeded, however, by his son William II (Wull Faa) who passed away, full of years, in 1847. After a brief face-off with a pretender Charlie Blythe, Wull’s son-in-law became Charles I: Wull Fa had had no male issue. Charles I died in 1861 and there was a further civil war between two of his daughters. After some fish-wivery Queen Esther (Esther Faa Blythe) triumphed over Black-bearded Nell and ruled until 1883 when her son Charles II was crowned with tin. Charles II was the last king of the Gypsies and when he died in 1902 the office fell into abeyance. How could the good folk of Yetholm have let this happen?
Quite where this royal custom came from is a nice, nice question. Historians cannot even be sure when William I was crowned: is it possible that calling him the ‘king’ was just a manner of speech that accidentally hardened into an institution?
However, there are some hints that an institution predated the Faa line at Yetholm. Billy Marshall (obit 1792) was referred to as the King of the Gypsies in Galloway, whereas back in the sixteenth century the Scottish king recognised an Earl of Little Egypt (i.e. Earl over the Gypsies) one of whom was a certain John Faa!
What is known is that the Scottish Lowland gypsies took their royal traditions seriously. Several hundred followed William I’s funeral train when the great man died away from home: a train that reportedly included three hundred asses. And by the time that Charles II was put on the throne his coronation was celebrated by gypsies and gajo alike: ten thousand came to his coronation.
Yet through all this glory the monarchs of Yetholm lived in abject or relative poverty. King William II carted coals, smuggled and finally became a publican. Queen Esther had to rely on poor relief from time to time while Charles II and his wife ran a lodging house.
Any other bizarre Romani stories? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Beachcombing senses juicy pickings.
14 July 2011: Invisible write in with the following information: Ohio is home to several gypsy tribes, as well as the burial sites of some gypsy kings and queens. This article is unusually laudatory about the clan. Then there is this article from the Dayton Daily News, 6 Jan 2011: ‘Sept. 15, 1878, Woodland Cemetery in Dayton was the site of the burial of Matilda Stanley, queen of the Gypsies. The authors of the ‘History of Wayne Township, 1810-1976’ write, ‘The gypsies’ burial place in Woodland Cemetery … is believed to be the only sacred burying ground of gypsies in the United States.” Matilda was born about 1821 in Reading, Berkshire, England. There she married Levi Stanley, son of Richard ‘Owen’ Stanley, king of a prominent gypsy tribe. The people called gypsies are nomadic tribes and thought to have originated in India, later immigrating to Eastern Europe, and then throughout the world. Rulers are appointed by either inheritance or by the choice of the clan.They have no actual power, but the tribe usually respects and obeys their decisions. In 1856, Owen Stanley decided to move his affiliated families from England to the United States. They settled in the northern part of Dayton, purchasing several farms in Harrison Twp. with others in Mad River, Butler and Wayne townships. When Owen and his wife died, Levi and Matilda became king and queen. The Dayton gypsies lived on their farms during the summer and roamed in the south during the winters. The wealthy families made money in horse trading and fortune telling. If one of their tribe died while gone from Dayton, they shipped the body, in a beautiful casket, back to Woodland Cemetery. Matilda died in Vicksburg, Miss., in January of 1878. She had suffered with cancer for two years. Her body was embalmed and transported to Woodland Cemetery’s receiving vault. All gypsy tribes were notified of the funeral arrangements. National and local newspapers advertised the event. There was a great interest in the occasion. Spectators came from all over the country. Special trains brought throngs of people for the event. The Rev. David Berger of the United Brethren Church of Dayton who ‘for many years ministered to the Gypsies in spiritual things’ read a paper about them to the Dayton Historical Society. The paper was printed in the Dayton Daily Journal on May 23, 1898. Many facts in this column were taken from his paper, He wrote, ‘It can but rarely occur that royalty finds sepulture in Republican American soil, or that an American clergyman is called to officiate at the funeral of a queen.’ The crowd was estimated to be 15,000 to 25,000. The gypsies numbered in the hundreds and were from the United States, Canada, and England. A thousand carriages paraded from downtown to the cemetery. They were stopped at the gates. Police had to open a way for the funeral procession. Berger stood on a plank across the open grave to avoid the crush of the crowd and led the service. A quartet from the First United Brethren Church sang and the casket was placed in the family vault. The plot is marked by a 20-foot granite column topped by a white marble figure.’ There is some further information on the cemetery and a photo. Then there is Queen Marion, a gypsy queen in Pennsylvania, one state over. There is also a gypsy queen one state over, in Pennsylvania. And another member of the Stanley clan buried in Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery: (I suspect the New York Times free archives would yield a lot of gypsy stories.) Allgurrey( Gannie) Stanley wife of Mark Jefferies- funeral as found in New York Times A GYPSY QUEEN’S FUNERAL 1884 HONORS PAID TO THE DEAD QUEEN BY HER SUBJECTS DAYTON OHIO April 15th GANNIE JEFFERS Queen of the Gypsies in the United States died at GREENFIELD TENN on March 10th and was buried here today. Gypsies are encamped about to the number of 1,500 travelling by wagon from all points of the country. The Queen was embalmed and laid out in NASVILLE TENN. Immediately upon her death and was brought to this city fro interment in WOODLAND CEMETERY, where all the King & Queens of the gypsies are buried. The dead Queen reposed in a handsome Casket made of the finest wood, lined with the finest silks and satins and mounted with gold and jewels. The plot belonging to the gypsies is marked by a fine monument of granite shipped here from Greece. The funeral procession which composed entirely of Gypsies formed in the northern section of the city and marched to the southern extremity, where the Cemetery is situated. At the grave ropes were stretched around it , leaving an enclosure large enough for mourners to stand in . The crowds were very large and surged up against the rope. Boys and men sat on tombstones and filled trees and every place that could afford an opportunity of seeing what was going on. The funeral services were conducted by one of the leading PASTORS of the city. The grave was sunk about 10 feet. At the bottom was a box made of stone slabs and in this box the coffin was laid be side the deceased daughter. There were stifled sobs as the mourners marched about the grave and several broke out in loud cries as the coffin was lowered. At the conclusion of the clergyman’s remarks the choir belonging to the officiating clergyman’s church sang the SWEET BYE AND BYE and the services closed. The most affecting scene was when the great stone was about to be lifted by means of a derrick close at hand The sons and daughters of the Queen climbed down to the stone box to take their last farewells Their sobs and cries filled the air and were echoed by the mourners that stood on the brink of the grave. The sons and daughters threw themselves prostrate on the coffins and kissing the hard wood and it was only with great prevailing the stone lid was then put into position and the dirt thrown upon it. A monument will be erected over the grave. Published April 16th 1884 2nd he married his 1st cousin Jentie Harrison Jeffery her parents were Henry younger brother to Thomas & Phillis Stanley also a daughter of Owen & Harriet Stanley QUEEN OF THE GYPSIES THE WOMAN WHO DIED IN MISSISSSIPPI WAS NOT A GYPSY QUEEN DAYTON OHIO JAN 16th 1887 Much has been said in the newspapers during the past week concerning the ‘Gypsy Queen’ who died in Mississippi 1887 and was sent here for burial , JENTIE JEFFREY HARRISON the woman was not en-fact the person who bears the title but was reported as the wife of MARK JEFFRY a member of the Stanley tribe, Mark was a widower when he left here according the best information of his friends and is doubt expressed as to the correctness of the dispatch, it is said that she gave birth to twins during the prevalence of a snow storm and the lack of proper attention and the severe and unusual weather caused the death of herself and the babies, the tents and wagons of the gypsies are comfortable in warm or moderate weather, but not constructed for snowstorms and low temperatures. About May the tribe returned and remain in this neighbourhood until the leaves begin to fall, meantime notice of the funeral of Jeffrey’s wife will be circulated and arrangements made for Christian burial, the Rev D A Berger of the United Brethen Church is usually selected to preach a sermon and conduct religious exercises on such occasions. The mourning is of the most demonstrative and intense character, the women shriek and carry on at a great rate and the men make a wailing noise that is very mournful, at the burial of Mrs Stanley The Queen several years ago great crowds attended. Until a few years ago the Stanley tribe were quite prosperous owning several valuable farms near the city which they rented out through one misfortune after another however they lost about all they owned MISSOURI STANLEY who might be denominated THE PRINCESS being the only one who is at present well to do. Jentie died while delivering twins they did not survive either.’ Invisible continues Dayton was quite the gypsy enclave. One hears little about the Stanley clan these days. I’m still trying to find the story of the gypsy queen buried in Toledo in a glass-topped coffin. A friend of mine used to go and peep in at her. They eventually covered her up.’ Isn’t that always the way… Thanks Invisible!!!
16 July 2011: JEC writes in too on this question: ‘Regarding your reference to the Faa royal line, and the Yetholm Romani, I always had the feeling that there were several competing lines of so-called ‘Gypsy Kings’…or at least there were in the American South from the 1960s into the 1980s. Some extended families of ‘Gypsies’ had lived in my region since the1940s.(They may still, but I lost track after the early 80s.) With non-Romani they used the term ‘Gypsy’, but they referred to themselves as ‘Rumbly Chillun’, derived from ‘Romani Children’. These extended families apparently had ‘territories’, and it was not unusual for their patriarchs to claim to be ‘King of The Gypsies’. Often when an elderly Romani male died in our metropolitan area the obituary (routinely written by the family) referred to the deceased as ‘King of the Gypsies’. Occasionally the local papers or tv news carried stories about the gathering of the clans, come to bury ‘The Gypsy King’. There was from time to time more than one self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ living in the area at the same time, although I don’t believe they ever took the field and fought it out. I don’t know if the contemporaneous claims of Romani royalty in my area were just for entertainment, understandable lily-gilding in published obituaries; or if kingships were truly disputed. Who knows? Perhaps an anti-king reigns from Avignon. And all because the royal line failed in Yetholm in 1902.’ Beach loves the idea of a Gypsy King to rule them all in southern France… Thanks JEC
28 April 2014: Neil H writes: You’ve hit on a sore point with this one – sore because I spent a lot of time on it without reaching any firm conclusion, except that Kings of Gypsies were pretty random. I posted an unsatisfactory entry on Wikipedia in the hope that people would take it on; Also because I could not reach a conclusion about the relationship between: 1. The anointing of Clause the King of the Beggars in the 1622 play Beggars Bush by Beaumont (actually Massinger) & Fletcher. 2. The anointing of Bampfylde Moore Carew as King of the Beggars, clearly taken from the play. 3. The ceremonies at the grave of the Boswells 4. Other reported ceremonies in which Kings of the Gypsies/Beggars are anointed with alcohol Did the play draw on knowledge of Rom practice, or did Rom adopt the theatrical trope? I strongly favour the latter but proof either way is, I suspect, impossible. I haven’t traced the practice before the play, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. BTW I throughly recommend Sir James Fraser’s ‘The Gypsies’ not only as a good balanced history, but also a masterpiece of clear writing – he was a senior civil servant. Thanks Neil!!!