Sunday, March 23, 2008

John McCain's family link to Robert the Bruce

I read about this the other day, but didn't follow the links until tonight. A lot can happen in two days!

John McCain wrote in his book "Faith of My Fathers" that

"... his great-grandparents 'gave life to two renowned fighters, my great-uncle Wild Bill and my grandfather Sid McCain.' Wild Bill, he wrote, 'joined the McCain name to an even more distinguished warrior family. His wife, Mary Louise Earle, was descended from royalty. She claimed as ancestors Scottish kings back to Robert the Bruce.' The passage goes on to say that Mary Louise Earle was also 'in direct descent' from Emperor Charlemagne."

The above summary is from an article in The Guardian newspaper in England published on March 21 titled "John McCain, veteran war hero: yes. But a descendant of Robert the Bruce? Baloney" which goes on to thoroughly trash the claim based on statements from genealogical experts.

Note that the headline is totally erroneous - John McCain didn't claim descent from Robert the Bruce. The Guardian article plainly states that Mary Louise Earle was not his ancestress! A little bit of headline editorial malfeasance there, methinks.

However, I note that there are many documented ancestries from Charlemagne, Robert the Bruce, William the Conqueror and other notable medieval persons. One book with many of them is by NEHGS's Gary Boyd Roberts - "The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States: Who Were Themselves Notable or Left Descendants Notable in American History"

A little Google search by the reporters or the researchers would have turned up this list of Mary Louise Earle's line to Robert the Bruce at
This was found in a soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup thread here, in a post by D. Spencer Hines (quoting Will somebody, I think).

Whether that line of descent from Robert the Bruce to Mary Earle is correct or not, it is at least available for researchers to verify or dispute. The so-called "experts" could have opined on something concrete. The family connections to the Roberts' book data are in early Virginia and are not well documented, in my opinion. However, the line from Generation 7 back may be well documented (I can't tell from this, and don't have the books - proof to be left to the reader :).

Wouldn't it have made more sense to do some research into the McCain book claim before writing an article and publishing a seemingly unsubstantiated claim that

"What wonderful fiction ... Mary Louise Earle's claims to descent from Robert the Bruce are likely to be fantasy. Earle is not a Scottish name. I think it is incredibly unlikely that name would be related to Robert the Bruce. Charlemagne and Robert the Bruce were not connected - that's ludicrous." -- Dr. Katie Stevenson (in The Guardian article).

A very civil conversation between Dr. Katie Stevenson and Tony Hoskins, an American genealogist, is posted on the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup here. Stevenson sticks to the fiction that McCain made the claim of direct descent from Robert the Bruce. Perhaps the skilled reporter led her astray?

Dick Eastman posted a link to the Guardian article without further comment on his blog and had some interesting comments, including this one by "boeufdaisy" -

"For the documented history of McCain's ancestors, the best start is with the Ahnentafel by William Addams Reitwiesner at the linked URL. Via his ancestor Anne Hampden, McCain is a descendant of Edward I, King of England. This means that McCain's medieval ancestry is well known, and that Katie Stevenson's assertion that 'it's virtually impossible to prove ancestry through the middle ages' is complete nonsense."

One list of John McCain's known ancestry is posted by William Addams Reitweisner at

Bravo to D. Spencer Hines, Will, Tony Hoskins and "boeufdaisy" (and probably many others) for catching these errors by the newspaper and the so-called experts, and making rational and civil suggestions and observations.

If I can find this stuff just by Googling for 15 minutes (although it took me longer to write it up), don't you think that The Guardian reporters could have done it also? Inept? Hurried? Biased? Political? Probably all of the above.


Bill West said...

Good points, Randy.
But asking English newspaper
reporters to do genuine research
that would mean they can't use a
good juicy sensational headline?

Everytime I hear someone complain
about American newspapers and
newscasts I think of how bad they
could really be if they were like
mostof the british press.

John said...

I was going to say (somewhat ironically) that the Guardian doesn't have the reputation of, say The New York Times, for accuracy. I don't think it's quite as bad as British Tabloids.

The BBC is probably the best British news source, though politically biased. The McCain ancestry issue is mentioned on their website, but only in a blog, with a link to the Guardian article, and little commaentary.

Anonymous said...

Well.......didn't the New York Times run the "General Betrayus" add from I'm inclined to think that genealogists are among the last of the few true researchers.

Question: have you ever read a genealogy which contained bias? Was that bias as obvious as the Guardian or the New York Times?

I think we should all take a pledge to report the facts as they were and not as we want them to be. We all value Integrity in the lives of our forebears, so let's continue the tradition.

Happy Dae.

Mark Humphrys said...

Great post about a terrible Guardian article!
Well done for tracking down Earle's descent.
I try to summarise the issue here:

The "John McCain and Robert the Bruce" controversy

Let me know if any errors.