The Tragedy of Phyllis Pinnock
The Tragedy of Phyllis Pinnock
My father Patrick “Pat” Halling was born in Australia…in Rowella in the beautiful Tamar Valley in northern Tasmania on the 28th of August 1924…but largely raised in Sydney, the son of an Englishwoman, Phyllis Mary Pinnock, who I always knew as Mary, and a Dane by the name of Carl Halling.
Mary had been born into a middle – or upper middle – class family sometime towards the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century, possibly in the Dulwich area of South East London, and according to my father's account, her first true love David was a scion of the Wilson Line of Hull which had developed into the largest privately owned shipping firm in the world in the early part of the century. Tragically, he perished during the First World War like so many young men who were the very flower of England, and her most precious possession, immortalised in innumerous war poems such as Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
She subsequently married an officer in the British army, the aforesaid Peter Robinson, and they had two children, Peter Bevan, who went on to become a successful cellist, and Suzanne, known as Dinny.
For some reason, her husband – who was presumably no longer in the army - and she elected to work as tea planters in Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – and it was on that famously beautiful island that she met the two men – tea planters like herself – who were destined to become her second and third husbands. They were my namesake Carl Halling, a Danish devotee of Eastern mysticism and fluent Sanskrit speaker, and a quiet British engineer called Christopher Evans.
While in Ceylon, she became pregnant with her third child, and soon after having done so, she mysteriously took off with Carl to Tasmania, where the child was born Patrick Clancy Halling, to be raised as Carl’s son…but in the great city of Sydney - rather than the Tasmanian backwoods - where they lived in a predominantly Irish Catholic neighbourhood. It was in Sydney that Carl contracted the multiple sclerosis that would ultimately kill him, after which according to family accounts, Mary made a living variously as a journalist - writing for the Sydney Telegraph - and teacher, even running her own primary school for a time, but it was hard for her.
One blessing was that all three of her children were exceptionally gifted musically, Patrick as a violinist, Peter as a cellist and Suzanne as a pianist, but of all of them Pat was the only borderline prodigy. At just eight years old, he won a scholarship to the Sydney Conservatory of Music, soloing for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra a year later. However, he reserved his true passion for the water, this love of the sea and ships and specifically sailing being a legacy from Mary, who spent much of her adult life by the sea.
Soon after Carl’s death on the eve of the second world war, Mary and her family set off for Denmark, Carl having wished to be buried in his native country, and then to London where Pat studied both at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under the tutelage of the great Austrian violinist Max Rostal.
He joined the London Philharmonic 0rchestra while still a teenager during the Blitz on London during which he served in the Sea Cadets as a signaller, seeing action as such on the hospital ships of the Thames River Emergency Service, which, formed in 1938, lasted for three years, using converted Thames pleasure steamers as floating ambulances or first aid stations.
With Mary and her three children back in London, evidently some kind of reconciliation took place between herself and her family, which included financial aid. Given that her father had been what is known as a gentleman, meaning that he was independently wealthy, it’s probable that she’d been born into that part of the upper middle class known as the lower gentry. However, by abandoning her first husband for another man it may be that she irrevocably cut herself off from that hallowed social class.
In this one respect, she was somewhat akin to the mother of “Kind Hearts and Coronets” anti-hero Louis Mazzini, who suffers ostracism at the hands of her aristocratic family for the social crime of marrying an Italian opera singer, which is to say out of her social caste. Following the untimely death of her husband, she enters a state of deep mourning for the decision that wrecked her life, and after her own early death, passes her pathological preoccupation with social position onto her only child, who goes on to effectuate a terrible revenge on the class that rejected her.
Needless to say, nothing anywhere near as dramatic or violent as the fate of the Mazzinis of the pitch black Ealing comedy directed by Douglas Hamer afflicted my own family, and my father went on to become - not a psychopath - but a successful professional musician and family man. However, as I say, the comparison can to some degree be made, and my own father occasionally spoke of a supposed distant connection to aristocracy to me when I was a young man. On at least one occasion, he did so as a means of boosting my morale by convincing me that my destiny was that of a scholar and athlete, of one born to greatness if you will.
A further comparison can be made to the mother of the great American Method actor Montgomery Clift, whose extraordinary physical beauty and magnetism constitute the very quintessence of the ideal of the aristocratic WASP Prince. Although born into a fairly humble middle class family, Clift was a scion of the southern aristocracy according to his mother Ethel “Sunny” Clift, who was allegedly the illegitimate daughter of Woodbury Blair, son of a Postmaster General under President Lincoln, Montgomery Blair, and a great-granddaughter of Francis Preston Blair, a journalist and adviser to President Jackson, and Levi Woodbury, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Monty and his twin sister and elder brother Brooks were raised as aristocrats, and educated in French, German and Italian.
Like Sunny Clift with her three children, Phyllis Mary Pinnock instilled it into my father that he was descended from aristocrats, in his case, a famous Anglo-Irish dynasty known as the Butlers of Ormonde. I never fully believed her story until one day in the 1980s, while my family was being paid a visit by Mary’s younger sister Joan and her husband Eric, I surreptitiously placed a cassette tape recorder close to her chair during dinner, knowing that one or other of my parents would quiz her as to the veracity of Mary’s tales of the longstanding mystery of Ormonde.
The Mystery of Ormonde
According to Joan’s testimony that day, her – and her elder sister Mary’s - maternal grandmother’s maiden name had been Butler, which allegedly links the family to the Butlers of Ormond, a dynasty of Anglo-Norman nobles named after the Earldom they went on to rule in Munster, Ireland, although Walter was the name by which they were first known.
The Butler saga begins in earnest with the Norman Invasions of Ireland, which took place in 1169 at the behest of Dermot MacMurrough the King of Leinster, one of five kingdoms of pre-Norman Ireland. A beautiful land once given over to Druidry and the worship of the Sidhe or Faery Folk, Ireland had long been Christian (although paganism had persisted). Nonetheless, an invasion had already been authorised by the first – and only - English Pope Adrian IV in 1155, and was destined to be blessed by his successor, Pope Alexander III.
MacMurrough had been forced into exile in 1166 by a coalition of forces led by the High King of Ireland Rory O'Connor, and had fled…allegedly to Bristol first and then to France. There are various accounts of what happened next, but it’s certain he asked Henry II, first English King of the House of Plantagenet, for help in regaining his kingdom. Henry offered his support, after which MacMurrough began recruiting allies in Wales, Richard de Clare, the man known as Strongbow, foremost among them.
In 1167, he returned to Ireland with a small army of mercenaries, but it wasn’t until 1169 that a full-scale invasion by the Anglo-Normans and their Welsh and Flemish allies - and led by Strongbow - got under way. Contemporary accounts apparently refer to the invaders as English, although they have also been described as Anglo-Norman, Cambro-Norman and Anglo-French. The Flemish contingent was culled largely from those Flemings who’d arrived in Britain with William I, and had been settled in Wales by Henry I, to be perceived by the hostile Welsh as English. Also believed to have taken part in the invasion was one Theobald Walter, patriarch of the Butlers of Ormond.
Two years afterwards, Henry II set foot in Ireland, the first English King to do so, and so High Kingship was brought to an end, to be replaced by over 750 years of English rule. Henry was an ancestor of future generations of Butlers, and a grandson of William the Conqueror, which may provide a kinship with the mysterious Merovingian dynasty of Frankish Kings. When Henry's son with Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the future King John of England Prince John arrived in Ireland in 1185, he was accompanied by Theobald Walter, and as his father had been Butler of England, he was appointed Butler of Ireland and given a portion of land in eastern Munster that would become known as Ormond. Hence the name, the Butlers of Ormond.
Theobald wed Maud le Vavasour around 1200, and they had one son, Theobald le Botiller, 2cnd Baron Butler (1200-1230), whose son with Joan du Marais married Margery de Burgh, a descendant of both Dermot McMurrough and the legendary Brian Boru, thereby bringing royal Gaelic blood into the Butler bloodline. One of their grand-children James Butler was appointed Earl of Ormond in 1328. He’d been born to yet another Theobald and the beautiful Eleanor de Bohun, grand-daughter of Edward I of the House of Plantagenet…also known as the Angevins from their origins in Anjou, France. Dubbed The Hammer of the Scots, he was the Anglo-Norman monarch who'd had Scottish landowner Sir William Wallace executed in 1305 for having led a resistance during the Wars of Scottish independence.
The Earldom of Ormond was created for Theobald's grandson, James Butler, son of Sir Edmund and Lady Joan Fitzgerald in 1328. Through their issue all subsequent Earls of Ormonde were descended. The 7th Earl, Thomas Butler was the great-grandfather of Anne and Mary Boleyn. On his death, Piers Roe Butler became the 8th Earl, but as the King wanted the Earldom of Ormond for Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne and Mary, Piers resigned his claim in 1528. Ten years later, it was restored to him, heralding the title's third creation. By this time, England had become a Protestant nation, and the Anglican faith established in Ireland as the state religion, despite the fact that the vast majority of the people were Catholic.
Years of vicious feuding between Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond - known as the Black Earl - and his own mother's family the Fitzgeralds, culminated in a victory for the Butlers in 1565 at the Battle of Afane. which helped provoke the Desmond Rebellions of 1569-73 and 1579-83, the second of which was bolstered by hundreds of Papal troops. Defeated by the Elizabethan Armies and their Irish allies - Court favourites the Butlers predominant among them - they were succeeded by the first English Plantations carried out in a devastated Munster.
The Futility of Nobility
In 1609 the first Ulster Plantation came into being in the wake of the Nine Years War which was largely fought in Ulster, the island's most Gaelic region, between Ulster chieftains and their Catholic allies, including in 1601-1602, 6000 Spanish soldiers sent by Phillip II, and the Protestant Elizabethan government. The routing of the Ulster Earls and their allies led to the famous Flight of the Earls to Europe, the end of the Gaelic Clan system, and the colonization of Ulster by English and Scottish Protestants.
As for the Earldom of Ormond, the fifth Earl of its third creation James Butler was placed in command of English government forces based in Dublin following The Irish Rebellion of 1641, which was an uprising by the Old English Catholic gentry who had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. Most of the country was taken by the Catholic rebels, whose leader was the Duke's own cousin Richard Butler, 3rd Viscount Mountgarret, and in time it evolved into a conflict between the native Irish and the newly arrived Protestant settlers from Britain which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Protestants, the precise number being a matter of much debate.
A year later, with the English Civil War (1641-1651) under way, Ormonde, who was a Royalist sympathizer, despatched an estimated 4000 troops to England to fight for King Charles I of the Scottish House of Stuart against the English Calvinist Roundheads under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, and was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Royal Appointment in 1643.
By 1649, Ireland had become a stronghold of support for the King with Ormonde in overall charge of the Royalist forces and Irish Confederation of native Gaels and Old English Catholics, all of which had the effect of attracting the attention of Cromwell and his New Model Army. Ormonde attempted to thwart the English Puritan invaders by holding a line of fortified towns across the country, but their leader defeated them one after the other, beginning in 1649 with the Siege of Drogheda.
In the summer of 1650, following a long series of humiliating defeats for the Irish, Ormonde, having been deserted by Protestants and Catholics alike, was urged to leave the country by the Catholic clergy, which he promptly did, seeking refuge in Paris with the exiled Charles II. On the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy in 1660, James Butler was showered with honours by the new King of England, Scotland and Ireland and was made Duke of Ormonde in the peerage of Ireland in the spring of '61.
Eight year later, he fell from favour as a result, allegedly, of courtly intrigue on the part of Royal favourite James Villiers, the 2cnd Duke of Buckingham. In 1671, an attempt was made on his life by an Irish adventurer named Thomas Blood, but Ormonde escaped, convinced that Buckingham had put him up to it, but nothing was ever proven. In 1682, he became Duke of Ormonde in the peerage of England, dying four years later in Dorset, and soon after his death, a poem was published which celebrated his great nobility of character, an essential decency that was never compromised.
One of his sons, the 2cnd Duke of Ormonde, commanded a regiment at the Battle of the Boyne under William of Orange, and took part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. His son was the third and final Duke of Ormonde. The Earldom, however, lasted until the end of the 20th Century, becoming dormant in October 1997 with the death of James Butler the 7th Marquess of Ormonde, who had two daughters, but no sons. It may be that I’m a distant relative of theirs…and if so, then I'm also related to many perhaps even all of the most blue-blooded families not just in Europe but the entire world.
In the end though, what does it mean, to have blue blood? It’s meaningless.
Author Apology: This shouldn't be in the Apologetics category.
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