Does Art Imitate Life or Life More Often Imitate Art?

In recent years, several excellent historical drama series have emerged that depict the life and times of ancient peoples and cultures.  We sit back comfortably in our chairs, on our couches, or even lay back on our bed pillows and watch in high definition color on our flat screens as peoples’ thirsts drive them forward at any and all costs in their quests for political and social stature, and even designs of world dominance.  And, whether dramatic art or in the reality of our own world today, we see individuals and groups wrestling for social and political power and world sovereignty.  I’d like to know who was right;  Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC), who viewed art as an imitation of life; or the author from Ireland, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), who believed that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.  These series like The Tudors, Reign, Marco Polo, Medici-Masters of Florence,  Hell on Wheels, The Hatfields and McCoys, West Wing, and House of Cards, in fact, have inspired my subsequent research into the real stories behind them and to root out the naked truths.

In Art – Let’s start with The Tudors:

The Tudors included 38 episodes over four seasons and followed the life of Henry VIII from the time of his crowning until his death. His personal and political struggles and victories.  It also detailed his paranoia, his scandalous life that included many marriages and extramarital affairs, and his changes to the Catholic Church to create the Church of England–all for his own personal benefit.

Next – there was Reign:

Reign ran for four seasons and 78 episodes. Reign followed Mary, the dainty but fierce 15-year-old from Scotland, as she re-entered French court after spending her adolescence at a convent. She was torn between her duty to Scotland and her Scottish family’s political aspirations for her to marry Prince Francis, future King of France; and her blossoming love for this man, Francis, who she was betrothed to as a child and had spent much of her childhood with him as playmates.  Yet, throughout her life, even Mary had to remain ever-vigilant due to social and political threats against her life and crown.

In Reality – Executions at Tower Hill Ordered by British Royalty

What I quickly learned from these historical dramas and my subsequent research is that everyone had to be ever vigilant.  Their harsh realities–there were few who could be trusted loyal friends and many unknown enemies who were more than willing to strike them down in whatever fashion in their attempts to get ahead–and this scenario was especially true among the royals and their “closest” associates!

I found a couple of interesting resources: 1) Capital Punishment UK and 2) British Royal Family History. I used both of them when generating this Google Sheet that covers the “Executions on Tower Hill by English Kings and Queens (1377-1820).” As you can see, it spans nearly 500 years; seven ruling families; and, 18 blue-bloods who decided who amidst them would advance within the royal ranks and who they would execute at their sole discretion because they had in some way become “inconvenient” to them rather than genuine traitors.

The majority of these beheadings were at the behest of royalty and took place at the Tower of London. It is a 900-year-old castle and fortress in central London that is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners.

It seems the history of these beheadings by British Royalty goes back to early medieval England’s Anglo-Saxon times (about  450 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) and that beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until as recently as the 20th century.  Even today, as barbaric as it is, we still are witness to political-based and/or jihad-inspired beheadings by peoples primarily on the continents of Asia and Africa in places like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, and Boko-Haram.  But among the British Royalty, beheading with a sword or axe was considered a more honorable and less painful form of death than other execution methods used at the time. (And, like hanging, it was a cheap and practical method!)

Throughout its history, the tower was used to imprison a wide range of prisoners, from deposed monarchs to more common criminals. Prisoners included Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for about a week in the 16th century before she was deposed by Mary I.

Also imprisoned there were two princes, Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9, who were the sons of Edward IV (died 1483). They appear never to have left the tower alive and some thought they were killed by Richard III, their uncle who took the throne for himself.

Another notable prisoner was Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 attempted to blow up the House of Lords and the monarch by detonating gunpowder in the cellars below. He was imprisoned in the tower and tortured.

And, of course, King Henry VIII, one of the more notorious members of the House of Tudor, who ruled for about 38 years.  He had all but 5 his 31 “treasonous” country-men/women beheaded on Tower Hill.  If fact, he imprisoned two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and later executed them. It also was Henry, who turned England into a Protestant country, and in doing so had a number of his dissenting clergymen committed to the tower and later killed, including his former counselor Sir Thomas More.

In all, just within the Tower of London or on an ancient scaffold on Tower Hill, 122 people were put to their deaths–many after also spending torturous times imprisoned within the walls of the Tower.

Of those executed:

  • 94 were beheaded
  • 12 were hanged
  • 11 were hanged and drawn and quartered
  •   3 were killed by firing squad
  •   2 were burned at the stake

You also can see on my google sheet that from the years 1649-1660, that 11-year-period between the reigns of King Charles I and King Charles II, that the British parliament and government ruled the Kingdom, and even then eight persons were beheaded for various “treasonous plots” against the Royals or their armies.  Included among them was British Monarch, Charles I–the only monarch ever to be executed by Parliament, but not in Tower Hill. He was beheaded on Tuesday the 30th of January 1649 on a raised scaffold in front of the Palace of Whitehall. He had been convicted of High Treason and “other crimes” for his activities during the civil war against the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. An act of parliament had to be passed to set up a means to try him before a special court composed of Commissioners. The trial began on the 20th of January 1649 and the king refused to recognize the court or to enter a plea. In Charles’ case, the executioner was skilled and managed to sever his head with a single blow–unlike so many others put to their deaths by beheadings and orders of the blue-bloods.

So where does this leave us on the art imitating life or life imitating art question?  I’m not sure I am qualified to say.  If I’m to be honest (like TV personality Simon Cowell often says), we’ve each seen examples of art imitating life and life imitating art.  I guess it’s safe to say it’s like the chicken and the egg story–which came first?



Wharton’s – My Ancient Ancestors

Often when I’m researching family history, regardless of the branch, I feel a real connection and gain a greater understanding of familial traits and relationships.  Yet sometimes, especially in the ancient families’ histories, the facts seem so very surreal; especially as they unfold through the mix of aristocracies, the haughty “blue-bloods,” castles, manor houses, servants, and the underbelly of tawdry tales from historical accounts of my families’ lives and times.  So, as we continue this chapter about my paternal great-grandmother Mary Florence Wharton’s family’s branch we are exploring Scotland and England during the 12th through the 16th Centuries.  Along our way, we have learned that many of the Wharton’s descended from the family’s progenitor — Gilbert de Querton; that many became knights and amassed land as a result; and that others gained social ascension through their marriages into well-to-do families through Princesses, Kings, Dukes, etc..

The Wharton’s knighthood dates from 6 October 1292 when King Edward I granted to Gilbert de Querton “the Manor of Querton with its appurtenances.” (“Querton” was the earlier Latin spelling of “Wharton”).

On this map, I have highlighted the borderline between England and Scotland within the rectangular area that spans from Carlisle to Berwick in the East.  Many renowned families originated here.  Names like Armstrong, Bell, Carson, Graham, Hume, Irving, Nixon, Rutherford, and–Wharton.

For about 400 years (13th-17th Centuries), Wharton’s were among those who lived along this Anglo-Scottish Border region. It literally was a war zone.  Both Scottish and English families raided the entire Border country without regard to victims’ nationalities. Their heyday was perhaps in the last hundred years of their existence, at the time of their Kings:  The Tudors (1485 -1603) and The Stuarts 1603 – (1649 and 1660 – 1714 ).

Ruins of Lammerside Castle                             Photo courtesy of Graeme Dougal

Lammerside Castle existed before Gilbert de Querton (original spelling of the Wharton family name), received title to it. It was most likely built by a border branch of the Scottish Wauchope/Warcop family, who later intermarried with the Wharton family. This was part of that border region that switched back and forth several times between Scotland and England, before remaining under English control.


In Westmorland County (now known as Cumbria County), in a civil parish near Kirkby Stephen (circled in black on the map) stands the very impressive “Wharton Hall”  with a gatehouse, internal courtyard, and outbuildings built by Gilbert de Querton for himself and his wife, Emma de Hastings.  It is about one mile from Lammerside Tower and Pendragon Castle (mentioned in my earlier post).

After construction of Wharton Hall, both castles fell into disrepair and now exist only as ruins as shown in the images.

Thomas Wharton, 1st Baron Wharton (1495 – 23 August 1568), 4th line of descent from Sir Gilbert de Querton

Thomas was born in Wharton, the eldest son of Sir Thomas Wharton of Wharton Hall and his wife Agnes Warcop, daughter of Reynold or Reginald Warcop of Smardale. His younger brother was the English martyr Christopher Wharton. His father died around 1520, and in April 1522 he served on a raiding expedition into Scotland. Thomas was also a  follower of King Henry VIII of England. He is best known for his victory at Solway Moss on 24 November 1542.  For this victory, his title of Barony was created in 1544. Sir Thomas Wharton had previously served as a Member of Parliament for Cumberland.  (The letters patent stipulated that his Barony title could only be passed on to male heirs.) It was along this Anglo-Scottish border that “Lord Wharton” led 3,000 men. The battle took place between the rivers Esk and Lyne.  Here, the Scots found themselves penned in the south of the Esk in English territory between the river and the Moss (a peat bog).  After intense fighting, the Scots surrendered themselves to the English cavalry.  

Henry de Wharton, the 5th descendant of Gilbert de Querton

Sir Henry inherited Wharton family lands in today’s Cumbria which by then included estates in Ravenstonedale, Rengill, Norton, and Kellorth. Sir Henry had two sons, Sir Thomas de Wharton and Gilbert de Wharton. Upon Henry’s death, Sir Thomas inherited the lands of his father and added Croglin (Cumberland). Sir Thomas’ line is the origin of the first Lords of Wharton Hall. Sir Thomas was also a steward in the house of Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VII, and he fought with Henry the VIII against the Scots.

The youngest son of Henry de Wharton, Gilbert, married Joan (or Jane) Kirkby who was the heiress to the lands of Kirkby Thor. This included estates in Offerton, Dryburn, Gillingwood, Skelton Castle, Durham, and Yorkshire.

John Wharton, the 6th descendant of Gilbert de Wharton purchased Old Park (near Durham) in 1600 and from him, the Wharton’s of Old Park descended.

Lord  Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton in 1632, by Van Dyck.

Sir Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton (18 April 1613 – 4 February 1696), (7th line of descent), was an English soldier, politician, and diplomat. He was a Parliamentarian during the English Civil War.  Philip was named in honor of Philip II of Spain who married Princess Mary. King Philip himself stood as Godfather to Philip Wharton at his baptism.  He also was a Puritan and a favorite of Sir Oliver Cromwell.  After the English Civil War, Sir Philip frequently ran into difficulty with the Crown. In 1676 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later (in 1685) fled the country when King James II came to the throne.

Sir Philip Wharton (8th line of descent), was active in the overthrow of King James II and in 1692 entertained King William and Queen Mary at Woodburn Manor. The inscription on his tomb reads “An active supporter of the English Constitution; a loyal observer, advocate, and patron of reformed religion; a model alike of good works and true and living faith.”  Lord Wharton gave much support to church ministers, particularly those who shared his perspectives. He also gave money to establish chapels at Ravenstonedale and Smarber and to provide for the ministers at both places.

Sir Thomas Wharton (9th line of descent), made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1708-1710, and was appointed by King George I as Lord of the Privy Seal in 1714; given several peerages, and made Knight of the Garter. He was also named the first Marquis of Wharton Hall in 1715.

Sir Philip Wharton (10th line of descent), (December 1698 – May 31, 1731), was eccentric, witty, and gifted — writing a ballad about the Archbishop of Canterbury. Philip was made the First Duke of Wharton in 1718, but the title was later forfeited when the Duke was declared an outlaw, and his inherited titles from his father became extinct upon his death.

Philip Wharton was also a Jacobite–a sympathizer with King James II, who was a suspected Catholic. Most of the people of England did not want a Catholic as King.    Thus, Glorious Revolution of 1688, where the English people deposed him and invited his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, to rule as joint sovereigns. This couple became King William III and Queen Mary II, from whom the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, was named. Philip was definitely a colorful figure of the period. He founded and was one-time president of one of probably three Hell-Fire Clubs in London. Hell-Fire Clubs were rumored to be meeting places for “high society” and politicians who were perceived to practice socially immoral acts. As publisher of True Briton from June 3, 1723, until February 17, 1724, Philip’s writings resulted in his printer, Samuel Richardson, being tried for libel and his own self-exile to the Continent where his service for the King of Spain in the siege of Gibraltar lead to a charge of High Treason. With his estates frozen, he was living in Rouen, France when he was outlawed on April 3, 1729, for not appearing on the charge of High Treason. He died in indigence at a Bernadine convent in Catalonia, May 31, 1731.

Unfortunately, the son of Sir Philip Wharton, Thomas Wharton (the seventh Lord Wharton and second Duke) died without having any children and the line of noble Wharton’s died out.

In 1682, a different Thomas Wharton (b.1644 d.1718), commonly called Thomas “The Immigrant,” left England for America. He was the son of Richard Wharton of Orton, Overton Parish, Westmoreland.  His son, Joseph Wharton, the first Wharton born in the North America,  (1707 – 1776), became a famous Philadelphia industrialist, a successful merchant, and the owner of “Walnut Grove,” a country place on Fifth street, near Washington Avenue, Philadelphia, on which the Mischianza of 1778 was held. His house was the finest of its day near that city. It was torn down in 1862, to make room for a schoolhouse. He was called “Duke Wharton”, because of his stately bearing. And, Joseph Wharton was the namesake for the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and the benefactor of Swarthmore College in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He had several brothers, one of whom was named Captain John Wharton (married to Mary Dobbins), who settled in Chester County (possibly Delaware County today) and had Quaker leanings.

As a result of Henry VIII’s “Dissolution of the Monasteries”  between 1536 and 1541, a 7,702 acre mountainous Manor known as Langdale, in the township of Orton, in Westmorland County, (once the Priory of Watton), was sold to the Wharton family and now belongs to the Earl of Lonsdale.