The Family Tree
The image of the family tree dates from the Roman times and is mentioned by both Seneca and Pliny. That image symbolized both the absorption of women into the husband's family and the all important bearing of children (fruit) to carry on the line. A prayer to God designed for Jeanne de Bourbon, Queen of France, asked that "I may by my lord have a line of descendants who will be ordained to serve you and Holy Church." Another prayer asked God to give Jeanne the same fertility he had given the Old Testament figures Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah.
Intermarriage, in the interest of family property and prestige, muddled many family trees; concerned about incest, Pope Gregory the Great (d.610) prohibited marriage between people whose common ancestor could be found less then seven generations in the past. But important nobles and royalty frequently ignored the rules, particularly when large fortunes were at stake.
Worries about close familial relationships obliged medieval royalty to range quite far abroad to find eligible women whose rank was sufficient to match theirs. The instructions written for three ambassadors, sent to inspect the young queen of Naples as a potential wife for King Henry VII of England around 1500, makes clear exactly how the king hoped his future wife would be - beautiful and healthy. The ambassadors were to "mark her breasts and paps, whether they be big or small . . . whether there appear any hair about her lips . . . and to approach as near to her mouth as they honestly may, to the intent that they may feel the condition of her breath."