Down the Ritchie Rabbit Hole

According to my great grandfather’s nephew, Alva Lawrence Ritchie, in his 1929 letter about the origin of our family name, the Richelieus arrived in Rosehearty, a small port village just north of Aberdeen, Scotland, around 1630, immediately anglicizing their name to “Ritchie” to disguise their identity. This was right around the time of the “Day of the Dupes” in November 1630, when the enemies of Cardinal Richelieu mistakenly believed they had succeeded in persuading Louis XIII, King of France, to dismiss Richelieu from power. Presumably, members of the Cardinal’s family escaped in the nick of time, thus avoiding being murdered by his enemies.

OK, that’s a lot to digest. Let’s start at the beginning:

Back in the summer of 1929, near the end of a two-year mission in England and Scotland (young Mormon males are expected to serve as missionaries), Alva Lawrence Ritchie, stationed at Aberdeen, made a trip to Rosehearty, on the coast about 45 miles to the north. Arriving late afternoon that day, he found the streets deserted. Later he learned that the entire village was observing the old British custom of tea time. Finally, nearly colliding with a kindly looking gentleman, he asked if the man could provide any information as to where any Ritchies might live in the village. The man replied, “I am Mayor Ritchie of Rosehearty. Nearly half the population of Rosehearty are Ritchies.”

Pleased that Alva was an American and had taken the time to visit his fair village to look up family history, the mayor invited Alva to his home for supper, and afterward took him to the house of the town councilman, who had all the town records in his possession. The councilman was living in the old Ritchie homestead, a home “well-built of rock soon after the Richelieus arrived in Rosehearty” almost exactly 300 years before Alva’s visit.

During a full evening of visiting and looking at records, the councilman explained that when the Richelieus arrived, they had promptly changed the name Richelieu to Ritchie — its present spelling — partly to conceal their identity. Alva believed that it was not Cardinal Richelieu, by far the most famous member of the family, who had settled in Rosehearty, but rather most likely it was the Cardinal’s two brothers — and maybe his mother and father — who settled there.

That was when I tripped and fell headlong into the Ritchie rabbit hole, then wouldn’t surface again for several days of poring over old manuscripts, genealogies, and other historical documents about the life and times of Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu — the infamous Cardinal, brilliant politician, and master manipulator of kings and queens and countries in Europe during that period.

Cardinal Richelieu died in 1642, never having traveled to Scotland. He had two brothers: Alphonse — who, at the insistence of his brother Armand — also became a cardinal and later died of dropsy in 1653; and Henri, whose wife and son had died, who tried to duck politics by becoming a monk, then was mortally wounded in a duel in 1619.

None of Cardinal Armand Richelieu’s brothers, nor his parents, ever went to Scotland, as far as the historical record shows. So who was it? Who were the members of the Richelieu family who founded our world-famous Ritchie dynasty? The family genes are strong, and there can be no doubt, for those who have known my dad and his brothers, in the line-up below, that the nose knows.

Don, Dean, Verl, and De Ward Ritchie

The other end of my rabbit hole may someday open inside the sleepy village of Rosehearty, Scotland. However, until I get there to dig through the old councilman’s records, our family origins may remain buried in French and Scottish intrigue. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: my father, De Ward Ritchie, was inexplicably drawn to France and lived happily there for more than 40 years. Vive la France!

A long time denizen of the Pacific Northwest, scientist, educator, artist, farmer, chicken wrangler, editor & writer at SalishMagazine.org.

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