This corpulent—and presumably tailless—Manx pretender gives American interest in premodern genealogy a bad name. Michael Andrews-Reading on his dedicated website, and other posters on the Usenet group rec.heraldry, have already reviewed the pretensions of David Howe. Much of what has been unearthed—even from Howe’s own pen—suggests that a profit motive may lie behind the patently unconvincing claim of an abandoned title, the posting of an ungrammatical, logically incoherent, and legally meaningless notice in the London Gazette, and the diligent but hamhanded efforts to bend Wikipedia to his purpose of a free publicity machine. If this is not in fact the case, then Howe has an extraordinary combination of naïveté and stubbornness—far beyond the ordinary flush of self-importance that amateur genealogists (especially we Americans) often exhibit when we discover some royal descent in our trees. Either way it seems obvious from the newsmedia that Howe has energetically orchestrated publicity for his charade and one must wonder why.
What I cannot decide is which scenario—Howe the fraud or Howe the fool—makes American interest in premodern ancestry look worst? Either way I foresee that this episode will do no service to the community of people, within the US and abroad, who are curious about such things as descent from premodern notables, or the constitutional or cultural afterlives of feudalism. As Americans, of course, our constitution has given us the right to smugly ignore all distinctions between real aristocrats and fake ones, and as a consequence (well, as a consequence of that, and of the dumbing down of modern society) our media are notoriously inept at it. But many people (even some of us Americans) have the tools and the specialized knowledge to tell one from the other. Should we be obliged to stir to set the record straight for the rest of them? Perhaps. (takes pen in hand…)