Claire Foy on Who Do You Think You Are?: Everything you need to know
The Crown star Claire Foy discovered her ancestor's involvement in a famous 19th century criminal case when she appeared on Who Do You Think You Are?
Actir Claire Foy was born in Stockport, Greater Manchester on 16 April 1984. After studying at Liverpool John Moores University and the Oxford School of Drama, she moved to London, where her acting career began in earnest. She made her television debut in the supernatural drama series Being Human (2008). In 2015, she portrayed doomed Anne Boleyn in the BBC’s BAFTA-winning Wolf Hall. She found international fame for her Emmy-winning portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown (2016-17). Her film credits include First Man, in which she played Neil Armstrong’s wife, Janet.
Having played so many historical figures, it’s perhaps as well that Claire loves doing research for her roles. “That’s the basis for a lot of the stuff I do,” she says at the start of her episode of Who Do You Think You Are? “The dynamic of the world around people completely affects how they behave.”
Will this be true of her own ancestors? To find out, she first visits her mother, Caroline, and her 93-year-old grandfather, James, who tells Claire about the family’s Irish ancestry and how his father, Charles Stimpson, was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Charles was born in Carlisle Castle. This was the location of barracks where his soldier father, Henry Stimpson, lived with his wife, Maria. Sadly, another story of a life cut tragically short reveals itself as Claire learns how Henry was drowned while taking part in a ‘paper chase’, a cross-country race. Visiting the river where Henry perished, she finds a sense of connection – and a sadness that the children of Charles and Henry shared the experience of losing fathers. She’s also touched to learn how the local community rallied around and raised money to help widowed Maria.
Next, Claire turns her attention to her father’s side of the family. Her father, David Foy, born in 1952 in a home for unmarried mothers, was adopted. As an adult, he reconnected with his birth mother, Joyce Manwaring, who by this point in her life lived in California. Can Claire now find out more about Joyce’s family?
With help from genealogist Kate Sherry, Claire learns that her 3x great grandfather, John Martin, a cooper or barrel-maker who also served for more than decade in the army, was born in Dublin. He was also, she discovers, caught up in a Manchester court that generated national headlines. “I knew there was a criminal somewhere down the line,” sighs Claire.
But this isn’t a simple story of a wrong’un. John was a member of the Fenian movement, which campaigned for independence for Ireland. He and his brother, William, were among those arrested under ‘joint enterprise’ laws in 1867 after a police van transporting Fenian prisoners was attacked and a policeman fatally shot. Both faced the death penalty, but were saved when friends and family, including Claire’s 3x great grandmother, Eliza, provided alibis. The brothers were discharged. But three men, who came to be known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, were publicly hanged.
Once again, Claire is left reflecting on how people rallied round in a time of crisis. “I did not really grasp how much of a big deal [the case] was,” she says. “It must have been terrifying for my 3x great grandfather, who was saved, basically, by his community and his wife.”