Are you descended from royalty?

This guide was last updated in 2009

Whatever your background, a link to royalty might be lurking somewhere in your family's past. Stephen Thomas shows you how to investigate.

Would you like to find out if you, like Boris Johnson, are descended from an illegitimate line of royalty? The power of the mathematics of genealogy is vastly underrated. From just a few royal bed hoppers who lived many hundreds of years ago there are estimated to be millions of descendants walking amongst us today.

The 13 monarchs who reigned between 1066 and 1485 fathered at least 40 bastards between them. Henry II leads the field with around 20. Descendants of Edward III, legitimate or otherwise, are believed to be in excess of 4 millions. Some experts believe that practically everyone alive with British ancestry will have a connection with this king.

So statistically, there is a good chance that you are descended from royalty. This may not be from the direct, legitimate line so you may be at some remove from the throne. If the chances of a royal connection are good then how do you go about finding out if you are descended from the Kings and Queens of England?

Surnames are not usually a good guide to this. The fact is that descents can be quite convoluted. Illegitimate offspring were sometimes, but not always, recognised. Those that were favoured were fortunate indeed. They were no threat to their father because by virtue of their known illegitimacy they could never claim the throne. They could though often enjoy the privileges of wealth and position.

Those that were not overtly recognised entered the melting pot of the gentry and the middle classes. Quite often, the youngest sons and daughters of once grand families married professional people like lawyers and churchmen and their youngest children in turn might find their marital opportunities limited to farmers and tradesmen.

The paradox in social terms is that high fertility can lead to impoverishment. Thus, the Royal Diaspora made its way into the general population.

Photo © Getty Images


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